Welding Pennies

When I was young, very early teens, I was in a “gang.” There were four of us, my elder brother Jez, his mate Alex, Alex’s friend Dave, and me. I was the youngest, but tallest, so I was allowed in. We had a camp under the high brick built railway footbridge that crossed the steep sided cutting just west of Beaconsfield station, in Bucks, and we got up to mischief.

In those days the track was relatively easily accessible, and we would regularly slide down the steep cutting under the foot bridge to get to the track side. Trains are amazing up close, huge, powerful, unforgiving, a lot taller than you might think, and particularly heavy.

We had pennies … big, brass coloured coins about the size of the current 50p, but circular. We wondered if the weight of a train could “weld” pennies together, and we formed a plan.

Just along the track, the cutting gave way to a slight embankment and the land fell away slightly to a wood on one side. Here we could place two pennies on top of each other on the rail, and lie on the embankment to watch what happened. We would find out if the weight welding worked.

The first time was very exciting. We placed a pair of pennies on the rail, retired about 10 feet away, and lay down to await a train. Mostly the pennies disappeared, sometimes we found them, bent and mangled, and a few times we actually achieved a sort of pressed “bend bond” between two pennies, rapidly pressed together under the wheels of the passing train. It was great sport and of course it was scientifically significant .. we were learning about materials.

We had noticed an occasional zip, zing, ping sound as we lay at the track side facing the pennies, straining to see what was happening, but we ignored it. Then one day we decided to wander into the wood beside the track, just behind our penny welding place. The trees immediately behind us, perhaps 30 feet from the rails, were sliver birch with a soft bark. Driven deep into the bark of these trees, a few feet up, were lots of pennies.