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Railroaders' Nostalgia > Independence Day High Jinks

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Date: 07/04/18 21:25
Independence Day High Jinks
Author: Englewood

In the late 70's I was working Englewood tower.  Another towerman knew someone who knew someone
who worked part time for a professional fireworks company.  Through his connection we were able to buy a 
gross of M80 "firecrackers" one summer.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M-80_(explosive)

The tracks at Englewood were all elevated through the neighborhood.  Park Manor yard was in the northeast quadrant
of the diamond and the Rock's Englewood team tracks were in the southeast quadrant.  The northwest and southwest
quadrants were occupied by factory buildings so the entire area close to the tower was quite desolate. Many a quiet hour
that summer was punctuated by an M-80 tossed out a tower window.

After playing with high power firecrackers at work all through the early summer, Independence Day didn't hold much prospect
for anything exciting.  I worked the afternoon shift that day and told my buddies I would meet up with them after work. 
I rolled back into home turf around 1115pm.  This was long before cell phones etc., so the practice to meet up with friends
was to cruise the hood until you spotted a familiar auto.  Anyway, I heard some loud explosions and headed that way. 
I spotted my friend's cars and pulled in.  They were gathered in front of a house belonging to a guy we went to high school with.

The explosions I had heard were not from the expected M-80s but from a home (or work) made device.  The guy in charge worked
at Corwith as a carman.  In his spare time he had constructed a device made out of a spool of thick steel.  It was about 8 inches high
and the empty center was just big enough to fit a long track bolt.  The track bolt had a couple nuts threaded on it.  A thick flange on
the top of the steel spool narrowed the center opening of the spool so that the track bolt could move freely but the nuts prevented the
bolt from popping out the top of the spool.

The purpose of the device soon became apparent.  The carman had liberated a large quantity of torpedoes from work.  A torpedo
was placed on the ground, the steel spool placed over the torpedo with the head of the track bolt in contact with the torpedo. 
The end of the track bolt extending out the top of the spool was then struck with a sledge hammer.  KA-BOOM.

I could tell that no good was going to come of this but certainly did not want to miss whatever end this show came to. 
I just became an interested observer - at a safe distance.  If the local police showed up I would be in the clear because I had no
fireworks on me at the time and Mr. Colt's 1911A1 that I carried in my work bag was unloaded and safely locked in the trunk.
The show went on for about 20 minutes at that location.  Of course if one torpedo made a good show, two torpedoes would
be twice as good!  KIA-BOOOOOM.  Eventually a homeowner across the street came out on his porch swearing a blue streak
about all the noise.   Threats of calling the police were made, counter threats were hurled, so the group made a strategic withdrawal
to a school playground.

Now if two torpedoes were loud, three would be better, right?  I remember standing at a respectable distance and still feeling the sand
from the torpedoes striking my face. I forget what finally ended the game.  Perhaps the supply of torpedoes dried up, or maybe those
wielding the sledge hammer grew tired.  Maybe the beer dried up.  Anyway, after it was decided to disperse someone picked up the
steel spool to examine it.   The spool was starting to split around the tube.  Good thing the festivities stopped before the thing blew apart.

Looking back I wonder what would possess people to partake in such high jinks.  It must have been something in the water supply. 
The Unabomber had gone to the same high school as we all did although he had graduated before we got there.  He was known as
the smartest kid in his class, something none of us could have claimed.

A funny postscript to the night's activities.  After we left the school yard three of us gathered behind Ken's house along the GTW tracks
to quietly down some brew.  It was now well past midnight and the air was starting to cool.  Suddenly, Ken yelled out "I've been shot!'. 
What the heck!  It turned out a lens in his eyeglasses had shattered and he thought some jerk with a .22 had shot him. 
The rest of us began to laugh.  More sober heads remembered the shower of sand we had been getting from the torpedo explosions. 
Ken had been one of the sledge hammer swingers and we theorized that the sand must have damaged the lens and when the air cooled
off the lens finally shattered.

Well the saying is "what does not kill you makes you stronger".  
It should also make you smarter and I have never messed with fireworks in the intervening 40 years.

I wonder why the railroads discontinued the use of torpedoes?????


Edited 4 time(s). Last edit at 07/04/18 21:32 by Englewood.

Date: 07/05/18 00:02
Re: Independence Day High Jinks
Author: JasonCNW

Torpedo's became bascily obsolete with more advanced dispatching "no more trainorder and timetable" and the creation of safety or whisper cabs on engines.

Posted from Android

Date: 07/05/18 09:22
Re: Independence Day High Jinks
Author: asheldrake

Neat story....I had a older brother who built pipe bombs and enjoyed blowing the hell out of the casings......he never got injured and I never got invited to the "explosions" but
he was proud of the mangled casings he brought back from those adverntures......and yes, we all were lucky to have survived our teen years......Arlen

Date: 07/05/18 10:12
Re: Independence Day High Jinks
Author: Southern-Pacific-fan

Funny how we all survived, Not being snowflakes and such.

