I Wish To Squish
March 10, 2008 2:31 AM   Subscribe

SquishFilter: What else, besides coins, could I safely place on some railroad tracks for a bit of silly fun?

When I was a kid, my mom used to bring home coins for me that she would squash by placing them on the railroad tracks near her work, then collecting them later after a train passed by. I loved them, though I was never present when the squishing took place.

I live by some active railroad tracks now, and fondly think of this every time I pass by. I've still never actually done it, but someone is coming to visit me soon and I thought this was something fun and silly that we could do together during a walk past the tracks.

Then I got to thinking about what else we could squash, besides coins. I have some old flat metal keys that I don't need anymore. I thought those might be fun to try and were coin-like enough to be....y'know....safe.

I also did a bit of googling and read in passing somewhere, that someone suggested squishing rings on the railroad tracks. There wasn't much detail about it though....I've got some old metal rings that I wouldn't mind experimenting with....

Is this a bad idea, for any reason - safety, legal, or otherwise? Should I just stick with coins?

Has anyone squashed anything with success on railroad tracks besides coins, before? Suggestions welcome. Please feel free to thwack me mercilessly if this is a bad idea, or chatfilter.
posted by Squee to Grab Bag (28 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
According to Snopes it's more dangerous for the placer than the train.

Railways are generally private property (in the UK at least), often electrified and have large metal trains weighing hundreds of tons charging down them at high speed, although the ones local to you may be different.

Fun & silly, OK, just be careful, that's all. And don't do it drunk. That would be really fucking stupid.
posted by jontyjago at 2:58 AM on March 10, 2008

posted by Gungho at 4:18 AM on March 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Lead figures. Toy soldiers.
posted by Leon at 4:29 AM on March 10, 2008

As you gave us permission to do so:

I lost a very good friend when we were kids to an oncoming train. I wouldn't recommend doing this at all.

I understand that the US train network is far less densely traveled than the UK network, that you can probably see trains coming from further away, and that (if the movies I've seen are to be believed) the tracks are not protected by fencing or otherwise - in short, that you may feel it's a safe thing to do and my experience is not applicable to your situation.

Then again, you could still just be unlucky.

Please don't do this.
posted by benzo8 at 4:40 AM on March 10, 2008

Remember to put a bit of sticky chewing gum between the rail and coin (or other item to be squished) so that they don't go flying all over the place making them hard to find after the train has gone by.
posted by caddis at 4:41 AM on March 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Bad idea.
posted by Happy Dave at 4:55 AM on March 10, 2008

Best answer: Its probably illegal but so is driving over the speed limit. I grew up about 3 stone's throws from the tracks behind our place in NorCal, and squashed an endless list of stuff that I will now attempt to recall from my limited memory of those years.

1. Rings - we didn't have a lot of these at our disposal as kids, but they were kind of cool to squash.

2. BBs and pellets from our bb/pellet guns. These were fun because the BB's were like little coins once squished (although they were damn hard to find afterwards) and with the pellets you could make little patterns, that, if you got lucky, were fused together to each other in the process.

3. Small hardware - nails, screws, that kind of thing. The big dare here was to get someone to put one of the loosened railway spikes on the tracks but nobody was ever brave enough to try that.

4. Keys, when we could get a hold of ones that weren't needed anymore.

5. Empty soda cans. Then it dawned on us one day that full might be more fun to watch.

6. With the coins, it was always fun to put them together, layer them in patterns, etc. because they would fuse. With the coins (as with anything else on my list) you never used tape to hold them down because there was a higher chance that it would stick to the wheel longer than desired and that had the potential to infinitely increase the landing zone size you had to search once the train was gone. Instead, we used toothpicks and other small types of loose wood (sticks, etc.) to hold things in place.

7. Plastic army men.

8. Spare silverware when we could get our hands on some (hint: its much more likely that mom's going to recognize that her silverware collection has been significantly reduced than it is that you'll get caught taking it from a restaurant...of course this initiates another conversation of morals). Forks were the most fun here.

