What is It? Game 9.

This week's What is It? game, in collaboration with the What is It? Blog, is this strange looking device (approximately 3" long). More photos (and clues) can be found at What is It?

Guess what it is and win a free Neatorama T-shirt! Game rules are simple: place your guess on the comment section but post no URL links (let others play, please). First one to guess right gets the prize!

Update 2/2/07: Robb of What is It? Blog gave us this answer:

According to the person who sold this to its current owners, it's a railroad communication device. If men were working on the tracks and needed to know when a train was coming, someone would walk a mile or two up toward where the train would come from. A .22 caliber blank was put in the small hole in this item, then when the train was spotted, he would suspend it over one of the rails and drop it, firing the blank and alerting the workers of the coming train.

I haven't been able to confirm this explanation, and I'm thinking that it's only partly true. I believe that it's a noise making device that uses a .22 caliber blank, but I have doubts about whether it was really used by rail workers.

Doesn't seem like anyone won this round!


Newest 5
Newest 5 Comments

You can rest assured that the device in that photo is not a RR warning device! It couldn't possibly be heard by either the Engineer or Fireman on any train and a work crew would hear the engine long before they would hear any firearm "report" from a mile distance. A 22 Cal either blank or live round would probably not be heard at all from a mile away and for that reason the RR workers used what they called "Torpedos" to allert them to approaching trains.
These were some type of plastic container about 3/8"thick and 2"X2" square, colored bright Red with a DANGER warning printed in White letters and had a Lead strip about 6" long X 3/16"thick and 3/8" wide adheared to the bottom.
They were then filled with explosive powder and sealed tight.
When the Section Car, or work car, was a predetermined distance from their assigned work spot they would stop and one of the "Gandy Dancers" would dismount and place 1 Torpedo upon the top of the rail by squeezing that Lead strap around the rail. They would then proceed on to thier work area. When a train came along and hit that Torpedo it naturally exploded with a "report" that could be heard by the engineer over the noises of that monstorous steam locomotive and by the work crew..
This report was as loud as a quarter stick of Dynomite and there were instances of kids being killed when they struck one with a stone or a hammer!
When the "report" was heard everybody started doing what they needed to do to clear the track and the engineer slowed the train down to a safe speed..
As a kid, 1940 thru 45 we used to walk the L&N tracks in Wildie Ky and pick up those lead strips for the WW2 scrap metal drives. We would flatten it out and then roll it up like tape or cut it into smaller pieces to wrap around our fishing line as a sinker.
The Torpedos were also used by the Brakeman riding in the caboose on a fraight train or a Conductor on a passenger train, to warn a follownig train to be on lookout for a train being stopped to take on water at one of those big trackside tanks..
They would place between 1 and 3 torps on the track. There would be a space between each Torp and that distance told the engeneer something about the train out in front of him..It would be like "bang"--------
"bang"--"bang" ...Or "bang""bang"------------"bang".
It's amasing how that photo and caption brought out all those memories from so many years ago!!
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