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B y PJ Ferguson

If you live or have lived in Whitehall, you have come across Jim Lafayette at some point in your life.

He is a man wearing many hats.

Jim Lafayette

From helming the operations of the annual local Toys for Tots charity event since the 1990’s, to serving as the Washington County commander at American Legion Post 83, Lafayette is no stranger to serving the public. He may have even officiated your wedding; with 96 under his belt, he hopes to accrue four more to make 100.

Lafayette also served for 28 years in the military, enlisting in the U.S. Navy in February of 1966. He spent four years active, and the remaining 24 in the National Guard Army Reserve, retiring in 1994.

Despite all these endeavors and accomplishments, there is one hat that Lafayette holds most dear, his conductor hat.

Lafayette is a fifth generation railroad worker. His great-great grandfather, James Whalen, began the family tradition in 1872.  Interestingly, Whalen was born in a canal boat on Feb. 8, 1847, 100 years prior to the day of Lafayette’s birth.

Retiring in 2002, with a disability pension, Lafayette was at a low-point in his life after working 37 years on the railroad. The job was meaningful to him and he looked for a way to continue to pursue his passion for it.

Writing for the special publication, the Bridge Line Historical Society, once a month, Lafayette writes extensively recalling his history working on the railroad.

“They like real railroaders to tell real railroad stories,” said Lafayette, regarding the buffs who read his pieces, such as ‘My Grumpy Ol’ Engineer,’ that depict what life was like working decades in the industry.

Perhaps Lafayette’s greatest project though is a secret to most.


This is only a preview of the story published in the Whitehall Times. To read the full story, pick up a print copy of this week’s paper at the newsstand or read it online here.



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