A wee bit of editorializing, I know. How else to describe yet another gang of copper thieves plundering historic vehicles for illicit profits?
The Hartford Courant was more restrained in its Web headline, “Thieves strip metal from historic trolleys,” about volunteers’ discovery that four vehicles at the Connecticut Trolley Museum had been vandalized by metal thieves sometime between late January and last weekend.
According to the Courant, thieves “pried brass hardware such as window latches and handrail stanchions from the wood, and in the process the wood was damaged. They also cut electrical components containing copper from the control stands that are used to operate the trolleys …”
The newspaper goes on to report how the vandalism came to light a few days ago:
The damage was discovered Saturday during a gathering of trolley museum volunteers from throughout the east. A group wanted to check out some of the trolleys in the collection and when they traveled to the car barn a short distance down the line from the museum’s main campus the damage and theft were discovered, [museum official Tim] Lesniak said. The car barn where the thefts took place was last checked in early January, he said.
Mr. Lesniak told the paper the loss of fixtures and electrical equipment is estimated in the tens of thousands of dollars. For a volunteer organization committed to the preservation of historic vehicles such as these, the loss is as demoralizing as it will be costly.
“The whole point was to say we’ve saved the cars from being scrapped,” museum board member Xian Clere told the newspaper. “To have the cars piecemeal scrapped under our feet, that hits at a personal level.”
According to the Courant report, the damaged vehicles were two Connecticut Co. passenger cars, an Iowa freight car and a Chicago elevated car. The museum’s own account of the damage identifies the three trolleys as :
- Connecticut Co. car 1326, a double-truck closed car built by Osgood Bradley in 1910.
- Connecticut Co. open car 840, a 1905 J.M. Jones product reputed to have been the last open car to operate in revenue service in the United States.
- Centerville Albia & Southern Ry. Co. 101, a 1915 freight car built by the American Car Co. and acquired by the museum in 2009.
- The fourth vehicle, not specifically identified on the museum’s website, “was already partially disassembled.”
A parenthetical aside: As I type this, I’m listening to BBC Radio Leicester’s morning programme on my iPhone. Imagine my surprise to hear a report that rail services between Birmingham New Street and Leicester have been disrupted this morning due to — what else — suspected cable theft in the area of Nuneaton. Aside from my obvious Anglophile tendencies, aside from the fact that I rode that very route a few weeks ago (and no, I didn’t steal the bloody cable), this serves as a reminder that the scourge of metal theft is international and not limited to historic railways. Recall this post from last March, in which I looked at the issue from a transatlantic perspective after thieves struck the venerable Manx Electric Railway, stealing what BBC News described as “a substantial length of copper cable” from the tramway’s overhead lines.
When I wrote that post, copper was selling at $4.47 a pound, as reported by kitcometals.com and had topped $4.60 in mid-February 2011 – quite a jump from early 2009, when it dropped to about $1.25. It’s down to about $3.78 at present — still enough, apparently, to attract criminals who apparently are finding ways to translate the stolen commodity into cash. As the Courant notes in reference to the Connecticut incident:
The theft matches a pattern of metal thefts across the state where people have pried brass plates from war monuments, hacked metal objects from grave makers, and stolen old lighting fixtures that they could trade to scrap dealers for a few dollars.
Shame and culpability rest not just with the thieves, but with those dealers who either don’t know or don’t care where the scrap they buy is coming from. I discussed some suggested solutions in the March 2011 Isle of Man blog post. It’s hard to imagine any solutions being successful without cooperation from conscientious scrap merchants.
In the meanwhile, local police in Connecticut are investigating the case, while the trolley museum plans a fundraising drive. Would-be donors may call (860) 627-6540, or send donations to the Connecticut Trolley Museum, P.O. Box 360, East Windsor, CT 06088.
For more on the Connecticut robbery, also see:
- “The Connecticut Trolley Museum falls prey to vandals in search of precious metals,” Feb. 20, 2011 WGGB-TV report with video.