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
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
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
‘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
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
‘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
‘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
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
‘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
‘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: –
‘THRILLING EXPERIENCES OF AN ENGINEER’
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
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
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
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
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
FOUR THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW
FIRST: You Need To Be Saved. ‘For all have sinned and come
short of the Glory of God.’ Romans 3:23. SECOND: : You Cannot
‘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.)