Courtesy of Eiffel G. Plasterer, Huntington, Indiana
Lafayette Truman was a praying engineer. I knew him as a veteran Erie Railroad passenger engineer during the years of 1907 to 1921. At that time engines and engineers rated very high with me. Almost every Sunday morning or night I would see Mr. Truman in Sunday School or Church, and I often heard him pray and witness for Christ. He intrigued me. Here was a real 'He' man that ran a mighty engine and yet was so kind and gentle and so dynamically enthusiastic for God and Christ that there was no doubt as to whose side he was on. He was a tall man with a bald head that verily shined. His gracious smile radiated a genuine love for boys and girls.
My first recollection concerning Lafe Truman was on a Sunday after church when my sister, Carrie, excitedly exclaimed to my mother, 'Mr. Truman is the engineer'. Carrie was about to leave home for school and in the morning she would be going on the train to Chicago. She had a feeling of security that the man at the throttle was going to be Lafe Truman. She could trust him.
In 1920, I was teaching a Sunday School class of boys. I wanted the boys to hear Mr. Truman's story. Without hesitation he accepted the invitation. Once again, I heard him tell how God had blessed him and how wonderful it is to be a sanctified Christian. The details of his story were fixed in my mind so indelibly that they remain clear in memory to this day.
He said, 'Christ through the Holy Spirit may be a constant companion with you, if you give your heart to Him and completely accept Him. Before I start out on a run, I always ask God to protect my passengers against any harm. To this day none of my passengers have ever been hurt on my trains. I talk to God any time. You do not have to speak out loud. You do not have to shut your eyes to pray. I look right down the tracks and pray.'
A few weeks later, I left home for college. And all too soon the years rolled by and I lost track of Lafe Truman. I knew that he had been in many wrecks and that people had been killed in these accidents. But how about those people that he felt responsible for-his passengers? Had ever any of them been hurt? What, I often wondered, had become of Lafe Truman?
Several years ago, while talking with our beloved Editor, it occurred to me that our good steam friends and readers of the Iron-Men Album would enjoy and appreciate the true story of a Praying Engineer. With the green light from Elmer Ritzman, I started the research for this article.
It is with deep joy and gratitude that I present the following exact excerpts from newspapers, magazines, and even Mr. Truman's own writings; which have bs, and his son, Mr. Ralph Truman, of Modesto, California. I am sure you will agree with me that, Lafayette Frederick Truman was a most fabulous amazing engineer and a wonderful good man.
He stopped a train with a pocket knife; Toured Canada as engineer of a special; His trains carried Presidents; He railroaded for 57 years - 45 years a passenger engineer; He loved Steam, He established speed records; Never had a passenger harmed; Never had a demerit; He loved the Lord; He knew the power of prayer.
From the Erie Railroad Magazine, June 1929:- 'Born at Derry, Pa., 1855, Mr. Truman grew up in a Railroad environment. He got his first job at 15. His grandfather was a freight agent and his father and four uncles were locomotive engineers.
'Starting as a water boy and brake man on the old C.C. & I.C, now part of the Pennsylvania, in 1870 at Logansport, Ind., Lafe soon became firemen at $1.50 for a day which varied from 12 to 24 hours and his duties included keeping the large amount of brass shining on the loco-motives of those days and cleaning the bright vermilion paint and gold leaf which decorated the drive wheels. Locomotives then had an oil cup on top of the steam chest which had to be filled by hand every fifteen miles and sometimes this task had to be performed while traveling at 60 miles per hour.
'Mr. Truman became engineer in 1877, and joined the Erie, then the Chicago & Atlantic, in that capacity in 1882. Two years later he was promoted to passenger service in which he remained until his retirement.'
It is interesting to note that Mr. Truman not only came from a family of railroaders but also married Alice E. Lee, daughter of M. J. Lee of Logansport, 'who was an engineer for forty years and handled a throttle back in the days when the old flat rails were used.'
From an unidentified Erie Magazine:- 'Truman is considered one of the best runners on the road, and has established many records. In August 1896, he established his first record with No. 5, from Marion, Ohio, to Huntington, Ind., a distance of 127 miles, making the distance in two hours and twenty-seven minutes, including eight stops.'
