August 31, 2010

Runaway Trains, Outlaws and Train Robberies

by Tiffany Amber Stockton

Ok, I blew it. The days got away from me, then I *thought* I published this, but turns out I actually saved it as a draft! Whoops! At least I can publish it now. After the crazy past few weeks, it feels like August and the start of September went poof!

And the disappearing month ties in great with the topic for today...runaway trains, outlaws, and train robberies.

From the invention of the steam engine and the locomotive, the appeal of riding in something that offered a smoother ride than a stagecoach, wagon, or the back of a horse drew in passengers by the droves. Unfortunately, the appeal also attracted those of unsavory character too. Initially, only those with money could afford to ride the trains, so their presence made a perfect target for outlaws.

"The highwayman of the railroad has taken the place of the old time footpad. In criminal society, he is deemed a leader, a man worthy of the respect of his fellows. His calling is the most dangerous of all illegal professions. Hounded by Sheriffs' posses and vigilance committees, he still lives-a menace to all society." ~excerpt taken from an article written by Charles Michelson in 1902 about the Trade of Train Robbery.

Train robbery became a recognized branch of criminal industry around 1865, yet the advance in it was far less than might be expected of a pursuit that had, at one time or another, attracted the shrewdest, most daring, and enterprising criminals of America.

The gross receipts by train robbery usually averaged about one hundred and fifty thousand dollars a year, and, as not more than twenty thieves generally shared this booty, it's not difficult to understand why men followed it in spite of its dangers. The train robber was a lord in the kingdom of crime.

Robberies were considered the most hazardous of crimes for one reason——the getting away. In a country cobwebbed with telegraph lines and honeycombed with detective agencies, with their disheartening outposts of stool pigeons and informers, true escape was quite difficult. Sure, some outlaws might evade the local law enforcement, but word quickly spread, posters were nailed at every train station and in every town, and full escape often eluded the majority of robbers.

The one advance was the use of dynamite for the forcing of the express cars. What could be obtained from passengers was merely a by-product, and it was ignored by many distinguished bandits as being more trouble and risk than it was worth. Usually, a volley of shots was fired alongside the train, warning the passengers to stay inside and not attempt to become heroes. Then, the outlaws devoted their time to whatever could be found in the treasure cars. And whether they forced the train to stop, redirected the train onto another track and caused a runaway, or robbed the train while it was still in motion, the train became a risk just to ride——especially across the plains and in the West.

Now, to tie this into some of my current research, book 2 (Canvas of Memories) in my series almost opens with a train robbery that mirrors some of the above. My heroine is riding the train and engaged in a conversation with the woman opposite her when a jerk signals the shifting of the train to a different track. A few moments later, a volley of shots is heard followed by shouts before the train is eventually brought to a stop.

What results is a tragic accident and a case of mistaken identity. But that's only the start. And if you combine this with book 1 (Sketches in Calico), which features cattle rustling, a blizzard, the hero and heroine holed up in a line shack for 3 days, a roundup, a prairie fire, and an adventurous cattle drive....well this series is turning out to be a LOT of fun!

Now, I just have to persuade the marketing and sales team at the publisher who's interested that they need to buy it! :)

What about you? When you read westerns, what types of situations and scenarios do *you* like to see?



Tiffany Amber Stockton has been crafting and embellishing stories since childhood. Today, she is an award-winning author, speaker, and online assistant who lives with her husband and fellow author, Stuart Vaughn Stockton, in Colorado. They have 1 daughter and 1 son and a vivacious Aussie/retrieve mix named Roxie.

She has sold fourteen books so far, writes other articles as well, and is represented by Sandra Bishop of MacGregor Literary. Read more about her at her web site: http://www.amberstockton.com/.

2 comments:

Kameko said...

I'm sold! The story sounds fantastic to me - a page turner that has me right from the start. Sending prayers up that you will find a publisher soon as I would love to read the series.

Blessings,

Beverly
bgrider2@cox.net

jtwebster books said...

I agree with Kameko. Your story sounds exciting.
I enjoyed reading your post. I'm in the middle of writing a novel involving stagecoach and train robbing outlaws myself. It really is exciting stuff to write, isn't it?
I'm looking forward to reading your series.