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I would like to share with you what changed my life.
In early 1973, I was in the Navy. I was assigned to a submarine that was undergoing a major overhaul at Bremerton Naval Shipyard (near Seattle, Washington). I had been in the Navy for five years and had spent most of it on this submarine. There was not much to do during my time off. I could either go drinking with other sailors or drive over to Tacoma and try to take pictures of trains. Most of my pictures did not turn out well. The weather was miserable. It was cold and damp and I rarely ever saw the sun. Welcome to Seattle in the winter. This was very depressing to a kid that had grown up in the Mojave Desert. When I was outside, I expected sunshine.
This was the first picture I took with my new Minolta SRT101. It is 8:30AM on February 3, 1973. That is Milwaukee Road number 3. The engines have set out the cars for Seattle in a small yard around the curve and have come up to the tower to pick up train orders at the Black River interlocking tower. After getting their orders, the units will back up to the rest of their train and proceed south to Tacoma. There is nothing exciting about this picture, except all these things are gone. The Milwaukee Road quit in 1980. The tower was torn down in the mid-80s and number 3 was later scrapped.
Since I had to work a rotating shift, I was awake at odd hours. To pass the time during the night I would drive over to Seattle and spend the night at Black River Tower or Argo Tower.
These levers control the switches and signals around the interlocking tower. Originally, there were 32 levers at this plant. Most were still in use when I was there. The strings hanging from the levers were used in the train order delivery forks.
This is a diagram of the tracks around the tower. The very top track to the left is the Milwaukee Road line up from Tacoma. The Union Pacific had trackage rights on this line between Reservation and Black River. At the present day station of Tukwila, the Milwaukee Road crossed the old Northern Pacific line between Tacoma and Seattle. Milwaukee trains then turned right to a small yard east of the tower shown at the bottom of the diagram by the middle meter. UP trains came past the tower and crossed the Milwaukee Road (exPacific Coast Railway) double track line to Seattle to get on its own rails for the last eight miles to Argo Yard at the south end of Seattle. So on the right side of the diagram the top set of double track belong to BN (exNorthern Pacific), then there was an interchange track between the BN and the Milwaukee Road double track, and the bottom single track line with a siding was the Union Pacific.
There were three large meters at the bottom of the track diagram. The one in the middle indicated the voltage that was available to operate the switches. The other two indicated the amperage being drawn by the switch motors as they moved the points on the various switches or moveable frogs on the high speed crossings.
On Feb 19, 1973, I decided to take some pictures of the Milwaukee Road east of the tower. I drove about five mile east of Maple Valley and waited for a train. After two hours a westbound came along. For some reason the camera jammed. I jumped in the car and gave chase. I tried for another picture near Renton. The camera jammed again. Its a good thing no one else was with me, because I was the typical sailor cursing up a storm because the stupid camera wasn't working. I jumped back in the car and drove to the small yard just east of the tower where I knew the train would stop to set out the Seattle cars.
I managed to get the camera to work again and got a picture of the train. But then I discovered that the car was now stuck in the mud. I spent the next 15 minutes rocking the car back and forth to get it out of the mud. Needless to say, I didn't get any more pictures of this train.
I drove to the Monster Road crossing (just to the left of the track diagram) and waited for another train. I had been there about ten minutes when this little red VW pulled up behind me. A guy got out, walked up to the tracks, looked both ways, and then walked back to the car. "Ah-ha, another train nut," I thought, as I knew no one else in his right mind would do that. I walked back to his car and saw that he had his wife with him. I thought, now this guy knows how to go train chasing.
Their names were Nick and Jeanette Krantz. I discovered that he had grown up in Southern California near Redlands. I told them that I had grown up in Southern California in Rosamond (south of Mojave) and that I was in the Navy just out trying to take some pictures. I was much thinner then. I guess I looked starved, because they asked if I could come over next Saturday for a home cooked meal and look at train slides. You could have knocked me over with a feather. Normally submariners get good food, but while the submarine was all torn apart we were eating our meals on an old WWII barge. A home cooked meal and a chance to see train slides from my home area. How could I say no? I gladly accepted.
The following Saturday I drove to their little apartment. The first thing that hit me when I walked in the front door was a picture of Christ on the wall. I made a mental note to try and watch my language. I had a good meal and saw some nice slides from California. After the slides Nick said, "Can we share something with you?" I kind of knew what was coming, because there were some other Christians on the submarine and they had also tried to share with me.
Nick pulled out the "Four Spiritual Laws" and began to share.
1. God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.
2. Man is sinful and separated from God. Therefore he cannot know and experience God's love and plan for his life.
3. Jesus Christ is God's only provision for man's sin. Through Him you can know and experience God's love and plan for you life.
I don't think I let Nick get to law number four, because at that the time in my life I didn't believe that there was a God. I had 9,000 reasons why God didn't exist.
The thing that surprised me was that they didn't seem terribly upset over my reasons. It was late at night and for some reason they asked if I would like to spend the night and go to church with them in the morning. (I didn't have to be back on the submarine until four on Sunday afternoon.) Then a miracle occurred. For some reason I accepted.
It wasn't that I disliked religious people, it is just that I viewed them as weak and that religion was a crutch. I considered myself a scientist. My job on the submarine was based on pure physics. The navigation system I supervised on the submarine used the science of gyros, gravity, earth's rotation, etc. in precise measurements to keep track of exactly where we were as the submarine cruised the depths of the ocean.
However, science is not based on fact, but on observation. Science tries to explain the order in the universe. I had studied the theory of evolution in detail. During college, I had even tried to extend the theory to the development of complex elements from simpler ones through plasma physics. There was a lot of stuff going through my head at that time. But one of the questions I had growing up was how do you know that the woman I marry will stick with me the rest of my life. My parents divorced when I was eight years old.
