Q: Why do so many coal cars say “Top Gon” on the side? Is it really “top gone” and they saved paint by not printing the “e,” and the meaning was that the car once had a cover?
Or is it really “Top Gun” and they misspelled it?
A: What you’re witnessing is a very clever inside joke, which I’m sure most Norfolk Southern employees understand, even if it confuses the general public.
“An employee came up with the name Top Gon, influenced no doubt by ‘Top Gun,’ the Tom Cruise movie about fighter pilots,” explained Norfolk Southern spokesman Frank Brown.
OK, so you guessed right about the Tom Cruise connection, but that’s only half the joke. The other half is where some inside knowledge is needed.
“NS created its Top Gon cars in the early 1990s by enhancing certain older coal cars so that, for efficiency, they could carry 105 tons of coal rather than 95 tons,” Brown wrote in an e mail. “The work was performed in our Roanoke shops.”
According to Brown, there are several thousand of the black and gray Top Gons in the Norfolk Southern fleet, mostly used to deliver coal to utilities.
When a Top Gon reaches its destination, the coal is dumped out by literally flipping the coal car over. (Kind of like that scene where Tom Cruise flies upside down to annoy the Russian pilot.) This type of coal car is called a “gondola.”
Aha, now it all makes sense! The Top Gon name is a movie pun and a boast about the coal car’s quality at the same time.
Brown didn’t tell me who thought up the name, but if any of my readers know, I hope they will tell me so we can give the punster a little credit. 460 Bypass around Blacksburg, there is a very wide space with extremely wide shoulders. A couple of weeks ago, I saw several tractor trailer trucks stopped there with state police sport utility vehicles at each one, and a state policeman was on a low, little rolling pallet like they use in service stations, looking under the trucks. The first time I saw this, I was scared, thinking they were looking for bombs or something. I’d never cheap mlb jerseys for sale seen theses big state police “muscle” vehicles. I figured it must be something big to bring them out. Can you find out what they were doing?
Elizabeth McCommon, Blacksburg
A: “Not to worry,” reassures Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller.
“What you’ve witnessed is what’s called a ‘portable scale,’ and those guys underneath the trucks are motor carrier troopers.”
These troopers haul around equipment hence the SUVs to perform roadside safety checks.
“The troopers were using mechanics’ creepers to inspect the undercarriage of the trucks for cracked or broken frames, as well as suspension systems and brakes for proper adjustment and working condition.”
They can also perform “hazardous materials enforcement” if needed. 460 gives them a wide, safe place to do it.
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By the way, last week’s column about the Mid Atlantic Sports Network requires both a clarification and a retraction.
First the clarification: Many readers in the Roanoke region already are getting MASN on Cox Cable. The answer was meant to benefit those who are not receiving MASN on their cable system but would like to.
And now the retraction: The use of the word “woeful” in connection with the Washington Nationals jerseys baseball team and not in connection with the Baltimore Orioles jerseys was not fair and balanced reporting. I will leave it to you, the reader, to decide if we would have been more correct to apply the term to both teams (each dwelling in its division’s last place) or to neither (there’s still a lot of baseball left).