Draw your carriages close to the schoolhouse. The speakers will stand at the open window so that you people outside can hear.” The ministers were directing traffic. The little schoolhouse at Locke, Michigan, was crowded, even beyond the door.
Many people were sitting in their carriages outside. Others who had come on horseback sat on the grass. All were eager to hear what the Adventist preachers had to say.
John Loughborough, Merritt Cornell, and my grandparents were making a preaching tour through Michigan, where Elder Bates and Cornell had raised up several companies of Sabbath keepers. Because announcements of the meetings had been printed in the Review, the preachers must be sure to reach every appointment on time. In order to do this they had to separate at times, some filling one appointment and some another. Whenever possible they traveled by train or steamer. But since there were few railroads at that time, much of their traveling had to be done by wagon or carriage.
In order to reach Locke, Elders Loughborough and Cornell had to journey 50 miles with horse and wagon over corduroy roads. To understand why they had taken a sturdy farm wagon instead of a more comfortable carriage, let’s read a description of these corduroy roads by Arthur Spalding:
“To make the road firm the road builders used to lay logs crosswise on it close together. Over these they would pile earth and muck from the swamp. This was called a corduroy road. But in wet weather much of this earth would be carried away or be washed down between the logs, so that it would leave great bumps and hollows. And sometimes a poor log would rot out, and leave a bigger hole than ever. The people called these holes “thank-you-ma’ams.’ That was a cheerful way of meeting them; for when, riding over the broken corduroy road in a wagon, they would go bump, bump, bumity-bump, and away down k-plunk, until their bones cracked and their teeth snapped, then instead of scolding and complaining, they would screw their faces into wry smiles, and murmur pleasantly, ‘thank-you-ma’am,’ as though the road had done them a favor.” –Pioneer Stories, p 217,218
On Monday after the meeting the ministers left. And believe it or not, that ride in the lumbering old farm wagon over those rough roads was a real joyride. What did it matter if the travelers were shaken till their teeth rattled? People were really coming to hear the message. Nothing could bring them more joy.
“But what shall we do for places in which to preach?” Elder Cornell asked. “We can’t go on forever using private homes and barns, shops and schoolhouses. We must have our own places, and we must have larger ones.”
“Why couldn’t we use a tent? Remember those tents that were used during Adventist camp meetings back in 1844?” suggested Elder Loughborough.
“Why not? That would be just the thing,” Elder White agreed. Perhaps by another year we can raise money to buy a big tent. It would provide a large enough meeting house, and we could take it with us wherever we needed it.”
“If the plan is a good one for next year, why not for this year?” Elder Cornell asked. “Let’s get a tent at once!”
At Sylvan the party stopped at the home of Charles Glover to find out what he thought of the plan. “That’s what I think of it .” he said, reaching into his pocket and handing the men $35.
At Jackson, a little farther on, they found Dan Palmer, Cyrenius Smith, and J. P. Kellogg, all bighearted men. They contributed liberally. “How much do you think the tent will cost?” asked Mr. Kellogg.
I happen to know that at Rochester there’s a fair-sized assembly tent for sale. It has been used a few times by two First-day Adventist preachers. I think we could get it for $200, “Elder Cornell said.
“Good,” said Kellogg. “Haven’t we nearly that amount on hand now?” they counted the cash, $140. Mr. Kellogg made up the deficit—a loan till it should come in from other contributors. Elder Cornell was off to Rochester on the next train.
Elder White and Loughborough walked back to the Palmer home, where they and Mrs. white spent the afternoon. The White's were to take the evening train for Wisconsin. Before leaving the house, they had prayer. Everyone around the circle felt impressed to pray that the Whites might have a safe journey.
Elder Loughborough accompanied them to the train, helping them with their parcels. They entered a coach with high-backed chairs, called the sleeping car.
Mrs. White sat down, but at once exclaimed, “James I can’t stay in this car! I must get out of here!” Elder loughborough helped them move to the next car behind. As he bade them good-bye, the bell rang and the train started.
They had gone only about three miles when the coaches began to jerk violently. Then they stopped moving altogether. Opening a window, the Whites looked out. One coach was standing on end beside the track, Another was crushed, and pieces of it lay scattered about. Injured passengers were lying amid the wreckage groaning and crying for help. Up and down the track people were running in confusion. The train men were gathering pieces of the broken coach and made a fire to warn another passenger train which was due in a few minutes.
James white picked up his wife and carried her across a swampy piece of land to a wagon road. Following the road about a half a mile, they came to a house and told the people what had happened. Quickly the farmer harnessed a horse and sent a messenger to Jackson for physicians. Elder White went with the messenger, leaving his wife at the farmhouse.
In the city James went to the home of Cyrenius Smith. The next morning Mr. Smith sent a team with James to bring Ellen to the Smith home. After breakfast they drove to the scene of the accident and learned its cause.
At a road crossing a large ox had lain down on the track. The engine hit the ox and was thrown off the rails. It ran into the embankment, striking a large oak stump and overturning on the track. The fast-moving cars in the rear piled up on top of the engine. Several passengers were seriously injured, and four were killed.
The coach which James and Ellen first entered was shattered. One end was raised above the heap of ruins. They went back to look at the car in which they had been riding. It was separated from the wrecked cars and stood alone about a hundred feet from the one in front of it. How had that car become uncoupled from the others?
When they asked the brakeman, he could not tell them. He said, “It is a complete mystery how that car became detached from the cars ahead.” The big bolt with its chain attached lay unbroken on the platform of the car the Whites had occupied, just as if someone had unfastened it and laid it there.
Not one of the trainmen could explain it. But to James and Ellen White it was no mystery. They were sure God had answered their prayers by sending an angel to uncouple their car. There was no other answer. Their box of books and tracts for distribution at the Wisconsin meeting was also undamaged.
In a few hours the wreckage was cleared from the tracks and trains were running on schedule. They took the next one for their Wisconsin appointment.
And what about the tent that Elder Cornell went to Rochester to purchase? Three weeks to the day after the Sunday meeting at Locke, that tent stood on a lot in Battle Creek, complete with seats, platform, and pulpit, ready for use by the young preachers Loughborough and Cornell. From that time on, canvas churches came more and more into use in Adventist evangelism. As soon as the winter snows melted, the gospel messengers were out holding meetings. Usually they would preach four or five nights in one place. Then pulling up stakes, they moved to another town, where they would hold a few meetings, earnestly endeavoring to arouse the people to study the prophecies about Jesus’ second coming and the Sabbath reform. They passed out hundreds of tracks and took the names of all who wished to receive the Review or Instructor. The field was being sown with gospel seed. A few weeks after the Whites returned to Rochester, another baby came to join the family. He was named William Clarence. Now there were three little boys in the home. Elder White’s sister, Anna, lived with them and helped with the office work. Aunt Anna enjoyed nothing better than holding and cuddling little Willie. But she had tuberculosis! Ellen knew that it was not safe for the baby to be with her. How could she get Willie away from Anna without hurting her feelings?
One day, finding Anna with the baby in her arms,