By Scott Trostel
For the Piqua Daily Call
PIQUA — It was a dark rainy night on April 30, 1865, as they Lincoln Funeral Train departed Piqua. The west grade of the Miami River Valley confronted the train as it passed what seemed like a continuous line of people and bonfires.
Young Sam was just 9 years old, and he heard his parents talk about the death of the president. His father told him they were going to see the train. Their meager farm was about two miles north of the tracks, and west of Piqua. He went to bed early, then in what he thought must have been a mistake, he was awakened and told to put on his best clothes. Without a carriage or wagon available, the family walked or slogged through the dark, wet fields. In the distance they could see the bonfires along the tracks. Soon enough they arrived, and his folks talked in hushed tones to other who had come for the same purpose — to honor the fallen president.
They looked down the track to the east, knowing the train would not become visible until it reached Summit at the top of the grade (near Spiker Road today).
The dim yellow glow of the headlight pierced the night, the muffled exhaust of the locomotive mixed in with the sounds of rain was the telling sound. It was the locomotive of the pilot train, leading the funeral train by about 10 minutes. It was exciting, but also bewildering as it passed by. The wait was almost timeless and finally glimpses of the funeral train’s headlight appeared, followed by two short warning toots of the banshee whistle. The flags twirled lazily on the locomotive and the acrid wood smoke of the locomotive drifted down on everyone. Men suddenly removed their hats, women were sobbing, others were praying in hushed tones, some dropped to their knees. In the distance a group was singing a hymn. As the train passed by, the brakemen stood on the platforms of each car, ready to tighten down the brakes.
The car wheels clanked over a joint in the rail like a hammer slamming into an anvil and suddenly men dropped to their knees. Lights shown from the funeral car windows as it passed by, and then one last car passed, it was over.
They saw flowers that had been tossed in front of the train as they commenced up the track a ways. The smoke was gone and so was the train. People quietly left from along the tracks. Sam had just witnessed a milestone in American history.
Today the tracks are gone, some of the roadbed is a bike path, other portions have been returned to fields or left to stand as a brush line.