Date: 07/05/18 11:05
Re: Independence Day High Jinks
Author: Margaret_SP_fan

Southern-Pacific-fan Wrote:
> Funny how we all survived, Not being snowflakes
> and such.

Ane the ones who didn't survive cannot post anything anywhere to refute the "It's OK -- we all survived" statement.  It was not EVER OK to play with explosives, and I am sure that there is data out there from ~70 years ago thta sbows how many kids got injured and killed playing with explosives.

Fair Use:

> But the fact is, Cherry Bombs changed forever
> 50 years ago.In 1966, Congress' Consumer Subcommittee of the
> Committee on Commerce held hearings on hazardous
> materials used in products and toys for kids. The t <phorum break> &gt; ranscripts of the hearings are filled with harrowing
> data on the number of children injured and killed
>playing with blasting caps and fireworks. Congress
> eventually passed the Child Protection Act of 1966
>in November, and the new law would impose restrictions
> on fireworks, mandate labeling on hazardous playthings,
> and more.> To put it simply, few laws have fundamentally changed
>American childhood quite like this act. 

Yes, it WAS dangerous for kids to play with explosives, and many kids paid the ultimate price for such play, and died -- and therefore are not here to show you how wrong you are.

I wonder -- are you a parent?  If so, have any of your kids ever been badly injured?  If so, how did you feel when that happened?  Would it be OK to call you a "snowflake" when you cried because your beloved child was badly injured?  Or because you said you thought it was therefore wrong to allow kids to play with explosives?

I await your reply.

Date: 07/05/18 13:48
Re: Independence Day High Jinks
Author: WP-M2051

M-80s were also good for emergency surgery on the well loved Incinolet electric toilets found on many units in the mid to late '70s.  One explosive would usually put the toilet out of service for good, which was the idea.

Date: 07/05/18 13:57
Re: Independence Day High Jinks
Author: tomstp

The would also bring fish up when exploded in the water.

Date: 07/05/18 18:12
Re: Independence Day High Jinks
Author: Trainhand

Tom, it's good to know someone else fished with m-80'sand cherry bombs

Date: 07/05/18 19:42
Re: Independence Day High Jinks
Author: wa4umr

Reminds me of the 4th of July, probably 1971.  I was a soldier on Okinawa.  Some of the guys in our unit did a recreation of the Revolution War.  They may not have called it that but I don't know what else to call it.  Someone got a couple of pieces of 1-1/2" pipe and put caps on the end.  They also got a bunch of dead D-cells.  Cherry bombs and other fireworks were easy to get.  The guys would drop a lit cherry bomb into the pipe, followed by one of the batteries.  I don't think I need to describe that any further.  I had duty that day so I can't report on the outcome of the of the battle but I assume the Colonies won that one.  All I know is what I hear.  It's a wonder that someone wasn't hurt. 

 While that was going on, our brothers were shooting the real things in Vietnam.  Thanks to all of you.


Date: 07/06/18 09:05
Re: Independence Day High Jinks
Author: tomstp

We had a lot of fun with cherry bombs and baby giants.  Take a pipe and put a hard dirt clod in one end,  the fire cracker in the other and lite it.  The explosion would send a cloud of smoke (dust) and make it look like smoke from  a cannon war.  Every once in while a clod would have a rock in it.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 07/06/18 11:15 by tomstp.

Date: 07/06/18 09:57
Re: Independence Day High Jinks
Author: Frisco1522

Friend that I worked with used to make his own M80s.  Called them rolling thunder and they were like an M80 on steroids.  Really rattled the windows in the neighborhood, but I wouldn't know anything about that.

Date: 07/06/18 12:24
Re: Independence Day High Jinks
Author: spnudge

Bob Swain was my fireman on 4th of July and it looked like we would have a good trip. Help a guy west from BI to Margarita and come back lite and tie up. Well, when we cut out at Union Oil, BI called and said to stick around for an east man who was on the light at King City. Great, there was at least a 3 hour or more wait at Margarita and no early quit for a BBQ. Well we took the power down to Garden Farms to wait.

It was dark out. still no east man but  being bored we had to have our own little fire works. We got a bunch of torpedoes and put them on the rail. We were having a great time when Joe Gode, the RH Foreman, came into the cab. He lived over in Garden Farms and he told us the powers to be were on their way over to see where all these complaints were coming from. They had called him because the "Engines at Margarita were making a lot of noise."

Back to the x-overs to wait for the east.


Date: 07/07/18 05:34
Re: Independence Day High Jinks
Author: DFWJIM

I have a couple of questions about torpedos:

1). Once a torpedo(s) was put on a rail would it picked up the crew that put it out if it was not run over by a following train?

2). Any one out there ever run across homemade torpedos that are put on tracks to scare trains crews and people living in the immediate area?

Thanks for your responses.

Date: 07/07/18 11:56
Re: Independence Day High Jinks
Author: cewherry

> I have a couple of questions about torpedos:
> 1). Once a torpedo(s) was put on a rail would it
> picked up the crew that put it out if it was not
> run over by a following train?