'Ability and good judgment have always been Mr. Truman's dominant qualities. He has not been a 'spasmodis' or sensational runner, but a steady and speedy one. When a record run was wanted, and Mr. Truman was at the throttle, the train unusually arrived at its destination inside the record time. Mr. Truman ran train No. 3 in days when the Erie was after the speed records with its limited trains, and on many occasions he has received the personal thanks of the management for safe and efficient work in his efforts to meet their wishes, This appreciation of Mr. Truman's ability and worth without doubt sticks by him today, for he stands high in the estimation of his superiors, not alone for past actions but for efficient services rendered daily.
' Dr. Truman Grayston, Huntington, Ind., tells me that the most agonizing experiences his grandfather ever had was to watch people rush ahead of his engine to their doom.
Mrs. Rev. L. A. Swisher, Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, remembers that Mrs. Truman told her, 'Lafe never killed anyone, but his engine has'. An unidentified clipping head lines and states:- 'LIVES of Others His First Care - As the History of Lafe Truman Very Clearly Proves.
'Few engineers who run through Lima are better known or better liked than Lafe Truman of Huntington, Ind., who handles the throttle of the fast New York and Chicago limited of the Erie, and an article which appeared in the Indianapolis News, giving much of his history, will be read with interest by railroad men.
'Much notoriety has come to L. F. Truman, the passenger engineer, of Huntington, Ind., from the fact that Erie's vestibule train No. 5, to New York and Chicago, limited, of which he was engineer, killed two men on succeeding trips.
'Monday afternoon, April 7, as Truman was pulling No. 5, into Huntington, his train struck Samual Stetzel as he attempted to drive over the track in front of the approaching train, Stetzel and the horse has was driving were instantly killed and the buggy was completely wrecked.
'On the following Wednesday, Truman was taking No. 5 west, his train struck and killed William Drum at Kingsland, Ind. The man was intoxicated and crawling along the track. Truman mistook him for a pig, and when he discovered the mistake it was too late to stop the train and the unfortunate man was ground to pieces. In neither case was Truman to blame.'
Mrs. Boies C Hart writes: 'One of my grandfather's experiences that particularly impressed me was the time he hit a horse and buggy during a blinding blizzard, killing the man and wife, unfortunately. When he pulled into a station, trainmen found the couples' tiny baby sound asleep and warm in it's blankets, completely unharmed, on the cowcatcher.'
This probably is the same incident reported in a newspaper: 'Decatur, Ind. Feb. 26, A Buggy containing W. Gilbert, wife, and young baby was struck by the west-bound Chicago and Erie limited at the Mercer street Crossing Saturday. Gilbert and his wife were badly injured, and the trainmen, when they reached the depot, three blocks distant, found the baby lying on the pilot of the engine uninjured'.
'Mr. Truman has been in a number of serious accidents, one of which left him a stiff knee, but all were unavoidable on his part'.
An undated ancient clipping from The Chicago Inter-Ocean:- 'One Engineer's Experience - Killed Twenty-two Persons. Lafayette Truman, engineer of the Erie train that ran into the Eastern Illinois train Friday night has killed twenty two men,' said C. R. McCullough, a brother engineer, to a Chicago reporter. 'But', he continued, 'in no case was he to blame, and in every case he has been exonerated by the jury. Most of these killings were at railroad crossings and in other similar accidents where the engineer could not be held responsible. He is only a young man, but I want to relate two experiences of his, which show him to be possessed with a marvelous presence of mind.
'In October, 1890, he was engineer on a train that was dashing through burning forests near Lima, Ohio, at the rate of sixty miles an hour. That night the sky was concealed by black stormy clouds before the burning district was reached the darkness from the windows of the cars seemed impenetratable. Then as the train proceeded, the horizon became hazily red. As the train sped on nearer, the blood red clouds appeared to be tumbling about tumultuously as if it were a sea of fire buffeted by angry winds. At length the train seemingly plunged into the heart of this forest of fire.
