How Safe Are Your Goodies?

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.

5. Be aggressive in your pursuit. If we had set back and let the
police do all the work, we might not have our whistles back. The
police are very busy and your goodies will not likely have the
priority for them that they do for you. We wrote immediately to all
surrounding clubs and put the information in several newspapers and
a local magazine. We did not have lead time enough for the national
circulation magazines but were preparing material. The newspaper
articles and an editorial titled ‘We hope these thieves are
caught soon’ were what helped us. The information that bore
fruit came through a chance encounter of a local citizen with a
railroad collector who had been in the antique shop and noted the
bunch of whistles ‘all brought in recently’ and one
especially big one, our local mill whistle.

6. Be aware that auctions, flea markets and unscrupulous antique
dealers are often little more than ‘fences’ for stolen
goods. Spread the word and keep your eyes open. If an item changes
hands several times and loses its ‘identity’ it may come
right back to you, so don’t let your guard down too soon. A
museum that specializes in stuff like ours had a steam model engine
stolen some years back. It was behind a wire fence but someone had
long arms. After changing hands about five or six times and after
about a year, the current owner carried it in and tried to sell it
back to the museum operator. The museum owner was so discouraged by
this and similar problems he closed the place down.

We hope you are never bothered by such problems as these, but a
few precautions may make it easier for you if it happens. Good
steaming in 1991 and beyond!

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