Saturday, April 23, 2011

One never knows when the bullets will fly

Almost every day as I come out of the back door of our office building, I glance down the alley and over at the mint across West Colfax Avenue — just to make sure no bullet-riddled black sedan full of armed highway men are engaged in a gun battle with guards from the Federal Reserve Bank and the mint.

One never knows. No one at the time thought all hell would break loose on December 18, 1922.

“Bandits in masks, numbering at least four and possibly seven, staged an audacious hold-up at the doorstep of the Government mint this morning, stole $200,000 in $5 bills from the truck of the Denver branch of the Federal Reserve Bank and made their escape after fatally shooting Charles Linton, a guard of the Reserve Bank truck,” led the New York Times Dec. 19, 1922 edition.

“The whole attack of the desperadoes was so well planned, so closely timed and so swiftly carried out that barely five minutes elapsed between the opening of fire from the sawed-off shotguns of two or three of the bandits to the rush from the scene of the car which brought the raiding party.”

The Time’s story noted the ensuing manhunt.

“Tonight every highway in the State is guarded and police and Federal authorities have armed squads out in pursuit of an automobile occupied by seven men who were seen speeding northward soon after the robbery. One of the occupants was bleeding profusely, having been wounded in the jaw by one of the mint guard, it is believed.”

Papers all over the county called it the boldest robbery ever known here.

“I heard a shot, then several. Then the general alarm going in the mint,” The Rocky Mountain News reported Mint Superintendent Robert Grant’s account. “Every man picked up a rifle and rushed to the door.””

But by that time, Linton had already been shot.

“I understand that the bandit car drove up just as our men had re-entered the mint,” Grant was quoted in the News. “It was nicely timed and the bandits evidently followed the bank truck from Arapahoe Street.”

According to the New York Times, “Assigned to the bank truck, in addition to Linton, were Wilbert Havenor, the driver; J.P. Adams and J.E. Olsen, cashier of the Reserve Bank, who has general charge of transferring the money.”

“Havenor had just come out of the mint with a sack full currency, making up a total of $200,000. The money was in 50 packages of $4,000 each, which were being put in the truck safe.

“The four members of the Reserve Bank crew had left the entrance of the mint and were walking toward their machine near the curb when another car drove up alongside the wire-enclosed money car. Two or three men carrying guns leaped from the car and with a shout of ‘Hands up!’ began to fire. Some say they shot at the bank crew, others think they aimed high at the mint building to terrorize all who might think of interfering,” reported the Times.

Linton, according to police reports of the incident, tried to throw money into the wire back compartment of the Federal Reserve truck and he was shot in the process. Hanover dived under the truck, and Adams found cover behind another nearby parked car. Olson headed toward the mint for help but by that time, alarms were sounding in the mint and as many as 50 guards armed themselves with rifles and shotguns and ran to the windows and doors and began firing.

“Concealed behind the Government car, the bandits coolly smashed open a window, lifted out the packages and shifted them with almost incredible rapidity into their own car,” said the Times account.

With alarms from the mint ringing continuously and bullets flying back and forth from the drumfire of bandits and the guards, the neighborhood was a battleground.

“So terrific was the gunfire that forty bullet holes can be counted in the transoms above the main entrance to the mint and in the windows of the second story. Windows in various stores and apartment houses across the street were riddled and there were many narrow escapes from bullets. One shot went through a window in Sylvania Hotel, at Court Place and West Colfax Avenue, and shattered a picture on the wall.”

After transferring the packages of money, one bandit, described as the leader and thought to have been the one who shot Charles Linton, jumped on the running boards of the getaway car.

“As the car gathered impetus the leader of the highwaymen, standing on the running board, turned toward the Government building as if to fire a final volley at the guards. As he did so, Peter Kiedinger, a guard, who was on duty at the main entrance, fired a rifle at the bandit. He was seen to crumple up on the running board and throw up his hands. He was pulled inside the car by the driver. One eyewitness said he was hit in the jaw,” the Times reported.

Police, offering rewards of more than $10,000 were never able identify any of the criminals with the exception of Nicholas “Chaw Jimmie” Trainor whose frozen body was discovered still inside the getaway car in Gilpin Street garage in Denver 18 days later. Secret Service agents recovered about $80,000 of the stolen mint money in a Minnesota hideout along with $73,000 in negotiable bonds from a Walnut Hills, Ohio robbery.

Nobody was ever charged in the broad daylight robbery of a Federal Reserve truck in front of the Denver mint.

