June 2007 Issue
Decked out in Western garb with a rifle slung over his shoulder, Aaron Bidlack races by on horseback. He gains speed on the locomotive ahead that has begun to halt at the sound of gunfire. A few horsemen trail slightly behind, soon finding themselves neck and neck with the caboose. They begin shooting at the train, dismount their steeds, and hop aboard, demanding passengers surrender their purses and wallets.
"Some people just give you the money," Bidlack says. "Some people fight you a little bit. Some people try to take your money."
This game of bandits might be right at home on the silver screen in a scene from a cowboy classic, but the action will come to life this month on the Hocking Valley Scenic Railway. While dirt roads and 10-gallon hats might be a rarity in southeastern Ohio, passengers of all ages are invited to hop aboard the railroad and be transported back to the wild, wild West of yesteryear.
Bidlack, 22, first assumed his bad-guy role with the historical railroad's semiannual train robbery two years ago, when a railway staffer approached him at his job in a horse barn about lending animals for the event. But Bidlack took the idea one step further and signed up the Ninth Virginia Cavalry as part of the act. A Civil War re-enactment group based in Grover Hill, the cavalry combines the talents of history enthusiasts ages 16 to 75. Bidlack has been a member of the group for six years, performing in Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky.
The first year he participated in the "robbery," Bidlack says, he, four horsemen and 10 robbers volunteered for the event; this year he expects 16 horsemen and a larger group of thieves to be in on the action.
When passengers arrive at the depot, they are given play money and asked to take a seat on the locomotive. The train pulls out at 6 p.m., heading north toward Logan.
The ride lasts about two hours, but, says engineer Larry Blake, the location and time of the attempted heist is kept secret. Although he's clued in on the fun, Blake never fails to find the holdup exciting, especially when the guns begin firing.
"Let's put it this way," he says, "my sleepy eyes [aren't] sleepy anymore."
The train robbery will take place June 9 and 10. For more information, call 800/967-7834 or visit www.hvsry.org