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Depression Times and Tolerance
Written by Larry Roeder, Editor

            Ninety years ago our country was in the midst of the Great Depression.  The devastating nationwide impact wasn't fully felt in our area.  There were some rough times to be sure, but our farms, factories, and small businesses kept the wolves of poverty and despair from fully invading the region.

By the mid-1930's, the railroad yards in Green Lane had become an easy target for

out-of-town thieves looking for merchandise to sell on the black market


            While this kept many workers on the job, it also made the Upper Perkiomen Valley and nearby regions a target for out-of-town opportunists looking to make their living off of the sweat of local workers.  Stealing within the Upper Perkiomen Valley started to become commonplace – especially along the railroad tracks.

            Many of these stealing junkets weren't done haphazardly.  Most were the product of planning and selection by those who knew what was to be shipped – and when.  One such incident occurred on October 26, 1935, when Green Lane residents were awakened to the sound of gunshots at 2 a.m.

            The railroad siding at the Green Lane train station had become a target of thieves in recent weeks.  Located near the junction of Routes 29 (Gravel Pike) and 63 (Sumneytown Pike), it provided an easy terminal for local business and industry to ship their goods.  The location also provided plenty of get-away routes for crooks to use as an escape.

            Reading Railroad detectives decided to stake out the freight yard in Green Lane that night in hopes of surprising the perpetrators.  They didn't have to wait long.

The Green Lane Hosiery Company was established in 1929 by Willy Otto, who 

emmigrated from Gelenau, Germany.  For many years it was known for making a

high quality product.  Many of the early workers came from Germany.


            Early in the morning three men arrived to break into a boxcar full of silk stockings manufactured at the nearby Green Lane Hosiery factory.  The company was well known at the time for their high quality and specialties in full-fashioned hosiery.  Items of this quality were easy to sell on the black market of any eastern city.

            The would-be thieves, all from Philadelphia, drove their car up to the railroad siding.  Captain S. M. Leschliter and two other detectives from the Reading Railroad were hiding between several freight cars around the yard.  The Philadelphians pulled up to the boxcar and one of them snapped the lock on the door and climbed in among the goodies.  That's when Leschliter and his men sprung their trap.  They ordered the thieves to halt. They didn't.

            According to newspaper reports, one intruder attempted to jump from the freight car to escape.  As he attempted to leap for freedom, the detectives fired three shots from sawed-off shotguns, pumping 24 pellets into him.  The other two crooks sped off in the automobile they arrived in.

            Sometime during the escape the two decided to split up.  One of them made the not-so-smart choice of taking the train back to the City of Brotherly Love.  Even worse, he went to the Green Lane train station to await his ride.

            He was found in the waiting room at 4 a.m. by police officers that were investigating the incident.  The misguided thief admitted to being part of the ring that had stolen thousands of dollars worth of merchandise from freight cars in the Green Lane yard in recent weeks.  He also named his accomplices.  The police were quite familiar with all three.  Each had been arrested several times before on similar charges.  All three were arrested again and sent to jail.

            The gentleman who was shot was taken to Grand View Hospital where most of the pellets were removed from his shoulder, chest, wrist, thigh, and knee.  While he was listed in serious condition for some time, he was eventually released to pay his debt to society.

            One thing to note when comparing the arrest back then to current policies.  Things were quite different.  The United States was wallowing in the depths of the Great Depression and tolerance for anyone who would steal at a time like this was non-existent.   





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