September 10, 2013

Pennsylvania Train Robber Uses Dynamite, 1909

From the Trenton Evening Times of Trenton, NJ on August 31, 1909 (pages 1 and 11):

ROBBER HOLDS UP EXPRESS

Highwayman Forces Engineer, Fireman and Messenger to Help Him Bag His Bullion

DROPS $5,000 SACK OF GOLD

Believed Bandit, in Attempt to Lighten His Load, Dropped Wrong Sack of Money and Carried Off Only Pennies--Compelled Fireman to Carry Bags to Top of Mountain.

HARRISBURG, PA., Aug. 31.--Train No. 39 of the Pennsylvania Railroad, known as "The Pittsburg and Northern Express" was held up and robbed around 1:30 o'clock this morning by a lone masked highwayman at the Lewiston Narrows on the Middle Division.  The express was stopped by an explosion of dynamite.  The highwayman at the point of two revolvers made the engineer and fireman descend and demanded entrance to the express car, in which was over $5,000 in bullion as well as a large amount of Lincoln pennies.

In this car, at one time, the highwayman had several men under his control while Conductor Poffenberger was shot in the right hand for refusing to obey an order given him.  The $5,000 in bullion was later recovered.

The locality where the hold-up occurred is one of the wildest along the whole length of the road, being merely a narrow mountain pass.

The train left Harrisburg at 12:07 a.m. and was just entering the Narrows when an explosion of dynamite under the engine wheels caused Engineer Donnolly to apply the brakes and come to a dead stop.  The train had scarcely come to a standstill when a masked man boarded the engine and compelled both the engineer and Fireman Willis to alight and show him the way to the express car.

The highwayman knocked on the door of the express car and Express Messenger Harper on opening the door looked down into the barrel of a revolver.  The engineer and fireman, accompanied by the highwayman, then entered the car.

A loaded carbine standing in the corner of the car for use in such emergencies by the messenger, was carefully guarded by the robber while Donnelly and Willis were kept between him and Harper.

The messenger was then directed to show where the bullion was kept.

The highwayman used a very small charge of nitro-glycerine and neatly blew off the lock of the safe without shattering the door.

In one corner of the car several bags lay.  The highwayman instructed the firemen to get one of these strong sacks, and when this was done, directed him to hold it open while the messenger tumbled into it the gold bullion.  This done, it was ascertained that a large sum was in the car, and the highwayman again directed the fireman, as well as the messenger, to have these packed into another sack.  Just as the task was under way, Messenger Clayton of Washington D.C., in charge of the Washington express car, not knowing what was going on, opened the door of the car.  Before he had time to retreat the highwayman had him covered, and he was compelled to submit to the orders of the bandit.

No sooner had Clayton submitted than Conductor Poffenberger came down in the direction of the front part of the train to ascertain the cause of the delay.  He was soon spotted by the highwayman and was directed to return to the rear of the train, and to do so quickly.  Poffenberger hesitated in obeying the order and received a bullet in the left hand.  By this time the engineer, fireman and express messenger had completed their work of transferring the bullion and pennies to the empty sacks and Fireman Willis was directed to pick up the sacks.  The other men in the car were kept covered while Willis climbed to the ground.

The tracks in the Narrows are banked on either side by steep rocks, and Willis was ordered to start up the mountainside with the loot.  On arriving at the top the highwayman turned and ordered him back to the train, after thanking him for his help and wishing him "good luck."

On the return of Willis the train was run at full speed to Altoona, 75 miles distant, where the first alarm of the robbery was given.

Captain Charles Porter of the railroad police left for the scene of the robbery at once with a posse.  A search on the mountain reulted in the finding of the sack containing the $5,000 in gold bullion, but no trace of the robber.

It is believed that the highwayman found the two sacks too heavy to carry in his flight, and in endeavoring to lighten his load dropped the sack containing the bullion, thinking he was dropping the pennies.

PITTSBURG, PA., Aug. 31.--There was a surprised lot of passengers that left the Pittsburg and Northern Express at 9:20 today when they were surrounded by reporters and railroad men asking for information concerning the holding up of the train at Lewiston Narrows by a lone highwayman.

None of the passenger knew their train had been robbed and just began to get frightened when the story was told here.  The work of the highwayman was done so quickly and quietly that no one in the train was awakened.

Express Messenger J. W. Harper, whose car was robbed, went before the railroad officials and made a formal statement of the hold up.  Detectives would not permit him to talk much of his experience but he declared to a railroad employee that the cool daring of the robber simply had the train crew paralyzed.  He worked quietly and backed up all his orders with a revolver.

Examination of the express car showed that the safe was not seriously damaged by the explosion which broke the lock, the robber putting just enough nitro-glycerine to shatter the lock.  According to the story told a railroad employee at the Union Station the guard stationed in the car with the express messenger was dumbfounded when the highwayman entered the car.  He reached for his carbine, but stopped short at the order from the robber to get into a corner with the rest of the men.

It is stated here that the express messenger of the Washington car which was in the rear of the car robbed, worked a bluff on the robber by telling him that there was no money in the car.  The messenger was compelled to join the party in the Philadelphia car, beyond.

Detectives for the railroad and Adams Express Company left for the scene of the robbery in company with Express Messenger Harper at noon. 

A formal statement of the robbery was issued at the Union Station, stating that the $5,000 in gold bullion and one sack of pennies had been recovered.  Officials there state, however, that it will be several days before the express company can check up what was being carried in the car and determine what amount the robber got away with.

Express Messenger Harper is 60 years old and has been in the employ of the express company for years.

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