Physics in an old TV show

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Just some musings and a possible question or two on the seemingly bizarre physics seen on narrative TV. In particular, a specific episode of a specific program.

While not traditionally considered science fiction, this show's crazy liberties with physics might just allow it pass muster in this subforum, at least I hope so. The show in question is a half hour western from the 1960s called _A Man Called Shenandoah_

Really a pretty good show. Ran for one season, was expected to be picked up for a second, but for some reason got lost in the shuffle. Robert Horton plays an enigmatic character who is set upon by hired killers in the first episode, is badly wounded and left with a case of amnesia that blots out any memory of who he was. Much of the series is concerned with his quest for himself and although he doesn't recover his memory, does piece together some of the details of his history. Good drama, good story (mostly anyway - even good episodic TV has its share of clinkers).

Anyway, this post is about physics.

One of the episodes, a fairly (non physicswise) good one, has Robert Horton's character teaming up with an old partner of his played by James Gregory (who many may remember as portraying Inspector Luger on the show Barney Miller).

They go hunting a treasure (gold dust locked in a chest) that they had hidden years earlier. Drama ensues, double crosses, bandit attacks, and other events transpire which are of little relevance to this post.

Eventually they uncover the hiding place of the chest of gold dust, open the chest and its riches are revealed.

As they move the chest out of its hiding place, they both struggle with its weight, each taking a side of the chest. Now, just eyeballing it from the screen, both from the outside, and as they open it up, I guestimated that the capacity of the chest, filled pretty much to the top with the gold dust, was maybe between one and two cubic feet. Just a ballpark figure. For this discussion, let's call it one cubic foot just to keep things simple.

A bit of poking around on the internet suggested that one cubic foot of gold would weigh 1,204 lbs (561 Kg). I imagine that gold dust, what with its empty packing space, dirt-smeg and whatever would weigh a bit less, so for purposes of our discussion, let's say that gold dust weighs 2/3'ds that of solid gold. That brings us to a working value of 795 lbs (370 Kg). BTW, if anyone has a better idea what gold dust weighs, by all means chime in. My conversion factor was just an arbitrary value used in order to keep the example moving.

I don't see these two guys moving an 800 Lb chest without serious equipment, especially from a small dug out hole in the side of a hill... but it gets better.

In the episode's dramatic climax, bandits have our heroes surrounded and are demanding the gold for themselves. James Gregory hoists the chest himself and attempts to make a getaway but is shot by a bandit's rifle and is mortally wounded. He responds by half throwing the chest, as he recoils in pain, over a small cliff on which he is standing, sending the gold dust scattering below, presumably to be blown hither and yon by the winds. He and the chest follow over the cliff.

Robert Horton gets the better of the bandits. This is important here only in that it allows the next scene to take place. The cliff was only a short one: about 15 feet up... so a broken James Gregory is allowed a brief death scene and final words to Robert Horton before he shuffles off this mortal coil.

Notwithstanding the aforementioned silliness with what would seem to be a truly massive load, another thing somewhat occurred to me. The dramatic conclusion of the episode seems to suggest that the gold dust was scattered by the winds (or whatever) when the box was upset and dumped 15 or 20 feet below the cliff to the dusty ground, and thusly, the whole adventure, the suffering involved and James Gregory's death was ultimately for nothing. It seemed to me that even if one could rationalize the earlier nonsense for the purpose of moving the story along, there should be some gold left, even if it meant spending a day or so sweeping and shoveling and scooping. even if a bunch of it got scattered, how far could it all go, even in a pretty stiff breeze, which was not a feature of the scene? Even if a bunch of it got scattered or lost there must have been a decent portion that could have been recovered with some effort. Any contrary thoughts?

Anyway, the episode played it as if it were all lost, and the bandit threat had been neutralized, so it wasn't as if he had to make a quick escape.

I guess it is not just Star Trek: Voyager that went loony with the physics of everyday life.

Just a personal recollection and subsequent ramble. :)


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one cubic foot of gold would weigh 1,204 lbs (561 Kg). I imagine that gold dust, what with its empty packing space, dirt-smeg and whatever would weigh a bit less, so for purposes of our discussion, let's say that gold dust weighs 2/3'ds that of solid gold. That brings us to a working value of 795 lbs (370 Kg
Of course some factors would come into play such as freshly packed or settled, fineness of the powder, shape of particles ( flake, round, jagged ), range of size of particle. All would have an effect upon void space. Impurities you have already mentioned, along with wet or dry.

For example:
Salt ( NaCl ) has a density of 2165 kg/cubic meter.
In granulated from fine - 1378, and in course, 1282, and rock - 1722

wheat - kernel 785 , cracked 561, flour 481 ( no solid form of wheat, it is all bulk packing, density dependent upon particulate size )

iron in gram / cm cubic ( kg/ cubic meter ) [ pounds / cubic foot ]
solid - 7.87 ( 7870 ) ore ? ( 2595 ) [ 162 ] shot 0.61 ( 610 ) powder 0.56 ( 560 ) ?? ( 2804 ) [ 175 ]

gold g/cubic cm ( kg / cubic meter ) [ pounds / cubic foot ]
solid 19.32 ( 19320 ) [ 1204 ] nugget ? ( ? ) powder ?? ( 849 ) [ 53 ]
Some sites where I obtained my numbers. ( double check to see if they are OK , as mistakes do happen )
Salt and wheat make sense, but the metals seem to offer a drastic reduction of density in powdered form, per the highlighted in red.
I do wonder if the highlighted are missing another digit :confused:
(Portland cement is around 1300 kg/ cubic meter, and try throwing a bag of that around. )

Even if the chest was filled with some really fake gold for the color blind in the form of iron powder - 175 pounds/ cubic foot, a material with a density less than gold - it would be difficult to throw that around, but movable with some effort.

If they had a bushel of wheat in the chest, then maybe.
A bushel, in volume, is a bout a fifth more than a cubic foot.
Wheat, kernel form, of the hard red spring variety is 60 pounds a bushel.
Actually all wheat is 60 pounds a bushel, regardless of density.
Farmers get paid $/bushel. One weighs the gross, unloads the truck, subtracts the tare truck weight giving the net weight of wheat in pounds, and then converting that weight into bushels. Of course, chaff and other non-wheat impurities are taken into account by putting a sample of the load through a screen. A high chaff load will end up with less bushel. ( less dense ).
( But, while a bushel was originally a unit of volume, it has evolved and presently used as a unit of weight for commerce.
Not sure what that has to do with gold dust in a chest )

But, wheat falling off a cliff, would not blow away in the wind but fall in a clump, with the lighter chaff somewhat separated from the kernels.
Same for wheat flour, although the clump would be dispersed somewhat more downwind than the kernel wheat.
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I can remember an early Startrek episode in which Kirk sort of bumped a 'rock' while setting up his phaser gun thingy.
The rock wobbled for a while then settled.
I am sure that was not an intended part of the script.

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