By Keith Gibson
The long and costly war was finally over and the process of returning to peace time was at hand.
The huge military complex was being dismantled. The troops that survived were coming home. The machines of war were transformed into domestic products. Cars were being built again, after a 4 year hiatus. The car makers had built tanks, trucks and that all American wonder, “Jeeps”. Kennecott Copper Co. (KCC) purchased hundreds of surplus and damaged tanks to be melted down to make the steel balls that were used in the ball mills to finely crush the copper ore.
These tanks had their turrets removed and were stacked on end in open gondola cars.
It was soon learned that each tank contained a wedge shaped piece of high quality plastic used in a periscope type setup. This allowed the tankers to view the battlefield without danger of being shot. Since we had just gone thru 4 years of rationing and saving for the war effort, we came up with a way to utilize the wedge instead of it being melted into oblivion. The old and trusted genius of invention among us McGillites soon had the perfect solution. We started hopping on the train in the dark of night and removing the plastic.
This was done in the freight yard above first street, but some guys even got on at the McGill junction. Sometimes we found tool boxes, tools and even some spent shells. Each tank had a special compass that the needle floated in alcohol to nullify the deflection of the metal tank. I still have 2 of these.
The plastic was cut into small squares and sandwiched onto the handle of homemade knives, then rasped to fit one’s hand and finally polished with jeweler’s rouge.
The knives were made from old buckboard seat springs or the leaf springs off other vehicles. Large files were also used.
The metal work was done at the foundry, blacksmith shop and the machine shop. It was “government work” as we all called it. The bosses usually looked the other way as so many of them were doing the same thing.
The next step was to make your own leather knife sheath to fit on your belt. Colored pieces of plastic spaced between the clear pieces made for some attractive combinations.
This worthwhile and productive activity was made possible by the fact that the stupid idiot box of TV had not been available at the time.