How Safe Are Your Goodies?


| July/August 1991



R.D. #1, Box 149A,Ellwood City, PA 16117-9801

The Northwest Pennsylvania Steam Engine and Old Equipment Association, which has its shows at Portersville, Pennsylvania, was robbed in late January of 1991. Thieves cut the padlock off a steel storage building and helped themselves to 10 steam whistles and two model engines. A nearby club recently lost four magnetos off tractors in a similar way. We do not know if the thieves in our case brought pipe wrenches or used a couple that we have in the building, but nine of the whistles were taken off the boilers stored there. The tenth was lying under a bench. Fortunately, by some good luck, advertising, alert friends, and the grace of the Almighty, we have recovered seven of the whistles and the two models from an antique shop some eighty miles away on the other side of Pittsburgh. The fact that the whistles had some unique markings and qualities and we had good photos of them helped tremendously in identification. The largest whistle, which was among those recovered, was also a community heirloom, having been donated by U.S. Steel when they shut down the local plant in 1973. Many hundreds of people set their watches by it for 50 or more years. The point seems to be that not all folks you meet are honest, and some will go to great lengths for a dollar. When the public is attending your show, how many are 'casing the joint' for a private visit later? Let me assure you I don't believe in living my life as a recluse in fear and suspicion of all my fellow men, but this experience has made us think a bit differently. Obviously a location with a permanent resident and a good sized dog or two would be safer from such intrusion than our relatively remote grounds. Or, an electronic surveillance system could be installed. Some simpler measures we have thought of and had suggested to us are as follows:

1. Have some good close up photos of your equipment to show unique characteristics. Shots from several angles would help. You can hardly guess what goodie may take someone's eye. Our pictures were mostly from farther away, to get the whole engine and so a bit fuzzy and lacking in detail .

2. For anything that has serial numbers on it, write them down and put them in an envelope or file at home, away from the equipment. Legal identification is shaky if you can only say 'I recognize that whistle.' We know from experience here.

3. For things like whistles without serial numbers or even names in many cases, consider dismantling them and stamping your social security number, drivers license number (the police find this more convenient) or some code number, or letter that will be unlikely duplicated, on an area that doesn't show. Legal identification is much simpler with such numbers, and thieves can't remove what they don't find.

4. Have an eye to security when and wherever your equipment is stored. A determined thief or group of thieves will get in somehow if they have time to work, but there is no use writing them an invitation. Good hasps and shielded padlocks are obviously better than plain ones.