Great Copper Caper

by Jack Keegan


During the 1930's the Pennsylvania Rail Road electrified the New York to Washington line. In addition, it also powered the freight branch. That line paralleled Viaduct Street,the road that ran from Newark Airport to the Pulaski Skyway.

Copper cables, to carry the current, were strung between steel towers that were spaced hundred feet apart. Wires ran at several levels,the lower one from which the pantograph on the locomotives received energy. The upper level wires conducted voltage from sub station to sub station and was maintained at a much higher voltage.

We were in the midst of The Great Depression and to make money many innovative schemes were tried. A new entrepreneur seeing these great copper cables decides to invest in metal. Climbing the seventy foot tower to reach the upper strands,our contractor armed with bolt cutters,proceeds to slide out on the cross arm. First one cable is cut,followed by severing the other two. Climbing down, he proceeds to the next tower, shinning up this spire. Once there, at the upper cross arm, he attacks the other end of the conductors. Snip, snip and snip, one conductor goes followed by the other two.

Returning to terra firma our man continues his job, the felled wire must be rolled up to make transportation easier. They are coiled up in rolls about the size of automobile tires.Down the embankment to be loaded on waiting carts,since it is night time the loot is secreted. Next morning wagons clatter, we are off to a metal recovery industrial site, better known in those days as a Junk Yard.

The entrepreneur presents his merchandise to the facility manager and inquires about what he will receive for his product. The proprietor suggests that he place a call to his buyer for prices and heads for the office, our new owner of the copper simply waits. In his office the manager places a call to the Newark Police Department and returns to our seller engaging him in some small talk. Soon a Police Patrol Car arrives at the scene, two officers exit the car and question our entrepreneur about where and when he obtained the product. After much questioning the suspect acknowledges his guilt.

To make a long story short, our guy is arrested, after a trial he is convicted and given a jail sentence. He doesn't know how lucky he is, as the day after he cut those wires the Pennsylvania Rail Road activated that section of the power lines with eleven thousands volts. In place of being incarcerated he would have been entombed after being electrocuted.

It pays to be an honest entrepreneur.


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