The Spokane Bomb Squad removed about 30 aging and corroded explosives from a Coeur d’Alene home today after housecleaners found them while tidying the rental property.
The explosives, commonly called “railroad torpedoes,” have been used to alert train conductors to trouble ahead on the tracks, said Coeur d’Alene Police Sgt. Christie Wood. They are placed on the tracks and detonate with a loud bang when trains run over them, she said.
Jim Opsal said he and his wife were cleaning the property at 616 W. Davidson Ave. around 9 a.m. when he found a three-pound Folgers can filled with the devices. They were on the top shelf in the garage, behind the house, he said.
They had been hired by the owners to clean the property to prepare it to be rented. Opsal said he called one of the owners, who told him to call 911.
Opsal said he recognized the devices right away because his father used to deliver explosives. “It’d take that whole building apart,” Opsal said. “It would have made a boom.”
The explosives were corroded and a white powder was visible on them, said Coeur d’Alene Police Chief Wayne Longo. Police were concerned primarily because of the number, he said.
“It was not a good situation,” Longo said, but he added, “There’s no criminal intent we’re aware of.”
An article in Trains.com calls railroad torpedoes “one of the oldest safety devices.” The small dynamite charge is wrapped in paper with lead straps to hold them in place on a rail. They’re set off by the weight of the engine and were used if a train had to stop unexpectedly.
A crew member would strap the torpedoes to the track behind the train so any trains following could stop in time. The article said the torpedoes aren’t used much anymore.
Longo said police had not determined who left the devices in the garage. The previous renters said they didn’t know they were there, Wood said. Two blocks of Davidson were cordoned off but no homes were evacuated.
The property is next to the parking lot for a medical building on Lincoln Way, and numerous people milled about as the bomb squad removed the devices in a heavy metal chest.
“It’s been an eventful morning,” said Amy Kerns, whose two young sons had just come out of a dental office.