9. Bottle caps.

10. Matchbox cars, when you had one you could bear to part with, which usually meant it had been stolen from your little brother, for the sake of science.

11. Pens and pencils. Paperclips, also layered for fusing - we once did a line of probably a couple hundred of them, and never found it - I think it must have become wrapped around the wheel a few times and may still be there for all I know.

12. A Nalgene bottle. I could write a whole separate list about the different ways we tried to destroy Nalgene bottles. This one was probably not too bright because it was one of the bigger things we ever tried and might have been spotted by the engineer. (Yes, I realize now that we very nearly might have derailed a small freight train. No, I don't do this anymore, nor recommend it.)

13. Sisters' Barbie dolls. At different angles. Always returned to their room later for continued entertainment. (In a respite from our normal tactic of allowing stuff to sit loose, balanced only by small pieces of wood, we would tie these down with string. Old west style.)

14. Small pieces of thin-guage chain were fun to flatten (like, strands cut from old choker collars for the dog, for instance).

15. Rocks (yawn, these just left behind a chalky stain).

16. Once we found an unused shotgun shell that one of the hunters must have dropped (we would find plenty of empty ones any time we were out there). That was good fun. After that we started saving old empty pistol ammo shells for squashing as well.

17. Parts torn from old rusting abandoned cars on some deserted property near the tracks. Radio antenna, small parts from the engine, etc..

18. Sisters' jacks collections were also unknowingly donated to science. These were cool because they looked like little stars sometimes.

19. Slinkys. We tied down a small one lengthwise once but it must have gone the same way as the long string of paper clips.

20. Little designs we would make out of thin-gauge metal wire - the kind you can bend easily. We'd make little stick figures and such and then send them off to the presses.

That's the first 20 that I can recall, but seriously, the list must be 5 times that size at least. If I think of more I'll add them later.

You should have somewhere safe to hide, preferably behind something thick. Our method was to hop down under the trestle where the train crossed the creek, there we were safe behind 30 feet of earth or so between us and where we put stuff on the tracks above and just past the ravine, which conveniently hid us from view as well. The engineers would get pissed if they saw you anywhere near the tracks.

Basically, walk around and look for anything small and (preferably) made of metal. I think I'll start a blog about this in a month or two when I get back the states - things crushed by a train. Dibs on that idea.
posted by allkindsoftime at 4:59 AM on March 10, 2008 [14 favorites]

I should point out that, where we lived, it was flat open plains, and we could see the trains coming from literally miles away. They were freight trains and were never moving more than probably 30mph around there as they were approaching a curve about a mile further down the tracks (the inbound ones, the outbound ones were still speeding up out of there). As everyone's mentioned above, trains are dangerous, and if you're stupid, or even just unlucky, you can get hurt and killed. Once we had a train in view, that was it, we were off the tracks and headed to the creek, no matter how ready we were. Don't do this anywhere near fast-moving trains, or in an area where you can't see the train from far off, and once you see the train coming, get away from the tracks.
posted by allkindsoftime at 5:05 AM on March 10, 2008

You can't do this 'safely', especially after 9/11. Placing anything on a railroad track, even a penny, is likely to get you arrested. Seriously, what do you think cops do when they see someone bending down putting something on a railroad track?
posted by unSane at 6:54 AM on March 10, 2008

What do you thing a metal zipper might look like? I bet that would be cool. You can buy separate zippers at fabric stores if you don't have any old garments laying around.
posted by 45moore45 at 7:11 AM on March 10, 2008

Is this bad idea day on AskMeFi? Don't do this. It's stupid and dangerous. If the coin snaps off, it flies just as fast as a bullet and it's aimed in no particular direction. Put something large enough on the track and you can derail the damn train.

Get caught, and you're looking at a fine at the very least, and you're guaranteed some pretty grumpy looks from all the grown-ups.

Mercilous thwack!

