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The Oblong Box


On this date in 1905, the Courier Democrat of Cavalier County ran a story about a paymaster who got spooked at the railroad station in Drayton.

Before heading for Drayton, Willard Bugbee went to the bank to withdraw $12,000 so he could pay off the section’s railroad workers. At the train station, he noticed that one of his fellow passengers was a squinty-eyed man he had seen earlier at the bank. He also noticed a large oblong box about the size of a coffin being loaded into a freight car.

Bugbee arrived at the Drayton Station at about six that evening, locked his money in the office safe, went to the hotel and had supper. Then he went back to the station where he used the office as a counting room. It was about 11 o’clock, the station agent had gone home, the windows were barred and the doors were locked. He took his cash out of the safe and sat down to work. Sitting on a high stool in front of the office desk, he could see through the door into the dimly lit freight room where, among barrels, packages and crates was the oblong box he had noticed earlier. It was standing up on end.

Half an hour later Bugbee looked up from his work and noticed that the oblong box wasn’t there anymore. He leaned to the side and saw it was standing in the shadows about two feet from where it had stood before. He got scared, thinking that either his mind – or worse, ghosts – were playing tricks on him. He took his pistols out of their holsters and laid them on the desk in front of him.

Bugbee finally convinced himself that he was seeing things. He went back to work, and then suddenly heard something fall in the freight room. He picked up a pistol and leaned to have a look... the oblong box was gone. His heart stopped; he was beginning to think the box had supernatural powers. He took several minutes to screw up his courage, then picked uphis lamp, cocked his revolver and tiptoed into the freight room.

Behind some crates, Bugbee found the oblong box tipped over onto its side. There was a crack in the wood, and the cover was loose. He pried it open far enough to see there was a man inside. A live one. With Bugbee’s gun on him, the man squeezed his way out of the box and admitted that he was there to relieve Bugbee of his moneybags. The box had a cover that was designed to open from the inside, but it had been set up on end, and the cover was pushed up against another crate. The guy had to squeeze his hand out and push on the adjoining crate bit by bit until he could ease his box out of Bugbee’s sightline.

Moving inch by inch, he suddenly lost his balance and toppled over, trapping himself inside. The robber explained he was supposed to throw something over Bugbee and then let his partner in. Bugbee locked the robber in the freight room, dimmed his lamp, went to the door and whistled. When the partner came in, Bugbee threw a cover over him and called for help. The partner turned out to be – who else – the man from the bank that morning... the squinty-eyed one.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm