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On July 3, 1938, Joseph Gemma, a resident of Providence, Rhode Island, was sentenced to five years in prison and fined $500 ($9,200 today) for stealing “a railroad in broad daylight.” He had previously appealed his case to the state Supreme Court, but they upheld the lower court decision and ruled that he must pay the penalty for his crime.

And just how does one steal an entire railroad?

You do it in tiny little pieces. Gemma had created a false sales agreement for the abandoned Harrisville – Woonsocket Railroad two years prior, which supposedly allowed him to have a gang of workers remove 250 tons of rails, piece-by-piece, and sell the iron for scrap.

1943 photograph taken in Camden, Missouri. Looking east on the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad where it crosses over the Wabash Railroad tracks. Library of Congress image.
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