Streetcar Torpedo

    On Saturdays (never on a school days) some boys and I usually wondered around looking for something to do -- Bingo !! Someone suggested we could go to the roundhouse.

    Let me back up a notch and explain this was in 1940's and we were in our early 'teens living around 20th and St. Paul Streets. The roundhouse was at the terminal of the old Ma and Pa Railroad -- all we had to do was to walk three or four blocks East on 20th Street to reach a fence which attempted to hide a whole realm of posibilities -- on the other side was the roundhouse, turntable, and a whole flock of railroad cars and engines, just waiting to be explored.

    The fence didn't slow us down much and we we off to doing some serious investigating -- the boxcars didn't have much to offer, but over a track or two were a row of cabooses -- they were like little houses that the trainmen used on long trips -- they had beds, stoves, a little pottie, and lots of cupboads with all kinds of things -- we were good little boys and left everything where they were, except for the torpedoes.

    Now, let me explain -- these things weren't anything like the ones found on submarines, they were devices that had a small explosive attached to the center of a strip of lead -- the trainmen would lay them on a rail and wrap the lead around to secure it -- when the train came, the wheels would detonate it, signalling to others down the track where they were -- I guess they didn't have radios then -- in any case, it made a loud bang.

    Well, we 'borrowed' a few and left -- when we got back home, we searched for an exposed streetcar track, one that wasn't buried in the road -- I don't remember where we found one, but we did -- the device fit well on the rail and we went to hide, waiting for the streetcar to come. Sure enough, a car came rattling down the road -- BANG !! -- it worked -- scared the motorman -- he stopped the car to see what happened -- needless to say we were long gone -- that was our experience for the afternoon -- as an after thought, it was a rather foolish stunt.

    I found out much later that those torpedoes had been known to derail a streetcar -- seems the trucks on a streetcar are not as heavy as those on a train -- in this case, no one was hurt and the trolley remained on the track -- oh well -- that's my story.

    Although this has nothing to do with our exploits above, the streetcar motormen had other problems keeping their cars running -- during the war, copper was at a premium -- I've been told that while the car was cruising down the road, the lights would go out and the car came to a stop -- this was not that unusual, because the trolley would jump off of the overhead wire occasionly -- in this case, when the motorman went back to replace the trolley -- there wasn't any wire -- apparently the company had trouble with thieves stealing sections of the overhead copper wire -- I don't know what they did then -- just an interesting footnote,

Bill Ferkler

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