This Is our Village

Saturday, June 23, 2012


For Anita and debgeller, who expressed interest in our July 4 bonfire escapades, the following is from my brother Arthur, who was far more involved than I had realized. My apologies to others for taking up so much Blog space.
Lanny Howe

As you requested, more details on escaping bullets in the Readville railroad car yards. This may be far too long but I just had fun rattling on. Edit this as you wish. It was fun remembering. —Artie

Six to eight of us from Dedham, followed our fearless leader, in a nighttime caper across some distant fields to a railroad yard in Readville (Boston), MA where a multitude of tracks and stored cars were kept and maintained for Boston and local service. The "brilliant" plan was to steal a car of some sort for our traditional 4th of July bonfire in the middle of Oakdale Square. For the life of me then, and still today, I couldn't imagine how about 8 mindless boys expected to steal a heavy railroad car in the middle of the night. But since our leader was two years older and we presumed experienced with 4th of July thievery, we followed.

We sneaked quietly a quarter of a mile or so onto the railroad property and into the midst of several brick buildings where we assumed our leader had spotted the ideal car to take. Dark was settling over the yard, giving me a very creepy feeling as we worked our way past big freight cars and over tracks into what appeared to be a courtyard. Huge black oil storage tanks lined the right side, dwarfing our little band of thieves. I felt my first rather alarming sense that I was not dressed properly for the occasion, as I still had on my white baseball uniform from the afternoon. My wariness about the whole caper was increasing with every uneasy step we took. I should add here that I was always a good boy, never one to even steal a candy bar from the local spa as most of my friends did regularly. What was I thinking?

It was there, in the courtyard, when it first occurred to me that our fearless leader had no idea where the car was we were about to steal! This was a valuable lesson for me, proving that age and wisdom do not necessarily go hand in hand. Before we could formulate Plan B, which might have been "Let's get out of here!" two police cars with blue lights flashing and sirens screaming came rushing toward us. Quite sure that we were in a courtyard, when all of my thieving partners bolted straight ahead away from the police, I instantly assumed they would be trapped inside the brick courtyard walls. I ran to the right and hid in amongst the big black oil storage tanks as several policemen ran past me toward the others. I heard gunshots and saw sparks as bullets ricocheted off the brick wall at the end of the courtyard. They were shooting at them and I was terrified.

I clung against the side of one tank and the night stood still. I waited. There were shouts and a few shots but they were some distance away. By now, I knew I had been mistaken about the courtyard. Somewhere ahead there was an opening where brick walls didn't come together. It seemed all my friends had likely escaped and I was left alone, white against black, frozen in place. A policeman came back, perhaps knowing one of us had turned off. He scouted around the very area I was in, but as he got close, I slithered around the big tanks and remained unseen.  He eventually left, and I edged my way along the brick walls, away from the parked cruisers, and found the opening at the end of the courtyard. A field was ahead of me and I could hear the officers about 50 yards ahead and to my left as I dropped to the ground and crawled slowly across the open field. Although I could see their shapes, and could hear them not very far away, I continued slowly, belly to the ground. After what felt like forever, to my dismay I saw a tall steel fence ahead of me. Unable to restrain myself any longer, I stood up and ran full speed ahead, leaped on the fence and scrambled to the top. It made enough of a racket to provoke shots that rang out while I ascended the fence, adding to my terror. I scrambled mindlessly over some barbed wire at the top and jumped down, about to set new speed records. Utterly exhausted, I arrived back home to meet my friends, with my uniform torn and ripped and bloodied from the barbed wire.

The era of wagon burning in Oakdale Square was about over at this time. Perhaps this adventure was a message for those of us about to carry on the tradition... that the time had come to give it up. Times had changed, wooden wagons were too hard to find, and we were desperate enough, and foolish enough, to venture into Boston for—RAILROAD CARS?

It's 50 years later now, and I am running our class high school reunion. Charlie Collins, a funny fellow and one of the small gang of thieves, wrote the following on a questionnaire that was sent to classmates asked to list one great lesson learned in life. Imagine—some 50 years later he wrote: "Never wear white baseball uniforms when stealing wagons at night." True enough.


  1. And I thought that ringing a doorbell at night and then scooting away was a really big to-do

  2. What a night.... oh my, how we learn our life lessons!

  3. The Brothers Howe sure knew how to have a good time. Glad they avoided jail and death by barbed wire to tell their stories another day.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.