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Episode 79: Western Myths, Lock Pick of Death (Airbags)

westermyths.adam.b.jpg * Western myths: * Can you take someone's hat off with a bullet? busted * Can you pull the bars out of a jail cell window with a horse? busted * Can you bust out of a jail cell with dynamite? * Can a side airbag launch a lockpick into your head? busted

photo by Golden Gate Western Wear

Can you take someone's hat off with a bullet?

Adam went to Golden Gate Western Wear in Pleasant Hill, CA (photos) to pickup some cowboy hats from Bill Knudsen. Adam selected 4 wool hats and 4 beaver hats.

Adam took the opportunity to make a dental alginate mask of Jamie, who remarked, "That was... kinda unpleasant." Despite Jamie's suffering, Adam failed in his mold making -- it cracked apart as he tried to pour the ballistics gel into it. "I haven't failed this badly in a looong time." Adam still managed to make some ballistics gel with Jamie-accurate moustaches.

Frank Tabor provided them with an arsenal of period firearms They used three guns for their test: * 1860 Army Colt Revolver 0.44 * 1886 Winchester lever-action rifle * Side-by-side shotgun

Most of the shots from the revolver and the Winchester went straight through the various hats. Jamie did manage one shot where the hat slowly tipped off the head. His lucky shot managed to go through both brim edges, which they theorized helped give the bullet a little more force on the hat.

The side-by-side shotgun was the only gun that came anywhere close to the hats-flying-off part of the myth. The hats went zinging off the back of the ballistics gel head, but they also riddled the head with birdshot.

Adam: "He's definitely not going around going, 'And then he shot the hat right off my head', because he'll also be like, 'And then he shot the top of my head... off my head.'"

busted only the shotgun was able to consistently shoot the hat off the head, which would also maim the hat-wearer.

Why did the Lone Ranger use silver bullets? (bonus online myth)

Myth: Silver bullets more effective than lead bullets

Online video extra myth (click on "MythBusters Uncut")

Jamie shot some homemade silver bullets into a stack of ballistics gel targets. The homemade bullet was a little bit undersized -- the silver shrunk during the cooling -- but the evidence was fairly conclusive: the lead bullet went twice as far as the silver bullet. Silver is lighter and doesn't have as much mass to carry energy. In general, you want to use heavier materials for bullets.

Can you bust out of jail with a horse? (Jail Break pt 1)

Myth: You can use a horse to pull the bars out of the wall of a Old-West-style jail cell

This is the Western classic where a jail bird's buddies ride up to his cell at night, attach a rope around the bars and his cell, and use their horses to pulls the bars out.

Jamie visited the Old Monterey Jail in Monterey, CA to examine some period jail construction. The jail was built in 1854 and museum curator Jim Conway explained that no prisoners ever escaped from it. It featured slim plate steel windows instead of bars and a granite roof and floor. Clearly, this wasn't a jail construction style they could test their myth on.

Luckily, they found photos and specs for Fort Dodge, outside of Dodge City. It was constructed out of railroad ties and featured a 1' window with 4 steel bars augered in about 1-1.5" on each side. They were able to construct a one-wall replica of this jail for their mythbusting.

California Range Riders provided them with two horses to do the bar pulling.

The tests: * One horse: Jamie on one horse reached 400lbs of force, but no wall budging. * Two horses: 500lbs of force and still no budging * 4-wheeler ATV: on the first run it reached 900lbs before the rope broke. On a second run it reached ~1200lbs with a stronger rope, which still wasn't enough to breakout the bars * 30,000lb hauler: they hooked up the bars to their heavy duty lift and were able to reach 4000lbs, which bent the wall over but still didn't rip the metal bars out.


Can you bust out of a jail cell with dynamite? (Jail Break pt 2)

Myth: You can bust out of a jail cell using dynamite without killing the incarcerated criminal

They rebuilt their Dodge City jail at the Alameda bomb test grounds, this time with three walls. They used an explosive with the same properties as dynamite, but more stable. The dynamite was set at the base of the steel bars with Buster hiding in the corner. The explosion only took out a small chunk of the window sill, but it was enough for Adam to manually remove each of the bars by hand. Adam, with much assistance, was able to squeeze out of the window.

Unfortunately, Buster took over 100G of force, i.e. Buster died.

busted: the explosion was about as small as it needed to be in order to loosen the bars, yet it still killed Buster. Jamie pointed out that he could have achieved better results with an axe.

Lock pick of death

Myth: A thief broke into a car using a flat lockpick (aka slim jim). This triggered the side airbag, which explodes and sent the lockpick back through the thief's skull.

An airbag's leading edge moves at 500mph, which allows the airbag to deploy in about 0.25ms. (according to their fireman expert)

The build team first took lock picking lessons from Josh Gatkin, Fire Captain, and the other firemen of the Livermore-Pleasanton Fire Department. They watched a fireman open a car with a lockpick and noted that he had to lean directly over the lockpick. The fireman also gave the build team an airbag demonstration by setting off a driver's airbag with a cone on top -- it got plenty good height and distance (several stories).

Test 1: Can a lockpick trigger a side airbag?

Setup: * Lock-picking robot: Grant built a robot to safely setoff the airbag. A ballistics gel head was set above the robot to catch any projectile lockpicks. * Udon-filled skull + ballistics gel: Meanwhile, Kari picked up a skull from The Bone Room and talked skull strength with Erin Kerrigan. Kerrigan pointed out that the nose and inside the eyes were weak, but the underside of the skull is pretty solid. For added effects, Kari decided to fill the skull with red-dyed udon noodles to simulate brains, and then cast a ballistics gel head mold of Grant around the skull. * Beat-up 3-series BMW: the front-end was smashed but it had intact side airbags

Kari: "If this works, we're going to get a lockpick shooting through the guy's skull, and there's going to be blood and udon everywhere"

Grant got increasingly frustrated and vigorous with his attempts to trigger the side airbag remotely using his lockpick-wielding robot, but all he managed to really do was bend up the lockpick. Eventually their mechanic, Thomas Hannan, gave them some important information:

Thomas: "The airbag is actually inside the car, not inside the door"
Kari: "So you knew this all along and this is what you expect, and you watch us bumbled around with this?"
Thomas: "Yeah, I was pretty certain that the airbag would not deploy"

Test 2: Can kicking trigger a side airbag?

Tory reconfigured the sword-swinging rig to do some 'kicking' instead. They calibrated it to 1056N of force, which was Tory's own kicking force (Kari managed 485N).

  • 25psi (human force): dented the door, no side airbag
  • 125psi (way beyond human force): much more denting (they even knocked the ballistics gel head off the stand), but still no side airbag

At this point the myth was pretty much busted.

Test 3: Would a side airbag eject a lockpick?

They manually triggered the side airbag with the lockpick in the door -- the lockpick didn't move as the side airbag deploys towards the inside of the car. This busted the other half of the myth.

Test 4: Replicating the results

Kari didn't want to see her udon-brains efforts go to waste, so they built an air-powered lockpick cannon. They set the lockpick in a foam sabot and launched it off at the ballistics gel head to satisfying results: the lockpick went through the skull and stuck out the other side, bent. It was accompanied by a small spray of red dye.



Well, I agree that you could die from the dynamite impact when you're exposed like buster was. What did the prisoners sleep on though while they were incarcerated? Was there a cot in the cell for them to sleep on or a blanket of sorts? If so, couldn't you cover buster up with the cot to see if it would take most of the force? Perhaps he could live?