The Cast: Erich (a big help), Myself (frustrated).
The room looked like a bomb had gone off. Because it did. Several of them.
Some of you may be familiar with the magazine Boys’ Life (now Scout Life). If you’re not, that’s just fine. The magazine had all sorts of great stories and articles in it. Stories of survival, stories of heroism, articles on fun activities, articles on upcoming events, comics, jokes, and more. In one particular issue there was a story that really affected me. I tried hard to learn everything I could from it. I read and reread the tale over and over. My mind was captivated.
The story was of a lone hiker, a Scout, who was out and got caught in a severe windstorm. He told of how he saw the dust and debris coming, how he sought for shelter and found it in an abandoned silo. In order to get inside—the door was damaged—he had to drop his pack. He dropped it just outside the heavy, rutsy, metal door.
Winds raged and debris was thrown about, and in that storm, the door to the cement silo was blocked shut. The young man was trapped inside for three days—without supplies. No food. No water. Nothing. In order to survive, he had to figure out a way. So, he did. Using his belt and some strips of cloth from his jacket and shirt the Scout fashioned a rope to suspend himself from a platform near the top of the silo, so he could hang over the edge, outside. In addition, he had gathered all the residual wheat flour he could, and brought it the small platform that was near the top of the open-topped silo.
Once it was all there, he quickly pushed it off the ledge, jumped over the side (makeshift rope attached), and threw his lighter into the swirling clouds of wheat flour wafting within his prison. The following explosion almost blew him free of his connection and blasted holes in the silo both in front and behind him. It also blew the door open. The Scout was able to get to his water, gear, and find his way home.
I was blown away (no pun intended). How could dust do all that? Not possible. Then I remembered. I remembered something my cousin had shown me. As a member of the National Guard, my cousin introduced me to M.R.E.’s and their powdered coffee creamer. If you open the packet and pour it over an open flame—allowing enough air and powder to mix—it flares right up. All of it. Like watching a dragon breathe a fireball. It’s kinda cool. A flash and then it’s gone. Also, my brother explained how certain powders swirling about in the air can be explosive—under the right conditions.
Fortunately, the 4th of July had recently passed and some remaining explosives were still readily available—and perfect for this new idea. See, I figured that if there was a way to get some flour dust in the air, and have a small firecracker go off at the same time, I could have a bigger ‘pop’ than normal. I wasn’t looking to destroy property. Nope. I just wanted to see a bigger ‘pop’ than the normal firecracker might provide. That’s all. Seriously. That’s all.
So, all I needed were some firecrackers (or something similar) and some flour. Both were easy to come by. Like I said, the 4th of July was only a few weeks ago. And flour… Well, just look in the kitchen. Done. Next, I needed some help: Erich. Done. Now, we just needed a location, and that was an easy choice. The cement plot behind the garage, where we always did stuff. The cement slab of safety! We had everything under control. Everything except one thing: The wind.
There was just enough of a breeze that the firecrackers were rolling all over the cement. Also, the flour blooms were blowing away too fast for them to be useful. We needed an enclosed area.
“How about inside the garage?”
“Well, it does have plenty of room. And, the car’s gone.”
Quick Author’s Note: Some of you—about right now—are probably thinking that you know how this ends. Well, you don’t. I promise. You really don’t. So, just stay with and enjoy the ride.
Anyway, the two of us moved into the garage and cleared away all objects that might create a possible fire hazard. Once that was done we began anew with our plan: Step 1: Set firecracker down. Step 2: Hold handful of flour over the firecracker. Step 3: Light firecracker. Step 4: Drop flour. Step 5: Jump back. Step 6: Watch the boom. Between the two of us, we could do this. Except we couldn’t. It kept failing.
Every time we tried to make it work, it didn’t. We would light the fuse, try to time it right, drop the flour, and the fuse would go out. We lit the fuse, dropped the flour, the firecracker exploded, and nothin’. Over and over. No matter what we did, we could not time it right. Ever. We could not figure it out. We needed to have timed explosions. One right after the other. But, how…?
“What if we lit two firecrackers at the same time? But, we cut one fuse slightly shorter than the other one?”
So, we did. We trimmed one fuse, set the two fuses together (one match), placed a pile of flour on them both, lit the fuses, and then watched stupid happen. The first firecracker exploded and sent the second one skittering off and out of the way, the flour went into the air and drifted about, the second firecracker exploded—safely out of the way of the flour dust. The explosion timing was perfect. It would have worked if we could have kept the second firecracker from being sent ten feet away. Almost had it.
“What if we taped it down? Tape the main part down but leave the ends open to allow the explosion to still occur and maybe set the flour cloud alight?” We were apprehensive about this because we were doing all we could to avoid debris. We were setting our ‘explosives’ on flat surfaces so as not to rip stuff apart and hurt ourselves. Again, we were just trying to see if we could get more bang for our buck, not hurt ourselves or destroy property. (that last part might come later if we could just get this system to work)
This next one worked. Except the fuses. We tried to trim one of them just like before, but the timing was completely wrong. Both firecrackers, somehow, went off simultaneously. Phooey.
Time and again we were stopped. Once, a gust of wind curled into the open garage doorway (there was no front door) and scattered the flour pile. Another time the fuses touched at the wrong times and the firecrackers exploded in the wrong sequence and it didn’t work. We tried and tried and tried. Eventually, we ran out of explosives. In a desperate attempt to make it work we even tried to set lit matches on the ground and drop the flour upon the flames to see if they could spark something. Nope. Nothing.
We were defeated. We tried and had tried. But, to no avail. The explosion experiments had erupted in frustrating failure and defeat. Poo.
“I guess there’s only one thing left to do. Clean up.”
Now, it needs to be understood that right before I said this, Erich and I had both tossed about the remaining flour. Not all crazy like, we had just scattered it about the floor to see if we could get a better ‘dusting’ control if we ever tried this again. I was sure that my mother wouldn’t want us to return the used and handled flour back to her kitchen for future use. That being said, we began to sweep. And sweep we did.
Wanna know something interesting? White flour doesn’t sweep off of cement all that easily. Nope. It kinda sticks into small pockets and such, and it just sorta coats the whole slab in dirty-white dust and makes the whole scene look worse than it really is. Enter my brother.
My brother likes to tell this part of the story like this: “When I came around the corner there was flour all over the place… The whole garage was coated in white powder. Like they were going to blow the whole place up. Or trying to. I told them to get it cleaned up. All of it. And, then told them to never do it again.” And he does it always in an arrogant and superior tone. Like ‘I’m the grown-up. I know what you two were doing. I know better… blah, blah, blah…’ and such.
What he never understands is that we had always worked with very small amounts of flour, not enough to do anything beyond an amplified ‘poof’. Also, we had already begun to sweep it up. You could see the piles of dirt and dust we had already collected. Both of us had brooms in our hands. But, Rawlin likes to feel superior, so he tells it that way. Whatever.
Erich and I spent almost an hour trying to get flour off of the cement before we realized we should just use a hose and wash it all away. Duh. And, what we took away from that afternoon’s events were these: White flour may not be as ‘poppy’ as wheat flour. Also, a complete lack of explosive training (which I now have thanks to Uncle Sam) makes for consistent complications and failures with even the smallest of combustibly excitable munitions. And, finally, God must have been watching over us, because nothing happened. Nothing at all. And, you know what? As cool as having our experimentals work would have been, I’ll take keeping all body parts intact over an slightly extra-sized ‘pop’ any day.
For those playing with fireworks this 4th of July, remember: If you’re going to do something stupid, be safe about it.