Episode 3: Barrel of Bricks, Urinating on the Third Rail, Eel Skin Wallet

Air Date: October 10, 2003

A bricklayer could be injured repeatedly while hoisting a barrel full of bricks from the top of a building.

busted

Only by deliberately weakening the barrel and dropping it on a sharp edge were they able to get the barrel to drop its bricks.

Urinating on the electric third rail of a train track can cause electrocution.

busted

Although it is possible to electrocute yourself by urinating on a third rail, you would have to stand unrealistically close to the rail to do it. In most instances, a urine stream would break into droplets before making contact with the rail.

(This concept was tested with an electric fence in episode 14 and that version of the myth was confirmed. Distance is the key.)

Using an electric eel-skin wallet will cause a static charge that will cause the magnetic strip on your credit cards to fail.

busted

Most eel-skin wallets are not made from electric eels, but rather from a fish called a hagfish which does not produce an electric charge. Data written to a set of test cards was not affected in any way.

24 Comments

  1. vipera says:

    They used a really strong barrel in this episode. I live in Maine where some of the small farmers still employ people to pick potatoes by hand. The barrels they use are nowhere near as strong as the one used by Mythbusters. I have personally seen a barrel full of potatoes bust when it smacked into the side of the truck while being lifted.

  2. Eugene White says:

    Got a question about the credit cards being destroyed in eel-skin wallets. The primary variation on this myth is that the cards were damaged after having been placed in a wallet with the magnetic strips touching each other. While the episode did investigate and bust this variation as well I believe that a minor point was overlooked. I suspect this myth may have originated shortly after the introduction of magnetic strips on credit cards. In that case, the construction of the cards back then may have been inferior to that which is being used today. I think the team should investigate the history of credit card construction to determine if perhaps early cards might have been more easily damaged by lower magnetic field levels. It is possible that this myth may at one time have been true, but due to improvements in card construction is no longer true. The team might also investigate whether physical stress on the magnetic strip caused by flexing the card repeatedly might put fine cracks in the strip material which could cause read errors as a result of altering the physical spacing between encoded bits of data. While this is technically a different myth, the average person (who is responsible for generating all these myths to begin with) wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the real cause of the problem and the mythological cause.

  3. Melissa says:

    Can you please tell if a magnetic clasp on a wallet is strong enough to demagnitize a credit card?

  4. Ville says:

    I don’t know about the US, but in UK the electrocution seems to be possible:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1037177/Polish-tourist-killed-urinating-750-volt-electric-railway-line.html

  5. john says:

    found an interesting article in the sun newspaper today- july 22 2008,”a tourist needing the loo at a railway station was killed by having a wee-on a live track.
    he crept into a recess at the end of the platform to relieve himself.
    its thought he splashed the line and died instantly as a 750volt charge leaped up at him at vauxhall south london

  6. storm says:

    Regarding the eelskin wallets… it’s not the eelskin, but the magnetic clasp that was scrambling the magnetic strips on credit cards, etc.

  7. Richard says:

    The sun is a tabloid paper and the stories are not real, just like the enquirer.

  8. Josh says:

    While the Sun may be a taploid, the news reports are true (after taking into account the universal slant that all the stories in the Sun and Daily Mail take).

  9. Steve walker says:

    The barrel of bricks probably came from a monologue by Gerald Hoffnung (1958) later terned into a song in the 70′s type barrel of bricks song into google

  10. Steve walker says:

    did anyone do biology a human ureter has a slight twist in it which rotates the urine stream so that it doesn’t break up and dribble down you leg? buster only had a tube!!!!

  11. Ray says:

    In this episode I believe that Jamie & Adam didn’t take into account three factors.
    One: the guys kept referring to an Irish man; if that’s the case he would probably be drinking Guinness, which we all know contains iron. Now some of this must be excreted in the urine.
    Two: The guys based it on a normal urination not a desperate I need a pee drunk I have drank too much which has a greater release pressure of that over a normal pee.
    Three: Here in the UK we have two voltages of power on the third rail;
    One; National Rail – 750volts
    Two; London Underground – 660volts
    Until they revisit and test with these three additions I’m not happy to except the busted verdict.
    Sorry guys love the show keep up the good work.

