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Bomb Squad Removes Old Railroad Signaling Explosives from Santa Barbara Shed

Resident discovers devices that were once used as emergency safety alerts for train crews

Explosives Click to view larger
A storage shed cleanup project turned into a visit from the Santa Barbara County sheriff’s bomb squad after these small railroad torpedo signaling devices were discovered inside. (Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department photo)

A Santa Barbara resident cleaning out a storage shed came across a collection of devices labeled “explosives” Saturday, prompting a call to the Santa Barbara County sheriff’s bomb squad.

Sheriff’s spokeswoman Kelly Hoover said the unit was called out about 4 p.m. to a residence in the 300 block of Old Mill Road, north of Calle Real and a few blocks west of Highway 154.

She said the bomb squad used specialized equipment to determine that the explosives actually were old railroad torpedo signaling devices, which were used as emergency safety alerts to notify train crews that dangerous conditions or railroad work was ahead.

Invented by British mechanical engineer Edward Alfred Cowper in 1841, a railroad or track torpedo signaling device is a small dynamite charge that usually is wrapped in red paper with metal straps to hold it firmly in place on a railroad rail.

“When a locomotive’s wheel comes into contact with the torpedo, the weight of the engine sets off the charge, creating a loud bang to signal the conductor to stop the train,” Hoover said.

Railroad companies rarely use track torpedoes any longer, instead preferring two-way radios to perform the same function.

Hoover said the bomb squad removed the devices and secured them for safe disposal. There were no injuries in the incident.

It is unclear how or why the explosive devices were in the shed in the first place, she said.

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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