Sometimes, when walking by there on my way home, I think I can still hear the distant gunfire, shotgun blasts, alarms and the squeal of tires, as the bandits make their getaway. One never knows.


Saturday, April 9, 2011

World of difference between now, then, here, there

“Was it really that different?” the kid asked.

“As I remember it, things have changed a great deal,” I told him.

“In those days, in Cortez, you could still park diagonal on Main Street. There was parking meters that looked a lot like the ones Paul Newman was cutting off with a pipe cutter at the base in the opening scenes of Cool Hand Luke.”

The boy was fascinated, so I continued.

“No Wal-Mart, not even K-Mart yet, but the stores up and down Main Street did a pretty good business. Right there on the corner was a bakery that would drive you crazy with the smell of yeasty, glazed doughnuts as you pulled into park. You could smell them all the way down in front of J.C. Penney’s, and maybe farther.”

I thought about how Penney’s seemed to almost be the center of things then.

“Penney’s was a big stone-faced, two-story building with a whole lot of everything in there at the time. Clothes for man, woman and child. One whole side had endless bolts of cloth, sewing good and patterns. Clothes upstairs on the balcony, shoes toward the back, under the balcony, and they even had vinyl records near the register station in the center. I remember buying a copy of Frampton Comes Alive, back then.”

But down past the bakery, across one street, past the little cafĂ©, Woolworth sold records too. The “Dime Store” kept them in a sectioned off area with their black light posters, lava lamps, incense burners, etc…

“But at the ‘Dime Store’ the big draw was the animals toward the back, mice, hamsters, fish, an occasional snake … fascinating to me, at the time. It is kind of fuzzy, but in early memories, I think the fountain and lunch counter was still operating then,” I remembered.

They had toys, for sure, rubber snakes, plastic armies, and a helium tank. Take a shot and you talk like Donald Duck, as evidenced by the high school clerks that filled the child’s balloons.

But that wasn’t the only place for toys. Across the street and down a block or two on the corner was the old V & G Variety Store. Always an interesting place, though I guess I was a little buffaloed by cigar-smoking fellow that ran it at the time. “You break it, you buy it,” he warned once as I was roughhousing with a friend in the aisle.

A little farther down, across another side street, the Toggery, for more clothes, or if of a Western bent, maybe Nuway for boots, shoes, jeans, maybe even a saddle. The two sporting good stores across Main Street from each other, later were always interesting. Baseball gloves, hunting rifles, skis, shotguns and knifes. Sometimes, I felt like I died and went to survivalist heaven.

On the streets near there were the banks, the Fiesta Movie Theatre (only one screen, then), Court House and much more. It seemed to be a lively place then, though I assume it still is.

“Circling around back to where we parked back then, I also recall the worn, wooden floors of the bookstore,” I told the kid. “Incense was always burning in there too, while you browsed through the latest Doc Savage serials and Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Land that Time Forgot and Tarzan stories. I loved the place,” I said.

“But I guess, I sort miss it all.”

There is something in the pang of change, like we leave behind a part of ourselves. “Was it really that different?”

I thought again of the boy’s question. I felt the pang, and a part of me answered.

“Yes, I guess it was.”


