Railroad Switchman Struck by Lightning (1937)

An old 1937 newspaper clipping and some faded photographs are definitive proof that Carl E. Spaid, a 45-year-old railroad switchman, was struck by lightning while working on the Burlington Route. As far as I know, a direct hit from a bolt of lightning is usually deadly, but the incredible (and almost unbelievable) part of this story is the fact that he survived. As the years of his life continued on, Carl eventually became my husband’s grandfather.
Blasted out of Shoes_1
I am told that Carl never said much, if anything, about his close encounter with the lightning. Considering the fact that he was in a coma for a while after the strike, it is quite possible that he had little to no memory of what happened.
Lightning Article
Looking at the old photos that we have, it appears that the lightning snapped a metal band around his hat, blew a hole into the side of it, shredded his clothes while passing downwards, and then violently exited out through his shoes.
Personally, I don’t understand how he could have survived such a powerful electrical jolt from the universe, but he did. There must be a plausible explanation—I just don’t know what it is! Could be that miracles do happen.
Carl must have been a very strong man, both physically and mentally, because he returned to his job as a Burlington railroad switchman after he recovered. I don’t know if I could have done that. After being struck by lightning and almost dying,  I think I would have worried every time dark clouds brewed on the horizon again!

Regardless of any inherent dangers, he must have loved his job because he stayed with it for 37 years–until he retired.
Carl’s pocket watch ( a 1936 992E “Elinvar” Railroad Pocket Watch made by the Hamilton Watch Company) still works…amazing! My husband says his grandfather also had a smaller pocket watch which he carried sometimes, so we will always wonder which one he had in his pocket on the day the lightning struck. Guess we will never know for sure.
Train Watch_2

Family photo:
Grandfather Carl Edward Spaid with grandson Thomas Carl Spaid—
Time passes and life in this world eventually ends, but memories and stories live on.      ~ms


About Mary Strong-Spaid

You can find me any time wandering around in my own mind gathering thoughts.
This entry was posted in History, Nature, Photo Essay, photography, Science, Trains and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

63 Responses to Railroad Switchman Struck by Lightning (1937)

  1. djmrakiey says:

    He lived to tell a tale. what an incredible story.!!!.. thank you for sharing 🙂

  2. jimibodansko says:

    incredible story Mary and an awesome post with everything you included here ….
    miracles surely can happen, thanks for sharing ….. :o) Jimi

  3. kiwiskan says:

    brilliant (no pun intended)

    • Must have been extremely brilliant, so brilliant that it threw him into darkness for a while. Kind of like having the opportunity to see the face of God (and being allowed to live after the experience)!

      • jimibodansko says:

        i died once but did not see the face of god Mary,
        rather i seen the faces of all my angels that are still
        looking over my shoulder because i can feel them ….
        even right now

        that’s why i am fascinated by these near death experiences
        to see if those who experienced it went through the transition
        in a similar way …..

        (sorry for budding in by the way)

        • Quite alright, Jim. It would be interesting to know what he felt when that happened. But my husband says he never heard the story or saw the pictures….until after his grandfather died. I am told that his grandfather never mentioned it. Either it was too traumatic to talk about, or the lightning strike knocked him out so quickly that he didn’t remember anything at all.
          Fascinating that you saw the faces of all your angels. Have you ever written about it? If so, what is the title of your blog post?. I would certainly like to read it! I am also fascinated by these kinds of experiences.

          • jimibodansko says:

            even though blacking out, i can still remember everything to a tee …. there are family members and friends who have passed on just waiting for the arrival …. but only when the time is right …. the experience i went through was a true reminder of what really is …. everybody should die at least twice so they can really appreciate the time they have now because it is now when wings are earned …. :o) Jimi

  4. Dina says:

    What a story! Thanks for telling and sharing this, Mary.

  5. laurie27wsmith says:

    Hi Mary, Lucky Carl indeed. It would have certainly given him a jolt. I’ve been struck three times, had a ball of lightning hover over my head, had lightning strike a tractor I was driving and electrocuted twice. I don’t recommend any of them. I think the lucky part is where the lightning travels through the body. it can certainly mess with your life.
    Lucky Laurie.

