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Housecleaners find ‘torpedoes’ in Coeur d’Alene

Bomb squad members remove explosives that were found in a garage in Coeur d’Alene on Monday.  (Kathy Plonka)
Bomb squad members remove explosives that were found in a garage in Coeur d’Alene on Monday. (Kathy Plonka)

Bomb squad removes railroad warning devices

The Spokane Bomb Squad removed about 30 aging and corroded explosives from a Coeur d’Alene home Monday after housecleaners found them while tidying the rental property.

Such 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 detonated 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 3-pound Folgers coffee can filled with the devices. They were on the top shelf in the garage behind the house, he said.

Opsal, who had been hired to clean the property to prepare it to be rented, said he called one of the owners, who told him to call 911.

Opsal said he recognized the devices 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 added, “There’s no criminal intent we’re aware of.”

An article on 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 an engine’s weight 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 of a medical building on Lincoln Way, and numerous people milled about as Spokane Bomb Squad, which operates regionally, including in Coeur d’Alene, 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 nearby dental office.

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