ST. JOSEPH — Jim Clingan said he thought he was about to open a power saw at his auction house Monday night.
Instead, he and two of his colleagues took a step back in time and a step back, a really big step back.
"Inside was like a mortar thing with fins on it that had Japanese writing on it. In addition to that, there were two or three hand grenades and a belt of old large bullets like you would wear around your waist. All of it was very, very rusty. Obviously, it came from World War II," said the veteran auctioneer and estate liquidator.
The wooden box was about 1 1/2 feet square and had a handle on it. It had come from the shed of a recently deceased Longview man who had many tools, Clingan said.
"I have been around finding old live ammunition before. The only grenades I've ever run across had already been discharged. In this situation there were one too many danger signs there, so we didn't even stand around the thing. It's like being in a room with an elephant with diarrhea. You gotta' give them plenty of room. That's what we did with that box," said Clingan.
Clingan said he called the sheriff's office who sent a deputy. It was decided to have the trained professionals of the local bomb squad get the items out of the auction house first thing Tuesday morning.
Four members of the squad, made up of Champaign and University of Illinois police officers, got the items out of Clingan's business and into a farm field he owns across the road from his shed on County Road 2200 E, north of Interstate 74.
"When they discharged it, it was a poof, about three cherry bombs' worth," Clingan said.
Sheriff's Lt. Greg Mills said one of the bomb squad technicians reported to him that at least one of the grenades was live. The ordnance was rendered safe and the squad was on its way by 10:30 a.m.
UI Police Lt. Steve Trame, supervisor of the bomb squad, said such finds are not uncommon.
"They were bringing them back as souvenirs. We've had a countless number where they had the explosives taken out by soldiers in World War II. But you don't know, so you always have to go with the assumption that it's live. Plus, it's 60 years old. It's more unstable. Things get rusty, things get corroded, things get old. You can't make any assumptions," he said.
Clingan said he's never seen a mortar, or whatever the item was, in his 48 years in the estate sale business. And even though he recognized the ammunition belt as holding bullets, he said "we didn't take it out to see how it would fit."
Clingan applauded the bomb squad members for the precautions they took and after hearing that at least one of the grenades was live, was even more pleased by their response.
“The authorities were very glad we handled it the way we did. They were very professional and did a good job. Thank goodness we have those kind of people in the community,” he said.