The Great Train Robbery 1

Mark Armato repeats the past with his train robbing job at Worlds of Fun.

Jay Gatsby said in Fitzgerald’s novel, The Great Gatsby, “Can’t repeat the past? Why, of course you can.” For Northlander Mark Armato, the sentiment is coming true this summer.

In 1976-1977, Armato worked as a train robber on the Worlds of Fun railroad, making $2.25 an hour, working from April through October. Then after college came 32 years of teaching American history at Maple Park Middle School. Upon retirement, he needed a part-time job to help with insurance. On a whim, he applied to Worlds of Fun and was hired as a train robber on the train show, doing the same job he did 38 years before.

Armato works from noon-6 p.m., six days a week; with two shows an hour; that means he does 11-12 shows a day. Armato has already noticed a few changes between train robbing stints.

“Obviously the pay is better now. Before, the stage was a false front with no conveniences, and we were out there all day, in the heat and the cold. Now, there’s a little cabin with a window unit, fresh water, and table and chairs. Some of the other guys bring their laptops; I bring a book and sit out on the porch between shows. Also, before the closest roller coaster was Zambezi Zinger, but it was still a distraction. We had no mics, so we had to shout. I remember being hoarse. Now, we have a much better sound system with head mics, but the Prowler is right there, and it is very loud,” Armato says.

His current crew is about four guys, and they take turns being the robbers and the marshal. Another significant change involves the actual train robbing scenes between those robbers and the marshal.

“Before, it was more Old West style, quick draw along the lines of Wyatt Earp or Jesse James, with someone faking getting shot and dying. Now, it is more hillbilly, Baldknobbers, 3 Stooges on steroids. No one gets shot, no one gets hurt. There is a warning shot to stop the train, but that’s about it. We do exaggerated faces, silly things to get laughs. Also, it is more scripted and choreographed now. We had four days of rehearsal before the shows started. Before, we had no director and we just made it up as we went along,” Armato says.

The first time, Armato was working with his friends, and says they are jealous of his new summer job now. He had good memories of those days as high school/college kid.

“I sneakily took the blanks out of the sheriff’s gun, and when it came time for the shootout, he got blasted. We thought that was pretty funny, of course. During the last show of my first day ever in the summer of 1976, I shot myself in my leg. I was still learning how to quickly pull a gun from my holster. Anyway the blast blew a hole in my polyester pants and melted the pants to my leg. I bravely finished the show and then went to first aid where they took a brush and scrubbed out the black powder particles from my leg,” Armato says.

Armato has been married for 25 years, with four kids and a two-month-old grandson. His grandson, Jack, is one of the many reasons he decided to write a book about his grandfather’s experiences during World War I.

“His death in 1988 hit me hard. It was the catalyst that started me writing this book. Unless someone made the effort, stories like his weren’t going to get told. So I’ve worked on and off since then on this project. It’s the story of my grandfather who went to war at age 19. He had great stories to tell,” Armato says.

It seems fitting that Armato enjoys the theater performance of the train robbing show; he has participated in military reenactments over the years, enjoys historical storytelling, and would often dress in costumes such as a pirate, a soldier or a preacher as part of his lessons for the 8th grade students through the years.

“I just love American history,” Armato says.