    • Oh my! Sound like electricity is genuinely attracted to you. I took the back off of a TV once, when it was still plugged in and on. Pretty stupid. It was back in the days when there were tubes inside. One of them had a high whistle and it was bothering me, so I wanted to take a look. When I saw that a wire had partially melted on a hot tube, I reached in to move the wire. My hand was about 6 inches away from the wire, when the electricity inside decided to reach out and touch me first. It knocked me down and left me in a daze. I never actually touched the wire. So I decided not to do anything else and called a TV repairmen. He got upset when he heard what I had tried to do. He said, “I don’t want to find you dead on the floor. Don’t you ever do that again.”
      I didn’t.

  6. Wow and everything is so beautifully preserved. What a great story to hand down the generations.

  7. gpcox says:

    You must be very grateful that Carl was such a strong man, or your own life would have taken an entirely different route since your husband would never have been born.

  8. jbcamera says:

    How cool that you have those photos and articles. Such a fascinating story. Thanks for sharing.

  9. That is for sure miracle. This kind of people is our connection to the nature disasters. Them are only the witnesses who can tell us what they felt while been under that terrible power. Lucky Carl and family. Great story!

  10. SPFischer says:

    Mary, fascinating story! My older brother is in the same category as your husband’s grandfather. 25 years ago, he was struck after a storm had passed by. In his arm, out his foot. Messed him up horribly for so very many years – literally put his nervous system into uncontrollable spasms. The only way to deal was being knocked out in a hospital. While those finally passed, to this day he has no feeling in his arm and leg and continues to suffer the consequences of all that that entails as well as lingering effects of the strike. I don’t know how or why he was spared; just know it apparently wasn’t his (or Carl’s) time. I definitely have a healthy respect for lightning. Thanks for sharing.

    • For some reason, Carl Spaid suffered no long term effects from the lightning strike.
      Maybe it is because it went in and out so quickly…I don’t know.
      The doctors said that somehow it managed to miss all of his major organs as it passed through.
      I am sorry that your brother has suffered lingering effects. I know that nerve pain/neuropathy is so hard to deal with.
      I foolishly damaged a nerve (over time) by sitting too long at work every day, and then sitting for hours and hours in traffic.
      Now I type standing up or kneeling. I purchased a “kneeling chair” and also found someone who is good at “myofascial Release” therapy.
      From this point forward, I will remember that I need to get up every so often. Too much prolonged sitting is not healthy.

  11. Great story and photographs! It’s common for people who have these near-death experiences to have a spiritual awakening. Did the experience change Carl’s life in any way?

    • Unfortunately, now that we are old enough to ask questions like that….there is no one left to ask.
      I would guess that it did change his life–coming so close to death and then getting a second chance on life.
      Undoubtedly, he cherished each moment of the time he was given.

  12. What a wonderful nostalgia piece. I have always been someone to toss clippings out but my wife loves to keep old clippings.

  13. myipadography says:

    Wonderful story thank you for sharing

  14. This is such a beautiful story!! Thanks for sharing.

  15. mk says:

    fascinating story – thanks@

  16. windhound says:

    Acceptance of what is and humility in the face of true greatness – both admirable traits that I’m sure have been passed through the generations of your family.

  17. Mags Corner says:

    Oh, my! Amazing that he survived that strike. One thing about pictures they do not lie it is great you had the pictures to go with this post. I myself believe in miracles and I would consider this to be one. We have more people killed by lightening strikes here than any other weather. Hugs

