By Kathleen Rice Adams
For as long as there have been haves and wanna-haves, the haves have sought ways to secure their valuables from thieving wanna-haves. History no longer remembers the inventor of the first lock, but it is said the key was invented by Theodore of Samos in the sixth century B.C., which leads to the suspicion locks have been around much longer. In fact, crude locking mechanisms dating to the early Pharaonic period have been found in Egyptian ruins.
The first devices resembling what we know today as door locks were discovered in the palace of Persian king Sargon II, who reigned from 722 to 705 B.C. They were large, clumsy devices made of wood; nevertheless, they served as prototypes for contemporary security devices.
|Bodie [California] Bank's vault, mid-1870s.
photographer (National Archives and Records Administration)
No great advancements in lock technology occurred until about the fourteenth century A.D., when locks small enough to carry appeared. Traveling tradesmen used the “convenient locks” to secure their money and other valuables.
Although padlocks were known to ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, the first combination lock didn’t appear until the eighteenth century. Until 1873, most banks used combination locks of some kind to secure their vault. The secret to effective combination locks was creating a complex series of letters and numbers that would frustrate anyone who tried to disarm the mechanism. The code for the combination lock securing the mid-nineteenth-century safe in the U.S. Treasury in Washington D.C., for example, could not be opened without a lengthy series of letters and numbers that provided 1,073,741,824 possible combinations. Because determining the code by organized guesswork would require 2,042 years, 324 days, and one hour to crack, the lock was considered burglar-proof.
Combination locks had one big Achilles heel, though: It didn’t take long for criminals to figure out they could kidnap a bank employee and require him or her to dial in the correct code.
In 1873, James Sargent invented what he called a theft-proof lock. Theft-proof locks combined a combination lock with a timer that prevented the safe from opening until a certain number of hours had passed, even if one knew the combination.
|Ruins of the 1906 Nye & Ormsby County Bank in Manhattan,|
Nevada. The bank crumbled, but the vault survived.
A bank vault equipped with a theft-proof lock causes all sorts of trouble for the hero in “The Worst Outlaw in the West,” my contribution to Prairie Rose Publications’ new anthology, Lassoing a Groom. The book, containing stories by Jacquie Rogers, Kirsten Lynn, Tracy Garrett, Kristy McCaffrey, Linda Hubalek, and me, will bow May 20. In the meantime, I’ve plopped an excerpt from my story below.
“The Worst Outlaw in the West”
“Let me see that.” Laredo pulled the banker’s daughter aside and stepped around her to examine the door. “I’ll be damned.” He cringed. You’ve been away from civilization too long. With as much contrition as he could muster, he turned to face the plainest woman he’d ever seen. Except for the colorless oval above a high collar, everything between her hat and her hemline was mouse-brown. “Sorry, ma’am. My mouth sometimes forgets it’s around ladies.”
Her brows rose toward the brim of the godawful thing on her head. “You’ve been around ladies?”
Ouch. “Not often. I’ll grant you that.” He hooked a thumb over his shoulder. “What is that thing?”
“A theft-proof lock.” She enunciated each syllable with care, as though he didn’t speak English. “It’s the latest in bank security.”
She pinned him with a skeptical squint. “You’re not much of a bank robber, are you?”
Laredo yanked the bandana from his mouth and nose. There had to be a better way to disguise a man’s face. Damn thing was all wet. “I’m a hell of bank robber. Been havin’ a dry spell lately, that’s all.” Since the day of his birth. “You ever hear of the Hawkins Gang?”
She raised her chin. “I can’t say I have.”
And therein lay his dilemma: neither had anyone else.
"The Worst Outlaw in the West"
Laredo Hawkins has one ambition: to redeem his family's honor by pulling the first successful bank robbery in the Hawkins clan's long, disappointing history. Spinster Prudence Barrett is desperate to save her family's bank from her brother's reckless investments. A chance encounter between the dime-novel bandit and the old maid may set the pair on a path to infamy...if either can find a map.