    • rich smith says:

      I saw the episode and theyhad pee dribble out, not stream. A stream is continuous, but dribbling is a series of drops. I personally observed somebody piss on an electric fence and it DID conduct up the urine stream.

  12. Leon Stark says:

    “Paddy’s Sick Day” barrel myth may have been done using the kinds of barrels of the WW I/ Depression Era days, half rotted and barely maintaining integrity.

    Remember, there was not a Product Safety Commission, or Occupational Safety and Health Administration in those days. Those came after FDR.

  13. Chas says:
  14. Taco Bellnacho says:

    http://www.breitbart.com/article.php?id=D9E62II80&show_article=1

    MONTESANO, Wash. (AP) – Authorities believe a Washington man was killed by accidentally urinating on a downed power line after a car crash.
    Grays Harbor County sheriff’s Deputy Dave Pimentel (PIM’-en-tel) said Monday 50-year-old Roy Messenger was not seriously hurt after he collided with a power pole Friday and called a relative to pull his car from a ditch.

    However, family members found Messenger electrocuted when they arrived.

    Pimentel says Messenger apparently urinated into a roadside ditch but didn’t see the live wire. The urine stream likely served as a conductor, allowing the electricity to reach his body.

    Pimentel says there will be an autopsy but burn marks indicated the way the electricity traveled through Messenger’s body.

  15. sarristocrat says:
  16. Cesar says:

    http://www.breitbart.com/article.php?id=D9E62II80&show_article=1
    Wash. man electrocuted by urinating on power line
    myth confirmed?

  17. FatBigot says:

    Its all about VOLTAGE.
    3rd rail is typically 600-750 volts.

    UK overhead electric lines for mainline trains is about 25,000 volts.

    Power line is 11,000 to 475,000 volts. Energy delivery is V squared over R. At those higher voltages, air can ionize, as does pretty much everything your body is made of so R goes down increasing the energy delivery even more. I’ve heard that the fat in your body explodes.

    Please to a repeat of the urination mythbust on 25,000 volts, say.

  18. Steve I. says:

    But you did not actuall pee on the third rail, and If I remember the episode correctly ditto for the electric fence. Get some huevos and ditch the ammeter..
    As for breaking into droplets unable to conduct current, you’ve obviously never imbibed a large quantity of beer… :-)

  19. Jason Antinori says:

    I ran across this site by mistake, and though I’m not an regular of the show I gave watched it at least a dozen times. But after reading about the 3rd Rail Urine Test with the articles linked to the postings and my profession lying on legal suits & wrongful death and injury. I WOULD ADVISE MYTHBUSTERS AS WELL AS ANY AFFILIATED TELEVISION STATION If MY CLIENT TO ASAP TAKE DOWN ANY STATEMENTS SCIENTIFIC OR OTHERWISE DISPROVING THIS HYPOTHESIS.

  20. DeeJay says:

    Third rail systems vary in their voltage, however the major difference between them and a power line, as well as the way the guys tested the myth is one minor little fact.

    Subway systems use direct current. When Jamie and Adam tested this myth, they used a generator which produced alternating current. This in itself totally screwed up their results, since they did not test the system using accurate data.

    Secondly, they made no allowance for the return of current. In 3rd rail systems, the third rail itself carries a positive charge, where as the running (track) rails carry a negative charge. Once the power is used by the traction motors in the cars, it is returned through the track rails to the power distribution station.

    There are also a handful of recorded deaths due to urination on third rails. The UK Daily Mail reported in 2008 that a Polish tourist was electrocuted to death when he urinated on a 750-volt rail in London, and a 14 year old boy was killed in Chicago in 1991 doing the same thing. In 1977, a drunk man was also killed when he wandered onto the ground level tracks in Chicago and urinated on the third rail.

    • Barbara says:

      To check the myth about the third rail correctly one has to actually pee on a 3rd rail.I don’t know where you can get someone to actually do that.In other myths, Everything right down to the degree in the weather has to be the same. You heard of freak accidents, well to do the accident again, you’d have to have the same compontents that were in the original accident, and even then you could get conflicting results.

  21. ElleKay says:

    A guy just died this weekend in New York from the ‘busted’ third rail myth. The guys might need to revisit this one.

    • NoBuster says:

      ElleKay: if you read the articles carefully, they say that the man who was killed made contact with the third rail, which was what killed him, rather than peeing on it.

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