  18. That’s amazing he survived that strike!! I think our bodies are often a lot stronger in some circumstances than we could ever believe. I read a woman’s account of surviving a lightening strike a few years ago (A Match To The Heart by Gretel Ehrlich) although she survived and was grateful to be alive, her life wasn’t the same afterwards, it left her with all kinds of serous problems, really messed up her whole nervous system and gave her some horrible symptoms especially to do with her heart rate. I found it a fascinating real life story to read. Certainly gave me a good insight into what someone might have to endure afterwards. I guess some are more lucky and get away with little or no effects. Must be a strange thought though, to know you’ve survived something as powerful and deadly as that. I remember seeing a TV programme about people surviving lightning strikes, and one woman who was struck in her bathroom inside her own home appeared to be cured from the MS that she was suffering with, so no-one seems to know if it will leave them for better or worse. Thanks for sharing that story, it’s nice to hear about those positive survivals! 🙂

  19. southwrite says:

    Excellent story. I’ve read of other survivors of lightening strikes and it always seems amazing they lived – given the power of the jolt. It’s a real testament to the human spirit that he came back to the job he clearly loved and went on with his life.

    • Thank you! It is amazing.
      I thought anyone struck by a bolt of lightning (especially in the head) would be killed almost immediately.
      If it wasn’t for the photos and the articles, I would have a hard time believing this story is true.
      I agree. It is a real testament to the human spirit!

  20. mzuritam says:

    A great history saved! I appreciate this story. It reminds me of Stonewall Jackson’s belief that if God doesn’t think it’s time for me to go “home”, then absolutely nothing will be able to take my life! It’s a relaxing thing for me to know. 🙂

  21. That was a great story, I really enjoyed it. My father worked for the Seaboard Railroad in Florida for 34 years. He had a watch just like the one in the story. It was given to his grandson.

    Thanks for visiting my Blog, please come back anytime.


  22. alesiablogs says:

    I heard angels once. They were as clear as a bell. I have had no other spiritual experience to compare to that. I was not in any near death experience saga, but those angels were singing!

    • Angels love to sing–they can’t help themselves.
      One time, when I sang a high C while standing next to my piano, I thought I heard a chorus of angels. So I sang the note a second time…and I heard the beautiful sound again.
      Then I realized the sound was coming out of the piano. So I lifted the lid of the piano, stuck my head in close to the strings, and sure enough when I sang the note again…..all of the strings immediately answered (sang) at the same time, from the lowest to the highest. It is what I imagine a choir of angels would sound like.
      I used to hear that same “music” when I was little. At night, right before I would fall asleep, that angelic sound would come and sing me to sleep. Somewhere along the line, I lost my ability to hear the night music, but I know it is still there.

  23. wisreader says:

    Wonderful story, Mary! Great stories like these deserve to be shared again – which you have done here so well, and initiated a fascinating discussion. Good job!

    I wonder if your husband’s grandfather suffered no after-effects because his body worked things out pretty well while he was inactive and in a coma? (Just my theory, and based on little knowledge.) Or maybe he did have some of the symptoms others have mentioned, but just never talked about them. Wasn’t that part of the earlier era – more stoicism, and definitely less “sharing?” (I’m glad , tho, that we live in a sharing-era!)

    • Rumor has it that somehow the lightning went through and touched no major organs. But still, you would think it would have had a lasting effect on the nervous system. It is true that, back then, people were taught to keep things to themselves. I just found out a few years ago, that most of my female relatives have autoimmune thyroid problems. It was only when the younger generation started having problems (and talking about it)—that the older relatives started saying “Oh yeah. I’ve had that for years.” It was like….OK. It would have been a lot easier for the younger people in the family to figure it out…IF they had known!!

  24. Awesome blog! Is your theme custom made or did you download it from somewhere?
    A design like yours with a few simple tweeks would
    really make my blog stand out. Please let me know where you got your design.

    • This is a regular free WordPress blog. It is called “The Twenty Ten Theme.” You can change the background color…so I changed it to green. You also have the option to change the header. So I combined 5 of my photos in Photoshop and put them in as the header. Other than that, I can’t do much of anything else. I had to pay $20 for a “space upgrade” to be able to upload mp3 files. I also had to pay $30 to keep advertisements off of my page. So my free WordPress webpage isn’t totally free. I don’t have the option to change fonts or colors.

  25. BW says:

    Loved reading about this event…hard to imagine!

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