Squashing Coins on Railroad Train Tracks

Rural Ohio beauty on an August afternoon.
Rural Ohio beauty on an August afternoon. | Source

Family Reunion Time

On a clear and sparkling late August afternoon my daughter and I and an entourage of family members headed up the street from Aunt Katie's house to the train tracks. We had a pocketful of change to lay on the steel rails for one of the frequent speeding freight trains to run over. If we were lucky, we'd eventually retrieve at least two or three shiny, pressed coins to take home as mementos of our 2011 family reunion in this tiny and much-loved Midwestern town.

While the oldest and youngest of us gabbed, standing at the crossing under a crystal-clear afternoon sky, my daughter and her younger second cousin placed about 15 coins on the steel rails, marking the placements with rusted spikes and cleats they found scattered among the rail bed gravel. As we assembled there, an occasional car or truck drove by, crossing the tracks, and we all exchanged friendly waves. I could imagine the drivers and passengers saying to each other, "Bless her heart, Katie sure does enjoy her city-kin's visits. Let’s hope they all make it home for supper without getting run over."

Crossing the Tracks

No gates, no lights, no bells to announce an approaching train.
No gates, no lights, no bells to announce an approaching train. | Source

Exercising Caution

This rail crossing at the outskirts of a farming village in the heart of rural Ohio has no crossing gates, no blinking lights or dinging bells. It’s a reminder to us city folk about why our suburban and city school bus drivers stop at railroad crossings, open their doors, and listen for trains, even though the gates and bells are there.

Although this crossing in the middle of nowhere provides the visibility to see for hundreds of yards in either direction down the tracks before you even reach the crossing, caution is still in order. The only warning you'll get is the two-long-one-short-one-long blast of the diesel horn as the train nears the crossing.

Rusted Spikes

Rusted spikes piled up and ready to use to mark where on the tracks we placed the coins.
Rusted spikes piled up and ready to use to mark where on the tracks we placed the coins. | Source

Marking the Places Where We Set the Coins

If you ever tried squashing coins under a train’s wheels, you know the setting-up part is easy, but finding the elongated coins after the train goes by is another matter. Rails and ties are set on gravel beds, and once a coin endures the impact of a steel wheel, it can be thrown anywhere, including into the small spaces between gravel bits.

My daughter and her second cousin set the coins on the rails and marked their locations with spikes while the rest of us hung around the tracks catching up on family matters and enjoying each other's company. Soon, it became clear that we’d have to wait quite a while before the next freight came through. Although freight trains pass through this tiny town many times during the day and night, it was a weekend day, so rail traffic was a bit sparse.

We left the coins and markers and made it safely home to Katie’s house to enjoy supper and another cousin’s birthday cake and to say our good-byes until another reunion.

A short while later, after all the other family members had left, my daughter and I heard a train come through. The late afternoon was still bright, and now the sky was laced with Ohio clouds. My daughter and I went up to the tracks to see if the magic of steel against coin would give us what we were after.

Ohio clouds on the march in the late afternoon.
Ohio clouds on the march in the late afternoon. | Source

Our Lone Squashed Coin

One recovered squashed coin, exactly where we found it after the train passed.
One recovered squashed coin, exactly where we found it after the train passed. | Source

Recovering the Squashed Coins

Although we searched the gravel beds, surrounding weed banks, and bare ties for about a half-hour, around and beyond the markers that my daughter and her cousin had set, we found only one squashed coin and three that were never touched by the train's wheels.

Somewhere in that gravel bed along the train tracks in this idyllic rural town there must be thousands of coins that kids and kids-at-heart wished they could have recovered from their efforts of laying coins on rails.

I have to wonder if this exciting pastime will someday be abandoned and forgotten and if, in the distant future, archaeologists will speculate about why there is so much coinage scattered around railroad tracks. For now, we'll be keeping this tradition alive in our family for many generations to come, adding our share of future relics.

Coins Meet Steel

Squashed Coin FAQs

It is not illegal to squash a US coin.

There has never been a derailment proved to be caused by laying coins on tracks.

Between 1992 and 2007, six people died in the US as a result of placing coins on tracks.

Four Safety Tips for Squashing Coins on Train Tracks

  1. Never walk on the steel rails. They are not places to practice balance or show off your dancing skills. Always walk on the wooden ties or on the gravel embankment.
  2. Look and listen. Make sure you have a clear view in both directions of the track. If you like, you can put your ear to the steel rail; you will hear an approaching train, and if you do, get off the tracks.
  3. This is not an adventure for little children. Don’t encourage babies and toddlers to follow in their parents’ footsteps (they’ll figure out how to endanger themselves soon enough, without your help).
  4. Keep a good distance between you and the track; coins crushed by speeding steel wheels can wind up anywhere, including in your eye.

A Time Gone By in a Very Special Place

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Comments 32 comments

Charlotte B Plum profile image

Charlotte B Plum 5 years ago

Now this is a really interesting and enjoyable hub! I love how you told the story, and I do like your safety advice too! voted up, awesome and interesting!


