A strange little man who did a deed of pure heroics.
And in the Town of Doon, in olden days, there lived many wonderful old characters. One such was Floyd Romig.
But first let me say something about those colorful characters. They were a strange and individual lot. Looking back I am tempted to say each can never be copied and as a group now departed they are a species lost. We kids loved these peculiar people and were not afraid of them, really. By today's hysteria over "strange people" they would have been labeled dangerous psychopaths. I cannot remember a single incident of harm done to others by them. They were more the victims of injury.
Floyd Romig. The name brings it all back. He was born in 1897, probably in Doon. He lived with his parents until they died in the little house on the far north of town. Then he lived out the rest of his days in that same little house. It was rundown and thirsty for a coat of paint. The windows were darkened by decades of accumulated dust and grime. In his backyard he kept a large garden, including a strawberry patch. He sold produce from it.
He dressed in baggy old clothes, his pants usually worn high water so his high-laced shoes stood out awkwardly. On his head he wore a flat cap. His manner was polite, but uneasy. He seemed always to be in frail health. He was small, skinny and bent, and he seemed to pitch forward as he walked. He greeted all with a formal little, "Howdy do." preceded by a timid cough. No woman ever looked upon Floyd with favor.
In his young years he worked for the Great Northern Railroad as a section hand out of Doon. But most of his life he did odd jobs, sold garden produce and a line of household items from a little sample case, taking orders for later delivery.
He had a dream of greatness. He aspired to fame as the author of mystery stories. My brother Dan and I were sometimes invited into his dimly lit home on Sunday afternoons to hear him read from his unpublished manuscripts. These he had hired someone to type up. He gloried in reading the fiction of his mind. These we endured. Then when light shafts pierced through the west window of the tiny living room standing out ancient dust in the air, we left.
One day in 1951 Floyd Romig was found dead in his home.
But wait, there is more to the Floyd Romig story, a moment of supreme courage and heroism. It was told by the late George Kloek, Doon son, and later a corporate attorney for AT&T in New York. Here is the story as told by Mr. Kloek:
FLOYD ROMIG'S HEROIC DEED
I am going to tell you of an act of pure heroism performed by Floyd Romig that is almost unbelievable.
In the summer of 1918 World War I was still in progress. The railroads had been taken over by the government and were busy transporting materials and supplies needed for the war effort. Since the older men were in service, the Great Northern Railway maintenance crews were largely composed of aliens and high school students. In the Doon crew there were three older men, Gust Surmelis, the Greek foreman, Louis (last name unknown), Gust's brother-in-law, and a Serbian known only as John. The rest were high-schoolers.
To ride back and forth to work about 11 of us contributed to the purchase of a large Fairmont motor, which was mounted on a heavy steel chassis. Since the car was so very heavy we generally stopped at some public road or farmers' work crossing where the planks laid parallel to and in between the rails, made taking the car off much easier. If we had to stop where there was no such crossing we lifted one wheel at a time over each rail. In either case it took four of us to get the motor off the track. Two of us would lift up on the handles, and two others would push down on the handles on the back end.
Floyd was very frail and for that reason was never asked to assist in this item of work.
One afternoon we set out in the direction of Perkins. We were at a section of the right-of-way where the track going toward Doon was downhill. It was customary for the engineer to coast the engine here so one could not see the usual puffs of smoke that normally issue from the smoke stack when the engine is laboring. Suddenly we were horrified to see coming around a curve and toward us a so-called "extra train." You could tell them by the two small white flags they carried. Our foreman grabbed the brake and applied it as hard as he could. As soon as he had the car partially slowed down we all, including the foreman, leaped to safety, that is, all except Floyd. He jumped in front of the car and with his back toward the onrushing train pushed against the car as hard as he could to slow its speed. Running backward he could easily have tripped over one of the uneven ties and fallen. Just when the train was about to run him down, Floyd, by an Herculean effort, tossed the motor car off the track and onto the side of the railroad embankment. At the last split second he leaped to safety. Had he been unsuccessful he would have been crushed between the locomotive and the motor car. The freight train would certainly have been derailed. The wheels of the engine, the coal car, and of course many of the freight cars would have passed over his body. The result would have been too horrible to contemplate.
After the train had passed there was a moment of silence. Then the foreman said, "Let's get to work." No one said as much as "Nice going Floyd." Nor did any of us thank him for having saved our lives, which he undoubtedly did, for the train, if derailed, would have strewn the cars all over the right of way and upon us. We were very thoughtless, and possibly also envious of him.
The foreman did not report it to his headquarters for he must have felt negligent for not having checked in at the depot before we left for work to see if any extra trains had been scheduled.
Had the executives of the railroad been informed of the incident Floyd would possibly have come in for a substantial reward. With a capable press agent and deserving publicity, he would certainly have been awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor.
In my opinion his deed ranks with the most heroic acts ever performed by a civilian in the State of Iowa.
Index | Home