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Eastern Railroad Discussion > Putting salt on RR tracks a capital offense in Alabama


Date: 11/02/06 09:58
Putting salt on RR tracks a capital offense in Alabama
Author: PaxtonCabin

No, really, putting salt on railroad tracks is a capital offense in Alabama!

Two guys, obviously with no responsibilities and nothing better to do, have, for the past month, been hitchhiking across America in an attempt to visit all 50 state capitals in 50 days or less.


http://www.hitch50.com/


While traveling, they sometimes learn of some old laws on the books that need some updating, need revoking or are downright silly.

In Rhode Island it is considered an offense to throw pickle juice on a trolley. Are there any trolleys left in The Ocean State?

As for the Alabama salt law, I didn’t find the text or any history on it.

Trespassing on railroad property, however, is an offense but not a capital one. The risk of the act poses that grim reality.


http://hitch50.com/2006/10/trail-of-crime-across-america-4.html

A trail of crime across America #4:

We decided to clean up our act and try not to break any laws while in Alabama. So we kept to wholesome activities to stay out of trouble, and nothing could be more wholesome than a nice picnic on an old train car. Calamity struck when we found out that it is illegal to pour salt on a railroad track in the state of Alabama. In fact, it's punishable by death. Time to make another break for the state line.

http://dumblaws.com/laws/united-states/alabama/


As for pickles in Connecticut, in order for a pickle to officially be considered a pickle, it must bounce.

This guy obviously has no responsibilities and nothing better to do.

-PRR 5711



Date: 11/02/06 11:34
Re: Putting salt on RR tracks a capital offense in Alab
Author: ctillnc

I just looked through the Code of Alabama online (recodified in 1975) and didn't find any such law. What's the citation? This type of urban legend can circulate indefinitely (and be assumed to be true) unless it's shown to be nonsense. Many states have passed laws over the years that were never explictly repealed but are not currently codified and therefore of no substance.



Date: 11/02/06 12:09
Re: Putting salt on RR tracks a capital offense in Alab
Author: jasonlowe

It might be an old local ordinance somewhere. Saying Alabama is easier than detailing the location, which is probably some small town nobody ever heard of.

Still, it's hard to imagine why anyone would bother to put salt on railroad tracks, and why anyone would care.



Date: 11/02/06 12:38
Re: Putting salt on RR tracks a capital offense in Alab
Author: ctillnc

A "capital offense" (as stated) couldn't be a local ordinance. But it wouldn't surprise me if a city has a simple ordinance against fouling a track -- whether salt, grease, or some other substance.



Date: 11/02/06 12:42
Re: Putting salt on RR tracks a capital offense in Alab
Author: toledopatch

I didn't find any links on the hitch50 site to any laws, state or local, pertaining to placing salt on railroad tracks. I suspect such would have something to do with salt's oxidizing (rust) effect on steel.



Date: 11/02/06 12:58
Re: Putting salt on RR tracks a capital offense in Alab
Author: MTMEngineer

jasonlowe Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Still, it's hard to imagine why anyone would
> bother to put salt on railroad tracks, and why
> anyone would care.


I think it SHOULD be a criminal offense to dump salt into the environment, but nevertheless in northern climates it's dumped in prodigious quantities onto highways. I think much of it comes to us from Alabama (or, Louisiana for sure), by the bargeload. The railroads themselves will dump a couple hundred pounds on the flangeways of grade crossings when they get packed with ice.



Date: 11/02/06 14:03
Re: Salt sources
Author: toledopatch

MTMEngineer Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I think it SHOULD be a criminal offense to dump
> salt into the environment, but nevertheless in
> northern climates it's dumped in prodigious
> quantities onto highways. I think much of it
> comes to us from Alabama (or, Louisiana for sure),
> by the bargeload. The railroads themselves will
> dump a couple hundred pounds on the flangeways of
> grade crossings when they get packed with ice.