'There was a straight stretch of track continuing for seven miles. As the train dashed along the fire sprang up in sheets from crackling, falling trees on either side, and above was a canopy of shifting eddying red smock. Down the track, beyond the reach of the head light, there was only a red blur. A bridge spanning a deep river was ahead somewhere. Suddenly, immediately ahead, Truman saw a shower of big sparks fly upward. In an instant he was reversing his engine and the train was brought to a standstill just on the edge of the river. It had flashed over him when he saw the sparks that the bridge was burning, and that a spar had fallen, sending up as it went down a show of light. He saved the train and the lives of 300 passengers. There is not one engineer in a thousand who would have arrived at the conclusion so quickly that the additional transitory light was from the burning bridge. They would have supposed it was an inconsequential part of the phenomena, and plunged on to destruction.
'The other incident, was no less heroic and showed even greater presence of mind. This was in Ohio, too, near Hepburn. His train this time was running about the same rate, sixty miles an hour, when the rods on each side of the engine broke, instantly killing the fireman and wrecking the cab. Truman, to save himself, jumped into the tender. And there he was isolated, as it were, for the train was going sixty miles an hour, and the broken rods were flying madly and beating deafeningly, and it was impossible for him to reach an air brake with the train going at that rate of speed.
'He was only a young man, but he did something then that many old engineers have since told me that they would never have thought of. He got out his pocket knife and cut the hose, and thereby applying the automatic brake, and succeeded in stopping the train. I would rather ride behind that man,' concluded Mr. McCullough, 'than any engineer in the United States'.
Another unidentified clipping tell this interesting incident:- 'Sunday night as Train 8 was howling along toward the east she came up against some box cars loaded with hay, which were on fire, west of Kenton. 'Lafe' Truman was at the throttle and answered the flag. He had on that brand new uniform he purchased a short time ago and which fits him so well and he wanted to save it. He also wanted to make his time. Mr. Truman is great on making time, anyhow, and if his ability in this direction could be turned into making money he would soon own the whole Erie system. Those box cars were burning furiously and to get past them was the problem. He backed up the train about two miles and then Truman threw her open. Did she come down the line? Well: He came through that blaze without singeing the nap on his new uniform. He came so fast that the first shrieks of the frightened passengers were mistaken by the station agent at Ken-ton for the whistle for the station. The train stopped at the depot as safe from the fire as a forgiven sinner'.
Mr. Truman was a humble but a very happy man. He had found the source of true happiness. When he would 'lay over' in Chicago, he would spend his spare time at a Rescue Mission to help others find Christ and His more abundant way of life.
He liked railroading. He liked his job. He was highly appreciative of the opportunities of service and the treatment he received from the men and the officials of the Erie railroad. After he retired at his own request in 1927, the Erie Railroad Magazine, June 1929, featured him in a nice article, 'Veterans Valedictory', and it carried a picture of him standing by his old engine '389' that he run in the 70's. The write up gave his history, but the last paragraph revealed Mr. Truman's grateful attitude:-
'I'm proud of my record with the Erie,' Lafe told a friend, and I'm grateful to the new management for taking care of me so nicely. To all in the service I say, 'Brother, stick by the good old Erie. Give it the best you have and when you can not hit the ball any longer, the Erie will take care of you!' '
Mr. Truman enjoyed ten years of delightful retirement going back and forth from Huntington to visit with his three sons in California. While having; residence in Long Beach, California, he wrote, 'Thrilling Experiences of an Engineer', a tract published by the Fundamental Evangelistic Association.
At nearly 83, Lafayette Truman died on December 9, 1937, in Modesto, California, where he had been visiting with his son, Ralph. The death notice in the Modesto newspaper stated: 'The Indianan started railroad work 68 years ago when he was 14 years old That was before the use of air brakes and electric lights on trains and when oil lights were used on block signals. He fired four foot length wood in old diamond stacked standard type engines.
'Truman, who engineered trains carrying presidents of the United States, also operated a special train of the president of the Erie Railroad on an extended tour through Canada and the United States. He helped build the Erie Railroad through to Chicago.
Truman never had a demerit mark. He was injured numerous times and was given many citations for cool headedness in saving lives and for bravery in serious wrecks.'
