Friends remember Catlin man killed in truck-train crash

By Noelle McGee

Tuesday February 3, 2009

Lyndal Arnold

The offices at Prairie International Trucks in Champaign were somber Tuesday as staff dealt with the death of a longtime salesman who was killed in a truck-train collision west of Fairmount on Monday afternoon.

But it wasn't all tears.

"There's been a lot of stories, a lot of smiles," general manager Dick Kennedy said.

"Whenever you think of him, you smile," he added, referring to 70-year-old Lyndal W. Arnold of Catlin.

The Vermilion County Sheriff's Department still is investigating the collision that occurred at 3:59 p.m. Monday on County Road 250 E at the Norfolk Southern railroad crossing. The tracks are about four-tenths of a mile south of the Catlin-Homer Road.

Sgt. Bill Hurt said Mr. Arnold was driving a 2000 Buick Regal north on 250 E. As he crossed the tracks, the passenger side was struck by a train heading west.

The car came to a stop west of the crossing, Hurt said. Vermilion County Coroner Peggy Johnson said Mr. Arnold was pronounced dead at the scene.

The country crossing is marked with "crossbuck" signs signs with the words "railroad" and "crossing" assembled to make an X configuration, Hurt said. But it does not have a crossing arm, warning lights or signals.

While no other information was available on Tuesday, Hurt did say that there was no indication that Mr. Arnold's car got stuck on the tracks.

A lifelong Vermilion County resident, Mr. Arnold grew up on a farm in Fithian, said his wife, Carolyn. He started driving semitrailer trucks, then sold them for 40 years.

"He called himself Honest Abe the Truck Peddler," Carolyn Arnold said, adding the name was even what he used as his e-mail address. "He had a lot of old-time customers. Whenever they wanted to buy a truck, they'd call him to appraise it. They knew he would always give them an honest opinion."

Mr. Arnold started out selling International Harvester trucks for a farm implement store in downtown Danville. He went to Prairie International around 1986, and was a favorite salesman.

"He loved people, and people loved him," Kennedy said. "He was very customer-oriented. He made sure everything was done the way the customer needed it done. And he always followed through to make sure the customer was happy."

Mr. Arnold retired three years ago, but then went back to work full-time. "He just missed it," his wife said.

The last time Carolyn Arnold saw her husband alive was on Sunday. The two took their granddaughter to church at the Danville United Church of Christ, then out to lunch. After saying goodbye, she went to a birthday party, and he headed to a Super Bowl party at the Springfield home of one of the owners of his company.

"He didn't drink," Carolyn Arnold said, adding he did stay over in Springfield so that he could check the truck lots of sites in Springfield and Decatur the next day. On his way home, he made a stop in the Fairmount area. "He was seeing a customer."

She also said her husband was very safety-conscious, especially when it came to trains. They live a block south of the railroad tracks in Catlin. "He always made sure our kids never tried to cross if there was a train," she said.

Carolyn Arnold said the couple would have celebrated their golden anniversary in June. She called her husband "a great family man," and said their home is filled with pictures of him with his two children, Larry Arnold of Oakwood and Charlotte Christin of Rockville, Md., and his grandchildren Larry Wayne and Brielle Arnold and Nikolai Christin, whom their daughter adopted from Russia.

Richard "Butch" Schmink said Mr. Arnold was a great friend. He and his late wife, Marcia, met the couple when they moved next door in 1967. When Schmink joined the Masonic Lodge back in the 1970s, Mr. Arnold served as his coach.

The two couples also attended church together. "He was a deacon for a while," Schmink recalled. "And he'd help out with all of the dinners or just about anything they needed him for. He was just an all-around good guy."