Train memories: Alumni recall noise, close calls and pranks


Back in the 1950s when I was a student at Goshen College, there were only a few freight trains per week using the tracks on the east side of campus. Late one afternoon, John Troyer ’58, Warren Rhodes ’59, Carrol Miller ’59 and I were in Carrol’s bright red Oldsmobile 98 convertible.

Carrol drove to the crossing at 14th Street, lined the car up on the tracks, took his hands off the wheel and accelerated north. Men working in the neighboring factories east of the tracks were on break and waved with astonishment as we rolled by. We continued for several blocks and then left the rails at a crossing street. It was the smoothest rail ride I have ever experienced!

John King ’57


My first year at GC, 1950-1951, was the last year for Quadrangle (housing unit) usage. It also was the first time in my life that I lived so close to a railroad track. It seems that about every night as we were preparing for bed in our bunk cubicles, we could expect the noisy freight train to come whistling into town northbound, and right past our humble abode. There was really no reason to try to sleep until this earth-shaking event passed us by.

One of the upperclassmen remembered that the previous year the train hit a stray cow, which had wandered onto the tracks a half-mile or so south of campus. By the time the train came to a halt, it was immediately adjacent to the Quadrangle. Everyone rushed out to see the carcass of the poor animal still hanging on the engine’s cowcatcher.

Millard Osborne ’54


I do have a rather unusual train memory. In the winter of 1958, I was a freshman in Coffman Hall. We had had a cold spell with considerable ice buildup across the tracks. As I understand it, we were running low on coal for the heating plant.

So sometime just after dark, a switch engine pushed in a coal car across the ice. When it stopped to unfasten the car, the engines wheels broke through the ice covering and this imprisoned its wheels in the ice. Since electric motors controlled the wheels, they were not able to turn the wheels to free the engine; they had to wait for another engine to come to pull it out. It took hours for another engine to arrive. In the meantime, three or four of us climbed into the cab and visited with the engineers for a while.

Harold Helmuth ’63


Here’s a picture we staged for the 1985 yearbook. We picked the theme “Tracks” to symbolize the literal campus train tracks and metaphorical tracts guiding our lives.

Darin Derstine ’87 captured the shot using a telephoto lens, which compressed the distance making the train look much closer then it was. Grant Bixler ’85 agreed to run for the shot. The train was blowing its horn the whole time!

I was the yearbook editor and Goshen College put me on the right track for the rest of my life.

Eric King ’85 


We were married Sept. 1, 1951 and immediately set out for Goshen College, taking a few days at Lake Erie before arriving in Goshen. It was unusual to have married couples as freshman in those days, but we were assigned to live in the trailer along the railroad tracks next to the heating plant as I (Paul) was given the job to help with the plant.

We were told everything would be ready when we arrived, but it was not to be since the weeds were higher then the door and the place was a mess. We set out to clean it up and didn’t realize the train would go through any time during the night. We soon learned we would need to live with this and put up with the noise and shaking of the trailer as it went by. We did survive the year, but we will never forget that experience.

Paul and Jeanette Metzler ’55


I applaud GC for building the underpass. My wife and I lived in the “married student housing” (trailer court on campus) with our three children in the mid 1980s.

Our son was three at the time and he found new freedom when he took possession of his new Big Wheel tricycle. He was faster on the Big Wheel than we could often walk as we had two other younger children in tow.

One day, he went far ahead of my wife on the sidewalk and crossed the tracks. Before she could get to him, a train came passing through separating her from our three year old. She watched in near panic as he calmly sat on the other side of the tracks, on his Big Wheel, sucking his fingers and waiting on Mom. That had to be the longest train that ever went through campus.

Gail Lamar Roth ’86


A passionate train-watcher and rail fan, my love of heavy machinery went way back to growing up in Kidron, Ohio and at Sonnenberg Station. In1948, I spent my first night in the old Quadrangle barracks and was awakened at four in the morning by a distant locomotive whistle. I quickly ran outside in the cold fall air and was rewarded with a four-car passenger train pulled by a NYC steam engine heading north toward Elkhart, a total surprise to me, not even aware that we were right beside the tracks!

In the years that followed, we could watch a small eight-wheel locomotive bring coal cars to the heating plant during chapel, so I made sure I got a seat way up at the top of the old chapel. For several years, I also worked in the heating plant and got to help unload the coal. Eventually steam gave way to diesels, but train watching continued. My twin brother Jim also got up that wonderful morning and we continue to share the love of trains.

John Bixler ’52


I was a student at GC during the 1960s, graduating in 1969. Sometime during those years, I was one of the people that crossed between cars to get to my dorm.

It was night during the winter and we had waited probably an hour in the student Union and the train was not moving. A group of us crossed between the cars, safely I might add, to get to our dorm. All in the life of a Goshen College student. The renovation is a great improvement.

Elaine Nussbaum Short ’69


The problem with remembering train stories from GC is that some of us who were sophomores in 1967-68 can only paint these pictures in broad strokes and blurred detail.

One night, after the routine visit to Eyer’s Restaurant for the 26-cent special (a huge pancake and a cup of coffee plus tax), “the boys” returned to campus to catch some Zs before the summons of the “eight o’clock.” As they idled past Coffman Hall, they noticed a solitary locomotive on the nearby tracks, purring like a giant iron monster.

The 10-cent coffee was still perking and “the boys” were game for adventure. They parked the car and walked back for a guided tour of the engine. To their surprise, it was unmanned (or “unpersoned” in GC terminology). They boarded anyway and explored the behemoth from the inside. One of “the boys” discovered a cord suspended in an arc over the engineer’s seat. A light came on – not on the engine, but in the collective minds of “the boys.”

A volunteer was dispatched to Yoder Hall to get a coat hanger. By stretching it, a convenient connector was fashioned. One end was fastened to the engineer’s instrument panel while the hook end projected upward toward the suspended cord. “The boys” readied for their escape. Once set, the ringleader pulled down the cord and hooked it through the hanger.

“The boys” were expelled from the train by the relentless blast of the train whistle and sent running back to Yoder Second where at least two of them immediately disrobed and, feigning slumber, stumbled out into the hallway for the inevitable appearance of the RA, Gerry Sieber ’66, who was heading to the room of the most likely culprits. Their appearance of innocence protected them.

Before the whistle was silenced, the entire campus was roused. The next morning, the bleary-eyed coeds gathered as usual for breakfast, eight o’clocks or chapel, and to this day have not identified the delinquents – I think.