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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 56.djvu/379

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EFFECTS OF VAGRANT ELECTRICITY.

and sweep the trolleys off the face of the earth. The instinct of self-preservation, if nothing else, demands that the electric-railway companies should put forth every endeavor to solve the electrolysis problem.

And yet, conservative judgment requires that the railway companies should not take the initiative. It is one of boyhood's maxims not to shoot arrows at a hornet's nest unless one has mud handy to apply to the subsequently afflicted part. Thus it happens that the railway company remains apparently inactive, bearing the burden of public condemnation, while we, whose lethargy is responsible for failing pipes, read electrolysis articles in the daily press and wonder how soon the impending catastrophe is likely to occur.

This condition of affairs is deplorable; for, while we may not care how extensively or how frequently the city authorities or the private corporations are obliged to renew their underground metals, we are at least vitally concerned as to whether the stray electricity is endangering our steel office buildings, our bridges, our water supply, our immunity from conflagrations, and the safety of the hundred and one appliances that go to make up our modern civilization.

Are the Brooklyn Bridge anchor plates going to pieces, or are they not? Are the elevated railroad structures about to fall apart, or are they not? The consulting electrical engineer says "Yes," the railway man says "No." The municipal authorities say nothing. "When doctors disagree———"

I deem it doubly unfortunate that so much valuable brain energy has been inefficiently expended in the discussion of electrolysis. Each writer has viewed it from his own standpoint. Electrical literature has acquired in this way a series of views, interesting and instructive, but also bewildering. There is no composite view, such as might be obtained from the report of a commission composed of a technical representative of each of the interests affected. So far as I am able to learn, such a commission has never existed.

 


 
A curious coincidence of superstitions, illustrating anew how all men are kin, is exemplified in the native belief, mentioned in Mrs. R. Langloh Perkins's book of More Australian Legendary Tales, that any child who touches one of the brilliant fungi growing on dead trees—which are called "devil's bread"—will be spirited away by ghosts. An English reviewer of the book remembers having been dragged away from a fungus of this kind for the same reason. In the north of England children used to be told that, if they touched the dangerous growths, a fungus of the same kind would grow from the tip of every finger.