BRIMFIELD TWP.: It was the first and last run of the Claude Cooper Memorial Express.
With about 60 uniformed trainmen and train women, conductors and engineers circled around his grave, Claude Cooper was given a final goodbye Monday at Restland Cemetery from co-workers and dozens of family members.
Over the last five years, Mr. Cooper, 92, volunteered between 4,000 and 5,000 hours on his beloved Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad (CVSR), working as a trainman on the Canton-to-Akron run.
“He put everything into it,” Sherri Lemley, the nonprofit railroad’s volunteer coordinator, said of Cooper’s dedication.
Mr. Cooper, a retired Greyhound bus driver, died Sept. 17 after a brief illness. He started volunteering for the railroad five years ago, following the death of his wife, Joanne.
Even though he never worked in railroads until his volunteer job, railroading and transportation were in his blood.
His father worked on a track crew for the Louisville & Nashville Railroad.
He drove a grocery truck as a teenager and was a sailor with the Navy Seabees in the Pacific during World War II, unloading trucks filled with supplies that came off Navy ships. He served in Guadalcanal and Okinawa.
After a 32-year career driving a Greyhound bus, he drove a bus for Field schools in Portage County for 21 more years.
In the basement of his Canton home, he had a model railroad that his grandchildren loved to watch and he often showed them railroad videos.
In a 2010 interview, Mr. Cooper said he loved working five days a week on the scenic railroad. Many workdays surpassed 11 hours.
“It keeps my mind off of wanting to have to worry,” he said then.
CVSR President and CEO Craig Tallman called Mr. Cooper’s work ethic “remarkable” for a man in his late 80s and early 90s.
“He epitomizes the character of our volunteer organization,” Tallman said.
Fellow trainman Jack Underwood of Canton called Mr. Cooper “a sweet, kind gentleman who was very dedicated to his job, to the passengers, to all of us.”
Mr. Cooper’s granddaughter, Melissa Galloway, 32, of Akron, said he often told her and other grandchildren stories about railroads.
“He just loved trains,” she said. “He loved learning about steam engines and all the different kinds and what they hauled and where they originated.”
On Monday, following a service that included a three-round volley, the playing of taps and the folding of the flag by members of Kent American Legion Post 496, the uniformed railroad workers and others gently placed carnations on the grave.
Conductor Robert Shott, 71, of Canton, gave a railroader’s salute to his friend.
“All aboard!” Shott said in a voice that boomed across the quiet cemetery. “The Claude Cooper Memorial Express is ready for departure.”
Then it was time to say goodbye.
“The Claude Cooper Memorial Express has now left the station,” said Shott. “Godspeed, my friend. Godspeed.”
Jim Carney can be reached at 330-996-3576 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.