Diary of a Pyro

Copyright © 1988 - 2005 John H. DuBois III

Chapter Ten

The next year, we went on a trip to Ohio. In many of the states we passed through, most Class C fireworks were legal. We bought quite a bit. My father expected us to set them all off before we returned to California, but we hid them in various places like the bumper so that we returned with enough stuff to have some fun. Unfortunately we didn't get back until the very day of the 4th of July. The five of us were cramped into a small RV and began getting on each other's nerves toward the end. My father ended up in a bad mood too, so on the last day he stopped for several hours so that we didn't get back until evening. He knew that missing part of the Fourth was the worst conceivable punishment to us.

Once again I rode a bike out to Carmel Beach. Since we had been gone for several weeks we had not been following local developments, and my mind reeled when confronted with the image of Carmel Beach almost deserted on the 4th of July. I saw less than a hundred people on the whole of the beach at the time I was there. A wire fence stretched along the top of the cliff, and signs saying

were posted everywhere. The city council had banned everything, and had called in the manpower to enforce it. The area was swarming with not only Carmel police, but Salinas police, California Highway Patrol officers, and deputies of the Monterey County Sheriff's Department. I saw a couple of police warning some children that they would have to put out their fire.

Dejected, I made the arduous ride back home. I called Scott and Luke but they were not home. Later Laurence showed up, and said that he was heading over to Seaside with some friends. I went with him, and we ended up setting off our fireworks (we had nothing homemade of course) at a house there where a party was going on. I handed out a lot of mine so that other people could have fun. This may have been a mistake. Many of them were drunk, and ended up shooting some rockets into the neighbor's yard. I was rather disturbed when the Seaside police showed up, but they just asked us to please not irritate the neighbors that way. Quite different from police I had dealt with before.

The next day I found out that Scott and Luke had simply celebrated at Luke's house with their neighbors. They had made a decent size order, which they kept in Scott's Ford Econoline van in Luke's driveway until the Fourth. They had lots of beer, and ended up doing silly things like tossing cobs around in the street and blowing the stop sign near Luke's house off the pole. Luke's parents were there and watched the whole thing. That was the last year that the Fourth was celebrated in that manner at their house. Again, they somehow managed to avoid attracting the police.

The scene at Carmel Beach had been so incredible it warranted a full-page story in the local paper the next day. “Carmel Fog, Laws, Keep Celebrants Away From Beach” screamed the headlines. The article started with a poem penned by the author:

O, say, can you see by the dusk's foggy light,
The sands of Carmel Beach, the police in the night?
But those who would set bombs bursting in air,
And the crowds, weren't there.
From the article:
Fewer than 500 persons gathered…
Those who did left by 7 o'clock…
Fourth of July was indeed a fizzle in Carmel…
“This is terrible,” said…
“This is like a prison around here.”
“Without the fireworks, we may as well pack up and go.”
A single firecracker brought immediate response from four policemen…
Recalling late-night confrontations with police last year,…
said they were waiting until dark to set off fireworks.

That year, Laurence met a person at a bar who was known as “Dangerous Dan the Dynamite Man”. This was because he had a large supply of that product. He and his friends would sometimes gather and throw sticks of dynamite off of Hurricane Point. Dan would also occasionally sell some of his cache to support his alcohol habit. He offered Laurence sticks for $5 apiece, or sticks with blasting caps to detonate them for $10 each. Laurence figured he would have no trouble finding a way of setting them off, so he bought three sticks without caps. He eventually regretted his choice.

The sticks were labelled DYNAMITE, MILITARY, M1. Laurence sold one of his sticks to Scott for $10. There followed a depressing series of experiments where Scott and I attempted to detonate it by various means. First we tried taping a CO2 cylinder full of flash powder to a glass cylinder full of the dynamite filler that Scott extracted from one of the sticks. We were naturally quite excited when we brought it down to the testing grounds to try to set it off, even though we realized that dynamite is made to be fairly inert and it might take a lot more than flash powder to set it off. Sticks of dynamite were, after all, something we had often dreamed of playing with. Unfortunately, our first try failed miserably, succeeding only in dispersing the dynamite beyond any hope of recovery.

Next, we put some in a pipe and put another CO2 cylinder device in with it, the idea being that the pipe would concentrate more of the force of the explosion against the dynamite. We set it off under water. This method, too, proved inadequate. Finally we scraped the primer material out of a large number of rounds and made a detonator out of it, hoping that a high explosive would do the trick. When this failed, we gave up. Scott buried his remaining material in a barbecue sauce bottle in his back yard and forgot about it.

We had better luck with an innovative creation of Scott's. He drilled out the end of a CO2 cylinder to a size where he could fit a shotgun shell primer in it, filled it with powder, and put the primer in. He then milled down a rod of steel into a disk of a diameter that allowed it to be glued into a rocket tube, and made it with a hard point sticking out the center. He put an engine in the bottom of the tube, then the CO2 cylinder with the primer pointing away from the engine, and plugged the end of the tube with the disk with the point facing the CO2 cylinder. Finally he taped a stick to it to make it a skyrocket-like device.

Of course, it was not intended to be shot into the air. The idea was that when it hit something, the cylinder would slide forward in the tube and the primer would hit the point which would set it off. If for some reason it missed the target, then when the engine ran out the ejection charge would slam the cylinder forward to set it off. In the spirit of NASA/DOD acronyms, I coined the term XOMBIE to describe it: eXplodes on iMpact Before Ignition by Engine. I thought it might work but was somewhat dubious. We brought it down to the ocean, where Scott pointed it at a cliff a short distance away and fired it off. It arced through the air, hit the cliff, and detonated perfectly. I was quite impressed.

Scott made another one, and we aimed it at a cliff a greater distance away. The whole gang went down to watch. To give it better guidance, we launched it out of a long PVC tube. For a while, Laurence had the tube over his shoulder like a bazooka, but eventually decided that that was not a good idea. After deliberating for quite a while over the proper inclination for the tube, they laid it down on on a rock surface that had what they thought was the right angle. They convinced one of the hangers-on by the name of Mike to put his foot on it to keep it steady during the launch. He plugged his ears, turned his face away, and the fuse was lit. Unfortunately, as soon as the rocket left the tube I could see that things were not going well. The contraption was apparently topheavy, and too massive for the engine; I watched as the nose dipped over and it plunged into the water. We couldn't even tell if somewhere down there the ejection charge set off the warhead.

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