‘Rescue at the Railroad Station: A Diary of Yesteryear’

Special to The Times

Aug. 31, 1862

Mount Clemens, Mich.

Dear Diary,

I am Eugene Crowley, and I have just moved to town with my family. We arrived from Detroit on the Grand Trunk Railroad. What a ride!


Listening to the steam engine hiss and the whistle blow as we click-clacked over the tracks sure was exciting!

But wait until you hear what happened at the Mount Clemens station when our train pulled in.

A boy carrying a bundle of newspapers got off too. He’d been selling newspapers and candy on the train. I heard someone call him Tom. He was older than me — around 15 I would guess. I sure would like riding the railroad and earning money at the same time!

Meanwhile over in the railroad yard some freight train boxcars were being switched from one track to another. Suddenly, one boxcar rolled off the sidetrack, onto the main track.


“It’s a runaway car!” Tom shouted.

We saw a little boy playing with gravel on the main track. Before I could move, Tom ran like a racehorse, grabbed the child, and leaped off just in time!

The station manager rushed out of the station house.

“Thanks, Tom,” he cried. “You rescued my little boy, Jimmy.”

“It was a good thing I saw him, Mr. MacKenzie,” Tom said.

This is what I heard next: Mr. MacKenzie wanted to reward Tom but didn’t have spare money. Then he had an idea.

Mr. MacKenzie was in charge of the station house telegraph. That’s a new machine that can send and receive messages through wires by bursts of electricity. I’ve read all about it! The sender presses a key that sends a signal. The receiver uses a device called a “sounder,” which causes an electromagnet to attract an iron bar. When the bar strikes the electromagnet, a sharp instrument clicks dots and dashes onto a strip of paper — making a coded message.

It turned out that Tom often hung around the station and begged Mr. MacKenzie to show him how to use the telegraph. So Mr. MacKenzie offered to teach him.


“I accept the offer,” said Tom.

Wasn’t that lucky for everyone! I sure would like to learn how to operate the telegraph. Maybe someday Mr. MacKenzie will teach me too.

Author’s note: Tom was Thomas Alva Edison, the great inventor, and the Mount Clemens rescue is a true story. Edison learned the telegraph and worked in different station houses when he got older. Later, he developed hundreds of inventions, including the phonograph and an electric voting machine. He is most famous for inventing the electric glow bulb — the light bulb.

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