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Freedom Train: Theft of artifacts remains a mystery, multiple burglaries suspected

June 01, 2001
Santa Paula News

Somewhere out there is over $100,000 worth of historical artifacts, but not one of the hundreds of items stolen from an antique rail car has turned up, even though its been almost three months since the theft was discovered in Santa Paula.

By Peggy KellySanta Paula TimesSomewhere out there is over $100,000 worth of historical artifacts, but not one of the hundreds of items stolen from an antique rail car has turned up, even though its been almost three months since the theft was discovered in Santa Paula.And now investigators believe that several thieves raided the Freedom Train in separate incidents that could have occurred in two states after the car was mistakenly taken from Northern California to Nevada instead of Fillmore, where the rail car was to be a featured highlight of the Fillmore Train Festival in late March.In between, over $100,000 in historical artifacts were stolen from the car, including relics from California’s Gold Rush and a Revolutionary War-era Tower musket that were part of the an exhibit for the Museum of America’s Freedom Trains; the converted baggage car was part of a Union Pacific freight train that left Woodland, in Northern California, in late February.The theft was discovered by Fillmore & Western personnel who noticed that the door to the special traveling museum was open when it passed through Santa Paula.
Now investigators believe the railroad car was broken into early on during its two week trip and then entered by other thieves later in its journey; and the first set of burglars knew what they were looking for and targeted many rare historical artifacts.But the circuitous route of the two-week trip has complicated the investigation; the train sat in Oxnard for days before finally leaving for Fillmore and was also in Roseville after it was rerouted from Sparks, Nevada, where it had mistakenly wound up.Owned by the Boron-based Friends of STEAM, the collection is part of the Museum of America's Freedom Train. STEAM members have compiled a lengthy list of items found taken from the exhibit car that includes pioneer tools from Colonial times through the early Westward Expansion; an early successful Edison light bulb; framed documents, prints and antique art prints; World War II uniforms and equipment; historic flags; a radio owned by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt; Civil War uniform replicas; American Freedom train caps, used for reunion gifts; color posters of the trains; and hundreds of other unique items. The thieves even took some of the train’s fixtures and electrical fittings, tools and a ladder.The thieves took their time and even pried steel locking plates off from the inside of the car and opened all the large side doors, which were left open and resulted in the theft being discovered in Santa Paula.The Freedom Train first traveled the country in 1947 and carried the original Declaration of Independence; its second tour was in the 1970s.If anyone has any information, contact 877-6-MUSEUM (a toll-free call) or e-mail Friends of STEAM at www.freedomtrain.org.