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Angel on the Cowcatcher

—By Marilynn and William Webber

William “Bill” Henry was at the throttle of his steam locomotive the Buffalo Flyer. The train had stopped at Port Pennsylvania, and filled its tanks with water. The night express was running at full speed just above Shickshinny where the mining region begins, when the engineer was startled to see a man on the cowcatcher. Bill watched in amazement as the man swung confidently up onto the steam chest. Holding on to the handrail with his left hand, he used his right hand to give the railroad signal, CAUTION—STOP!

Bill called to Henry Sulenk, the fireman: “Hank, it looks like we have a passenger!”

Hank looked out and said, “Probably a bum that got on at Port.”

The man stepped onto the running board that led from the front of the engine to the cab, all the while giving a signal, which was now DANGER—STOP!

The engineer watched with fascination. The train was running with a full head of steam. The forward movement of the train created a strong wind, yet this man was walking toward the cab with no difficulty.

It was strange, too, about his clothes. He was dressed in a light gray suit and wore a hat, but the wind did not blow his clothes, and his hat did not move from his head. As he came closer, Bill Henry could see him clearly. The man had a light-brown mustache, but it was his eyes that Bill would never forget—they seemed filled with compassion and wonder.

Now the strange rider changed the sign to read: EMERGENCY!—STOP!

The engineer released the throttle, put on all the brakes, and the Buffalo Flyer ground to a hard stop. Bill Henry whistled for the flagmen. Immediately they went into their emergency procedure of placing flags on the tracks to warn other trains that there was a halted locomotive. One flagman went to the back to place his warning flags. The engineer watched the other flagman hurrying to place his flags in front of the train. Peering into the darkness, Bill saw the flagman stop about 150 feet ahead and signal with his lantern: CAVE-IN!

When the crew rushed ahead, they found a gaping hole where the tracks had been.

Realizing how close they had come to death, the crew hurried back to thank the mysterious night rider. He had disappeared as mysteriously as he had appeared and was never found.

Bill Henry seldom talked about the mysterious rider on the Buffalo Flyer, but when he did, he always let his listener decide who the man in gray might be. But Bill himself had no doubts. He was certain that the “man” was an angel from God.