In 1963, a train on the shortest commuter rail line in America was stopped then robbed while it was on its way to its destination station. The robbery was performed by Princeton students dressed up as cowboys on horseback who somehow got away with it.
The Princeton Branch is a 2.7-mile long commuter rail line operated by New Jersey Transit with one destination: Princeton University. A short branch of the Northeast Corridor, it is the shortest commuter rail line in the United States. The line, sometimes called the Dinky or Princeton Junction and Back, is not just used by students and faculty, but by locals and commuters headed to Princeton’s business district. On May 3, 1963, the Princetoniana Museum notes, the line would also be the site of a train robbery done as a prank by Princeton students.
On that day, the train — powered by a Pennsylvania Railroad MP54 electric railcar — was running full of commuter passengers and college women traveling to campus to meet their dates. Before it could reach its one and only stop, the engineer in control spotted an empty convertible parked on the tracks. They stopped the train, only to see a horse appear from the woods at full gallop. Its rider was dressed up like a cowboy and held a revolver. Three more men dressed as cowboys emerged on their own horses to join the first man.
The men boarded the train, with the leader firing his revolver loaded with blanks and telling everyone to stay in their seats. As the New York Times reported, everyone onboard the train was screaming and throwing their wallets at the men. But they weren’t there for money. All four men grabbed a woman, hauled them off of the train and rode off into the woods. The men felt like they were in a western as they galloped away. It was all filmed on video, which could be viewed here.
Princeton’s train eventually reached its station, where the remaining passengers told the story of the hold up.
The man behind the operation was George R. Bunn Jr. of the Bunn coffee maker family. As Princetoniana Museum notes, he never really obeyed the rules, having an illegal ocelot in his dorm and often breaking the university’s cohabitation rule. He also loved extreme pranks, and once attacked a rival club with a bulldozer.
Three other men assisted in the prank and as both Princeton and the New York Times explain, the women were in on it, too.
We didn’t have dates on the train. We just picked the four girls we thought were most likely to play along and told them what was going on.
The school’s administrators were aware of the event and the railroad was understandably not pleased. Yet amazingly, they got away with it without discipline or charges filed against them.
Princetoniana rightfully points out that such a robbery, even if it was just a prank, would never fly today. I imagine attacking a rival club with a bulldozer also wouldn’t be cool with the authorities, either. Even then, it’s a little astonishing that nothing came of a prank that seemed so real that scared people were throwing their wallets at them.
The Princeton Branch still runs today and no student has tried an operation of this caliber since.