Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The laying of a nickel on the train track

The laying of a nickel on the train track has its origins in me, as a
five year-old, standing with my mom in Pasadena, California, where my
grandmother lived, watching the "Santa Fe Super Chief" roll in to the

The Super Chief was one of these iconic American trains with a
special paint job, and I can just imagine my mom thinking, "Oh, I'll take
my little boy down to see the train come in [it would roll right through
town and cross several streets]: he'll like that." She puts a penny on
the tracks, which are right at street level and I watch with delight as
it gets squashed by the giant engine into an oval, coppery smear. I keep
it for years after.

So it actually has nothing to do with good luck or a safe journey.

The last few years, when I would suggest to Galen and Will that we put a
penny on the tracks they would howl at me with horror: something about
not squashing the queen. Anyway, it was forbidden. So it was with
surprise this week that I heard them say, "Sure!" and then proceed to
contend over who would get to KEEP the squashed nickel.

Well, a nickel, it turns out, does not squash as well as an old, soft,
copper penny. What you get is more of a "bent nickel," the result of
it being churned and flipped by the engine wheels.

We're looking now for older, all-copper pennies. The current issue
Canadian penny is a steel blank with copper electroplating. We have to go back to 1996 for real copper pennies.