A quick read of many railroad's Rule 99 which required flag protection against a following train or today's General Code of Operating Rules, Rule 6.19, Flagging Rule 
(which dosen't even mention the use of torpedoes), shows that there were NO conditions where torpedoes, once placed on a rail, were allowed to be removed.
Specifically, the language of Rule 99 stipulated that they were to be left in place.


Date: 07/07/18 15:21
Re: Independence Day High Jinks
Author: TAW

cewherry Wrote:

> A quick read of many railroad's Rule 99 which
> required flag protection against a following train
> or today's General Code of Operating Rules, Rule
> 6.19, Flagging Rule 
> (which dosen't even mention the use of torpedoes),
> shows that there were NO conditions where
> torpedoes, once placed on a rail, were allowed to
> be removed.
> Specifically, the language of Rule 99 stipulated
> that they were to be left in place.

They are needed in case a following train shows up while the flagman is hiking back when called in.


Date: 07/08/18 08:46
Re: Independence Day High Jinks
Author: Northeaster

When I was a little guy, probably around 12 or so, I had a great time with a buddy using a short piece of 1.5 inch pipe rammed into the ground into which we would drop small firecrackers and rapidly drop over the pipe an empty frozen orange juice can (it fit perfectly) with a satisfying result of lofting that can 50 feet into the air. My buddy was adapt at finding interesting objects which included a few torpedoes. Leaving his place one day he gave me one and I peddled off on my old wide tired bike happily until my bully nemeses dashed out of the bushes to pursue me on his bike. Racing down a hill and hoping to outrun him I soon realized that he was gong to get me at the bottom, so I got that torpedo out of my pocket and turning a bit threw it down on the pavement just behind me....the explosion must have scared the living sh.t out of him and he never came anywhere near me after that challenge to his unpleasant nature.

Date: 07/09/18 06:30
Re: Independence Day High Jinks
Author: Drknow

Had someone put a .243 round on the tracks once. Sounded like a torpedo going off (10 mph, jointed rail) so we stopped. It was put on the rail just right so the bullet was gone but the case was flattened. Truned it in to the Trainmaster later that day.

Date: 07/09/18 20:19
Re: Independence Day High Jinks
Author: rrthug

When I was a young lad in the late 1960's, my visiting cousin and I "liberated" a couple of railroad torpedos from a parked motorcar near our farm.  Since it was a Sunday and no one was around, we were sure they would never be missed.  I had heard my dad talk about these and how they were used plus they said "explosive"--what more could a couple of pre teen boys need for a good time.  We strapped them side by side on a short chunk of old rail my dad had in the barn.  We needed something heavy so dad's 10 pound sledge hammer was elected to represent a locomotive wheel.  My cousin was older and stronger and took the honors.  I can still see dad's sledge hammer making a couple of graceful end over end circles as it passed over our heads and landed against the barn wall.  Of course my parents came out of the house to see what had exploded in the barn and the resultant carnage. I honestly can't tell you what my parents said nor can I tell you what anybody said the rest of that day and part of the next. Now in my late 50's, my hearing is not so good--wonder if there's a connection?  

Date: 07/23/18 14:12
Re: Independence Day High Jinks
Author: SP4360

A  couple of hijinks. When I worked for the Ventura County Railway there was a brakeman who thought it was great fun to through packs of firecrackers into the pit while the mechanic was under an engine. That was never a good thing as he would come out the pit like a bat out of hell throwing whatever wrench he had at the guy. So we devised a plan to get back at him. First, it was a couple of torpedos right next to the wheels on the leading end out of the house. He would get on and as soon as they moved, both sides went off. He would jump off the step and they would come to a halt. More firecrackers into the shop led to more torpedos. He would start looking under the engine for the things, wouldn't find any, start moving and "BOOM", duct taped to the wheels! This type of sillyness went on for weeks. Next it was stick a couple in the couple, first joint, "BOOM". 
It intensified between the mechanic and hiim over time, so much so that the mechanic and I would spend the morning walking throughg the yard, placing torpedos under cuts of cars and in couplers. It was funnier thn hell when they made a joint and the first car or two went off, but even more so when they made a stretch and the whole cut of cars went off in a giant stringline roar.
We had an almost unlimited supply of torpedos because the mechanic was the ex Master Mechanic at  SP's Taylor Yard and would make nightly callings on his way home for basically whatever we needed.
Times were much simpler back then.

Date: 07/24/18 04:30
Re: Independence Day High Jinks
Author: VunderBob

A great uncle of mine was a retired machinist for the NYC when they had a steam shop in Elkhart, IN. One of his favorite war stories was about the day he had to chisel free the body of a hobo frozen the back end of a tender after the engine hit the track pans outside of Cleveland one very cold winter day.

He was also a consumate Bravo Sierra artist, so take this tale with an appropriate amount of salt. He was quite the mischievious kid, as confirmed by my grandmother. He told me one time he was wandering around the Elkhart yard, and managed to liberate some torpedos. Knowing exactly what they were, he lined several up on the nearby streetcar track, and waited. The resulting explosion lifted the wheels off the rails, and it was about three hours before the car was rerailed. Even if it wasn't derailed, I would have loved to see the passengers react to the unexpected racket...

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