1936 Terrorists in Holdrege

From the April 2010 Stereoscope

1936 Terrorists In Holdrege!

It was about 9:30 on the evening of July 24, 1936. H. E. Nelson, a brakeman from McCook, had just gotten off a freight train which had pulled into Holdrege and was now on a siding. Nelson began walking along the tracks near the coal chutes west of the Burlington Station. He noticed what looked like tarpaper on the tracks up ahead of him. But when he got closer, he found it wasn’t tarpaper, Someone had placed two angle bars across the track and wired them to the rails. It would be a danger for any train coming through Holdrege, but a particular danger for the one due to pass through in 10 minutes. The Burlington Zephyr, heading to Chicago from Denver, was due in at 9:50. Known as the Silver Streak, it had a cruising speed of about 90 miles an hour. The Zephyr slowed a little when it came through a town — down to about 65-70 miles per hour. All this Nelson probably knew. He also likely knew that the train normally carried 75-80 passengers and that if it hit those obstructions on the rails, it would hurl into the coal chute just west of the station or maybe into a freight train on a sidetrack. Nelson went to work, removing the obstructions just as the Zephyr flashed into sight. The train passed through without incident. The news of the attempt to wreck the Zepyhr didn’t get out. Neither the Holdrege Citizen nor the Progress carried any stories about the incident in their next issues. But Phelps County Sheriff Royal Hanson, along with some railroad detectives, were already tracking down leads. The investigation began at the railroad yards. Several transients who had been riding freight trains were picked up for questioning, but all were released. Hanson also learned that several boys liked to play in the coal chutes near where the obstructions were placed. He talked to the boys, and they admitted they sometimes watched the Zephyr go through. They also admitted to occasionally putting lumps of coal on the tracks to watch the train crush them. But none had put the bars on the track. Investigators were stymied until about August 10th. Hanson learned that a man named Cecil Hollenhors had been seen loafing around the railroad yards just before the incident. Hollenhors, 27, had been a laborer in McCook, but now lived with his father and step mother in Holdrege. Hanson began questioning Hollenhors, who denied any knowledge of the sabotage attempt. But he slipped up when answering one of Hanson’s questions. “Why did you try to wreck the Zephyr?” Hanson asked. “I never put anything on the tracks by the coal chutes,” Hollenhors replied. Very few people had been aware of where the obstructions had been placed, so Hanson was pretty sure this was the man. He questioned him a few more hours and Hollenhors finally confessed. He did it, he said, because he was “mad” at his relatives. Within two days of his confession, Hollenhors was tried in District Court in Red Cloud and sentenced to five years in the state penitentiary. But after he was sentenced, he began to tell a different story. It turned out that he wasn’t really mad at his relatives at all. In fact, he had an accomplice. He said it was a man named Charles Kennedy, who lived in McCook. Hollenhors said he and Kennedy used to hang around the McCook rail yards and often talked about placing obstructions on the track. Kennedy had even planned to put obstructions on the track in McCook the same day as the Holdrege incident, Hollenhors said. Hanson went to McCook and arrested Kennedy for aiding and abetting and for placing obstructions on the railroad tracks. But Kennedy revealed little during questioning. He was later taken before the insanity board in McCook and committed to the state hospital. Newspapers couldn’t confirm whether he had ever been involved in the incident or not.–end

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