Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Outlaws and other thrills at the Florida Railroad Museum this weekend

The Hole-in-the-Head Gang, a band of misfits, will “rob” riders at the Florida Gulf Coast Railroad Museum on Saturday and Sunday. At least 10 of the group’s 42 active members will take part.

Photo courtesy of Rick Holgate

The Hole-in-the-Head Gang, a band of misfits, will “rob” riders at the Florida Gulf Coast Railroad Museum on Saturday and Sunday. At least 10 of the group’s 42 active members will take part.


The Old West is closer than you might think this holiday weekend.

And if the past is any indication, lots of people will pay for the privilege of boarding a train to get robbed by outlaws.

Less than an hour's drive away, people can catch an old-time train from the Florida Gulf Coast Railroad Museum to the re-created town of Periwinkle Junction, complete with a saloon, train depot and graveyard. A $12 ticket buys a ride in an open car behind a diesel locomotive from the museum to the town, where re-enactors will stage two train robberies a day.

Each robbery is different, organizers say, but usually includes an attempt to blow up the train's strongbox, a shoot-'em-up between U.S. marshals and outlaws in 1800s-era cowboy attire and attempts to steal gold or kisses from passengers.

The show, put on by volunteer re-enactors from the Sarasota-based Hole-in-the-Head Gang, is mostly comedy, sort of a Keystone Cops rendition of a scene from the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

"Except they don't blow up the train," said Gene Hughey, museum board president. "We can't afford any more cars."

Rick Holgate of Sarasota, also known as "Six-Gun Sam McRill" and "Stinky Periwinkle," heads the gang of re-enactor volunteers, many of whom are active or retired law enforcement officers. Proceeds help fund programs and upkeep of the train museum. "We do it with a light heart," Holgate said. "We don't try to portray the real Old West. … We have everyone from 4-year-olds to 90-year-olds come out to watch."

The re-enactors dress in period garb, however, and brandish replicas of 19th century weapons.

"We're looking to get rich," Holgate said of the show's theme. "Never once have we won. …Crime doesn't pay."

A Florida Fish and Wildlife officer, Holgate usually plays an outlaw, which gives him "a chance to be bad once in awhile."

Holgate said enthusiastic outlaws accidentally blew up a strongbox with dynamite one year, prompting some improvements to strengthen it. The group uses acting techniques and props developed for filmmaking to create a safe event. No live ammunition is allowed.

Mark Roth, a re-enactor from Miami, built the pieces for the portable town of Periwinkle. The gang members set them up in Willow, once a sawmill town.

"We get there, set up camp the night before and sit around the campfire under the stars," Holgate said.

The group started in 1995 with three members. Now the gang counts 42 active members, at least 10 of whom are expected to stage the robberies Saturday and Sunday. Performances are at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. both days.

Holgate said the gang stages four weekend events a year at the train museum, plus other gigs at fairs and pioneer day events. Members in their alter egos once escorted actor Tom Selleck for a Sarasota Film Festival promotion of the 2001 television movie Crossfire Trail.

The train robbery is an embellished version of the 13-mile round trip ride available on weekends most of the year, Hughey said. Instead of the usual 90-minute tour, patrons get two hours of entertainment. Passengers are asked to board at least 20 minutes before departure.

The experience is one of several holiday events that typically draw thousands of people to the railroad museum. The popular North Pole Express is sold out, but some seats are still available on the Santa Claus Express, running Dec. 4, 5, 11, 12, 18 and 19.

Susan Green can be reached at

If you go

Hole-in-the-Head Gang train robbery

11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Florida Gulf Coast Railroad Museum, 12210 83rd St. E, Parrish, Exit 229 off Interstate 75. Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for children 3 to 11. Parking is free. For tickets or information, visit or call (941) 776-0906.

Outlaws and other thrills at the Florida Railroad Museum this weekend 11/25/10 [Last modified: Thursday, November 25, 2010 3:30am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Observations from a liberal, gay, Latino, feminist Florida House freshman


    State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando,  rocked the Florida LGBTA Democratic Caucus dinner at Tallahassee's Hotel Duval Satursday night with his unabashedly liberal and passionate take on the myriad issues he said are key to LGBTQ Floridians. Among them: Access to guns, Reproductive rights, home …

    Carlos G. Smith
  2. Delta Sigma Theta honors outgoing national president

    Human Interest

    During her four years as national president of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Paulette Walker said she always focused on the comma between "Sorority" and "Inc."

    Paulette Walker, the former director of undergraduate programs and internship in the College of Education at the University of South Florida, will be honored on Saturday for her leadership in the Delta Sigma Theta sorority.
  3. 10 sailors missing, 5 hurt in collision of USS John S. McCain

    SEOUL —Ten U.S. Navy sailors are missing and five have been injured after the USS John S. McCain destroyer collided with an oil tanker near Singapore early Monday morning.

    In this Jan. 22, 2017, photo provided by U.S. Navy, the USS John S. McCain patrols in the South China Sea while supporting security efforts in the region. The guided-missile destroyer collided with a merchant ship on Monday, Aug. 21, in waters east of Singapore and the Straits of Malacca. Ten sailors were missing, and five were injured, the Navy said. [James Vazquez/U.S. Navy via AP]
  4. Pasco County Fire Rescue fighting a two-alarm fire started by an explosion


    Two houses are on fire and one victim has been critically burned and taken to a trauma center following an explosion at a home at 8652 Velvet Dr, in Port Richey.

  5. Rays see the Blake Snell they've been waiting for in win over Mariners

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — It was a one-run game Sunday when the Mariners' Robinson Cano singled with one out in the seventh inning, bringing the dangerous Nelson Cruz to the plate.

    Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Blake Snell (4) throwing in the third inning of the game between the Seattle Mariners and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Sunday, Aug. 20, 2017.