I am very happy to have received and now include these kind and precious words from Mr. Ralph Truman, 1027 Harvard Avenue, Modesto, California, March 31, 1965:-
'Dear Mr. Plasterer:
Your kind letter to hand today. I was exceedingly pleased at your intent to write up a sort of biography of my late father's experiences in his railroad work, with reference to his deep faith in God's hand and guidance. This he did experience to a remarkable degree. Nothing could shake his belief in God's special care in many emergencies. I believe with him.
'I used to go down to the depot on the Erie RR often at about 7 P.M., when his train came in from Chicago. And after he stopped, I would clamber up the gangway (I was only ten years old) and when the brakeman cut his engine and tender from the train, and signaled him, we would run a quarter of a mile east across the interlocking (With the Wabash RR), then back up and down the siding spurs to the round house.
'One night, there was about a quarter of an inch of ice on the depot platform, and his train moved on about 50 feet beyond where I was standing. I ran along side the train (about 5 feet out on the platform) and proceeded to slide alongside the train for about 15 or more feet. One tiny miss lip and I would have slid under the wheels. I shiver and turn white every time I think of this now. When I got up in the cab, my father was noticeably shaken and a bit white. He begged me NEVER to do a thing like that again, as I could have slid under the wheels and gotten killed. He saw much violence in his railroading, and realized how near I came. I still feel that thru him, God kept me from harm.'
To honor Lafe Truman to day is to honor all those wonderful people of the past and present who have found joy in doing work well done. The inspirations we can get from his achievements and admonitions are the same that we may get from others who have responded to the love of God. They are apart of our heritage and we have a stake in them.
And now through the medium of the printed page let me, with deep joy for the precious privilege, present to you-kind reader-a wonderful message from my good friend of years ago-Lafayette Frederick Truman: -
L. F. Truman
I want to bear testimony to the truth of God's promise to take care of those that have been 'born again' (that is converted), who believe and trust Him absolutely, and pray to Him daily, and ask Him to protect and keep them.
I am sure my life has been spared many times in answer to wife's prayers as well as my own. For years I made it a rule to get on my knees in prayer before starting out on my run on the railroad. I turned the job over to God and asked Him to guide and protect us through the trip in safety, with the load of precious souls. He answered those prayers in a remarkable way.
In 1880 I was running on the Pennsylvania railroad out of Logansport, Indiana. When about four miles east of Crown Point, the train ahead of me pulled over the top of the hill, and twenty-two cars broke loose from the engine and run back down the hill into my engine, killing four men in the caboose, and scalding me very badly, but I know my life was spared in answer to prayer.
Another time on the same road at Thompson, Indiana, the train ahead stopped and did not flag me, and it was such a bad night that I could not see over thirty feet ahead. But I saw the red lights, and told the fireman to jump. I jumped and hit the ground when the engine hit the train. The engine went through six cars, and the back pair of tank wheels stood on top of the back pair of drive wheels, right where the cab should have been. All of us would have been burned if we had not jumped just at that moment. Psalm 34:7: 'The angel of the Lord encamped round about them that fear Him, and deliver them'.
In 1885, I was coming west on what is now Train 7, we had twelve cars and we were over two hours late. We were coming down the Lima, Ohio, hill, when a voice said to me that the bridge about two miles east of Lima was burned out. I shut off steam and applied the brakes. My fireman came over to my side of the engine and said, 'What are you stopping for?' I told him what the strange voice said to me, Then he tried to laugh me out of stopping and wanted to know if I had lost my nerve. I said, 'No, but I am going to stop and examine that bridge.' And I did and found every bit of that bridge burned up, and the rails all twisted out of shape, so that a hand car could not have gone over the bridge. Later, I received a nice letter from the general manager, and also other officials, saying that I had proven myself to be the 'right man for the right place.' But it was not my wits at all - but was the direct answer to my prayers, and the prayers of one of the best Christian wives any man ever had in this world.
In the year of 1908, I was going west on No. 3, and was about two hours late. About three miles east of Rochester I saw box cars all over the right-of-way, but as we had no orders to reduce speed there, I felt sure that it was O.K. for full speed. I soon saw, however, that it was not safe and put the brakes on full. The wreckers were running for a safe place. I knew if some unseen power did not stop us we would be pilled up on top of the other wreck, with our eight cars and 200 passengers I just had time to say, 'O God, please take us through with these precious souls, for Jesus sake'. It was just as though some unseen hand had hold of the train and slowed it down so we went through without getting one wheel off the track. We found out the next day that the operator at Huntington had an order for us not to exceed five miles an hour passing the wreck, and he forgot to give us the order. We were running at least sixty-five or seventy miles an hour when we made that prayer.
