Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Old Black Joe, the Railway Foe

 In the spring of 1931, a vandal was intent on creating mayhem on Auckland's rail network. He called himself "Old Black Joe, the Railway Foe". As it turned out, he wasn't so "old" after all.

"At one minute past 7 o'clock yesterday evening a constable at the Mount Eden Police Station was rung up and informed by a man's voice that he had just put a wedge between the points on the railway track under the overhead bridge near the Mount Eden railway station. Asked for his name and address, the man rang off. Constable Carson rushed from the police station, which is near the railway, and saw the Henderson to Auckland suburban train about to pull out from the station. He stopped it, and with some railwaymen went to the bridge and discovered, a strong batten nine feet long wedged between the tablet points leading off the main line to the shunting siding. Railwaymen consider that the engine probably would have been derailed. It was discovered that a batten had been removed from a nearby coalyard."
(Evening Post, 6 October 1931)

"Following an attempt on Monday night to wreck a train near the Mt. Eden station, the editor of the Auckland Star received a letter in print handwriting purporting to be from the man responsible, who signed himself "Old Black Joe, the Railway Foe." The writer described how he obstructed the line and telephoned to the police, and asserts that with a number of others he looked on while the obstruction was being inspected by the police. Further, he alleges that he was responsible for three previous attempts to stop trains, only himself being concerned, and he regrets that he cannot sign his name. As there were "to be more sensations yet," the letter was handed to the police."
(Evening Post, 7 October 1931)

"Old Black Joe" Again. - Auckland railway officials were forced to take rapid action a moment or two after six o'clock on Friday evening, when they received a telephone message from the city police to the effect that "Old Black Joe," the mysterious "railway foe," had interfered with the line within the Parnell tunnel (states the "New Zealand Herald"). The Whangarei express was due at Newmarket at 6.3 p.m. and word was sent to the station officials there to hold it back until the line had been inspected. A porter was despatched to run along the lino from Newmarket to the Auckland station, and it is said that he covered the distance in record time. No trace of any interference, however, was found, and the Whangarei train resumed its journey less than ten minutes late. The police had received their information in a brief telephone message from a man who called himself by the name quoted. He said he had "fixed” the tunnel line, and then rang off."
(Evening Post, 19 October 1931)

"Last July two attempts were made to block the railway points at Mount Eden, pieces of wood being wedged in them. One attempt was made known to the police by someone calling himself "Old Black Joe, the Railway Foe." After a long search the police last night arrested James Ramsay, aged 18, who was charged today with wilfully placing an obstruction in the railway points and also wilfully setting fire to a boot factory on 1st February. Detective-Sergeant Kelly said that the accused in a statement admitted the railway offences, and also admitted starting several fires; further, that he had written exaggerated letters signed 'Old Black Joe" to a newspaper, giving exaggerated reports of his doings. Counsel asked for the suppression of the accused's name, as his parents were respectable people. He said that the accused was quite mental. "The question is, is he certifiably mental?'” said the Magistrate, who refused the application, saying that the accused had said he wanted notoriety and that now he could have it. The accused was remanded in custody."
(Evening Post, 9 February 1932)

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