The toll booth gun
by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier
“Shirley, you jest!”
No, I don’t — and don’t call me Shirley.
Back in the 1960s, when gadgets ruled the day and turnpike tolls were paid with coins instead of folding money (or by simply attaching your bank account to the state treasury via an electronic snitch), there was a way cool thing called a Turnpike Toll Gun that shot coins into the hopper at the toll booth. Yes, I said shot.
If such things existed today and teachers used them, they’d be tackled by the security guards at their school when they passed through the metal detector — at least in states along the Eastern Seaboard. In Texas, several communities are requiring some of their teachers to be armed and to take special defense classes as an added measure of school safety. So, their toll booth guns would not be confiscated. In fact, they would probably be belt-fed!
Yes, it exists and yes, it’s cool! The Turnpike Toll Gun.
When Edith and I published The Airgun Letter, John Steed, one of our subscribers, first told us about the existence of this gun and then he sent us one. Until then, I had no idea it even existed. I’m guessing that the gun is from the 1960s on the basis of the appearance of the literature that came inside the box and the fact that the two patents for the gun date to 1965 and 1968.
The gun was made by Lyman Metal Products of Norwalk, Connecticut. You can find these guns on Ebay, but the starting prices are completely unrealistic. The cheapest one listed now starts at $169.99. They should be worth about $25 to possibly as much as $50 in pristine condition. I’m sure when they were new they sold for well under $10.
The gun comes in a cardboard box that also contains a set of operating instructions that I don’t have and a one sheet promotional sheet that I do have.
The box is plain but has the name of the gun in gold letters at the lower left.
Promotional sheet looks ’60s to me.
Is it an airgun?
Strictly speaking, the Turnpike Toll Gun does not use air to propel the coins. It uses a spring. So it is a catapult gun. But we’ve included catapult guns with airguns for so long that they have become identified with them by this time. The Daisy 179 pistol is a catapult gun, as are the Johnson Indoor Target Gun, the Sharpshooter pistol and the Hodges gun. Unlike any of those guns, however, this gun shoots a very heavy projectile. An American quarter coin weighs 87.5 grains, which would be a lightweight big bore bullet weight for a .308 rifle.
You don’t want to launch a quarter so fast that it bounces off the toll booth basket and bounces into the street. No points for that! So, this gun will launch a quarter about 6-8 feet, maximum. And not every quarter leaves the gun at the same speed. I tried to chronograph the quarters, but the instrument could not read the quarters. Indeed, 4 out of 8 of them didn’t make it past the second skyscreen! I estimate the velocity of the quarter at between 20 and 30 f.p.s.
The magazine has a coiled spring pushing a black plastic follower against the quarters.
Fill the magazine with quarters, then insert the spring-loaded cap and lock it in position.
The gun is a repeater, but it must be cocked for every shot. It’s really no different than a bolt-action repeater in that respect. To cock the gun, you simply push back the spring-loaded rod in front of the gun. A black plastic ball cushions your hand while doing this. It takes 11 lbs. of force to cock the spring.
The gun is uncocked.
Push the black ball, and it cocks the gun and readies the next quarter to be fired.
The gun is very small, but also very wide. Overall length is just 5-3/4 inches, while the width is 1-5/8 inches. The width is largely dictated by the ammo, which is 0.955 inches wide. The gun weighs 8 oz. when empty.
The lower half of the gun appears to be electrostatically painted a medium green, while the upper cover is bright aluminum and held on by 4 screws. Most of the gun’s frame is made of aluminum, and the small parts are steel.
All the lettering is on the top cover of the gun. This is the right side.
And this is the left side.
The trigger is single-stage and very light. Mine releases at a crisp 1 lb., 9 oz. The gun uses the quarter as the sear. The quarter is under spring pressure from the mainspring, but the trigger blocks it until it is pulled down, out of the way. Then, the mainspring sends the quarter on its way and covers the magazine until the gun is cocked again, allowing the next quarter to rise and be blocked by the trigger again. When there are no more quarters in the magazine, the gun cannot be cocked; so, dry-firing is impossible.
The barrel is not rifled, as you might have guessed, but there actually is a short barrel. It’s really just a quarter-sized slotted tunnel that starts the missile on its path to the toll basket.
There are no sights, so this is an instinct shooter. But it takes only a couple shots before you can hit a one-foot circle every time from 6 feet. That’s all the accuracy you need to do the job.
As odd as it is, this isn’t the only gun that shot money. Apparently there have been others, though they may not be easy to find.
I remember when I reported on this gun the last time. There was a small rush to locate them. They aren’t very sporting, of course, but if you don’t shoot at the intended targets (toll booth baskets), you can reuse the ammunition countless times. Perhaps that’s what caught the attention of airgunners.