Quick Thinking Saves a Couple Stalled in a Train’s Way

Chris Ihle, a former mortgage consultant, received a Carnegie Medal for his act of courage.

everyday hero
Ryan Donnell

Chris Ihle, 39, had just parked his motorcycle in front of his office in Ames, Iowa, last July when he noticed a Pontiac Bonneville sedan with disabled-person tags stalled on railroad tracks. Then he heard a train whistle from the next intersection.

The former mortgage consultant threw down his sunglasses and keys near his bike and ran toward the car. An elderly man in a neck brace, Jean Papich, 84, sat in the driver’s seat, turning the key and hitting the gas. Jean’s wife, Marion, 78, was peering nervously at him from the passenger’s seat.

Chris ducked under the crossing gates, got behind the car, and pushed, but his boots slipped on the warm asphalt. He could see the train approaching fast.

It might be easier to push the car backward, Chris thought. He ran around to the front of the vehicle and shouted at Jean to put the car in neutral. Chris could feel the ground rumbling beneath his feet as the locomotive was bearing down on them, brakes squealing and horn blaring. He wedged his boots into the track grooves and shoved. Finally, the car rolled off the tracks.

When Chris looked up, the Union Pacific train’s towering grill was just a few feet away. He flattened himself against the side of the sedan as the train roared past.

Stunned and speechless, Chris staggered back to work and poured himself a cup of coffee as a crowd gathered at the scene.

Weeks later, Marion called to thank Chris. He responded, “There’s a time to talk and a time to act.”

Popular Videos

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest