AMES, Iowa – He may not be able to “leap tall buildings in a single bound,” but hometown hero Chris Ihle shares another of Superman’s famous traits, namely, that he’s “faster than a speeding locomotive.”
Ihle had just parked his motorcycle after returning to work from a late lunch last week, when he spotted a car – a big, old Pontiac Bonneville – stalled and stuck, straddling a nearby railroad crossing.
According to the Des Moines Register, Ihle, a 38-year-old father of three, noticed handicapped tags on the vehicle, a frantic, elderly couple still inside and to his horror, the whistle of an oncoming train.
As the crossing gates lowered and the rumble of the train began to shake the ground, Ihle sprinted into action.
“I just kept thinking, ‘What if [my children] were in that car?’” Ihle said. “I had to do something.”
While others screamed at the couple to flee the automobile, Ihle leaped on to the tracks and tried to push the car out of the crossing. But Ihle’s cowboy boots weren’t gaining traction, and the train was gaining ground.
“You could hear it,” Ihle said of the approaching locomotive. “I even think I could smell it.”
Some quick thinking then saved all their lives.
Ihle shouted at the 84-year-old driver to shift into neutral as he ran around to the front of the car. The oncoming train was barreling down the southern set of tracks, Ihle noticed, and if he could just push the car backward onto the northern tracks, the train should miss it.
Ihle dug the toes of his boots into the track ruts to get leverage and heaved. The big car started to roll. The ground shook. The train blasted its horn. Its brakes screeched.
Ihle had moved the car about five feet but ran out of time. With seconds to spare, he leaped out of the way.
The train then thundered by, missing them all by inches.
“He jumped to get out of the way of the train. It was that close,” the car’s passenger, Jean Papich, told Des Moines’ KCCI-TV afterward. “It was close, and I’m still scared.”
“I was worried about losing the backs of my heels,” Ihle told the Register.
Marion Papich, the car’s driver, called Ihle an “angel” and a “hero”: “[He] didn’t have to risk [his] life to get right down in front of the car between the car and the train and push us.”
Papich later explained he had been trying to get the car to start, kept thinking it would turn over, but by the time he realized it wouldn’t, it was too late.
“What was going through my mind?” Papich posited. “To get out, but I was kind of like frozen in time.
“Closest call I’ve had,” he said.
“I really thought we weren’t going to make it,” said his wife of 55 years.