Barracks jokes made time practically fly

State police veterans recall `good old days' as its demolition nears

May 10, 1999|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

Westminster's state police barracks, where resident troopers used to dine on road kill, will soon be torn down.

Crowded and seedy, old Barracks G won't be missed by younger troopers when the new quarters open next month for the state's largest and busiest barracks. But old-timers who once boarded there chuckle at the memory of the 35-cent meals in the 1960s -- for which they were charged, even if they didn't eat them.

They enjoy telling about the countless practical jokes that helped soothe tensions after 12-hour shifts on patrol.

Once a local lawyer parked his new Oldsmobile at the barracks to keep it safe while he took a trip, only to return and find that troopers had buried it in snow and then sprayed it into an ice cube.

"It took him two weeks to get his car thawed out and back on the road," recalled Jerry Gooding, who retired as a trooper in 1989 and works part time as a court bailiff.

Built in 1961, the barracks was designed for resident troopers. Long hallways led to tiny offices on the ground floor and to dorm-style bedrooms on the second floor.

Files were stored in the attic-like third-floor, while the basement had a kitchen, meeting room, three cells for detaining prisoners and a few small rooms used for interviews, typing reports or storage.

Shift work routinely meant 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. for six of every eight days in the early 1960s. Sam Sensabaugh, who retired as a trooper in 1981 and works part time as a court bailiff, recalled that the food was "pretty good," but that the diet was heavy on venison.

"We had to bring in the deer we would find in road kill, and the cook would prepare it," he said.

The barracks commander ruled with an iron fist, Sensabaugh said. "There was no police officers' bill of rights in those days. He told you what to do and you did it, or else."

Gooding lived at the barracks for 4 1/2 years after arriving in 1963.

"The best thing about it was the feeling of family," he said. "We worked long hours, but enjoyed the time being together, the laughs, the practical jokes."

He remembered having to put a hasp and lock on his bedroom door -- on the inside -- to keep a trooper from tossing his 125-pound German shepherd police dog into a sleeping colleague's bed.

"Did you ever wake up with a snarling police dog in your bed?" Gooding asked with a chuckle.

Pranks were common among troopers living at the barracks, Sensabaugh said.

"We had small lamps attached to the end of the beds, and some loved to replace the bulbs with screw-in flash bulbs, so you'd come in, turn on the lamp and be blinded for several minutes," he said.

Funny things happened so routinely, it is difficult to remember them all, he said.

"One night, about 11 p.m., I was typing down in the basement all alone, or so I thought, in a small office across from the cells, when a gunshot went off nearby.

"After I got myself together, I ran into another small room and found a trooper staring at his service revolver in his hand. He was cleaning it when it went off. The bullet ricocheted three or four times and was on the floor next to his feet."

The barracks also had memorable mascots over the years.

One was a huge mongrel, a boxer or perhaps a mastiff, named Stub for its short tail.

Sensabaugh said Stub fought and beat every male dog along Route 140 and probably had pups by every female dog in the area.

"Stub used to play with a car tire, carrying it around in his mouth, flipping it in the air," Gooding recalled.

"One day we thought we lost him after he got too close to a battery charger in the garage out back," Gooding said. "He laid on his back with his paws in the air and howled for about 30 minutes before he rolled over and dragged himself to his feet. He was OK, but he stayed away from that battery charger after that."

In those days, another common prank was to remove a condenser, part of the ignition in the patrol cars, and stuff it in the driver's seat, Gooding recalled.

The condenser stored a high-amperage charge to start the car, he said. It was harmless, but painful, when a trooper slid across the seat and got a sharp jolt.

"Everybody would hang out, watching, and get a big laugh," he said.

Gooding recalled being the butt of a practical joke one cold, wintry morning.

"I got to my patrol car and found it crammed full -- from floor to roof and dash to rear window -- with a powdery snow that had fallen overnight."

William Ebert, a civilian capital projects officer for the Maryland State Police, and barracks commander Lt. Terry Katz led a recent tour of the new $3 million facility, which at 12,100 square feet is about a third larger than the old barracks, and where about 115 troopers, civilian staff and volunteers operate as the county's primary police agency.

"The old barracks is nice for a home, but it's incredibly inefficient as a work place," said Katz, noting that another agency recently asked him to e-mail a copy of a warrant and photograph to their office.

"I had to explain that we didn't have that capability yet," Katz said. "Moving into the new building will be like switching from Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis to a modern aircraft, with all the amenities and safety issues required today."

Pub Date: 5/10/99

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