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65th anniversary of troop train wreck to be commemorated

| September 4, 2015

Troop Train005WEST LAFAYETTE – On the morning of Sept. 11, 1950, the late Victor Crouso, a West Lafayette resident who worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad Company in Dennison, was on his way to work when he noticed a train sitting on the tracks near West Lafayette.

“It happened on his 21st birthday,” said Curt Crouso, Victor’s son. “He was on his way to work when he saw a train sitting on the tracks and he saw the other train coming toward it. He didn’t think anything of it because there used to be two train tracks in West Lafayette and he thought the train was on the other track.”

By the time Victor got to work, he learned the devastating news. Just moments after he had passed the scene, the trains collided, killing 33 men.

The train had stopped in the early morning on Sept. 11 in West Lafayette to fix a broken air hose, and was carrying men from Wilkes-Barre, Pa to a training camp in Indiana. Unbeknownst to the troop train, The Spirit of St. Louis was coming behind her at a dangerous 75 mph. When the workers aboard the troop train spotted The Spirit of St. Louis, they tried to make contact via flares to let the other train know to stop, but all was in vain. When the engineer finally spotted the troop train at rest on the tracks, he tried to stop, but was too late. The Spirit hit the troop train at a deadly speed of 55 mph. What followed was the worst tragedy the community of West Lafayette had ever experienced.

In April of 1989, Victor Crouso, who had nearly witnessed the accident, came to Mayor Jack Patterson and asked if there could be a memorial built in memory of the 33 men who died on that early September morning of 1950. A committee of five West Lafayette residents consisting of Ed Chapdelaine, Jack Patterson, Jewell Guinther, Duke Young, and Jim Shivers was formed and it was decided that the grassy knoll by the tracks was the best place for the monument. The land was added to the village’s lease for this purpose and ideas began to form on how the monument should look.

Just as they did on that horrible morning in 1950, the village of West Lafayette came together and funded the $8,000 to create the memorial. This also included a donation from the Pennsylvania Railroad Co.

“We got the idea for the shape of the monument from military monuments in cemeteries,” said Mayor Jack Patterson. “We also wanted it to look similar in shape to the Washington Monument.”

The monument is made from Pennsylvania black granite and was sent to South Carolina for the engraving. The stone was designed by Free Funeral Home and is sponsored by West Lafayette American Legion 466 and the Vietnam Veterans of America 151.

“We used Pennsylvania black granite as a tribute to those boys who were killed from Pennsylvania,” said Patterson.

While digging the foundation for the monument, the crew came across cross ties from the original side track. Some of the side track has been left exposed for people to see. This is a chilling reminder to those who remember that day as the funeral train rested on the side track as it loaded the 33 bodies of the men who had died.

“They backed the funeral train onto the side track,” said Patterson. “They stored the 33 bodies in a building across the street, and they brought them out one by one and put them on the funeral train. This memorial sits right where the funeral train sat.”

Because the monument was not finished in time for the 40th anniversary, the dedication of the monument was in November of 1990. In attendance was MG (retired) Frank Townend, engineer of the troop train who was one of the guest speakers. Shortly before the ceremony, guests and residents turned their heads skyward to witness a flyover by the Air National Guard.

“The West Lafayette residents were proud of our efforts and being recognized of how we took care of the ones who could be saved and also how we took care of the ones who could not be saved,” said Patterson.

A year after the dedication, a pedestal telling what happened at the site was dedicated. The site also features a replica of a 105 mm Howitzer cannon, which Coshocton Trucking brought back from Iowa at no cost, a sample of shell casings from Jones Metal, a bench donated by the Society of the 28th Division in Pennsylvania, and two trees. One tree is planted in memory of John Terry who worked at WTNS and who hooked up connections between West Lafayette and Wilkes-Barre so survivors could get in contact with family members. Later, WTNS was commemorated by the mayor of Wilkes-Barre for their coverage of the accident. The other tree is planted in memory of Al Williams, a survivor of the troop train wreck who used to come to all the memorial services in West Lafayette and who passed away in 2006.

The 50th anniversary commemoration was held on Aug. 26, 2000. This ceremony was very meaningful and as the ceremony was underway, a train whistle blew in the distance and soon, a steam engine with cars similar to the ones carrying members of the 109th Field Artillery Battalion that day drove up and stopped at the memorial.

“That part of the program was very touching,” said Patterson. “There were people standing in awe, some were crying, it was just very moving.”

There were also 33 crosses placed on the grounds and the Coshocton Armory donated 33 blank dog tags to be used.

“During a part of the memorial service, a Boy Scout member came over to the crosses and placed a dog tag around each cross as the names of the deceased were being read,” said Patterson.

This year, the 65th anniversary of the troop train will be commemorated in a ceremony on Sunday, Sept. 13 at 2 p.m. at the memorial site in West Lafayette. Col. John Brant will be the main speaker and guest speaker will be Rep. Bill Hayes.

The troop train has been featured in a number of documentaries. Jerry Heller from Pennsylvania did a documentary of the tragedy which won Best Television Documentary in the PA Association of Broadcasting. “The Keystone” also had an issue on the troop train in 1988.

It was also reported that after the wreck, $1,400 of claims were processed in Indiana with survivors of the accident.

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About the Author ()

I have been employed at the Coshocton County Beacon since September 2009 as a news reporter and assistant graphic artist. I am a 2004 graduate of Newcomerstown High School and a 2008 graduate of Capital University with a bachelor’s degree in Professional Writing. I am married to John Scott and live in Newcomerstown. We have two beautiful daughters, Amelia Grace Scott and Leanna Rose Scott.

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