After stopping the train, robbers faced a second problem: getting into the express car. Remember when I said I’d explain later about why the express car did not keep the money as safe as it should be? Well, here is your explanation. The car had a small platform in front of the car that was known, in outlaw-speak, as the “blind baggage” platform. It was placed between the coal car (the place where coal for the engine was loaded) and the express car, and completely hid the robbers from sight by passengers and/or the crew. In this position, the bandits were in the perfect place to take over the express car and rob the safes unseen.
Messengers became more careful about locking their sliding doors after news of the first robberies arrived in the papers. This fact forced outlaws to do one of two things: force their way in, or talk their way in. To force their way in, robbers either burned the door down, sprayed it with bullets, put their shoulder to it and broke it in, or- most effectively- blew it up. This was easy because the car was made of wood, and there was the possibility of the messenger getting knocked out in the explosion. Before 1890, bandits tried black powder and nitroglycerin, but both could blow up unexpectedly. Dynamite was more stable, making it perfect for robbers blasting their way in.
As for talking your way in, well you had to be a pretty slick customer to do this efficiently. Sam Bass, who held up his first train in 1877 with a red lantern and got away with over $60,000, was the first outlaw to threaten to burn the express car if the messenger did not unlock the door. This threat became a common one for the next twenty years.
Outlaw Rube Burrows came up with a new twist to get into an express car. Burrows was an honest farm boy from Alabama before he held up his first train in 1866. Rube was the first train robber to threaten to shoot the train crew if the messenger did not unlock the door. His threat was also used for many years, although few bandits actually carried it out.
Step 3: Getting the Safes Open
This is a roll-around iron safe from the late 1800s. Safes like these were used onboard trains to house money, valuables and important papers.
You might be thinking, “It doesn’t get any harder, right?” Nope. Getting the safes open
was a nuisance, especially after express companies began experimenting with time-lock, variable-combination-lock, and double-lock safes. Express companies used those to hopefully convince robbers that a messenger could not just open a safe on demand. First, robbers tried training guns on the messenger and ordering him to open the safes. If that didn’t work, they would either blow their way in with more explosives, steal the key and open them themselves, or roll the safes out of the car. Using explosives was most effective, but loot was in danger of being damaged or destroyed. Stealing the key could be a good option, but messengers were often armed, and the fight could draw attention from passengers or crew. This was also very time-consuming. Rolling the safes out was easy, but how to open them later?
Step 4: Escaping