February 28, 2024

Explosions! Do Not Try This At Home!

Appreciate a good teeth rattling, chest walloping explosion? I know, you’re probably saying to yourself, “Wow, this boy has really lost it! Last week he writes about plinking and shooting teddy bears. Now he’s talking about blowing stuff up! Hide the kids!” Truth is, I come by this stuff honestly. It’s part of my heritage. My DNA is programmed to like things that go bang and boom.

Let me explain.

When I was a kid we visited my Grandfather’s house a lot. I’ve already told you that my Daddy was a mountain man, through and through. What you don’t know is that my Granddaddy, on my Mother’s side, was a mountain man who trained men to be mountain men! You might say that he was a mountain man’s mountain man. Have I thoroughly confused you yet?

Anyway, Granddaddy lived on top of a mountain in the midst of acres and acres of trees and rocks and heaps and gobs of nature and environment and ecology and all that stuff. Going to Granddaddy’s house was always a kick because we got to play in the woods, climb rocks, chop trees –there was a time when I considered this a fun activity–and chase Granddaddy’s goat through the woods when it escaped from it’s pen.

Then one day, Granddaddy upped the ante and marched out of the shed with a toy that would ensure I’d love him forever. Granddaddy had made a PIPE CANNON. Proudly he explained it to my Daddy and me. On a tripod frame, he had strapped down a length of two-inch galvanized pipe capped off at the bottom end. Just ahead of the cap, he drilled a hole for a fuse. That was it. Simple and elegant and ready to shake the very foundations of the earth around us!

He set it up in the driveway, pointing out over a vacant area in the woods. The loading ceremony began. One-half cup of black powder, one sheet of newspaper, crumbled and stuffed down the barrel, one sheet of dampened newspaper to form a seal, another sheet of dry paper, all compacted with a makeshift ramrod consisting of a wooden dowel and a claw hammer. Insert the fuse. Load a piece of broomstick down the barrel. A projectile, if you will. Check the area for stray dogs. Light the fuse and run like hell.

KABLAMMM! The chunk of broomstick sailed gracefully over the trees, disappearing into the distance to fall somewhere to the forest floor to slowly decompose and become part of another tree. Who says we don’t do our part for recycling?

Daddy and Granddaddy emerged from behind the trees giggling, “That was fun. Let’s add more powder!”

I am not making this up. Those two grown men were actually giggling.

Of course, I was calm and controlled as I begged Granddaddy, “Can I light the next fuse? Huh? Can I? Can I? Huh? Pleeeease?”

As you might imagine, the afternoon progressed with experimentation always aimed at bigger and better and louder and higher. We launched pieces of broomstick that punched holes in clouds and made it rain. We shot ’em so high, airline pilots were scared. Several went into orbit around the Earth and are being tracked by NASA to this day. Granddaddy was convinced, in his later years, that one or two even made it to the moon. I’ve always thought that claim was probably a slight exaggeration. Although it would be fun if someday astronauts returned to Earth with moon rocks and a cache of mysterious moon broomstick pieces.

Finally, we were ready for the BIG ONE. This last shot would use up all the rest of our black powder. It filled the cannon barrel almost to the muzzle, leaving just enough room to hammer in a tapered wood plug to compact the charge. We cut an extra long fuse to give us more time to run away. Definitely do no try this at home!

As we inserted the fuse, we noticed that the cannon barrel had begun to work its way loose in the mounting straps. So what? Were we a bunch of wimps? Were we going to waste precious time making repairs? Were we going to chicken out at this stage of the game? No! Light the fuse and run! WHEEEEEE!

The explosion blew leaves off trees. Windows in houses a mile away rattled. Birds burst into panicked flight trying to escape. The wooden plug we had hammered into the barrel went nowhere. It simply disintegrated into sawdust, leaving a lingering pine-smelling cloud drifting gently into the eerie silence following the blast.

Under the scrap lumber cannon frame, directly behind where the barrel had been, was a two-inch diameter hole, neatly punched into the earth. Probing with a long stick provided no clue as to how deep the cannon barrel had buried itself. Granddaddy studied the situation, scratched his head and, after a thoughtful pause, said, “Let’s get a drink. We’ve earned it!”

As Daddy and Granddaddy uncapped their beers and I opened my Coke, we looked at each other–and giggled.

See ya around,


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