Most people know that Americans have a special relationship with their flag, and with firearms. This sometimes pose challenges and some interesting solutions when expensive astronomical equipment needs to be transported by rail or road to remote locations.
Sometimes, people are taking pot shots at containers on cargo trains and at freight trucks on highways in the US (or in rural areas elsewhere, for that matter). It’s not an uncommon occurrence. But naturally one wants to avoid this when transporting sensitive equipment.
During the construction of the Large Binocular Telescope in Arizona in 2003, the two 8.4m mirrors needed to be transported from the Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab in Tucson (they do public tours and it’s worth visiting), to Mt. Graham, the site of the telescope. Transporting such large chunks of glass is no small feat and it requires great care, to ensure that the mirror is not shaken, bent, or otherwise damaged during transportation. The transport crew, mainly being veterans, were understandably proud of playing an important role in the construction of the telescope. They had mounted ahuge American flag on the side of the transport box, primarily out of patriotism, but it had the added benefit that this typically discourages people from shooting, out of respect for the flag and not wanting to damage it. The history of shooting at big boxes goes all the way back to the transportation of the 200 inch mirror to Mt. Palomar by rail in 1936, so mounting the flag had multiple purposes
The drive from Tucson to Mt. Graham takes a couple of hours by car, but when transporting sensitive equipment, one is typically not driving at highway-type speeds. So the transport of the mirrors took more than a day, and the truck spent the night parked at the side of the road. The next day, the transport crew attached a number of fake bullet hole stickers to the transport box, to prank the crew on the telescope construction site. Whether they were fooled or not remains unknown, but one shouldn’t let a good opportunity for a prank be wasted.
Thanks to John Hill and Tom Herbst for providing details for this story.