The Cast: The Child (excited), Myself (explosive expert), Snowmen (unfortunate victims).
In the aftermath of the ensuing explosion, chunks of steaming debris were strewn about our car, yard, and window. However, the boy’s eyes were as wide as could be.
If you’ve ever read Calvin and Hobbes, by Bill Waterson, you’ve probably seen the snowmen. Some are monsters, but, many suffer tragic fates. Being very much like Calvin—as well as a huge fan of the comic—I, one day, tried something new.
Now, I like boomy things. When I say boomy things, I refer to stuff that blows up—it goes ‘boom’. It’s fun. They’re fun. Now, I’ve talked about some of my explosive experiences (here, here, and here), and I’ve loved every one of them—even the one that wasn’t (I’ll talk about that one at another time). So, having an understanding of—and training with—boomy things (thank you, Uncle Sam) I came upon an idea. It was a slowly evolved idea, it didn’t come all at once, but, eventually, it did come.
After using MRE heater sleeves for warming my meals (like I was supposed to do), I began to think about how the sleeves expand and how hot the water can get. The FRH (flameless ration heater) contains finely powdered magnesium metal, alloyed with a small amount of iron, and table salt. The desired heated reaction is activated by adding a small amount of water, then the boiling point of said water is quickly reached as the exothermic reaction occurs. Temperatures of this reaction have been measured at 100+ degrees Fahrenheit. The gaseous byproduct is flammable (under the right conditions), so, I knew I needed to be careful.
I recalled youthful tales of dry ice bombs and the destruction they could cause. I also had been regaled plenty of times by urban legends of hands being blown off due to the delicate nature of the elements that compose the dry ice bomb. While I enjoy a good boom, unstable materials that might blow my hand off are not something I wish to touch—so, I never did or have or will. However, the FHR reaction is not like the dry ice. It does not react rapidly. It is slow, which gives me time to safely walk away. This is better. Much, much better.
For safety reasons, I will not disclose the ratios I used (bottle sizes, water volume, etcetera). I have studied and have training; while it was a game to me, I never treated it like one (that’s why I still have my hands). My experience has taught me that those who are arrogant with their knowledge of dangerous things (chemicals, firearms, whatever) are the ones who lose limbs or worse. Always give proper respect towards those things that deserve it. So, just keep that in mind (you’re welcome mom’s and dad’s).
At any rate, once I had my ratios calculated, I began to ‘play’ with the heater bombs. I would just set them in my front yard, walk into my house, and my wife and I would watch them burst. The water would fly about, the bottle would be heat warped, and the resulting steam cloud was impressive—especially in the winter.
During winter, my wife would watch me build snowman disaster scenes—like those Calvin would construct. To this day, my children build only monster snowgoons. Anyway, as I was saying, in the winter those steamy booms were spectacular to witness. And, it was this event that I would one day use to entertain a small four-year-old boy.
In the first several months that my wife and I were married, we lived in a small home that would have been a guest house for a main home, but, both were on a rental property and were rented out as separate residences. The family that lived in the main home were friends of my brother and his first wife. My wife and I quickly became friends with them as well. Well, at the time of their living near us, they had a son who was about four years old. I cannot recall his name. So, for the sake of the story, I shall refer to him as Jaron.
One day, those neighbors needed some extra help, as they had a situation where they needed someone to watch over their son, for a few hours. At the time, both my wife and I were able to help with this favor—neither one of us had to be anywhere for hours. My wife pointed out, to the mother, that her son should be just fine with us because I had plenty of toys. And I did. I still had many toys from my childhood. However, no matter how many different toys I brought out Jaron did not want to play. He knew us, he had seen and talked with my wife and me on multiple occasions. It was just that he wanted his mother—so very badly.
For those who are unaware—because I have not told you—my wife is what many refer to as The Baby Whisperer. She has a natural ability to calm children. They get near her, she holds them, they relax and calm right down. It almost never fails. It was not working this day. Jaron remained sad. Then I had an idea: A bomb!
“Do you want to see a snowman blow up?” I asked Jaron. At this, Jaron perked up ever so slightly. You could see that his curiosity about what was proposed was slowly overcoming his nervousness. This idea just might work. Good. Fortunately, I had already constructed three snowmen the day before (one was ‘hit’ by our car while the other two looked on in horror).
Jaron watched in anticipation as I went about our little home, collecting the things I would need to do the job. Once everything was ready I sat him by our big front-room window and told him to keep an eye on, “…that snowman.” and then I pointed to the one that was about to die.
While Jaron sat almost glued to the window (it was very cold outside and warm inside so he almost did get stuck to the glass due to temperature changes and moisture) I walked out to the doomed snowman with a saw in my hand. Jaron was mesmerized as I unfolded the saw and began to sever the head of the snowman (I didn’t need the saw to cut the head off, it just was used to add to the drama and visually engage the young boy). Cindy was nearby Jaron to explain what I was doing. Next, I scooped out enough space within the torso so that the would-be bottle-bomb would fit. Then, I gave Jaron a thumbs up to let him know all was well. After that, I added the components into the bottle, twisted the lid on extra tight, inserted it into the body of the snowman, returned the snowman’s head to its proper place, then walked back into the house.
I guess Jaron had figured it would blow up right away, but it didn’t. MRE bombs don’t do that. I sat right next to Jaron, waiting… waiting… waiting… He began to get bored. Nothing was happening. I was beginning to suspect that the extreme cold might be retarding the process and all the heat might be getting used up somewhere it shouldn’t. Then, the head began to wobble—almost as if the snowman was trying to communicate with us, “Help me. I don’t feel well.” wobble wobble… “Oh, no…!”
Suddenly, the head exploded along with half of the torso. The snow blew in all directions. Chunks of snow and bits of coal flew about. The explosion had such force that some of it hit the window and made Jaron momentarily shrink back in terror, but, he quickly recovered and pressed his face against the pane. Steaming bits of snowman cranial debris rained down. The goop that splattered on the hood of our car bubbled and fizzed. What remained of the torso sizzled and steamed, the area around the blast zone was now discolored by the greyish FRH additives. It looked as though someone had shot the snowman with a laser-vaporizer and scorched the target. Jaron was in awe.
The boy’s eyes were almost too big for their skull sockets. His mouth was open in a smile big enough to place an elephant into. At first, that’s all there was: big eyes and an enormous smile. Then, giggles and clapping followed while Jaron jumped up and down. “AGAIN! AGAIN!”
“Sure,” Came my all too ready compliance, “We can do that.”
There was a knock at the door. It was Jaron’s mom. She had recently come home and had opened up the back door of her place—which faced our front door—when the snowman had exploded. All she had time to process was three snowmen, an explosion, two snowmen intact, one snowman almost blown to smithereens, then self-assess any damage done to her. Once, she had realized she was alright, she came to get her son.
We explained what we had done, that it was safe, that Jaron had had a great time with it, ad that we were about to do another. She explained that she had been able to get her work done faster than expected and that they needed to go get dad. At the word ‘dad’, Jaron was done. He almost went out the door without his boots—he would have if his mother hadn’t been able to grab him. That kid loved his dad.
On a few occasions, with my own children, we have sculpted and exploded a snowman, or two. They have always enjoyed the experience. This does remind me of two things: The first: Don’t try this at home, kids. (gotta think: safety) And the second: I can’t recall if my youngest has been around when we have blown up a snowman…?
Well, I still have a few days left of vacation…
And some heater sleeves…