Jerry W. Ashcraft saved Bryant O. McConnell and others from being struck by a train, Camden, Arkansas, May 20, 1984. Bryant, 10, and three other boys were fishing from a narrow, single-track railroad trestle as a freight train approached. They attempted to outrun the train. Aboard the first engine of the train, Ashcraft, 35, a train engineer, descended to the engine’s bottom step as the train was traveling at about 5 m.p.h., and, holding to a railing with one hand, kicked the three other boys one at a time from the train’s path. They fell to safety below the trestle. Since Bryant was running on the track, Ashcraft leaned in front of the train and grabbed him by the collar just as the engine was about to strike him. Ashcraft threw Bryant from the trestle, but then lost his balance and fell in front of the train. Projections of the engine struck Ashcraft in the shoulder and left knee and pushed him away from the train. The boys recovered from minor bruises. Ashcraft underwent surgery and therapy for disabling injuries.
59997 – 689359997-6893
Jerry Wayne Ashcraft, 67, of Pine Bluff, Ark., died on June 30, 2015. Born on Dec. 4, 1947, in Pine Bluff, he was a son of William Hogan Ashcraft and Katherine Hoyt Ashcraft.
Ashcraft retired after more than 30 years as an engineer with the Cotton Belt, Southern Pacific, and Union Pacific railroad companies. He was a member of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen.
Ashcraft’s memberships also included the board of C&L Electric Cooperative, Theta Xi Fraternity, and the Grady Lions Club, for which he loved cooking fish at the annual fish fry. He was a past member of the Jefferson Preparatory School Board, a member of the Big Island Hunting Club, and he worked the polls during elections.
Ashcraft also was a member of First Baptist Church. One of his favorite personal moments was winning the mens’ cake bake competition at the church, earning a three-inch tall trophy that sat on his desk throughout his life.
Ashcraft was one of the most prolific scorers in Arkansas high school basketball history, leading his Grady Wolverines to the state championship game. He was on the all-district and all-state teams and played in the Arkansas High School All-Star game. The University of Arkansas rewarded him with a basketball scholarship, enabling him to realize his dream of being a Razorback. He later attended University of Arkansas campuses at Monticello and Pine Bluff.
He was a recipient of the Carnegie Medal and other awards for saving the lives of four youths who were on a train trestle near Camden, Ark. His heroic deed in 1984 made national news, and he was recognized by President Ronald Reagan and other leaders, such as Gov. Bill Clinton.
“Because you acted so quickly and courageously, you have earned the respect and admiration of all of us in the Southern Pacific family,” Denman K. McNear, chairman of Southern Pacific Transportation Co. and Cotton Belt, wrote in a letter of commendation. “You have upheld the highest tradition of Southern Pacific.”
Norman Vincent Peale, author of the best-selling book, “The Power of Positive Thinking,” chronicled Ashcraft’s act in his radio series “The American Character.”
(Edited from an obituary published in The Pine Bluff Commercial.)