Charlotte, Barbara, and Roger Shipman and the tunnel (Charlotte Matheny Kirkwood descendents)

By Roger Shipman  8/2/2009

At age 7 or 8, we lived near downtown Everett, Washington, “kitty-corner” from the fire station, which was right next to the opening of the train tunnel which ran ¾ mile under downtown.  That mysterious dark mouth always appealed to all us Shipman’s.  One day my sister Charlotte, 7 years older, announced (Mom and Dad being away) that she was going to explore it.

Barbara and I jumped on the chance to come along.  Bright daylight disappeared far behind us as we trekked into the gaping maw.  Suddenly we saw the headlights of a train coming toward us.  Charlotte, the fastest runner in our family, turned and ran with all her might, Barbara behind her.  I ran, too, but not so fast, and thinking I might not get out, kept stopping to hug the side of the rough tunnel, and looking apprehensively behind me at the rapidly approaching train.

Finally I decided stopping was no help, and I ran until I was out of breath.  Louder and louder behind me, the train kept me running, terrified, and I did not dare look back.  I ran out into the welcome sunshine, but the sides of the opening consisted of a dusty ravine.  I scrabbled on hands and knees to gain purchase on the slippery slope, fearing all the while that the awesome train would crush my legs.

Only three feet up, I slipped, and was face down on the dirt, calling out to the firemen in the building scant six feet above me, when the train thundered out of the tunnel.  My feet were only two feet from the tracks, and the train’s passage shook the earth, as I lay there in dread and terror, not daring to move, for the next two minutes – it seemed like two hours – while the train finally passed by.  Seeing the red caboose left me quivering with relief.

I think it was twenty years before any of us told my mother about that day.  Dad never did learn, as he passed away only about eight years later.  When, years after the event, I read that the suction and wind pressure would prevent even a strong man from clinging to the sides of a tunnel through which a train was passing, I trembled all over again.

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