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Side Trail
The Seward, Territory of Alaska, Gold Railway Robbery of 1926
Steve Levi

Late in the Fall of 1926 when the slopes of Mt. Marathon started to pitch snowflakes by the bushel and sleet by the ton the city of Seward a white shroud did become with all folks locked in from September to June thriving on moose meat and dance fiddle tunes.

It is said in Alaska there are only three months -- all starting with a “J” -- and the sun only shunts from eastern horizon to the sea on the west rising at ten all golden in dress then drops like a stone into the sea with darkness arriving just after three.

At the end of October comes Halloween day when the children dress up in any odd way to tramp from their homes as goblins and ghouls in masking and costumes all meant to fool to secure from their neighbors candy and gum while their parents settle in for chitchat and rum.

As the folks of the city slept snug in their beds with nary a thought of crime in their heads a plot was unfolding, delicious in scope, which required some sweat and a smidgeon of hope to break into the bank and its vault full of cash and abscond with the loot over the pass.

As Seward was born as a railway town no buildings had basements set into the ground; they were modules on flatcars on the webbing of tracks which had shuttled the structures forward and back til the railroad commission established the town and anchored all buildings firm to the ground.

As June follows May and each Winter a Spring, summer to Seward incoming cargo did bring, cargo by barge load as incoming freight with cross ties by the ton and whiskey in crates, boxcars of boots and mutton in shank to be sent northward all the way to Fairbanks.

Year after year the cargo came in and the profits grew fatter never to thin so the structures on rail were secured to the earth with concrete and rebar sunk into the earth. Lawns covered the rails rusting deep in the ground and docking for barges appeared in the Sound.

As the city grew richer and so did the banks transforming their vaults from abandoned planks to iron and steel with reinforced hinges and hired armed guards who eschewed binges. So the burglars abandoned their vault robbery scheme concentrating on the incoming gold stream.

Everyone knew when the nuggets of gold would come down the rails with doré whole from Fairbanks and boomtowns far to the north where miners were thick as curdling cream. Henceforth the booty would go ‘cross town in a tank from the boxcar in the station to the five city banks.

There was only place gold was left on its own, when no one was watching the gift from the loam. Between Fairbanks and Seward in a boxcar the security guards were all kept afar for one could not steal from a moving freight train so the thieves began a storming their brains.

The scheme that was hatched was both clever and bold as such was needed to steal a boxcar of gold. When the freight train came south from northern depots it was often stalled by the mountains of snow which covered the tracks coming over the pass stalling the train until the storm passed.

On the crest of the pass was a spur line left to rot which, at one time, lead to a mine long forgot which, in its day, produced just enough gold to spur a stampede. Then, like a bunghole that quickly goes dry, the rush crashed to a halt when it was revealed the strike had been a salt.

But the rail tracks remained so the cabal had a chance to switch the gold car before the train could advance down from the pass covered with snow to the city of Seward and the banks down below. The plan was so simple, surprising the four, was that no one had tried this before.

Thus it came to pass on a blistering day, when the weather held the gold shipment at bay, the thieves’ plan went forward without a hitch and the boxcar of gold was for another car switched and the train less the gold was Seward-bound the thieves went for the cache while singing a song.

Clearly well known in every small town, truth and rumor together rebound from church pew to work site and store to saloon from the earliest rising to the rise of the moon and no one is immune from gossip or hoax, be they well-heeled, religious or broke.

When the thieves broke the lock on the purloined boxcar to secure personal wealth in both nugget and bar they were flummoxed and startled by what was inside; from one wall to the other and well up all the sides was a mountain of black rock stacked tall like a shoal and was immediately identified as a shipment of coal.

It was never revealed how the bankers did know the boxcar of gold would be stopped by the snow on the lip of the pass where bandits would snitch coal instead of gold. So the train pulled a switch thus leaving the theft as the working of clowns and the butt of all jokes in old Seward town. 


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