CLINTON — A simple act of kindness is something a 12-year-old boy with an autism spectrum disorder is going to remember for the rest of his life.
Matthew Mancil loves trains.
“I don’t know how it started, but he just absolutely loves them,” Aaron Mancil, Matthew’s father, said.
On Thursday, Matthew got the surprise of a lifetime when a train conductor for Union Pacific made a special delivery just for him.
For Matthew, who also has an intellectual disability, trains are something that helps make him comfortable when talking to others. For him, there is nothing that sounds as good a train coming. Monday through Friday, he can be found attending a summer program for kids with special needs at Meadows Park in Clinton with a train schedule in hand.
“It's going to come any moment,” Matthew said with excitement when he saw the crossing arms at a railroad crossing coming down, saw the lights flashing and heard the bells ringing announcing an approaching train on a recent afternoon. “My friend the FrontRunner. Hi FrontRunner.”
His father says his son will usually wave to the conductor and try to get them to honk their horns.
On Thursday, around 10 a.m., Matthew got a special surprise.
“The train stopped. The train conductor got out and walked right up here to the fence and met Matthew at the fence,” Mancil said.
A Union Pacific train conductor and an engineer, probably used to seeing Matthew each day, had put the brakes on.
“It takes quite a bit to stop a train,” Mancil said. “You can't just stop on a dime. This guy must have really thought about it and planned it out before he left for work that day.”
Through the fence, the conductor handed Matthew the things that every good train conductor needs: sunglasses, gloves, a vest and a toy lantern, all with the Union Pacific logo.
After the visit, the conductor climbed back on his train and continued on his route.
A camp counselor took a picture of Matthew in his train conductor gear and sent it to his parents. He can be seen grinning from ear to ear. His father said Matthew couldn’t wait to share the moment with family and friends.
“He was so excited he had to call up Grandma and Grandpa and let them know what happened,” Mancil said.
"It means a lot to us,” the father said, getting a little emotional. “We still can't believe what he did. It's something Matthew will talk about for years to come.”
It was a moment that means more to this family than the conductor may ever know.
“I felt real special,” Matthew said.
The Mancils now hope to find the man who made their son so happy.
“Oh, I would want to give him a hug and say, ‘Thank you,’ because, oh my goodness, it was a really big deal for Matthew,” said Rebecca Mancil, Matthew’s mother.
Union Pacific has been trying to track the conductor down but said it was like finding a needle in a haystack.
“It warms our hearts, and lets us know we're not the only ones who love Matthew,” his dad said. “There are others out there, too.”
Contributing: Viviane Vo-Duc