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

Charlotte, thank you so much for reading, commenting, and voting. There's a story underneath everything, isn't there? So glad you enjoyed. :)


Uninvited Writer profile image

Uninvited Writer 5 years ago from Kitchener, Ontario

Never heard of doing that. Great story, it sounds like it was a wonderful family reunion. I've never been to one since my relatives are all spread out between here, Vancouver, Newfoundland and Scotland.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 5 years ago from California Gold Country

We used to do this at Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park, CA. Since the trains came by every 15 or 20 minutes, and was not going as fast as yours, it was easy to find the pennies.

Did you know that the pennies minted in 1983 and before have a much higher copper content? (the copper is worth about 2.6 cents or more, so they now use cheaper metals) I'll bet they were easier to squash, too.


annemaeve profile image

annemaeve 5 years ago from Philly Burbs

"Don’t encourage babies and toddlers to follow in their parents’ footsteps (they’ll figure out how to endanger themselves soon enough, without your help)." How true, how true.

I love reading what you write about our shared experiences, and seeing the different things that each of us pick up.

And I can't wait to see all the pictures! :)

Love you, love your hubs.


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

UW, it was a wonderful reunion. So much more happened, but the trains are so much a part of our family, and so important...they are how we visited each other 50 years ago and how this magical town sustained itself. I hope you and your relatives will find a way to get together one day, and that you will write about it. :)


annemaeve profile image

annemaeve 5 years ago from Philly Burbs

Oooo oooo oooo!! Rochelle, Knott's Berry Farm is my most favorite theme park EVER! I haven't been there since the early 1990s, but I'll always cherish my memories from there.

We'll have to find some older pennies to squish next time we're in the Midwest!


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

Rochell, Knott's Berry Farm! LOVE, LOVE. My daughter and I were privileged to live in LA for a while, and KBF was one of our favorite places.

You are right about the not-so-fast trains. They're more likely to leave pressed coins where you can find them; the super-fast trains have a tendency to weld the coin metal to the tracks.

I did not know about the change in copper content. TY for that!


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

Anne, this Hub could never have come together without you. Thank you so much for taking those awesome pics. Can't wait to do the Hub on grain elevators (granaries...lol).

We each have different memories and experiences; you are free to separate, in my writings, fact from fiction at any time. I love you. :)


Feline Prophet profile image

Feline Prophet 5 years ago from India

What an adventurous lot you are, ST! I wonder if anyone does this in India! :)


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

FP, I do like to think I still have some daring in me. Once that goes, I'll be gone, too. Although, sky diving and bungee jumping are not on my list! Kids need to know that advanced years don't necessarily equate to rocking chairs...at least, not yet. :)

As for India...I had no trouble finding death stats in the US related to squashing coins on railroad tracks, so I did spend a bit of time trying to find those stats for India, but came up with nothing. I have some thoughts about why, if you'd like to hear in a pm, but you would be the ideal person to do that research...perhaps that will be an article for you one day?


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 5 years ago from Oakley, CA

Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.............

My then-16-year-old grandson and some friends tried this, and got jumped by the cops...it's illegal..trespassing...the RR property extends some distance either side of the tracks. Luckily, they got off with just a warning & got sent home.

That's not to say it's not fun anyway.... (sly wink)


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

MsLizzy, this does happen. RR tracks are private property. The cops did the right thing in your grandson's case: a warning, not a charge, was what was in order.

If you go to YouTube to read the publisher's disclaimer about "Pennies vs The Train," he's all about having rights to be on RR property. But, as we all know, kids will play on tracks, even kids who aren't kids anymore. If a case like this was taken to the Supreme Court of the US, I think the justices would be chuckling in their spittoons before delivering a decision. I guarantee you, dollars to donuts, those venerable sages tossed their pennies on tracks when they were kids. At the same time, where private property crosses public property (at railroad crossings), there's a fine line about trespass. I hope our Supreme Court has bigger issues to deal with.

Thanks for the awesome comment, and *wink* back atcha.


Feline Prophet profile image

Feline Prophet 5 years ago from India

Daring and enterprising! ST, I would love to hear your thoughts in a pm! :)

And I love the way you keep suggesting topics for me to write about...lazy feline that I am, I rarely bite, though! :D


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 5 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

I enjoyed this hub very much, Sally's Trove. It brought back memories of my youth in Yonkers, N.Y., back in the 1940's, when my friends and I would occasionally place a penny or two on the trolley car tracks to be squashed. Unlike trains, there was always just one trolley car, not a whole line of trains, so the coins were easy to find when the trolley passed. I don't think we ever used anything more than a penny, though, because back then a penny was worth something. Thanks for the memories.


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

Will send you that pm soon, FP. Meanwhile, I know you don't bite...you purr. You also don't usually take the bait, but I love tossing things your way, anyway. :)


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

Oh the demise of the trolley, William! A few years ago my daughter and I placed some pennies on the SF cable car tracks and were rewarded, for the reason you mention, with perfectly squashed coins. So true about the penny's worth; today, a quarter is worth almost nothing. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and memories.


