Chris Ihle pushes elderly couple’s car off tracks moments before a train goes by, inches from the trio.
He spotted a car stopped on the crossing, heard a train whistle and noticed handicapped tags on the vehicle.
The time was about 1:30 p.m. He had returned to work at a Wells Fargo Bank in Ames after a late lunch. He parked his motorcycle and glanced over at a nearby railroad tracks crossing.
He spotted a car — a big, old Pontiac Bonneville — stopped on the crossing.
He heard a train whistle. The crossing gates lowered.
Ihle, a 38-year-old father of three, noticed handicapped tags on the vehicle. He sprinted toward the tracks.
Inside the stalled car were Marion and Jean Papich, an elderly couple from Slater. He is 84. She is 78. Marion Papich, the driver, kept trying to start the engine.
People in cars behind the downed gate hollered at the Papiches. “Get out!” they cried.
Heather Cramer, an acquaintance of Ihle, happened to be stopped at the end of the cars stacked up behind the Papiches’ vehicle.
She saw the couple weren’t getting out of their car. She screamed. And she started running. She kicked off her flip-flops so she could run faster. She screamed some more.
“I thought it would be something where they would get it fixed quickly, but they just sat there and the train was coming,” Cramer said. “I hoped someone would get to them.”
Ihle did. He thought of his three children.
“I just kept thinking, ‘What if they were in that car?'” Ihle told The Des Moines Register on Thursday. “I had to do something.”
Ihle got behind the car and pushed. It wouldn’t budge. His cowboy boots slipped on the tracks. He had seen Dwight Yoakam in concert the night before and wore the boots Wednesday to keep up the country theme.
The train was coming. Ihle felt the vibrations as the Union Pacific locomotive bore down on them.
The horn blared. The train brakes squealed. The ground shook.
Ihle saw the car’s hood was only slightly over the tracks on which the train was coming. If he could just push it back onto the set of tracks to the north, that just might do it.
Ihle ran around to the front of the car. He slipped the toes of his boots into the track ruts to get leverage.
He yelled at Marion Papich to make sure the car was in neutral gear.
The train was close.
“You could hear it. I even think I could smell it,” Ihle said.
The big car finally budged. He moved the car back about 5 feet, then got out of the way, with seconds to spare.
The train zipped by, missing them all by inches.
“I was worried about losing the backs of my heels,” Ihle said. “I didn’t know what to say or do. I was just standing there.”
Ihle tried to talk to the Papiches. They were too shocked to say anything. The train finally shuddered to a halt down the line. An engineer came running back toward the scene.
Ihle walked back to the bank and got a cup of coffee.
The tellers in the drive-through windows who witnessed his heroic act swarmed him. They thought he was going to die.
Ihle called his dad.
“You ain’t gonna believe what just happened to me,” he said. “And my dad said, ‘You should probably go back out there.'”
Ihle went back out to meet with police. He never got a chance to talk to the Papiches. They were unavailable for comment Thursday.
But Ihle has the comfort of knowing they’re still alive today because of his fast action.
“It’s all still kind of a blur to me,” Ihle said. “Holy cow.”
Categories: US News