In 1915, the engineer brought No. 13 into Huntington, Ind. It was late and the brakes were so poor that they could not stop on the east end. The conductor and the engineer, neither one, told me anything about the brakes as they should have done. We were ordered to meet No. 14 at Servia. At that time they did not cover headlights. It was very foggy when I approached the east end of the siding at Servia and I saw a headlight and thought it was No. 14, but found it was a freight train. I put on all the air I had, but the brakes would not hold. I reversed the engine, run the red block. I knew the train would not stop to clear the west end of the siding, and I had done every thing to stop it, except to ask God to stop it. So I looked up and said, 'God please stop this train.' AND HE DID. Matt. 7:7: 'Ask and it shall be given you, seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you.' No. 14 was pulling into the side track and we only cleared them a few feet as I remember it. When I got home from my trip the next day, my wife ask me if any thing went wrong on the trip. I inquired why she ask me and she would not tell me until I told her about having nearly cut No. 14 in two at Servia. Then she ask, 'What time was it?' Then she said she was afraid something was going to happen to me, she was praying right at the time that we were trying to get the train stopped at Servia. In 1916, I was on Train No. 8, at H. Y. Tower. It was so foggy that I could not see the front end of my engine. As we neared the east switch the Lord raised the fog, and I saw a train backing into the side track. I had just time to stop and was so close to those cars that a man could not walk between the engine and car. Another answer to prayer: Jeremiah 33:3: 'Call unto me, and I will answer thee and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not.'
I was coming east one day and being late was making up time, when I was flagged at Laketon, Ind. When I stopped, the trackman said the track was spread on the curve at Laketon, and it was on a fill of about 15 feet. If I had not been flagged the engine and all the train would have gone into the ditch and probably all the passengers and crew killed.
At Laketon, after I stopped, the section boss told me he was working three miles away from Laketon and some voice spoke to him and told him to go to Laketon. He could not understand it as he had no business there. Unable to get away from that voice, he went there and found the track spread. Then he understood as he was a fine Christian man.
Going west on our fast train No. 3, the track spread at Bass Lake, and God sent a freight train there and stopped us. They were going east on the other main track when they stopped, they found the track spread and just had time to flag us and save a bad wreck.
I am sure this protection was in answer to prayer. As we told you to begin with, before going out on my run, I committed the train and myself to God's care and protection.
I know God's Word is true, for every time I take one of the promises in the Bible, and meet the conditions attached to the promise, I get the results.
I was a passenger engineer on the Erie railroad for 45 years and have been railroading 57 years. I am 73 years old and was retired with a clear record September 18th. 1927, having worked steadily nearly every day on the Erie's fastest train. I was enabled to do this only by God's help, and because I endeavored to please Him.
With God's help I am determined to witness for him in joyful service. I know that I shall meet that fine Christian wife, with other loved ones (saved through the blood) and spend eternity with them in Heaven.
'Therefore I say unto you, what things so ever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.' Mark 11:24
'The blood of Jesus Christ, His son, cleanseth us from all sin. 'I John 1:7
FIRST: You Need To Be Saved. 'For all have sinned and come short of the Glory of God.' Romans 3:23. SECOND: : You Cannot Save Yourself.
'Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth and the life. NO MAN cometh unto the Father, but by Me.' John 14:6 THIRD: Jesus Died To Save You.
'For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the JUST for the UNJUST, that He might bring us to God.' I Peter 3:18.
FOURTH: Accept Christ to Be Born Again.
'But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become Sons of God, even to them that believe on His name.' - John 1:12 (The foregoing tract was written by Lafe Truman in 1928 and was entitled, 'Thrilling Experiences of an Engineer', and published by -Fundamental Evangelistic Association, Marion H. Reynolds, Director, 313 West 3rd Street, Los Angeles, Calif.)