35W Bridge Collapse
Brings Back Memories for Thorp Residents

The Thorp Courier (Thorp, WI)
August 29, 2007
Transcribed by Dolores Mohr Kenyon


The recent 35 W bridge collapse in Minnesota brings back memories of a local bridge collapse that occurred on August 2, 1920 when John Arthur “Jack” Verkuilen, 19, the fourth and oldest son of John and Hattie Verkuilen, met a terrible death when he was carried down by the collapse of the Grand Avenue Bridge over the Black River. The 35W bridge collapsed exactly one day short of the 87th anniversary of the Grand Avenue bridge collapse.
The feature article below was written by Mary C. Dodd.
In the spring of 1920, at the age of 19, John began to work for Clark County as a truck driver.  In July he returned home for two weeks to help with the haying on the farm and then returned to Neillsville, WI to again assume his duties for the county.  On August 2, 1920, while driving an empty five ton truck across the Black River in Neillsville, John met with a terrible accident and was killed.  A newspaper article describing the accident is quoted below:
“Killed by Falling Bridge” “Young Man Met Terrible Death” “Grand Ave. Bridge Over Black River Collapses”

pic2“Verkuilen was engaged in driving one of the large county trucks and was about at the center of the bridge when it collapsed without warning.  He was struck on the head by a truss rod and he fell to the floor of the bridge.  A large upright iron support caught him near the lower abdomen and he was horribly mangled.  The iron support was of such great weight that it was some time before jacks could be secured to lift it up and take the body of the unfortunate young man from the wreckage.  He lived for fifteen or twenty minutes, although unconscious, and died before he could be rescued from his terrible position.”
“Verkuilen had been engaged all summer in driving one of the large trucks which haul shale for the county from the pit near the rifle range.  All of the large trucks cross the river at the Grand Avenue Bridge and it would seem that their passage had loosened the support on the south end of the bridge.  Verkuilen was returning to the pit and met John Gullickson, who was driving another of the county trucks and had slowed down for a moment’s conversation as they passed. When midway across the bridge, Verkuilen’s engine stopped and he had gotten out, to crank it again.  At that moment, Gullickson’s loaded truck crossed the weakened support and it is supposed that the weight caused it to collapse instantly.  The bridge settled quickly to the bed of the river, but Gullickson’s truck remained upright and hung on the incline which resulted.  Gullickson escaped any injury whatever.  Wm. Meihack also escaped death by a narrow margin.  He was driving his passenger car across the bridge at the moment and his car was just beside Verkuilen’s truck when the bridge collapsed; a large iron cross beam fell across the hood of his car, smashing it down.  The beam missed striking Meihack by about a foot.
The article went on to describe Jack as a “fine young man of nineteen years of age. During the few months that he worked here he made a great many friends by his sterling and upright character and the entire community was saddened by the news of his untimely death.”
By strange coincidence, Grandpa Verkuilen happened along the accident scene shortly after accident occurred.  Ha had been the chairman of the county board for many years and had made it his routine to come to Neillsville to attend to county business the first of each month.  The newspaper reported that “Mr. Verkuilen, Sr., had reached Neillsville from Thorp just a few minutes after that accident had occurred and noticed the crowd at the river as he drove into town.  He started down and as he turned the corner he was met by Dr. Bradbury and Geo. Ure, who broke the sad news that his son had been the victim of this most terrible accident.”
John Verkuilen, Jr. was buried in St. Bernard’s Cemetery on Thursday, August 5, 1920.  The funeral Mass was officiated by Rev. John Neises with Rev. Korcyzk of Posen and Rev. Novak of Willard assisting.  The Catholic Foresters, of which the deceased was a member, were pallbearers and acted as a body guard from the church to St. Bernard’s Cemetery.  The presence of hundreds of friends and a wilderness of beautiful flowers expressing their silent sympathy helped the bereaved family.” As one of the many newspaper articles put it, “His death is the first break in a usually happy family circle.”






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