Hit by a Train?

In the winter of 1977 I was driving my mom's car to work, a Jack-In-The-Box fast food restaurant on the east side of Wichita, Kansas. I was 16 years old, a fresh drivers license in my pocket, and as invincible as I was not too very wise.

I was to help open the store that morning, so it was early enough to still be dark, probably around 4:30 AM. The temperature was well below freezing, there was an inch or two of snow and ice on the windshield that I had to scrape off prior to my 15 minute drive from Grove and 21'st to South Rock Road and Kellogg. Being so cold and uncomfortable, I only scraped the driver's side of the window, and also excluded all side windows and the edges of the rear window. The defroster didn't work in this 1972 Ford Fairlane, probably had a stuck-closed heater valve, so my breath would freeze and glaze over the inside of the windshield. As the intelligent and handy kind of guy I was, I simply got out my brand new drivers license and used it to scrape a 5-inch porthole in the frost directly over the steering wheel every 15 seconds or so. That was all I needed of course!

My route took me east on 21'st street, out of town (in 1977) by about 2 minutes, to North Rock Road. Then south, bringing me into town again about 2 minutes later. Just a half mile after turning south on Rock Road I would cross a railroad track that had no lights or bells, just a white cross.

This portion of Rock Road was higher along the centerline than on the edges, and it was covered with a nice fun layer of snow-covered ice. Fields and trees lined both sides of the two-lane road back then. A few months before I had been playing around on dirt roads in the country and had learned through self-teaching how to do a bootlegger turn and how to powerslide around curves. Now, on this road, I noticed if I spun up the engine I could simulate a powerslide straight down the road by letting the back wheels drift toward the shoulder while keeping the front left wheel riding along the center of the road. It was only a minor inconvenience that I had to lean way left to see out of the porthole during this exciting maneuver. I did this a couple times for about 5 seconds each, the problem being that I was getting so fast that I couldn't keep the rear wheels spinning at the higher speed.

After I let the car recover the second time from a most professionally done straight-ahead powerslide I was probably moving about 50 miles per hour or better. This car had only an AM radio, and I noticed that the station was out of tune and had a steady whining noise in the background. I scraped out my porthole again and then started trying to tune out the whining noise. For those of you who don't remember AM analog radio, it is a lot like slowly adjusting a faucet to get the right temperature of water, you have to rock the hot water knob back and forth a little bit before you get it right.

As I slowly rocked the tuning knob back and forth across the channel, the whining noise just kept getting louder. After a few seconds I decided I didn't want to waste my time on it anymore, so I just snapped the radio off in frustration. But the whining continued! What the heck? The radio was off! I looked out the porthole and saw the white X railroad crossing sign coming at me, probably only a hundred feet and a few seconds away. I looked to my right, and through an inch of snow I saw a great blurry white light in the middle of what should be a black field, it seemed to just stand still but kept getting brighter. A train!

I slammed on the brakes but the car just slid on the ice, it didn't seem to decelerate at all! The train was either going to T-Bone me or I was going to T-Bone it, neither choice was survivable. In a desperate attempt to save myself, I switched my foot again and slammed on the gas! It seemed as if my wheels caught a little bit of traction because at that moment I felt a very small boost of power. As the train's whistle deafened my ears, I watched the big white light move from the top edge of the passenger side windshield to behind and above the rear view mirror in less than a second. And then somehow I shot across the tracks! My eyes immediately went to the rear view mirror, where through a layer of snow and ice I could see fast moving shadows crossing over my car, probably cast from someone's headlights far behind me.

It seemed as though I had passed directly under the train's headlamp, maybe even directly through the train, I couldn't tell which. But for whatever reason and by whatever means, I lived to tell this story.

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