CASE1WORKER profile image

CASE1WORKER 5 years ago from UNITED KINGDOM

I told my husband this and he said that they used to do it as children , 50 years ago. He said that it got better when they sellotaped them on, not so many fell off! I had never heard of it til i read your hub


leroy64 profile image

leroy64 5 years ago from Dallas, Texas (Oak Cliff)

The Dallas Zoo has a vending machine selling pennies smashed by the monorail ride inside of the zoo. I don't think that smashed coins will completely go away.


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

CASE1WORKER, why didn't I ever think if taping the coins to the tracks! TY to you and your hubby. My daughter and I will have to revamp our strategy next time we're on reunion. Thanks for the great comment.


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

leroy64, there is still a substantial business in selling squashed pennies for souvenirs. I'm so glad this practice is going on in Dallas. Clearly, they've got a safety program in mind: we'll squash the coins for you to keep you away from the tracks. I agree, the appeal of squashing coins will never go away.


marisuewrites profile image

marisuewrites 5 years ago from USA

Another beautiful story I shared on Twitter and Facebook. All these memories came rushing back. Those were the lazy days of summer... Thanks for the ride!


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

You are so welcome, Marisue. And thank you for the sharing...the lazy, hazy days of summer. We grown-ups need to get into that mode more often. :)


trish1048 profile image

trish1048 5 years ago

Oh boy. The Raritan River train that ran behind my house, so close, only a 100 or so steps away brings back many memories. However, the memories are not good ones. In a neighborhood with approximately 30 kids in it, there were tragedies. The teenage boys took great delight in hopping on the train for a ride. I suppose they felt it was safe to do since the train traveled very slowly. Well, they were wrong. Two boys in one family lost their lives on that train. I was told that Dr. Hoffman, who went to the scene, vomited uncontrollably when he saw the devastation of these young lives.

A young girl who lived across the street from me, who was the same age as my daughter, used to go up by the tracks. She didn't hop the freight cars, however, one day she was caught unaware and ran to get off the track, but her foot got stuck in the rails. She lost all of her toes.

On a happier note, I also recall taking walks with my grandfather, and we would walk along the abandoned tracks near his house in Perth Amboy. I loved doing that because I found beautiful pieces of slag glass, all different colors. I wish I had saved them :)

Personally, I never put a coin on the track, but my brother did. I'm not sure why I didn't.

Another memory I have is the time my family and I spent at the beach, in an old house owned by my uncle's friend. He and my uncle both worked for the RR. His old house sat only 50 ft from the tracks. The trains would come through during the night, and I remember my mom saying how it woke up the whole house. I laughed and told her I slept through it. She didn't find my answer amusing :)


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

Trish, thank you so much for this rich comment. Lucky for me, I can share some of the places with you in my memory.

I definitely remember the tracks behind your house, but I had no idea so much tragedy took place there.

As for putting pennies on tracks, I never did that until I was an adult...I think it was because my mother scared the you-know-what out of me with her dire (and appropriate) warnings. :)


RNMSN profile image

RNMSN 5 years ago from Tucson, Az

we did this all the time! last time I did it, I was pregnant with my daughter, now 28! funny how having kids changes your entire life perspective on what's fun and cool!

but i still have many flattened pennies...always did pennies, they dont get thrown so far I dont think :)

hey! now the kids are gone I can play again! Honey! Lets go to the train track!


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

Barbara, squishing coins on RR tracks at this age is a privilege! Go for it.

And TY for the tip about coins...maybe the pennies deliver the promise better than other coins. :)


docbruin profile image

docbruin 5 years ago from USA

Stacking a group of different value coins, so they overlap each other, can sometimes give you a long strip with all the coins squashed together in sequence. Double sided tape helps too. Not that I ever did this, of course. Good hub!


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

docbruin, sounds like you know your stuff when it comes to coins on tracks. :) Love the double-sided tape idea. Thanks for reading and leaving such a cool tip!


Duchess OBlunt 4 years ago

I'm surprised I never thought of this, either as a youngster or in my advanced years, or anywhere in between for that matter. Living in rural Ontario, I am surprised one of my adventurous friends never mentioned it. We often walked the tracks as a short cut from the school bus to home too. Seems our education was lacking LOL.

I do remember once, taking the short cut in the spring and trying to cut throught the woods at the back of the property. The woods were marshy and we usually walked over the marsh in the winter. That day, we went through it. What a tongue lashing we got when we finally made it home. Followed by a hot bath and hot chocolate around the fireplace....so it wasn't all bad!


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 4 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

Duchess, I also am surprised that this was not a part of your life. Odd! For a girl who would wade through a marsh, a daring girl...but then, sometimes I think putting coins on tracks is a guy thing. Maybe you'll try that some time soon. :) Meanwhile, I think you could have a hub in the making about the marshy woods. :)


Kristen Howe profile image

Kristen Howe 14 months ago from Northeast Ohio

Sally, thanks for sharing this interesting hub about squashing coins on train tracks. It's dangerous just for a petty and frivolous thing like that. Voted up!

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