Goshen News, Goshen, IN

March 23, 2013

THE PLAIN SIDE: A father sacrifices his son so that others might live


— William Carson took his hand off the lever that raised the drawbridge. Now the slowing-moving freighter could continue sailing up the river.

He checked his watch. Eleven-thirty. It would be an hour and a half before the passenger train came through when he would need to have the bridge lowered for the train to steam across. That was ample time to enjoy a picnic lunch with his youngest son, who had accompanied him to work on this April Saturday.

William glanced down at the river bank before descending out of the tower he worked in. Seven-year-old Joshua had taken a break from skipping rocks and was watching the steamer glide up river.

Father hailed son as he emerged from the base of the tower, two lunch boxes in his hand. “Ready for lunch Joshua? I know a nice spot.”

“Yes! I’m hungry. Can we see the river from your spot? Did Mom pack chocolate milk in my lunch?” Joshua skipped to his father eagerly.

William chuckled. “Is water wet? Do fish swim?”

Joshua looked up, a question in his blue eyes. “Huh?”

“Yes, we’ll have a gorgeous view of the river,” William smiled. “And Mom knows how well you like chocolate milk.”

“Yes!” Joshua put his hand in his father’s as the pair climbed the path leading to the picnic spot William had discovered.

William and Joshua Carson enjoyed their ham sandwiches and milk while perched on the sunny, grassy spot near the crown of the hill. William was obliged to answer questions about boats and trains before almost every bit of his sandwich. This he did happily. He thoroughly enjoyed the company of his son today. His job as drawbridge operator, though he was quite glad for it, had a tendency to become lonely at times.

Williams’s faithful old watch regularly came out of his pocket during lunch. It would not do to be as much as a minute late lowering the bridge for the passenger train. The thought of what would happen if he was ever late had given him nightmares early in his career and was still  ever-present in his mind. The train would come steaming around the bend and — if the bridge was up — must surely wreck and go plunging off the trestle down the bank and into the river below. With good reason William watched the time carefully.

Making sure they had a few minutes to spare, Father gathered the lunch boxes and the blond-hair pair headed back to the tower.

Back at the base of tower, William paused and again checked his watch.

Ten minutes. It took two minutes to climb the tower stairs at his brisk trot and three to lower the bridge fully after he moved the lever that engaged the mighty gears.

He took one more moment with his son and pointed out a spot by the opposite bank where he occasionally saw fish jumping.

“You going up with me, Joshua?” William asked as he began moving toward the stairs.

“I’ll come up later, Daddy. I want to chuck a few rocks yet.”

William actually paused with his foot on the first step and considered warning his son yet again to stay away from the gear pit where those gigantic iron wheels ground against each other.

William decided against it. Joshua knew to steer clear.

Reaching his work platform at the top of the tower, William checked the river and his watch. Yep, it was now clear of ships and OK to lower the bridge. He was two minutes early but there was no reason to wait. He put both hands on the lever and pulled.

The familiar hum of the engines and grinding of gears began. And then ... and then a sound reached William’s ears that would haunt him for years afterward. A faint cry from somewhere below wafted up.

Horror struck. William pushed the lever back up, disengaging the gears, and dashed to the side of the tower. He looked down. Where was Joshua? Another cry and his eyes found Joshua’s blond hair. No. No!

In the gear pit, his legs already caught between two of the now stationary wheels, was his son.

Joshua looked up and his panicked gaze met his father’s. “Get me out, Dad!” he cried pleading.

He must have climbed the fence surrounding the pit for some reason, then fallen in.

A train whistle sounded in the distance.

Frantic, William checked his watch. In four minutes the train would be steaming across the bridge. There was no way he could descend the tower stairs, get his son out of the gear pit and come back up here in time to start the three-minute process of lowering the bridge. The train whistled again, louder now. Putting the bridge down would crush his son between the gears. Doing nothing would wreck the train with its hundreds of passengers.

William leaned over the rail. I love you, Joshua.” His voice was hoarse. “Jesus loves you too.”

Another train whistle.

William Carson stumbled to the lever. Putting both hands on it, he pulled it down, then sand onto the floor, put his face in his hands and sobbed.

The train passengers crossed the bridge as usual. Some of its passengers enjoyed the view of the river, some continued reading and some slept. All were blissfully unaware of the sacrifice a father had just made for them.

Therein is the difference between those passengers and you and I.

We know God gave up his Son to a cruel death for your sake and for mine. What will we do about it?

Loren Beachy is an auctioneer and an elementary school teacher. He can be contacted by writing to 14047 Ind. 4, Goshen, IN 46528 or by calling 642-1180.