13.  Tales of Destruction...Torpedo Transportation

This collection of articles is devoted to early transportation of torpedoes, both legal and illegal.

From The Titusville Morning Herald comes one of the earliest, dated March 23, 1869, "Almost every day we hear complaints from our citizens who are obliged to travel on the rail cars, that various kinds of torpedoes are carried in the passenger coaches by agents of the different firms now selling those useful but dangerous articles.  An ordinary powder torpedo is not likely to explode from such transportation unless the train should be thrown off, and a smash up bring it to the fire, or a powerful concussion ensue and thus by friction explode it.  But how about nitroglycerine, or the various so called combination torpedoes?  What comparatively slight causes will send them on their death dealing mission?  Only a few days since, a passenger undertook to smuggle on the train here about seventy five pounds of some explosive, not powder, but upon being required to pay for the extra weight of his baggage, refused, and turned the trunk over to the American Express.  We all know how the baggagemen and expressmen are obliged to handle the articles that come into their hands, and when the passenger saw his trunk about to be pitched into the car he made as hasty a retreat as possible, fearing a blow up.  His anxiety for a change of base led to an inquiry and an exposure of the quality of his heavy baggage.  Yesterday torpedoes were sent down the creek in passenger coach, and we suppose the same thing will happen today.  It may be done with safety ninety-nine times, but if the hundredth one blows up, no matter from what cause, we don't want to be on that train.  Five lives have been destroyed already, and we don't want to record that a train has been blown up and a score or two of our citizens have been killed or wounded."

Bureaucrats Never Change

From The Titusville Morning Herald of November 17, 1870, "Something of a sensation was occasioned at the railroad depot yesterday by the report that a car load of nitroglycerin had arrived there and was to be unloaded and hauled through the city.  A messenger was sent to Mayor Bates with the request that he should go down and examine it, and order the arrest of the owners.  The mayor was very busy, and sent word to the Council suggesting that they go down in a body, and attend to the matter.  The Council declined to interfere, but sent word to the chief of Police, who dispatched several of the regulars, who in turn notified the specials.  The latter, knowing nitroglycerine to be contraband of ordinance, gave notice that anybody could examine it who thought proper.  Nobody seemed desirous of investigating it on his own account.

"There were fifteen packages, five of which weighed one hundred pounds each, and ten fifty pounds each.  During the afternoon they were loaded upon a wagon by the employees of Roberts & Co., at their factory on Trout Run.  There is a prohibitory ordinance against the manufacture, storage, or transportation of nitroglycerin within the city limits.  The Trout Run factory is about a mile from the Post Office, and in Venango County, and doubtless the Grand Jury will take cognizance of the affair at its next session."

Poor Charlie

McLaurin relates an unfortunate transportation story about Charles Clark, "In August of 1871 Charles Clarke started towards Enterprise, a small village in Warren county, ten miles east of Titusville, with a lot of glycerine in a vehicle drawn by one horse.  The trip was destined never to be accomplished.  By the side of a high hill a piece of very rough road had to be traveled.  There the charge exploded.  Likely some of the liquid had leaked over the buggy and springs and been too much jolted.  The concussion was awful.  Pieces of the woodwork and tires were carried hundreds of yards.  Half of one wheel lodged near the top of a large tree and for many rods the forest was stripped of its foliage and branches.  Part of the face, with the mustache and four teeth adhering, was the largest portion of the driver recovered from the debris.  The horse was disemboweled and to numerous trees lots of flesh and clothing were sticking.  From the ghastly spectacle the beholders turned away shuddering.  The handful of remains was buried reverently at Titusville, crowds of people uniting in the last tribute of respect to 'Charlie', whose youth and intelligence had made him a general favorite."

Note:  Dr. Bob Smith, nitroglycerin historian of Titusville, Pennsylvania, puts the exact date of this tragedy as May 19, 1871, and has found the spelling of Charlie's last name to be Clark.

John Osborne Makes His Mark

McLaurin briefly describes Osborne's demise in July, 1874, "John Osborne, a youth well-known and well-liked, in July of 1874 drove a buckboard loaded with glycerin down Bear Creek Valley, two miles below Parker.  The cargo let go at a rough piece of road in a woody ravine, scattering Osborne, the horse and the vehicle over acres of tree-tops.  The concussion was felt three miles."

See Blown to Atoms for another Tale of Destruction involving a buck board and team.

There were fourteen separate known nitroglycerin explosions involving teams and wagons in the northwestern Pennsylvania oil regions.  Later, the nitroglycerin cans were put within rubber boots which were contained within a water tight copper or aluminum box; the D.O.T. refers to this arrangement in great detail as an MC200 container.  In addition, the D.O.T. allows the transport of "desensitized" liquid explosives by private motor carrier only.  The D.O.T. obviously lacks a sense of adventure.

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