Published January 22, 2023

Fear of Falling Trains 

Written by
Kim Fundingsland
| The Dakotan
Coming down the hill toward Minot's 6th Street underpass. (Photo: Kim Fundingsland/The Dakotan)
Coming down the hill toward Minot's 6th Street underpass. (Photo: Kim Fundingsland/The Dakotan)

A Slice of Life 

This isn’t easy to write about, but here it is. I have a fear of falling trains. Stay with me now. 

In my attempt to explain why, there is a bit of history that must be recalled, at least vaguely. It involves a landmark of sorts in the City of Minot too – the 6th Street Underpass. That’s right. The one adjacent to the City Library, close to City Hall, the Police Department, and what used to be Minot’s only fire station. 

It was in the mid-1960s when this falling trains business began. At that time the train tracks atop the 6th Street Underpass were supported by wooden pillars. Yup, wood. Believe it or not. 

My folks lived on south hill at the time and I was a typical bicycle riding, baseball playing kid. The Minot Recreation Commission scheduled youth baseball games at a couple of places then, Roosevelt Park and Ramstad Junior High. There were no multi-diamond complexes like Minot has today. 

So, like other baseball playing kids, I hung my baseball glove on the handlebars of my bike and headed for the diamond on game day. It was always a lot of fun too, especially going down the steep 6th Street hill and crossing beneath the underpass, unless, of course, it was filled with rainwater, which happened quite often. 

On one particular day though, looking back, it was the beginning of my falling trains dilemma. You see, as I was speedily coasting down 6th Street hill, with my baseball cap joining my fielder’s glove looped over the handlebars to keep it from blowing off my head, I could see a train crossing over the underpass. 

Hoorah! Great fun! 

As I rode underneath the train above, I was showered in splinters. The roadway was covered with them too. Some quite big. The old wooden trestle was crumbling beneath the weight of the train. About a block or so beyond the underpass I heard loud sounds that could only be coming from the train.  

Sure enough, as I learned later that day but probably didn’t really understand, that very train derailed. I do remember that the famed 6th Street Underpass was closed for a while, I guess so they could shore it up a bit. Then came my second encounter. 

That’s right. It happened again. I’m not sure of the year but I’d outgrown my bicycle and was driving a car. Again, I passed underneath the train tracks while a train was overhead. In the rear view mirror I saw the dust cloud billow up from the underpass. Another derailment. This time, at least as I recall, a railroad car took out part of a house on the east side of the underpass.  

Cars pass beneath railroad tracks, the driver's likely unaware of the history associated with the location. (Photo: Kim Fundingsland/The Dakotan)

A few years later and a few years older, I had moved to Central Avenue which meant I’d be using the 6th Street underpass a lot. I was working at KMOT-TV and FM radio at the time, doing weather, sports, and signing on the FM station every morning promptly at 6 a.m. That meant I'd be driving under those train tracks about 5:30 or so five days a week. 

On one of those morning commutes, darned if there wasn’t a train passing overhead. I didn’t think much of it, that is until I opened the door at KMOT and heard the alarm on the scanner going off. A scanner was a fixture in all newsrooms in those days, a link to what kind of calls law enforcement and the like were responding to. 

This time the chatter was obviously more than usual. As I gathered up information to use for my morning show I was also listening intently to the scanner. Within moments it was clear that a train had derailed, the very one that I had passed under on my way to work. 

My “just missed” list was up to three! Yikes! 

So, there you have it – the reason I have, or at least did have, a fear of falling trains. I’ve learned others have it too, but probably not for the same reasons. It’s called siderodromophobia. I had to look that up. 

Concrete has long since replaced the old wooden pillars that used to support train traveling over Minot's 6th Street underpass. (Photo: Kim Fundingsland/The Dakotan)

My siderodromophobia was real for several years but has since faded away. Oh, I still think about falling trains every time I pass beneath them, but it’s not too scary. The old wooden supported trestles are mostly gone now, replaced with concrete. Still, I accelerate a bit when driving beneath a train, maybe saving a third of a second beneath the tracks. Could be lifesaving, unless I ram into someone in front of me. 

That’s my story about a fear of falling trains and a little bit of history of Minot’s 6th Street underpass. I wish I could remember if we won that baseball game. 

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