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 smidgen 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.

[Steven Levi’s Alaska Gold Rush stories can be found in BEST BOOTS I EVER ATE on Kindle.]




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Steven C. Levi

Steven C. Levi

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