50 Dangerous Things: Squash Pennies on a Railroad Track

Task: Squash Pennies on a Railroad Track

 

Requires:

  • Pennies (or other coins)
  • Tape
  • Active train track
  • Train schedule

Possible hazards:

  • Death by train
  • Awkward conversations with the police
  • Projectiles

How it all went down:

 

We live about three houses down from an active railroad track – as in a train comes by every five minutes or so.  After living here for about five years, I hardly notice the train but our visitors are always a little shocked at the noise and vibrations.  I don’t want my kids playing on the tracks, so I loaded them into the mini-van and drove to an access point just down the street.  (I know, my kids are going to figure out that they can walk to the tracks, but somehow it made me feel better to have the illusion they could only get there by car.)

 

We duct taped 13 pennies to the track, then went home and waited for a train to pass.  Surprisingly, we only found two pennies when we returned.  The duct tape was melted to the track and the pennies were flat – I mean flat!   I wasn’t expecting them to be this flat.

Nothing like a squashed penny to drive home the point of the sheer weight and force of a train.  It was cool, and I think that the kids learned that getting run over by a train is a very bad thing

Tips:

  • Pick a portion of the track that is very straight – you want to see and hear the train coming from a long way away.
  • A location next to an automated crossing gate is good – the bells will warn you as a train approaches.
  • Don’t try to place pennies on the track if you can see or hear a train or crossing bells. Obviously.  According to Tulley, because of the unfamiliar size of train engines, our brains can’t accurately judge the speed and distance of oncoming trains.  If you can see or hear it, get out of the way.
  • If you see a spot of the track is brighter or shinier than the rest, tape your penny there. That’s where the wheel makes the most contact.
  • Mark the spot with a stick on the ground.
  • If you’re waiting there for the train to pass, stand at least 30 feet away from ALL tracks.  A flying penny will put your eye out.
  • To ensure the safety of the train and the track, never put anything larger than a coin on the tracks.
Want more?  Read about the rest of our experiences with 50 Dangerous Things. Inspired by Gever Tulley’s book 50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do).
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Comments

  1. This is the one activity that really scares me from the book, but maybe we’ll tackle it this summer.. My boys are big kids- they’ll both be teens this summer, but I worry about seemingly giving permission to play near the tracks.

    I wonder if the pennies were so flat because they are newer ones. We’ll have to experiment with some from the 1970s if we can gather them. And where did those other pennies go?!

    • Isn’t it funny how we all have our different things that make us nervous? The activity from the book that scares me most is Dumpster Diving … or maybe I’m just more afraid of getting arrested and showing up on the local news with my kids in a dumpster. I smell an experiment brewing with different vintages of pennies!

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