The Great Train Hoax

by Don Mueller

One thing about becoming a member of Mensa is that it explains a lot of things in your life. For example, the various friendships that I developed in school. I tended to gravitate toward the nerdy types who could logically explain any problems I had, but whose social skills with the opposite sex were merely academic theory.

I had a friend in high school named Bill, who could easily be a member of Mensa if he so chose to do so. He looked a little bit like David Letterman, only taller and goofier. We would have long conversations over the phone about some electronic or chemical idea that would change the world. Unfortunately, since both of us were deficient on the proper socially acceptable way to end a phone conversation, we would talk until one of us collapsed from lack of food, sleep, one of our parents cutting the lines, or all of the above.

One day, I made an auditory discovery. Back in the days when stereo had just come in, there were some marvelous sound effect records made that demonstrated the "Ping-Pong" effect of sound on two speakers. For example, one of those was that of a train, coming from a distance on one speaker with horns blaring, crossing over to the other speaker and fading away, with the horns demonstrating the Doppler effect. The only thing that gave away that it was on a record was the minor scratches that pre-CD equipment had at that time. I discovered that if I put both speakers cone down on the floor, turned up the stereo at full blast, and went down to the basement, you'd swear that a train was rumbling on the floor above you!! It was the most beautiful effect that I had ever heard! The floor absorbed the sound of the scratches, so that it actually sounded like a train was taking a short-cut through your house!

I certainly couldn't just waste this discovery on just anybody, so I devised my diabolical plan. When I saw Bill in my high school mechanical drawing class, I said that I was interested in his opinion on some strange noise that I was hearing. I said that at certain times of the night, at a certain spot in my basement, I would hear this train sound rumble through. I said that there were no known tracks or anything near my house, yet I would keep hearing this. In subsequent classes, I later hypothesized to him that perhaps the Russians had built this secret spy subway tunnel that went underneath my house, and would he perhaps want to come over at the scheduled time that I would hear these sounds, and give me his opinion on it. And so, late at night, (I told him it came through at 11:37pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays) he came over, and we both waited in my basement for this event. At my cue (two coughs) my little brother, who was waiting at the top of the stairs, would run into the living room and put on the ol' train record. Sure enough, it was beautiful. A distance sound of a train whistle. The floor starts to rumble. The pipes are shaking. Pretty soon the rumble moves from the wall area to center stage where all of the basement is enveloped in this roar of a train. Then we gradually hear the clatter of the wheels move on to the other side of the basement. Bill is completely taken up by this, his nervousness covered up by his hacking, gasping laughter.

Later, at his house, Bill introduces me to a friend of his. I'm standing there nice and smug, congratulating myself for pulling off the joke of the century, and I figured that I would tell his friend about our secret knowledge of this "train" phenomenon. That's when things took an ugly turn. Bill decided to get on the phone and call the train authority, or the FBI, or the CIA to see if they know anything about this. Suddenly, visions of government authorities ringing the doorbell and paying my parents a visit, demanding to know about a spy train that they're hiding started crossing my mind! Not to mention extreme embarrassment for myself if my parents asked me to explain why the National Guard was surrounding our house, or whatever! I start to panic, yelling, no! No! Don't call yet!! After 10 minutes of this, it turns out that my friend Bill was playing a joke back at me. You see, after my famous audio presentation to him in the basement, I ushered him out of the back door, but when he wanted to go upstairs, I gave some lame excuse to keep him from perhaps surveying some speaker cones on the floor and thereby finding out what happened. He remembered that, and correctly surmised that I had put him on. That's why he thought he would scare the living daylights out of me later, which he certainly did!

So, 30 years later, what is my friend Bill doing? This is the actual truth-- He's employed as an agent for the CIA!

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