The Almost Great Train Robbery at Camp 6

By Ed Mattison

One of the things I discovered at Camp 6 is that railroaders love to tell stories. The difference between fishermen and railroaders is that most of their stories are true. And yes I did say most. This is a story I was told by Larry our fireman. This happened before I started and it is a true story.

The morning in question the caretaker’s wife was opening up the ticket booth which is what she did whenever the train was running. She was also the one who sold the tickets. At this time the ticket booth was just a little shed not much bigger than 6’ by 6’ that had a window in front with bars over it to look like a train passenger ticket window.

Vance had already been there a few hours warming up the boiler. At this time the Shay had enough pressure in her to move out of the engine shed. We used an industrial gas powered air compressor to help fire up the Shay. This was connected to the boiler through a special pipe fitted close to the firebox. The compressor was set to shut off at 50 psi. This assist would take a couple hours off the time it would normally take to fire up the boiler. Three hours was the average time it took to fire up the Shay. Sometimes it took more depending on the weather and how cold it was outside, sometimes it took less, for instance if it had run the day before and there was still pressure left in the boiler. I remember the first time I was hostler, that is the person who gets the locomotive ready to run. It seemed to take forever before the needle to get off the peg. That means for the pressure gauge to move off of 0.

Alright I’m digressing again. Vance had pulled the Shay out of the shed as when she was above 50 psi she could move, slowly, on her own. Now that she was out in the open and had some pressure in the boiler the fire could be increased and the pressure would build faster.

Meanwhile as the caretaker’s wife was finishing up opening the ticket booth when a man approached her. He asked her how her day was going and then demanded the money from the ticket booth.

Vance was up in the cab watching the fire and water level in the boiler when he heard a commotion. Looking out the door of the cab he saw what was happening. He walked over grabbed his crescent wrench that he kept hanging on the wall of the cab and climbed out down to the ground. This wasn’t an ordinary crescent wrench, it was a 3 foot long crescent wrench. There were a few really large nuts and bolts on the frame that would need tightening once in a while and this wrench came in handy.

I’m digressing again. He put the wrench on his shoulder and walked up behind the would be robber and asked if there was something he could help with. The man looked at Vance and then spotted the wrench, apologized, and I believe he said no and took off along the bunk houses to get away.

Meanwhile our fireman Larry arrived and just parked in the parking lot. He had just purchased a new muzzle loader and wanted to show it to Vance. The robber came around the corner of the last bunk house at the same time Larry got there. Both men were startled and the would-be robber looked down the barrel of that muzzle loader. This was a large caliber muzzle loader, with the hole in the barrel being almost big enough to put your thumb in. He yelled when he saw the weapon then turned and ran into the woods.

As soon as the would-be robber ran away the caretaker’s wife ran inside and called the police, not surprisingly she was a bit shook up.

It didn’t take long for the police to show up. They took everyone’s statement and did their usual paperwork. They then started their search for the suspect. It didn’t take long to find who they were looking for. He was at the Gold Fish Tavern just outside the entrance to the park. He was getting a drink, probably more than one. He didn’t resist at all when they arrested him.

This is report of the almost great train robbery at Camp 6, one of several stories I was told shortly after I started volunteering at the Camp 6 Logging Museum.

Ed Mattison is a beloved volunteer for Tacoma Historical Society. With his wife and fellow volunteer Rose, he was awarded the inaugural Ronald E. Magden Award, recognizing exceptional and continuing service by a volunteer on behalf of the Tacoma Historical Society and its aims of preserving, presenting and promoting Tacoma history.

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