Thursday, May 14, 2009

Customs Stories I

From Clarence Bingham comes this story of life as a Customs Officer back in 1950s Pembina (and surrounding area...)
I went to work for the U. S. Customs at Pembina in December 1949, so did not get over to the Noyes depot much after that.

All the old Customs Border Patrol officers had a story or two about inspection experiences while examining the special trains chartered to return members of "that fraternal organization" from the convention in Winnipeg during prohibition. One that Lester Eddington1 told is that they started a rumor in the Winnipeg depot that you could successfully smuggle your liquor into the U.S. by hanging it out the coach windows on a string when the train got to Noyes, until the inspector went through the coach and checked your luggage. When the train got to Noyes the Customs officers walked down the outside of the train and cut the strings holding the bottles. Les said It was easier than looking for it in the luggage and saved the paper work of assessing a fine, because you did not know who it belonged to.

I spent a lot of nights and days in the car with Les during the Selkirk Wheat smuggling in 1952-53. I am sorry it was before the days of small tape recorders or I could have a wealth of border lore...
- From C.L. Bingham, aka Bing



1 - Police cars, like police work, have changed considerably over the years. Few of the early-day police cars were given insignias identifying their purpose. An early-day North Dakota federal officer, Lester Eddington, wrote in his autobiography, "...we did not wear uniforms, just carried Customs caps to use while stopping cars." Because of this, stopping cars was not easy; many times the officer would pull alongside the offending vehicle and display his badge to tell the driver to pull over. Even more dangerous was the practice of stepping out into the lane of traffic to hold one's hand in the air, ordering the offender to stop. - From The History of Mopar Squads: Chrysler, Dodge, and Plymouth police cars