Lansford's Great Train Robbery
DONALD R. SERFASS/TIMES NEWS "Sniper" Zach Langley, Fleetwood, waits for shuttle cars filled with passengers to emerge from the No. 9 Mine on Sunday as part of a mock train heist that afforded guests plenty of photo opportunities.
Hidden by tall evergreens next to the old wash shanty, sniper Zach Langley crouched on the ground and aimed the barrel of his cold, steel rifle with the accuracy of a laser beam.
His innocent prey didn't have clue.
It was a chilling sight on a warm, muggy Sunday. But it was all in fun.
Langley, of Fleetwood, was part of a re-enactment in which everybody had a chance to take part. It was like reality TV. But much more realistic.
Visitors said the thrill of the unexpected sparked excitement at the No. 9 Mine Labor Day Picnic when members of a visiting volunteer group decided to stage some drama.
"Imagine spending an hour inside a dark mine, then coming back into daylight only to be robbed at gunpoint," said one surprised "victim."
With rifles in hand, soldiers of the 8th Georgia Infantry Regiment, part of a Civil War Encampment, intercepted trainloads of visitors when the guests alighted from mine shuttle cars after taking an underground tour.
Joining Langley were many others, such as Jim Heckenberger, Mertztown, and Mick Herman, Fogelsville, who manned strategic points and trained their rifles on the engine and shuttle cars just as the visitors emerged from the mine.
When guests stepped onto the loading platform, they were approached by an armed Barry S. Langley Sr., Walnutport.
The "heist" was similar to the Great Train Robbery and caught visitors off guard.
Passengers quickly realized what was happening and grabbed their cameras and cell phones to snap photos or take video.
The realism briefly startled some, especially school-age children. But they quickly caught on and reveled in the moment.
Of course, it was all for laughs and the crowd smiled throughout the "assault."
Later in the day when another unsuspecting group took the tour, they were told to put their hands up for an "interrogation." Visitors were then questioned regarding the disappearance of a sack of valuable gold nuggets.
"Who stole the gold," shouted Sgt. Major Barry Langley. All of the tourists declared their innocence.
Eventually, the Infantry temporarily detained suspect Aaron Cordero, 23, who went along with the gag and "surrendered" to authorities.
In reality, Cordero was a visitor from Norristown simply enjoying a holiday with his family.
"It was great," he said. "Very exciting. It was just a great experience."
In the end, a small burlap sack filled with gold nuggets, appearing to be painted pieces of coal, was discovered beneath the seat in the final train car.
The sack was opened and gold nuggets were distributed to visitors, a lasting memento of Lansford's Great Train Robbery.
Passenger David Leyua said the tour was something he'll always remember.
"It was my first experience. Very nice," said the King of Prussia man.
Visitor Noymi Mautino, 33, King of Prussia, said the shootings and armed men in heavy wool uniforms surprised her.
"I said 'what's going on here?'"
The tours typically don't involve any kind of robbery. Instead, the heist and other shenanigans were added by the encampment members over the Labor Day holiday, said Larry Consoli of Summit Hill, tour guide.
The educational value of the tours always has an impact. Those who go inside learn a great deal, he said.
"They're in awe. What they couldn't comprehend is what miners did in the 1800s and 1900s," said Consoli.
One weekend tour was interrupted briefly when an adult male suffered a panic attack. The train reversed and took him out of the mine, something that happens occasionally, said Consoli.
On this day, Chris Lopresto, tour guide, forewarned visitors that the mine is the real thing.
"This isn't Disney World," said Lopresto.
"If the wall looks like it's covered in dirt, then it's covered in dirt. If you put your hand there, you'll find out."
As for the low head room, he said that's real, too, and if someone says to duck, you'd better duck.
"If you stand up, you'll go home with a headache," Lopresto said.
The two-day Civil War Encampment provided additional historical significance and augmented the experience, said guests.
Among the many re-enactors were Matt Howe, Doylestown; Mike McKenney, Levittown; and Bill Minnich, Quakertown.
Minnich has been portraying Confederate General James Longstreet for many years.
"He was second in command, next only to General Lee, during the Civil War," said Minnich.
Minnich and his associates aren't part of the 8th Georgia Infantry. Instead, they represent the American Living History Education Society.
Crowds were steady all day, according to organizers.
One helper, Alex Maketa, Lansford, recalled when the area was a working mine and adjacent pond.
"The ducks would land here," said Maketa, who turned 91 Monday. Maketa said he's retired after 31 years at Bundy Tubing, Hometown. He was delighted to spend his birthday weekend at the No. 9 and is the mine's oldest volunteer, affectionately known as the pirohi man.
Opened in 1855, No. 9 is the world's oldest continuously operated anthracite mine. Closed in 1972, the mine re-opened as a heritage tourism attraction in 2002.
Visitors ride safely by train 1,600 feet into the mountainside to see and experience firsthand what it was like to work underground over the past 200 years.
Admission to the grounds is always free and the museum opened last Sunday free of charge.
In fact, it was a bargain all the way around as many went home with a "gold nugget" and a treasure trove of memories.