Diary of a Pyro

Copyright © 1988 - 2005 John H. DuBois III

Chapter Fifteen

As the next Fourth rolled around I realized that I had only a little flash powder left, so I ordered some powdered aluminum. I didn't have the catalog that we had ordered from previously, so I used a different one. Unfortunately, they didn't offer the type of aluminum, dark pyro flake, that we had used before. They had other stuff that was the same mesh but spherical, not flake. I ordered some for lack of any other options, but when I mixed up a batch it turned out to be unusable. I figured that the spherical powder had a much lower ratio of surface area to volume than the flake, but by then it was too late to place another order. After much cajoling I convinced Scott to let me mix my powder with his and then divide it up again so that we would end up with a full quantity of stuff that was almost as good as the pure flake mix. We tested a batch of the hybrid first and it worked well, so we went ahead with the plan.

I produced quite an assortment of creations. Some of them were rather odd. Years before, I had found a large box of hangers that was being discarded by a department store. They were the type that is made partly of wire, but has a paper tube for the bottom. I had pulled the paper tubes off with the idea of cutting them up and filling them with flash powder. Actually I had tried it and they didn't work too well; the tubes were too thin. However, since I didn't have enough casings around I decided that this year I would fill them, but would use the whole length at once. Hopefully that would make a decent noise; if nothing else they would look weird. Once I began making them I had an even stranger idea. I taped rocket engines onto some of the tubes, and put the fuse directly under the nozzle so that when the rocket shot off it would light the fuse which would hopefully set off the powder when the rocket was high in the air. I also put the usual flash powder charge on the engines themselves, so I ended up with things that I hoped would have a double report.

I made quite a few other rockets to produce various displays. For my ultimate one I once again made a rocket with fins. I had to, because its cargo was a flash powder earthshaker far too large to put on a skyrocket. I put two D engines with their fuses twisted together at the bottom and put the payload at the very top to make it more stable. The cardboard casing I used for the flash powder was much larger in diameter than the wrapping paper tubes I used for the body, so it ended up looking somewhat like the antitank missiles with bulging warheads that Luke had found. Since the distance between the engines and report was the rather substantial length of the rocket, I used quickmatch to connect them to reduce the fuse delay. I put the report and nose cone on a separate tube that fit snugly into the one with the fins and engines so that I could transport them separately to avoid damage and assemble it easily at the site.

We made an early trip to the sand plant, which by now had almost completely collapsed, to get everything set up. We dug a pit like the year before but this time put metal fencing around most of it where we had used rope before to be even more secure. Laurence put a large American flag up at the top of a tall post that was at one corner of our secure area. The strong everpresent wind kept it rippling. We had some fun with my TBC, getting Scott's dog to chase down the ball.

When we were done with the preparations we started back. As we were leaving the site, a police car zipped by and headed out there. They may have seen one of the leaflets that had been distributed. In fact, at this point it was just about the time that had been put on the flyer. They were probably hoping to catch someone serving minors alcohol. If so, they were disappointed since the only people there were a few of the gang finishing things up. The party did not actually start until dusk.

By sundown there were a dozen 4-wheelers there, and soon hundreds of people were milling around the raging bonfire, which was being fed from a truckload of pallets. Many of them were complaining because they had payed to get in but there was no beer. When the truck finally came with ten kegs of the refreshments, the partiers swarmed about it, and followed the first keg as it was carried to the bar as though it were the Pied Piper.

I set off my more unusual rockets white it was still light. I erected the launch rod for the finned one quite a ways away from the gathering because Laurence was leery of it, though I was sure of its stability. It worked beautifully, its twin D powerplant propelling it high into the sky where its load went of with the sound of a thunderclap.

The engine-on-hanger-tube rockets were less successful, as I had rather expected. The mass distribution of the filled tubes was not correct for the best stability, and many of them didn't get very far up before they started wandering around. The interior geometry of the tube, at least fifty times as long as it was wide, produced some other odd effects when combined with flash powder's ability to explode when barely contained. When the first rocket went up, I heard the report of the powder that filled the end of the engine casing and then the report of the tube going off. Since that was all there was supposed to be, I turned around to get another when something fell next to me. I didn't have a chance to see what it was before it exploded at my feet. After further launchings, I found that each tube was exploding multiple times, some as many as four or five times. The ones I had not put on rockets behaved the same way. Apparently the tubes were so long that all of the powder did not go off at once, but it did stay lit, and then, being flash powder, exploded again even though the end of the tube was blown off.

Later in the evening, the police showed up again, this time approaching from the beach on ATCs (All-Terrain Cycles.) There were two of them; one of them made it up up the sloping sand to the area where we were without too much difficulty but the other took a long time, giving us a chance to bury the chests in the pit. It turned out they were “Marina Public Safety” officers, but they carried billy clubs like police and were also probably looking for drinking minors. They roamed around the bonfire on their three-wheelers expecting people to jump out of their way. A thoroughly intoxicated individual saw me taking pictures of them and hopped on the back of one of their ATCs, put his arm around the rider, and hammed for the camera. The officer smiled and waved as I took the hilarious picture, then gave his cycle the gas so that the drunk flopped off the back, and drove away.

After they had left we dug out the chests. Laurence found a snake slithering about in the sand as we unearthed them. When we opened them to choose 'works to fire off, people leaned over the barricades to point and voice their suggestions. The barriers ended up proving inadequate. When some of us had left for a bit and the others had their backs turned, a couple of thievish types jumped in and tried to make off with one of the chests. Fortunately one of our friends saw them and raised the alarm. They didn't get too far, but naturally this rather irritated us.

Later in the evening, we got our revenge. The crooks had come in a 4-wheeler, and like the others had a difficult time getting over the dunes to exit. They had to just keep making runs on it until they escaped. When Laurence saw them trying to leave he had an idea. One of our party was a paramilitary looking fellow named John. Laurence found a short three foot (one meter) section of carpet tube that had been produced when one of his rockets had blown a launch tube in half and handed it to John. John held it over his shoulder and aimed it at the fleeing vehicle while Laurence loaded a skyrocket in and lit it. A jet of smoke belched out of the rear of the tube, just like a bazooka, and the missile sailed off.

It didn't come too close, but after a few more shots John got the hang of aiming it and began homing in on his moving target. Most of the rockets were small, but Laurence loaded up at least one of his large homemade items. Its flash powder payload detonated over the truck, certainly giving them something to think about. That one was propelled by a D engine, far more powerful than the other skyrockets, and when it departed the tube it spewed bits of burning fuel back in John's face. He seemed oblivious, though. He made a rather Ramboesque figure as he stood in his camouflage outfit, red bandanna tied 'round his head, and war grimace on his face as he fired off missiles at the enemy.

We eventually noticed it was getting light, and realized that dawn was approaching. A fair number of people were still there, even though all ten kegs had been drained. At some point our friend Bill climbed up on the tallest remaining part of the sand plant and playfully started tossing bits of wreckage down on us. We retaliated by throwing small explosive devices back at him and shooting bottle rockets. He seemed to be enjoying it and leaped about the structure avoiding fire. He was wearing gloves and goggles so it wasn't as dangerous as it sounds. I went through about a gross of bottle rockets, which was nearly all I had left to play with at that point.

We finally decided it was time to set off the grand finale, and half buried the heavily laden eighteen inch (45 cm) piece of carpet tube in the ground. It threw quite a bit of sand into the air, and the illumination that filtered down from the overcast morning sky showed a huge cloud of smoke billowing up. People gathered around to feel the hot smouldering crater that remained. Satisfied with the best Fourth ever, we hopped in Scott's truck and headed home.


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