"Set the brake on the lead boxcar on track 23, Van", shouted the foreman. During my 2-1/2 year stint as a railroad trainman, I had set the brakes on hundreds of cars. This night was different. It was the middle of winter, midnight shift, six inches of fresh snow on the ground and my mind was somewhere other than the Santa Fe Rail Yard in Argentine, Ks.
I carelessly scurried up the ladder on the end of the boxcar to attempt to get to the platform where the brake could be set. I reached out for the top rung after letting go of the previous rung with my other hand. I grabbed a handful of air. I missed the top rung and my other hand had already released the rung below. Can you picture it? Now, I am going to give you the scenario as it should have played out from this point. The ladder on a boxcar goes up the full height of the car. This is somewhere between 11’ and 15’ off the ground. Since my right hand had missed the top rung my body should have fallen straight backwards onto the steel rail below which is perpendicular to the ladder. My head should have hit first in the center of this iron rail, probably crushing the skull. I weighed approximately 180 lb at the time and the force from a 15’ fall probably should have killed me instantly upon hitting the rail below.
So, what did happen? From my vantagepoint, upside down in mid air, I don’t really know how it happened..but here’s what did happen. I either gave a little push to the left, as I was falling...or God...? I ended up doing a perfect back dive from the top of the 15’ ladder of this box car..head first and hit the small ski jump area that identifies most all railroad tracks. Tracks are built up on a mound and I hit this mound perfectly as though it were a small ski jump. Six inches of fresh snow cushioned my fall. I slid to a halt about 6 feet from the rail totally uninjured. Not even the wind knocked out of me. My lantern, which was held in my left hand, went flying. The Engineer later told me he had never seen a trainman give a signal quite like the one he saw that night. He and the other co-workers came running to me. I was fine!. I finished the eight hour shift....and 50 years later still wonder what happened during that fall.
Providence or blind luck? We know, don’t we? "My times are in Thy hands:.." (Ps 31:15)
(Argentine Rail Yard)