the driver turned the lumbering Pickwick-Greyhound bus off Route
66 for a construction detour that distant pre-dawn, most of
his passengers slept or tried to. They were about to get a rude
In the early 1930s commercial bus travel could hardly be considered
luxurious, but a Yellow Coach Co.-built bus beat the horse-drawn
stagecoaches of the previous generation, an era many Texans still
remembered. The bus had left Tulsa on the night of June 6, 1931
bound for El
Paso. The last stop had been Erick,
Oklahoma where two men boarded with tickets to the Panhandle
town of Shamrock,
About 2:30 a.m. on June 7, driver W.E. Trammel felt something hard
poke him in the back-the barrel of a pistol. The gunman and another
passenger-the pair who had gotten on the bus in Erick-ordered
Trammel to stop the bus, open the door and hand over his money.
The stunned Trammel complied but he had no money or valuables to
surrender. With the nation gripped in what would come to be called
the Great Depression, Trammel was lucky to even have a job, much
less any spending money.
Two cars pulled up and five other men and rushed on the bus. Now
Trammel understood the significance of the vehicles his bus had
been sandwiched between since leaving Erick.
One had been closely following him, the other keeping pace just
ahead of it.
When a rough search satisfied the robbers that Trammel wasn't lying
about not having any money, they cursed him and called him a "hack
driver." Then the hijackers turned their attention to the passengers,
who they ordered off the bus. Like Trammel, five of the passengers
either had no money or had managed to hide their cash and valuables.
The take from the others ranged from $477 and a diamond ring lost
by a woman from Michigan to a lady who had only $1 and a cheap watch.
In all, the robbers netted $668 in cash and $273 in jewelry. That
haul, totaling $941, would have the spending power of $14,640 in
today's dollars. Stealing a page from earlier "kind-hearted" outlaws
like Jesse James, the robbers were not without consideration for
"Emulating the chivalry of the old time wild west robbers," the
Associated Press reported later that day, "the highwaymen asked
each passenger from whom they took money where he or she lived and
'refunded' enough change for them to wire home for more money and
to buy their breakfast. The 'refunds' ranged from 70 cents to $1.50."
But while the robbers proved mildly considerate of their victims,
they didn't want the bus going anywhere. Opening the hood (buses
back then still had the engine in the front, looking more like overlong
trucks than the flat-nosed buses of today) they shattered two spark
plugs, ripped out the ignition wiring and even cut the fuel line.
With the bus disabled, the robbers got in the two cars that had
been shadowing the bus and disappeared into the night. Trammel and
two of the male passengers then walked more than 4 miles to the
nearest town, Texola, OK. There Trammel reported the robbery to
the bus company's office in Clinton, OK and in turn someone alerted
law enforcement of the brazen robbery. The company also dispatched
a mechanic who repaired the bus, which made it to Shamrock
holdup was big news, the banner story in many newspapers. While
there wasn't anything funny about armed robbery, the anonymous AP
staffer who filed the report must have had fun hoking it up.
"Rivaling the thrills of a stagecoach holdup in the wild and woolly
days of the old West," the dispatch began, " seven unmasked highwaymen
halted a Pickwick-Greyhound westbound bus nine miles east of here
early this morning and robbed its 18 passengers…"
Despite the splash it made, after the initial coverage, the story
disappeared from the newspapers. Officers arrested two men in Erick,
OK but when the bus passengers viewed them, they did not recognize
anyone. If anyone else was ever arrested and charged with the holdup,
which today would be a federal crime since it involved interstate
commerce, it was not reported. And given the state of law enforcement
in Texas at the time, that the case remained unsolved is not surprising.
The newly created Texas Highway Patrol did not yet have radios in
their patrol vehicles so response time would have been slow. Nor
did most sheriff's departments have two-way communication, especially
those in small counties. The Texas Rangers surely investigated the
case, but they had no forensic support and no tracks to trail. Another
year would pass before even the FBI had a crime laboratory capable
of analyzing fingerprints and any other evidence that might have
enabled the case to be cleared.
Meanwhile, Route 66-the
so-called Mother Road-continued as a major transportation artery
until Interstate 40 made it obsolete. The great Shamrock
hijacking of 1931 has been forgotten, but Route
66 became an American icon.