Go find one of those machines that turns a penny into a fancy souvenir, if you must entertain yourself with smushed up crap.
posted by dosterm at 8:20 AM on March 10, 2008

We used to put coins on the tracks. I don't recall putting a lot of other stuff. After a while, squished stuff lost its appeal. I always made sure I was somewhere else when the train went over the coin, though. And it's best to do on a particularly slow section so there's less velocity to the bullet you'll create in the process.

In the interest of warning you off, a friend lost an arm throwing snowballs at a passing train. I had the misfortune of walking under the bridge at the same time it happened.
posted by jdfan at 8:41 AM on March 10, 2008

I used to go to the Amtrak station in Martinez, CA when I was a kid and would put various items on the tracks in front of the trains while they were stopped to load passengers. Usually I'd yell up to the engineer and let them know that I was going to put an object down to be smooshed, and they'd nod "ok."

We smooshed rings, coins, batteries.. pretty much anything that was small enough to just sit there on the rails.

Some of the coins were interesting because the train was going > 5mph when it rolled over the coin.
posted by drstein at 9:16 AM on March 10, 2008

"If the coin snaps off, it flies just as fast as a bullet"

Uh, HOW?
posted by InnocentBystander at 9:18 AM on March 10, 2008

Mod note: a few comments removed - don't be total jerks please.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:24 AM on March 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Seconding stacking a couple of coins, like a penny and a dime. They moosh together to a pleasing degree. Do be careful, because trains are big and fast and heavy and all, but honestly, there's a bit too much overcaution in this thread if you ask me.
posted by mumkin at 10:16 AM on March 10, 2008

An older penny that is all copper flattens out nicely; we engraved one for the dog's tag. Be ridiculously careful; it turns out that trains are extremely large, extremely heavy, and can cause extreme damage to small, soft you.
posted by theora55 at 10:22 AM on March 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

I hardly see the danger. You have crossed train tracks before, right? Did you get run over? Not unless you were drunk or daring fate by doing it in front of an oncoming train. Placing coins on the tracks is not something that must be done as the train approaches. You can set up the coins or whatever long in advance. As with any adventure, use good judgment to keep yourself safe and avoid damaging the train.

Anyway, allkindsoftime has made some great suggestions. Other than coins I pretty much have only squished paperclips and fishhooks. Both frequently broke, but looked pretty neat when they didn't. I like the cutlery idea, aside from the obvious ethical issues. No. 16 just strikes me as madness though.
posted by caddis at 10:29 AM on March 10, 2008

I was looking at the accidents which involved pennies and trains. Seems like a lot of them have people who stood on secondary train tracks to watch the penny get smooshed. Or the retired cop who couldn't get back up onto the platform on time.

Don't do this drunk, don't remain standing on train tracks and get a respectable distance away, use common sense.

That being said, I remember flattening pennies once upon a time and it was great fun. I like the idea of fuse pennies and dimes together (although given enough trials this could become expensive). It seems like anything small and metal would be good. Silverware sounds very interesting. Small hinges? The little metal chains for pulling on the fan. A hardware store seems like a very good place to head. You can get stuff like screws, and keys there. Perhaps a trip to a second hand store goodwill, salvation army, would also prove fruitful for stuff like the silverware or cheap jewelry.
posted by silkygreenbelly at 1:43 PM on March 10, 2008

Those outside the US may be surprised to learn how primitive US railways are. Outside of the Northeast corrider the trains aren't electrified, and inside the corridor the get their juice from overhead wires, like trams.

The posters upthread are correct, there's an element of danger, but c'mon -- that's what makes these experiments thrilling. As for what to place on the rails, I once came across some inbread kids in WestVa who'd just pulped a snake by fixing it to the rail, somehow. Then their dog came hobbling up, and since it was missing a leg, I thought...

But I left them without saying a word.
posted by Rash at 1:57 PM on March 10, 2008

Um, allkindsoftime, about your number 16, the unused shotgun shell. Given that it is the most dangerous item mentioned, I'm curious. What happened when the train ran over it? Did it (a) explode? (b) flame? (c) fizzle? (d) just get squashed?
posted by exphysicist345 at 3:36 PM on March 10, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for all of the responses and ideas! Especially allkindsoftime, wow!

