I wanted to write this letter to recount the amazing events of Saturday, August 18 from a bystander’s perspective. Driving home from Marshall, Texas to Longview down 1-20, a route we rarely take, my husband received a call from the Hallsville Police Officer on duty. The officer explained there had been a train wreck near Hallsville and the passengers had been sitting on the train for 2 hours and were beginning to suffer from heat related injuries. He was requesting any Hallsville lSD busses that could be made available be dispatched to help pick these stranded Amtrak passengers up and move them to cooler facilities.
As it happened we were coming up on the Hallsville exit, so we were already there. As my husband began to make those phone calls we headed up FM 450. By the time we got to Highway 80 he hung up the phone to tell me the brand-new bus supervisor was on his way to help but it would be 30 minutes before he could get there. Because he was new, and school had not yet started, he did not have any of the regular bus drivers’ names or numbers to contact them for help, so it would just be him.
As my husband called the Hallsville Officer back to find out exactly where the accident had occurred, we turned west on highway 80, the opposite direction from the wreck. As he hung up the phone and we began to look for a place to turn around he spotted three bright yellow school busses at the Hallsville What-A-Burger. Hoping they belonged to Hallsville, we pulled in to see they were Tyler lSD busses. We went inside to find the Tyler Lee and John Tyler volleyball teams enjoying lunch before heading home. As he explained the urgent need the drivers and coaches, without hesitation, agreed to help. Within 20 minutes of the first phone call busses were headed to the accident scene. When we arrived, hot, red faced, passengers gratefully shuffled onto the busses, but it became apparent quickly there would not be enough room if they took their luggage. Roughly 150 passengers trustingly left their personal belongings in a line beside the road. As the last Tyler lSD bus pulled away from the accident, in rolled the Hallsville lSD bus to pick up the last of the train passengers.
The Hallsville lSD Transportation Director had brought his wife and daughter to help and as passengers loaded the bus these ladies, along with rescue workers, began loading the carry-on baggage into two waiting pick-up trucks that had “magically” appeared to pick up the passenger’s carry-on belongings and ferry them to their back to their owners. One of these truck drivers, a local Hallsville resident had heard about the accident and come to help in anyway needed, making several trips to deliver the all bags safely.
The original goal was to deliver these passengers to Gold Hall, Hallsville’s Community Center, but it was in use so immediately First Baptist Church of Hallsville was contacted and within minutes someone was there with the key opening their doors to the tired overheated passengers. When I first entered the Church, I was amazed as ice water was being passed to passengers sitting around tables and chairs. As if the room had been set up waiting for them. Volunteers were handing out wet paper towels and two young ladies had a cart pushing around containers of popcorn for the passengers. EMS personnel made their way through the crowd to check on anyone who was feeling ill or overheated. Soon, announcements were being made over the PA system about their baggage and medicines and the next steps to getting them home. Cheers and applause arose as they learned no one had been injured in the crash and the car the train had hit had been empty.
Outside there were workers, from small children to adults, that had come to help, unloading baggage and water out of trucks. The Hallsville lSD bus making its second trip was dropping off the tired and hot Amtrak crew. There were 6 to 10 people assembled with the passenger’s carry-on luggage and, as passengers came out, these volunteers found their luggage and carried each piece back into the Church for them, returning to help someone else.
When I returned inside, I was astounded to see the passengers were now being served a meal of hot-dogs, chips, cookies and drinks to include homemade lemonade. The food was supplied by the local Sonic with donations from the What-A-Burger. I was overwhelmed at this community’s loving response.
When the tour buses from Amtrak arrived to ferry these passengers to their destination, most passengers were helped out of the church by volunteers carrying their bags and assisting them up the stairs and onto the bus waiving good-byes and offering prayers for their safe journey home. As I watched the last bus depart I was dazed to see all of the many volunteers had disappeared back to their everyday life, as if this herculean effort was something they did every day. No on waited on a thank you or a pat on the back . As my husband and I got in our truck to head home a lone figure locked up the Church and waved us good bye.
I turned to my husband and had to comment on a most amazing past four hours. How God provided in every way. Watching a community come together to help people stranded and in need had both astounded me and lifted my spirit at the wonderful kindness that the small community of Hallsville, Texas had shown. I listed no names in this recount because I would miss too many of them and all of them deserve accolades and more. They know who they are, and I offer my humble gratitude for the most inspiring Saturday I have ever seen.
— Phyllis Turner, Longview