Catasauqua Press

Friday, May 24, 2019
PHOTO COURTESY OF LARRY OBERLY A pay car delivered the payroll to Atlas Cement Company employees during the 1930s. PHOTO COURTESY OF LARRY OBERLY A pay car delivered the payroll to Atlas Cement Company employees during the 1930s.

John Dillinger is part of Atlas Cement lore

Thursday, July 30, 2015 by ED PANY Curator, Atlas Cement CompanyMemorial Museum in Columns

In my last column, I recalled the day when notorious bank robber John Dillinger and his gang robbed the First National Bank in Mason City in 1934. The Lehigh Portland Cement Company operated a plant there, so some of their employees were depositors at the bank.

From 1933 to 1934, bold newspaper headlines told the story of the Dillinger gang. In my years of research in the cement industry, I interviewed a number of people who were employed at the Atlas Portland Cement Company, who told me the company pay car was a possible Dillinger target.

The Atlas was the largest cement company in the world, employing thousands. The company's payroll was quite substantial. In the early days, the company paid in gold and silver coin, before converting to paper currency.

A number of years ago, I interviewed Mrs. Bertha Keiser in Cementon. Her father, brothers and husband were Atlas employees. She worked on the Atlas pay car, and she described its operation.

Every two weeks, the main office at 30 Broad St., New York City, processed the payroll. They sent the payroll on a Central of New Jersey train.

The Atlas Railroad (which became the Northampton and Bath Railroad) moved the pay car to the Central of New Jersey Railroad junction. The payroll was transferred to the car.

In the car were seven secretaries, processing the currency into envelopes. Two armed guards were on the car.

The payroll car stopped at plant's 2, 3, 4 and the bag factory, the current Northampton Community Center. Yes, three plants were in operation on the site.

The employees would approach the car and show their brass check containing their employee number for payment. The paymaster was Mr. Charles Brown.

A few old-timers, including my father-in-law, Raymond Shoemaker, told me one day a rumor spread through the plants that John Dillinger and his gang would rob the car.

The guards and local police were informed, and a feeling of anxiety was in the air.

Much to their relief, Dillinger and his cohorts never appeared in their black Buick.

The rumor and story became part of the history and lore of the Atlas plant.

Dillinger's 13-month crime spree ended in 1934 when the FBI killed him as he and his girlfriend left a Chicago theater.

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In two weeks, some cement industry history occurred at the site of the new Northampton Area Middle School.