I continued to visit the Krantz's when our schedules worked out. We talked about trains, life on the submarine, the Bible, and Jesus. I had a hard time understanding all that they said. But I enjoyed their company and honesty with all of my questions.
On March 8th, I got up for duty at 6:00AM and worked the day shift. This was my last shift on this schedule. At 4:00PM, I finished work and had 48 hours off before I had to be back on duty at 4:00PM on the 10th. I drove over to Seattle and had dinner with the Krantz's. At 10:00PM I bid them good night and then headed to a bar and strip joint for a beer. At midnight, I drove to the tower and talked to the operator until about 7:00AM. Then I headed east to Hyak for a day of chasing trains on the Milwaukee Road and the old NP Stampede Pass Route.
I was surprised to see snow on the ground when I got to the top of the pass. I got off at the second unmarked exit from Hyak. This was Cabin Creek road. At first the road was gravel, but as I made a corner the road changed to a solid sheet of ice. I skidded to a halt. I thought there would be no problem as I put the car in reverse and tried to back up. But there was just enough incline that the car didn't budge. The rear wheels just spun on the ice.
I tried chipping away at the ice to get the wheel to drop down to gravel to get some traction. But every time I tried to back up the wheels would just spin. I was going nowhere.
Walking back to the road and asking for help was not an option for me. I wanted to do this myself. I continued to chip away at the ice. As I was working up a sweat in this freezing weather a voice said, "Without me you can do nothing." At first I just agreed with it and said, "Boy that's true because I've been chipping away at the ice for an hour and the car hasn't moved an inch." Then I stood up and looked around. No one else was there. I had been up about 26 hours and knew I was tired. Was my mind playing tricks on me? I continued chipping away at the ice.
Then I heard a train off in the distance. All I could do is watch as it was too far away to get a picture. The same voice said, "That is where you want to be, but because you are what you are, you are where you are." Then I looked up and the clouds were pressing down at treetop level and then I realized that it must be God talking. And that He had allowed me to get stuck just so He and I could have a pow-wow and He was doing all of the talking. In anger I raised my fist to the clouds and said, "If you are...if you are, then you get me out of here." Then I said to myself, "John, you are really losing it, because nobody talks to clouds."
I paced around the car trying to look at my situation from a different perspective. It was then that I noticed some traces of animals. I wondered when bears come out of hibernation. Then I got scared and got in the car. This is crazy I thought, I am protected from a bear I don't even know is around and I not making any progress on getting the car to move. I got out and in fear began chipping away at the ice again.
I could not see the main highway as there were too many trees, but I could hear a car go by every so often. Then I heard a truck. At first it sounded like it would just go on by, but then it slowed and stopped. I ran back to the main road to see a highway maintenance truck. Two guys were taking down the snow posts. As I helped them, I told them my situation. They said, "Boy are you lucky, this is the only day of the year that we come out to take the snow posts down."
After the snow posts were stored on the truck they walked the quarter mile to the car. I don't think they pushed the car back more than a foot when it got traction and backed out ever so easy. I thanked them and drove off. Circumstance, mere circumstance, I thought. I ask God to get me out and along comes a highway crew that only does this once a year.
I drove further east to Easton to try a different approach to Cabin Creek. That road was also covered in snow and ice, so I drove to Hyak to wait for another train.
I talked with the operator at the power substation at Hyak and found that the train would be here in about an hour. It would be the last train before sunset.
I waited in the car and ate the lunch that Jeanette had lovingly prepared for me the night before. I thought of them and then read some of the book of John in the Bible. I somehow wanted it to be true that Christ was like a shepherd and we were His wayward sheep. He wanted to gather us together and help us.
After two hours of waiting I could hardly stay awake. I went back to the substation and found that the train had broken in two coming up the mountain. I took a picture of the substation and then decided to give up and go back to Bremerton to get some sleep.
As I drove down the west side of the pass, I caught a glimpse of the headend of the train going up to Hyak. I did stop to take a picture of the rest of the train further down the hill. I don't remember the sun coming out, but a sun flair somehow got in the picture. This was the
second train I missed that day.
I thought about the events of the day. I continued to read the "Four Spiritual Laws" booklet and more of the book of John in the Bible. I continued to visit the Krantz's and talk about all sorts of things. After three more weeks of unexplainable circumstances, I couldn't deny God's existence any longer. I had read the Four Spiritual Laws so many times that it seemed I had read the print off the pages. Then one day it all made sense.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son (Jesus) that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth and the life, no one come to the Father, but through Me."
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.
I confessed I was a sinner to Jesus and asked Him to come into my life and help me live for Him.
Jesus came into my life. He not only helped me get my life straightened out, but as a side benefit my train photography improved. I would like you to know this same truth and become one of God's children.
"Four Spiritual Laws" in English.
In case English is not your first language, try this list of languages that hopefully will have your language.
That was written ten years ago. Now you can watch the Jesus film on your cell phone. Go to the Jesus film project. The film is about an hour and a half long. If you want to hear the story in English then click on the RED box titled Watch the "Jesus" film. However, the film has been translated into more than 1400 languages. So if you prefer a different language, click on the Country Lookup Map in the box on the right side of the screen under the picture of Jesus. The program will display a world map and you can select your contry of origin. As an example for Russia, there are videos in 62 languages. Click on the language that you speak best and the next screen will show you all of the films available in your language. Enjoy. It is free.
My wife and I have been serving with Wycliffe Bible Translators for almost 40 years. For more information about Wycliffe and an opportunity to help take God's Word to the ends of the earth, see our page on the Wycliffe website.