HendersonvillePete Zamplas

Trivia master Wilson Casey chronicles train robbery


Wilson Casey holds one of his many books, when speaking in Hendersonville earlier this year. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Enthusiastic storyteller Casey will speak Oct. 4 in Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community, to its residents and their guests in a private event. Nationally-syndicated trivia columnist Casey speaks to many groups and has written on various topics.

Above all, “The Trivia Guy” touts exploits of Luman “Lu” Ramsdell, the self-professed train robber. Ramsdell, who died five years ago, lived for decades in Casey’s hometown of nearby Spartanburg, S.C.

Casey’s book is entitled Bedlam on the West Virginia Rails: The Last Train Bandit Tells His True Tale. Wayne Johnson adapted it into a film screenplay, winning first place in two screenplay festivals. Casey hopes the story makes the big screen.

The robbery happened in 1949, between World War II and the Korean Conflict. Drunken bravado among friends got out of hand, resulting in a sequence of bizarre and dangerous adventures, Casey said. He is convinced Ramsdell told him the truth, about being the culprit and what happened. Casey calls it a throw-back to “Jesse James and the halcyon days of the Wild West.”

Ramsdell “never meant to rob a moving train, nor get gunned down near the president (Truman),” Casey said.

The train robbers were nicknamed in the media as The B&O Zoot Suit Bandits, for robbing a Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) passenger train that went from Washington, D.C. to Detroit. Ramsdell and his friend “Duke” boarded the train at Youngstown, Ohio. They went crazy when the train wound through mountains, near Martinsburg, W.Va.

“Ramsdell and his gang stopped the train, to rob and terrorize nearly 150 people on board,” Casey stated. “They pistol-whipped several and shot at others before exiting the train to next rob a tavern and hijack getaway cars.”

Ramsdell and his friend each drank three shots of whiskey in a train lounge car, then got generous then unruly. They ordered drinks for others, rang up a $60.50 bill and were pressured to pay up. Ramsdell told the bartender he had the money in his bag.

A porter went with Ramsdell and Duke, to the baggage car. Ramsdell told Casey there seemed about 200 bags, and his was at the bottom of a pile. Ramsdell angrily kicked it and impatiently yelled he was “tired of all this crap.” He yanked his suitcase. It slipped through the porter’s hands, and crashed onto the floor.

Ramsdell’s Tommy gun supposedly fell out of it, and cash spilled atop the gun. Ramsdell stepped up his belligerence. The movie script states he snatched his .38 revolver from his suitcase, “pulls back the hammer, and points it at the porter’s face” and yelled at the porter “Now you’ve done it! Give me all your money!”

His next order is “Stop this damn train. We’re ready to get off.” The train is stopped. Ramsdell later gets the engineer to take him to the engine car, smacks the brakeman on the face with his gun, then gets the engineer to back the train around a dangerous curve to a point where Ramsdell and Duke can better leave it. “Back this baby up!” is the order.

Before they flee, the two go on a robbery barrage of passengers in club cars, Casey said. Ramsdell supposedly told Duke to point his gun at many people, but not to shoot. In the script, a passenger yells at Ramsdell that “you’ll never get away with this — you sleaze ball!”

Ramsdell and Duke got off the train. They ended up in D.C. in a bar near the White House, still drinking away. By then, a bulletin was out for them and they were recognized as fitting the description. Authorities were called, and closed in. Soon there was a “harrowing shootout five blocks from the White House,” Casey said. He said Ramsdell was shot and wounded, served time, but lived out his life in Spartanburg.

The robbery’s distinction lasted 63 years. Then in 2012, the year Ramsdell died, there reportedly was a robbery of another train and it was in this state. A Norfolk Southern train from Columbia, S.C. to Asheville was robbed in Salisbury.

Casey’s latest release is a 2018 Golf Trivia daily box calendar. Casey can be reached at (864) 621-7129.

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