Just to clarify about my own train-situation...

I cross the train tracks on foot daily in order to get to the beach. The place where I cross is in the middle of a small city, at a designated pedestrian train-crossing spot complete with flashing lights and bells/whistles when a train is on its way. The train honks its horn the entire time it travels through the city and does not travel at its normal speed.

However I realize that "playing with trains" is still a wildly dangerous idea - and I do appreciate all of the words of caution. But I certainly would never linger around the tracks or do something like this drunk. I just thought it would be neat to set a coin down on the track as I pass, walk around the beach for an hour, then look to see if I could spot the squashed coin on my way back.
posted by Squee at 7:46 PM on March 10, 2008

Um, allkindsoftime, about your number 16, the unused shotgun shell. Given that it is the most dangerous item mentioned, I'm curious. What happened when the train ran over it? Did it (a) explode? (b) flame? (c) fizzle? (d) just get squashed?

There was a lot of argument next to the tracks after that train had passed. Turns out that the roar of a train going over your head is somewhere very close to the decibel level necessary to drown out the crack of a shotgun shell exploding, if in fact they do explode whence squashed by train wheel. I claim it never exploded because I didn't hear a specific sound over the train roar, and being oldest brother with best hearing, I think I'm probably right - it just squashed, with maybe a brief flash of gunpowder under the wheel. Younger brothers who were more optimistic would probably still insist they heard it explode.

Anyway, we never found the shell, I think the plastic part probably stuck to the wheel and carried it outside our normal search zone.

And, for posterity's sake, I'd like to point out that this was only the most dangerous item mentioned.

I also recently wrote about the time we nearly derailed a train in college. Yes, there was drinking involved. No, it was not one of my brighter moments.
posted by allkindsoftime at 11:33 PM on March 10, 2008

Squee, a locomotive does not "honk its horn" -- it blows its whistle.
posted by Rash at 3:03 PM on March 11, 2008

If you're going to do this, don't do it on passenger train rails. Not only is that more dangerous, but much more likely to get you detained and fined by the authorities. Go for the rails that are out in the open and only carry slow freight, like allkindsoftime describes. Leave your stuff, mark the spot, and get out of there. I like alkindsoftime's list and warnings.

I hardly see the danger. You have crossed train tracks before, right? Did you get run over?

The rails are not a nice place for mortal things. Trains are dangerous. Tracks and switches are dangerous. The open electric cables above the tracks are dangerous, and most people don't even know what they are. Let's not forget the razor-wired fencing, shifting bridges, frantic wildlife and other fun things to be found around the rails. There are just so many places to get helplessly stuck, so many ways to get pieces of yourself crushed, broken, and sliced off. And sticking around to watch a piece of metal get squished with an object that weighs several tons? Is the danger not obvious? Seriously?
posted by zennie at 3:30 PM on March 11, 2008

I'm guessing it would actually take a lot to derail a train else we would see DHS inspections to even look at tracks. I was pretty old (luckily) before I realized the possibilities of train squishing.
posted by jeblis at 12:03 AM on March 18, 2008

Flying shrapnel would likely be the most dangerous part. A VERY dangerous part.
posted by jeblis at 12:06 AM on March 18, 2008

Rash, as long as we're being pedantic, most modern locomotives have a horn rather than a whistle.

The difference being that a horn causes sound via a vibrating diaphragm, whereas a whistle:
works by causing the smooth flow of air to be split by a narrow blade, sometimes called a fipple, creating a turbulent vortex which causes the air to vibrate.

Whether a horn is honked or blown I'll leave for someone else to decide.

(Dinah won'tcha blow, Dinah wont'cha blow, Dinah won'tcha blow your ho-o-o-rn?)
posted by Reverend John at 7:40 AM on March 18, 2008

« Older HELP need cool texas getaway for fishing   |   Nice places to go in and around Sydney for our... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.