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Torpedo find turns out to be a dud

The following article appeared in the Aug. 28, 2010 Philadelphia Daily News

Philadelphia Daily News

Aug. 28, 2010 - In a quest for cash in these hard times, industrious folks trade scrap metal for money, scavenging through trash and even illegally stripping metal off homes.

So it seemed like a jackpot when what appeared to be a torpedo turned up in Port Richmond yesterday.

A PennDOT archaeological team arriving for work about 7 a.m. yesterday found two men drinking beer, sitting atop the 19.4-foot-long, half-ton cylinder in the former Conrail yard at Richmond and Cumberland streets. Someone had apparently dragged it to that site. A third man apparently had gone to get a truck to haul off the bulky torpedo and cash it in.

The archaeologists called police, setting off a short panic until bomb squad technicians determined the torpedo was not only inert, but probably fake.

"Our best guess here is that this is some type of novelty item, decorative in some way," police Chief Inspector Joseph Sullivan said. "We do not believe it was leftover World War II munitions."

The torpedo was found near a former shipbuilding yard, where workers at William Cramp & Sons built submarines during World War II, PennDOT spokesman Charles Metzger said.

But Sullivan said his bomb technicians believe the torpedo was never real ordnance. They X-rayed the tube and discovered it was hollow, with no compartments for a charge, explosives or trigger device, Sullivan said.

Police believe "someone who wanted to get rid of a very large, cumbersome object" dumped it in the wooded area recently, because officers found fresh drag marks in the woods and road, Sullivan said. The torpedo's green and yellow paint also wasn't overly dirty nor weathered by time or exposure, he added.

It was found quickly because although the area appears to be remote, it's commonly used by riders of all-terrain vehicles, homeless people and construction workers, who are building a new Girard Avenue interchange on I-95 nearby, Sullivan said.

"To a homeless person, that much scrap metal would represent a bonanza," Sullivan said.

Police found evidence that several scavengers had tried to claim the torpedo. They found an abandoned boat trailer and a bumper and tailpipe that had been torn from a vehicle in a lame attempt to haul it away.

And a homeless man told police yesterday that he had dug it up and dragged it to where the PennDOT crew found it, a claim Sullivan dismissed as impossible.

"Three of our fittest guys had trouble moving it," Sullivan said.

The torpedo was taken to a scrapyard and destroyed yesterday, Sullivan said. It's unclear whether anyone gets to keep whatever cash the scrapped torpedo generated.

PennDOT archaeologists have found a wide array of objects at the site, including bones, weapons, flatware, medicine bottles, foundations of long-gone structures and more, Metzger said. They catalog everything and offer it to area historical societies.

"It's a pretty active archaeological site," Metzger said, "but I am surprised a torpedo popped up."