Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

The red lights were flashing. The bells were clanging. And the crossbar lowered in front of each lane of traffic. So there I sat the other day, along with several other cars in each direction, waiting for the train. You couldn’t miss the warnings. Danger ahead. The train was coming. And anytime a train and a car meet, the train always wins.

But as we sat there waiting for the train, with all the warning signals fully operational, no train appeared from either direction. And then something happened that scared the bejeebies out of me and, if truth be told, probably every other driver at that crossing.

An impatient driver obviously decided that the warning signals were lying. Or maybe a bird had flown into whatever mechanism triggered the lights and bells and cross arms. So he decided to ignore all the warnings and drive around the lowered crossbars. I’m thinking, Oh my goodness! What in the world is that guy thinking about? What could possibly be going through his head?

Maybe he’s thinking, why not? Even though he had seen and heard the warning signals, no train was in sight. So go ahead and take a chance. It’s probably just a malfunction, right?

So, with a quick little zig-zag maneuver around the crossbars, he made it safely across to the other side. And then to my complete jaw-dropping shock, the driver behind him decided to be a copy-cat and try the same thing. I guess the second driver thought it would be OK for him since the first guy had made it. And the second guy made it, too. JUST BARELY!

It seemed like just a blink of the eye after the second car completed his little zig-zag around the crossbars that we all heard the ear-shattering blast of the train’s horn as it rounded the curve and came into full view. And as we used to say back home, it was ‘a late freight doing eighty-eight!’

Now the first driver was long gone. But I’m wondering if the second guy might have needed a change of clothes! He had come within an eyelash of destruction by following someone who had ignored all the warnings of danger just down the road and around the curve. But just because they couldn’t see the danger, they thought it probably wasn’t there. What could have been a disaster was avoided, but as we hear all the time, it could have been tragic.

As I watched what seemed like a couple of hundred boxcars roll by, I mentally hopped aboard one of them and took a ride down the rail before jumping off on the dirt road at Route 4. One of the most vivid memories of growing up on the farm is a couple of us boys riding to town with Daddy in his pulpwood truck, hauling another load to the woodyard.

After spending another hot July/August day cuttin’ pulpwood, we had that sticky, pine sap from head to toe. All over our hands and arms and overalls and in our hair, too. But we were going to town! I called shotgun, so I stuck my arm out the window (no glass and no handle to roll it down if there had been a glass) and away we went. Wade had to sit sideways in the middle ‘cause Daddy was fightin’ that gear shift stick in the floor.

That old jalopy strained and groaned under its ‘granny low-gear’ load (“cut down another pine tree, boys, we don’t have a full load yet”). We hadn’t even made it to the end of the dirt road at the tar-and-gravel before I heard Wade say, “Daddy, why is that red light flashing?” Daddy didn’t reply. His face just got tighter and we could hear him gritting his new uppers & lowers. Being the inquisitive young fellow he was, Wade waited about two minutes before he said, “Daddy, that red light is really pretty now!”

About the same time that Daddy said, “Be quiet, boy, can’t you see I’m busy,” the old truck’s radiator did its best imitation of Old Faithful! As we pulled over to the side of the road, all we could see was smoke, steam, and water.

Long story short, Daddy said ‘let that be a warning to you, boys.’ I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard that growing up on the farm! Let what be a warning? Don’t ignore the flashing red lights! They can be pretty, as Wade said, but there’s usually danger just ahead if you ignore the warnings.

And I still think about that day even now fifty some-odd years later. My car has all kinds of warning lights and gauges. Even the gas gauge has an amber light that begins to glow around a quarter of a tank. And it gets brighter and brighter the closer you get to empty. And if you get dangerously close to empty, it begins to ding-ding-ding. Those lights and gauges were put there by the car’s maker to help us know ahead of time when something is wrong. And ignoring the warnings usually leaves out of gas and on the side of the road.

But what about the road of life? The Apostle Paul knew something about being left on the side of the road. He had ignored warning signs all his life until that bright light knocked him off his donkey and left him blind for three days. But once he got his sight (and his vision back), Paul became a great man of God, warning people about certain destruction (1 Corinthians 10:1-12).

He told them about warnings that had been ignored by the Israelites in the past, and how that displeased God. Even though they had the same spiritual training as Moses, they ‘set their hearts on evil things.’ So much evil, in fact, that Paul says, 23,000 of them died in one day! Others were killed by Satan and his snakes. As Paul says in verse 11, these examples ‘were written down as warnings for us.’ Or, as Daddy used to say, ‘Let that be a lesson to you.’

Even though we’ve been trained to know what is right and what is wrong, we still ignore the crossbars, flashing lights, and clanging bells. We even get away with it sometimes. But, as Paul warns in verse 12, sooner or later we’ll fall if we keep on ignoring the warnings.

The train’s coming – can you hear the engine roar?