Zig Ziglar’s “Railroad Story”

Robert Terson

I’ve had the pleasure of listening to a number of great speakers in my time, some of them storytellers extraordinaire; but no one holds a candle to the Great Zig Ziglar. From my late 20s through my 50s, when Mr. Ziglar came to Chicago to speak, more than likely I was in the audience, soaking up his wisdom, reveling in his wonderful stories, which not only made his point, it caused you to remember it for the rest of your life.

One story in particular that I recall and has stayed with me all these years is the “Railroad Story”; it’s been repeated many times—you’ll find it all over the internet. I want to share it with you today. I’m sure I’m not going to tell it nearly as well as Mr. Ziglar did all those years ago, but I’ll do my best:

In the 1950s, an incident took place on a sweltering summer afternoon alongside a railroad track where a crew of workers was doing some repair work. A train came chugging down the track and pulled off on a side rail. A window opened and a voice—a man’s voice—shouted out, “Dave! Dave Anderson, is that you?”

It was; in fact, Dave Anderson was in charge of the crew. “Yeah, Jim, it’s me,” he shouted back.

The man on the train, Jim Murphy, yelled out, “Well, come on over here and let’s chat a while.”

So Dave stopped what he’d been doing and joined Jim Murphy in his private air-conditioned railroad car for almost an hour, no doubt happy to get out of the broiling sun. When the conversation ended, he made his way back to his crew working on the track. The flabbergasted crew stared at him in utter shock and said something to the effect of, “That was Jim Murphy, the president of the railroad.”

“Yup, it sure was,” Anderson said.

They all gathered around and excitedly wanted to know how Dave knew Jim Murphy, the president of the railroad, for God sakes, to say nothing about he got to be such good buddies with the man and on a first-name basis to boot!

Dave explained: “Well, it’s quite simple—when I started with the railroad over 20 years ago, Jim Murphy started at the same time; we’ve been pals ever since.”

Now the crew is astonished as much as they are confused. They want to know how it is that Dave and Jim Murphy started working for the railroad at the same time and Murphy rose to such dizzying heights while old Dave is still working on the track in the hot sun. How in God’s name did that happen?

Dave looked wistfully up into the sky and said, “A little over 20 years ago Jim Murphy went to work for the railroad; I went to work for a $1.75 an hour.”

My gratitude to Zig Ziglar for his marvelous story.

What about you? What are you working for? What are your goals? Are they ordinary or are they extraordinary? Better yet, are they outrageously extraordinary? Once again I’ll offer you my favorite quote, from an unknown source: “If you don’t have a dream that is so outrageous that you couldn’t possibly succeed unless God Himself puts in a personal appearance, you’re not alive.”

There’s nothing wrong being Dave Anderson; but if you want to be Jim Murphy, go for it! You just might wind up getting all the way to the top!