Sunday, April 3, 2011

More than thown on the wall to see what sticks

Disappointment tears at the very fabric of life. And hope is about the only thing disappointment respects. Imagine, if you will, the disappointment Col. Nathaniel P. Turner felt when he realized that his crowning engineering achievement, the hanging flume above the Dolores River, was an exercise in futility. Imagine the despair when he found there was no hope for the project, and years of his life’s work were for nothing.
“In 1886, several companies were formed to work the placers at Mesa and Cottonwood Creeks, wrote Ben H. Parker, Jr., of Golden, in an unpublished doctoral dissertation in 1960, at Colorado School of Mines. “The following year the Mesa Creek placer properties came into the possession of the Montrose Place Mining Co. capitalized at $5,000,000.”
According to the Engineering and Mining Journal (1887, v 44, p 263,) this company claimed to have 600 acres of placer ground underlain by gravels 12 to 115 feet deep worth from 50 cents to $7 per cubic yard. In a feature article on the company’s operations, the Engineering and Mining Journal (1890, v 49, p 563-565) reported the following.
“… In the spring of 1888, the ground was prospected by the aid of streams of melting snow and trifling amounts of water afforded by the Mesa Creek, quite a small stream. The result, however, was so satisfactory that the company decided to build a ditch and flume to a point 10 miles above (on the) San Miguel River.
There was about half and half ditching and fluming … the total cost will be about $75,000 when finished, and it is expected to be completed within a few months … This work was commenced at the lower end where the greater part of the flume is (because) the forest from which the lumber obtained is located nearest that point. Now work is going on at the upper end…”
“The flume traverses the whole length of the Dolores Canyon, which is about four miles. It is fastened to the walls of the cliff … and for a long distance elevation above the river of 300 to 400 feet. It is very firmly built and has been fully tested to carry the volume of water, which will pass through it when finished… In getting the levels, the work was very dangerous, the man being lowered down over the cliff… marking in read paint the line to be followed by the construction gang. As the supporting timbers were put into place, the floor of the flume was laid and the derrick pushed out ahead, from which other supporting timbers were raised and secured to their places. Under favorable conditions, with a gang of 12 men, 250 feet per day have been erected. At one point on the line, nearly 200 feet long, the rock projects out, forming a sort of canopy, and is so shaped that it was impossible to support the flume on brackets, and is hung from bolts, driven in overhead, on which the flume swings … , “ reported the Mining Journal.
The flume was six feet wide and four feet deep; it was set on sills fastened to the cliff with iron pins and supported on the hanging end by posts or inclined timbers pinned to the cliff beneath. More than 1,800,000 feet of lumber was used to complete its construction.
According to Frank Hall in History of the State of Colorado (1895, v4, p235):
… The operative plant of the Montrose Pacer Mining Company, formed of St. Louis capitalists, and managed by Col. N.P. Turner, an experienced California miner, is one of the remarkable mining triumphs of engineering in our state…
The company owns six and half miles of mining ground on the Dolores River. To successfully work them by hydraulic process, it was found necessary to tap the stream thirteen miles above, and carry the water by ditch and flume the entire distance. For more than six miles this flume is supported on brackets from and overhanging cliff, ranging from 100 to 150 above the river and from 250 to 500 feet below the summit of the gorge. In places the cliff hangs over an angle of fifteen degrees and such water as escapes strikes the opposite side of the river 100 yards from its base. A wagon road was constructed along the cliff at the apex, from which workmen were let down by ropes for the purpose of drilling into the face of the cliff, inserting the iron brackets (pins) and setting the flume thereon,” wrote Hall.
“Col. Turner was engaged more than two years in perfecting this wonderful enterprise. It carries 80,000,000 gallons of water each 24 hours. Its grade is 6 feet, 10 inches to the mile and its cost is something over $100,000. At the placers the latest improved hydraulic machinery is employed, and the work of cutting and sluicing began in the early summer of 1891. Col. Turner’s lowest estimate of the gold contents of the ground is 25 to 30 cents per cubic yard and he washes down the great main sluice from 4,000 to 5,000 cubic yards daily. The gold is extremely fine, and can only be saved by the liberal use of quicksilver. At the time of my interview with him at Ouray, and afterward and Montrose in September, 1891, he had made no general cleanup of the sluices, but had taken from the head four our five balls of amalgam about the size of hen’s eggs, and a partial indication of the precious metal being saved. It was, of course, wholly impossible to determine the results of the season until the final investigation to occur at th close of the operations for the year, but he was very confident that large profits would accrue to the company for many years to come.”
August 8, 1891, the Engineering and Mining Journal (1891, v.52, p170) quoted local newspapers as reporting the company had just made a cleanup of $80,000 after a run of 6 weeks with one giant. (This conflicts with Halls report, however.)
Parker said he found no subsequent reports of operations or production by the Montrose Company except for a short news item in the Engineering and Mining Journal (1897, v. 64 p 345) which reported the operations were suspended in 1893. The gravel deposits below the mouth of the flume are much less extensive than the company’s reports indicated and their value probably proved only a fraction of the company’s estimates, he said.
According to author Kenneth Jessen, in his book Bizarre Colorado, “the placer miners who discovered the fine gold on Mesa Creek Flats had little difficulty recovering gold with their pans; however the gold was such a fine powder that it washed right through the sluice and remained suspended in the water. It became clear the entire investment in the flume was lost. Col. Turner became so disheartened over the complete failure of the project that he went to Chicago, rented a room. And shot himself though the head.”
Various efforts continued to try to make the project pay for several years after it completion. But according to information by Hanging Flume on the Uniweep-Tabaguache Scenic and Historic Byway, “The end of the venture was sealed with ‘The Panic of ‘93’ when Wall Street futures came tumbling down in 1893. Just like today, the effects of Wall Street encompassed the entire nation including Colorado’s western frontier. In the end, the Hanging Flume was considered a failure. It was left hanging on the sandstone canyon walls, and all that remains is what you see today.”