As their Norfolk Southern freight train rumbled through Lafayette, Ind., on the afternoon of May 12, conductor Robert Mohr and engineer Rodney Lindley spotted something that looked like a yellow puppy lying on the tracks 150 yards ahead. To their horror, when Lindley blew the horn, a blonde toddler sat up. “That’s a baby!” yelled Mohr.
With the 96-car, 6,200-ton train bearing down on 19-month-old Emily Marshall, Mohr, 49, dashed out the door and down a catwalk to the front of the engine as Lindley, 50, yanked the brake furiously. The train slowed to about 10 mph, but, recalls Lindley, a Decatur, Ill., father of two, it still “felt like we were just eating up the rail, going faster and faster. She sat up and watched us for what seemed like an eternity.”
Mohr set one foot on a step at the side of the train and clutched the engine’s guard rail with one hand. Then, just before the Vietnam veteran and father of four from Denver, Ind., stretched toward her, Emily just crawled off the rail. In desperation, Mohr swung his foot at the child, tumbling her down a rocky embankment. “I was awful scared,” he says. “She was just so close.”
Emily, unharmed except for a chipped tooth and cuts on her forehead that required about 20 stitches, had clambered onto the unfenced tracks some 50 yards from her house while her mother, Tila Jo Marshall, 34, was gardening in the front yard. Until she heard the whistle, Marshall, a mother of four, thought Emily was inside playing. Later, of Mohr’s brave deed, she exclaimed, “I just wanna wrap my arms around that man!” Indiana plans to do the same, naming both trainmen Hoosier Heroes.