In the northeast, vast amounts of ice-melting salt are extracted from a huge underground salt deposit that stretches from Detroit to central New York, with major mines in Detroit, Windsor ON, Goderich ON, Cleveland, Ludlowville NY, Watkins Glen NY, and south of Rochester, NY (formerly the Retsof mine, can't remember the name of the new location after Retsof flooded) just to name a few. Most of these mines are substantial generators of railroad traffic. Every "DSSX" covered hopper you see, for example, belongs to Detroit Salt Company.



Date: 11/02/06 14:22
Re: Putting salt on RR tracks a capital offense in Alab
Author: PaxtonCabin

jasonlowe Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> It might be an old local ordinance somewhere.
> Saying Alabama is easier than detailing the
> location, which is probably some small town nobody
> ever heard of.
>
> Still, it's hard to imagine why anyone would
> bother to put salt on railroad tracks, and why
> anyone would care.


Well, it's my post and I jumped on the story. And, like much of history, as the facts get passed down, the reasons why are forgotten and legends take their place.

I found several references that all used the same source the guys on Hitch50 did.

Only one was different:

http://www.rofilms.com/page62.htm

This is an Alabama Railroad History page and about midway down there is the following (see the second paragraph):


East Tennessee, Virginia & Georgia Railroad

This line ran from Rome, Georgia to Selma. The section of track from Anniston to Selma was known as the Selma subdivision. In May of 1888, it took a passenger train 6 hours or more to run from Anniston to Selma. The trains once ran faster, but you'll understand why they slowed the trains down in the next paragraph. Although ET, V & G crossed L&N at Calera, there was never an effort made by the two railroads to smoothly connect passengers. ET, V & G numbered their four passenger trains a day 1, 2, 3 and 4. Train 1, the first run of the day, left Anniston at 2:00am, arriving in Calera at 5:00am, and Selma at 7:45am. The last run of the day, train 4, arrived in Anniston at 6:58pm. Trains 2 and 3 were slower mixed freight, mail and passenger trains.

This is the railroad that experienced problems with farmers and cattle and changed the laws of Alabama regarding citizens and passing trains. The railroad developed image problems with local residents because of their bullish "We don't care" attitude. Trains running at all hours of the night, loud whistles, and excessive speed and noise irritated a lot of the landowners living along the route. Plus, leftover anger from years earlier when the landowners felt the original railroad company had stolen portions of their land to build track. The local landowners soon banded together and placed salt of the tracks to draw their massive herds of cattle onto the tracks, resulting in frequent and unexpected train derailments and chaos for the railroad. This was a common practice on the portion that ran from Shelby Springs to Columbiana to Childersburg. And at times. some of the farmers would shoot at passing trains to show displeasure with railroad Engineers blowing their very loud steam whistles in the middle of the night. Finally, the State of Alabama passed a law in 1879 forbidding shooting at trains, destroying tracks and bridges and placing salt on tracks to attract cattle for the purpose of derailing trains. ETV&G became the Selma, Rome and Dalton and later a part of Southern.


There was no mention of breaking the specific law being a "Capital Offense". I suppose if the act of the offense caused death, then capital punishment could apply.

It was a bit of a stretch but still a strange story.

-PRR 5711



Date: 11/02/06 14:56
Re: Putting salt on RR tracks a capital offense in Alab
Author: NorfolkSouthern37

i was thinking something similar with salt blocks for cattle. of course this was a long time ago, but i was thinking you could keep cattle on the tracks that way and cause a huge mess or even fatalities with it. i was suprised to see it in the last post when i scrolled down!

furthermore, i dont see why pouring salt into the environment is bad... care to explain that one? theres so much salt to begin with...



Date: 11/02/06 16:38
Re: Putting salt on RR tracks a capital offense in Alab
Author: rbx551985

NorfolkSouthern37 Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> i was thinking something similar with salt blocks
> for cattle. of course this was a long time ago,
> but i was thinking you could keep cattle on the
> tracks that way and cause a huge mess or even
> fatalities with it. i was suprised to see it in
> the last post when i scrolled down!
>
> furthermore, i dont see why pouring salt into the
> environment is bad... care to explain that one?
> theres so much salt to begin with...


