Hamilton Holds “Great Chocolate Train Festival”

Amanda Golden

This past Saturday, The Great Chocolate Train Festival returned to Hamilton’s Village Green. The celebration com­memorates the historic 1955 railroad chocolate spill in Ham­ilton in which several cars from an Ontario & Western (O&R) Railway train carrying a variety of Nestlé chocolates were de­railed, spilling the goods every­where. The festival combined both chocolate and train exhibits and events, as well as a live musi­cal performance to memorialize the town’s famous spill.

On a rainy night around 9 p.m. on September 27, 1955, a 50-car O&W train traveling on a mainline approached a switch incorrectly set for a siding, leading to a coal trestle in Hamilton, NY. The train continued on, passing through the town. It was set to stay its course when the train’s crew saw that the switch was in the wrong position. The engineer applied the brakes, but the train continued up the siding and through the elevated coal trestle at more than 30 miles per hour. The incline caused the 213-ton EMD FT diesel locomotive at the head of the train to “fly” a distance of 120 feet beyond the coal trestle from an elevation of 15 feet. None of the four-man crew were seriously injured in the event. The townspeople then rushed to survey the damage of the accident to find that the train had collided into the Leland Coal shed and that a total of seven cars had de­railed, several of which had broken open to re­veal all forms of Nestlé chocolate.

At the festival Sat­urday, Sep­tember 24 the Hamil­ton Village Green was flooded with people. The day’s festivi­ties included a chocolate train carv­ing demonstration, walking tours to the chocolate train wreck site, a panel discussion with chocolate spill eyewit­nesses, a hands-free chocolate mousse eating competition, a reenactment of the chocolate spill for kids and a live performance from Grammy Award winner Tom Chapin, American mu­sician, entertainer, singer-songwriter and storyteller.

The festival was presented by the Partnership for Community Devel­opment (PCD), and sponsored by a variety of Hamilton-based businesses. In addition to the festivities, a mul­titude of vendors related to both chocolate and trains were present on the Green. The Great Chocolate Train Festival vendors sold diverse assortments of chocolates, cookies, cupcakes and more. Model train exhibitors and railroads displayed model trains, O&W railroad ar­tifacts and presented information about rail travel.

Fran Meinking, from Clay, NY, was one of the vendors at the festi­val this year. She came with a group from Syracuse that displayed train trailers modeled after the O&W train that was involved in the spill years earlier.

“This is a great opportunity for us to show the trains and the books that are on the O&W,” Meinking said. “We came two years ago and then they asked us back again this year. It’s very fun.”

Meinking, along with the oth­ers who were showcasing their trains at the festival, will then take their goods to the train show the first weekend in November at the Syracuse Fairgrounds. Sharon Follett, a fourth grade teacher at Hamilton Central School, brought her students to the festival

“The reason we’re at the festival is because I teach the local history to the kids,” she said. “We learn about the O&W, its impact on Hamilton and of course the chocolate wreck is a part of that.”

Follett said that her fourth grade class studied the events of the wreck during their unit in September this year, and that the festival was a great place to apply what they’d learned.

“The fourth graders did proj­ects to display in the history tent,” Follett said. “The kids have had a lot of enthusiasm learning about it, knowing that they would be doing the projects and showing them today.”

The Hamilton fourth graders were excited to be at the festival.

“A lot of the students came to the festival to talk to people about what they’ve done in class and to show their projects,” Follett said. “It’s made history really come alive for them.”

Contact Amanda Golden at [email protected]