Is this story true?

Last Sunday a guest minister told a story in his sermon that is still haunting me. I’ve heard this story told by several ministers in sermons over the years, and I’m wondering if it’s true or not. Here it is: A father who works for the railroad, at a bridge on the line, takes his little boy to work with him one day. He had left the bridge up. Then he heard a train horn as the 1:07 express approached. He ran to lower the bridge. As he reached the controls, he looked to see if all was clear, and his heart stopped on seeing that his little son, trying to follow him, had fallen into the gear house and was caught between two of the huge gears. The train horn sounded again, louder this time–the train was less than a minute away. There were hundreds of people on board. The father had no time to save his son. He pulled the lever just in time to lower the bridge for the train to go safely over–crushing his son to death. As the train passed over, he saw the people through the windows, unaware of anything going on. Does anyone know if this terrible story is true or not? I’ve heard it several times over the years, and it tears me up every time I hear it. This preacher said it took place during the Depression somewhere in Missouri. Does anyone know?


I’ve heard this story a million times also but no one that I recall ever claimed it was true.

It’s a too contrived to be factual, IMHO.

“I’ll tell him but I don’t think he’ll be very keen. He’s already got one, you see!”

This sounds like a classic case of Urban Myth to me.

The tale has a too good to be true apocryphalness (whoo boy - it is late SP?) to it. Dates? Places?

That’s it. There’s just enough detail [like the time of the train] to make the story plausable, but no indication of who, where or when. I’m surprised the preacher didn’t start off with “It’s true I swear, it happened to a friend of a friend”, or it’s modern equivalent “It’s true I swear, I read it on the internet”.
Lying - it’s not big and it’s not clever

This story apparently started out as an allegory, but some people now think was a real event. The only sites I could find about this story talked about it in a religious context, although, if it actually occurred, I don’t think that only religious groups would have reported on it. Most references say that the event supposedly took place in 1937, involving John Griffin and his eight years old son, Greg. (Another version, however, said it was five-year-old Billy).

The Train Tracks to Heaven site knew about the story, but didn’t know its source. But according to the Jesus"]]Jesus page at, this story appears in “The Tale Of The Tardy Oxcart, Charles R. Swindoll, Word, pp. 541-542.”

The idea that the story is a powerful allegory, and not an actually event, is best summed up by the following from a sermon posted at The Father’s Love: “The fact of the story is this: The man sitting at the controls with tears streaming down his face is God. The little boy stuck in the gears, being crushed under the weight of the machinery, is Jesus. The folks on the train having a good time, oblivious to the great price that was being paid - that’s you and me.”

This would be impossible (or at least require a major technical malfunction) with any vaguely modern rail system (say in the last century or so, give or take a few decades).
Railroads are controlled by block signals, which are electrical currents sent through the rails. The system is set up so that if there is an obstruction (usually another train) ahead on the rails, there will be a stop signal given in enough time for the following train to stop before the obstruction. The signals would, of course, be set up to prevent a train from running into an open bridge.

In addition, there is usually an automatic brake control, so that if a train goes racing through a stop signal, the brakes will activate and the train will stop without operator intervention.

I can’t say the story could not have happened, but in anything after the early days of rail, there was technology was in use to prevent it.

There’s a really great Tobias Wolff short story called “The Night in Question” (from the book The Night in Question) that uses this story in its plot. The characters discuss how true it could be, and they never clear up whether its true or not (also, in the story, the ending about the boy getting crushed is never told), it’s a great story.

“I need the biggest seed bell you have. . . no, that’s too big.”–Hans Moleman

My father told me this story when I was a young lad. While I understood the point of the story, I still found it disquieting to be told a story about the sacrifice of a son by my own father. He also told me about the story of Isaac and Abraham, which bothered me. And when I asked him, in the manner of a child full of questions, if he would take God’s name in vain if someone put a gun to my head, he answered without hesitation that he would not.