What about salt that drops out of RR freight cars, like the DSSX salt-carrying covered hoppers up north? Would such normal spillage constitute a breach of this law? And, what would be the penalty -- and just WHO would be cited, and for what? This law doesn't sound very realistic in our day.



Date: 11/02/06 16:51
Re: Putting salt on RR tracks a capital offense in Alab
Author: ctillnc

The 1879 act and other orphaned acts were automatically and collectively repealed by adoption of the 1975 Code of Alabama (see Section 1-1-10). Therefore Alabama has no such law today. However, Alabama does have a law against criminal tampering of utility property (railroads being included in the definition of a utility for this purpose); thus, obstructing railroad tracks could give rise to a felony charge under Section 13A-7-25 of the Code. I suspect other states have a comparable statute.



Date: 11/02/06 20:25
Re: Putting salt on RR tracks a capital offense in Alab
Author: Bryan_

This shows up quite often on morning DJ shows, where the regularly regurgitate the same old features over and over. Many of what they call silly laws are actually sensible laws that they cannot understand.

At one time Alabama was an open range state, which meant that farm animals were not required to be fenced in. The animals roamed at will, and anyone who harmed a farm animal was responsible for the damage, and this included trains striking cattle.

It was a common scam for farmers to put sick livestock on the tracks so they would be struck by a train. Afterwards, there was no evidence that the animal was ill so they would get market value for a healthy animal.

If an animal was tied to the tracks, it is possible that the railroad would find the evidence (rope) and could win a court case. However, setting up a salt lick on the track would lure the animals onto the track, and the evidence would not survive the crash.

Since there was really no way to catch someone after the fact, the law was passed that made it illegal to set up the circumstances for this offense.

At one time Alabama did not imprison many people. Offenses were mostly dealt with by either fines or execution, depending on the severity of the offense. Only after the Civil War did Alabama set up a system to imprison large numbers of people. This gave rise to the practice of convict leasing, essentially a way for the state to rent out prisoners as little more than slaves. This practice was eventually abolished in the Twenties. There was a lot of opposition to convict leasing, but it took a long time to abolish because it eliminated the cost of a prison system and brought in a large amount of revenue to the state. There was a time when the majority of the state's revenue came from convict leasing (as opposed to taxes).



Date: 11/02/06 21:25
Re: Putting salt on RR tracks a capital offense in Alab
Author: ts1457

> If an animal was tied to the tracks, it is
> possible that the railroad would find the evidence
> (rope) and could win a court case. However,
> setting up a salt lick on the track would lure the
> animals onto the track, and the evidence would not
> survive the crash.

I think the saying was, "nothing improves the pedigree of a cow more than an encounter with a train."

It was always the "prize" cow that got killed.



Date: 11/03/06 13:58
Re: Putting salt on RR tracks a capital offense in Alab
Author: mkostecky

Talk about dumb laws, I work for a state toll road here in new york. the state of new york made a law that you cannot store salt for ice control on the ground in piles exposed to the elements (ie-uncovered)it must be on impermeable pavement.(blacktop) and in sheds that are covered.
BUT you can then load this salt on trucks and spread it all over the countryside.
don't make sense to me!



Date: 11/03/06 14:03
Re: Putting salt on RR tracks a capital offense in Alab
Author: toledopatch

mkostecky Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Talk about dumb laws, I work for a state toll road
> here in new york. the state of new york made a law
> that you cannot store salt for ice control on the
> ground in piles exposed to the elements
> (ie-uncovered)it must be on impermeable
> pavement.(blacktop) and in sheds that are covered.

Store in on the ground and exposed to the elements, and the rain will cause it to start seeping into the ground and clump it together, which both depletes the supply and makes what remains less useful. Makes sense to me to keep it dry! The saltpiles in my area are usually at least on pavement and tarped to keep moisture to a minimum.



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