Before the installation of automatic warning signals, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad employed crossing guards to stop pedestrian and automobile traffic when trains approached. An important part of his job was looking out for young children and the elderly. In the late 1930s and 40s, Jake Doering was the crossing guard at the intersection of North Baltimore’s Main Street and the B&O railroad tracks.
After viewing the railroad exhibit while visiting the North Baltimore Ohio Area Historical Society during the 2011 Summerfest, Dale Swope, a North Baltimore native and currently a Fostoria resident, related the following experience from his childhood.
When I was walking home from school one day as a young boy in the early 1940’s, I saw Jake Doering standing at the rail crossing on Main Street. As usual, Jake was holding his railroad sign on top of a wooden pole and blowing his whistle alerting those nearby that a train was coming. As the train passed heading east Jake walked back to his shanty, but instead of leaning his sign against the wall and going inside, he stood outside still holding his sign.
As the end of the train approached the crossing I saw a younger boy standing ahead of me ready to race across the tracks as the caboose passed. Suddenly, I heard Jake’s sign hit the concrete sidewalk and saw him running for the boy as fast as he could. He picked the boy up and continued running across the tracks just as a second train came through in the other direction. I lost my breath as I watched them disappear behind the second train and strained to look between the moving railroad cars to see if the two had made it across the tracks without injury. Finally, I could see Jake safely holding the boy in his arms and lowering him to the ground. The boy immediately ran off down Main Street. I don’t know if anyone else was watching, but I realized that I had just seen Jake save a young boy’s life.
I was too young to think of telling anyone in authority about the incident, but I have since wondered how many other lives he may have saved during his time as a crossing guard. He stood there in all kinds of weather holding his sign, blowing his whistle and telling us to stop because there was a train coming. I think it would be fitting for Jake Doering’s service to be recognized either with a sign near the rail crossing or, perhaps, with a small display at the history center.
Howard O. “Jake” Doering was born in 1906 and started working for the B&O when he was 16 years old. He was employed by the railroad for 49 years until he retired in 1971 at age 65. He lived in North Baltimore until he died in 1991.
North Baltimore resident Tom Doering, one of Jake and Chlo (Balliet) Doering’s two sons, was very surprised and honored to hear of his father’s act of bravery. Tom said that his father had never told his family about the incident.
Dale Swope moved to North Baltimore with his parents in 1941 and started first grade that year. He graduated from North Baltimore High School in 1953. He retired in 1997 after 40 years in the banking business and now lives in Fostoria, Ohio.