Thursday, June 22, 2006

Of Boys and Fireworks

Given the fun I had with fireworks just recently, and recognising July 4 is coming along fairly soon, I thought I'd share a story of my adventures with fireworks at or around the age of 11 or 12.

Fireworks at that time were lots of fun, particularly rockets and "bungers" (firecrackers). They sadly don't have those any more. Well, at least not legally anyway. I live near a sort of empty corridor between suburbs, featuring a big storm water drain surrounded by scrub, which makes an ideal place for teenagers to let off the illegal ones each year - indeed periodically throughout the year. They sound like small sticks of dynamite. A flash of brightness some distance away followed by a BOOOOOM! that rattles the wondows. Wonderful fun I'm sure, but the grouchy geezer in me has started to object to this when it occurs in the middle of the night.

Annnnyway, when I were a lad, they had various sizes of bungers. The smallest, called Po-Hahs, were about the thickness of a pencil and an couple of inches long. I created a sort of exploding missle with these things by taping them to a small bottle rocket and poking the fuse to the po-hahs up the end of the rocket exhaust. Then, utilising a gun shaped piece of wood with a drinking straw taped to the top, I was able to load the stick of the missle into the straw, light the rocket wick and point it at a friend. WHOOSH! goes the rocket the requisite 30-40 feet into the back of the fleeing friend. BANG! goes the po hah. Reload. Look for next victim. VERY satisfactory.

There were two bigger sizes as well - "penny" bungers which were about 4 inches long and the thickness of your finger, and "thunders". Thunders, while rather more expensive, were very satisfying, if somewhat awesome, explosives. Good for demolition work on ant-mounds and similar things. Could blow a letterbox completely apart - although I never did that. No, what I did was create a cracker gun.

The project started as the result of observing some teen-agers with a bit of thick water pipe, closed at one end, shooting penny bungers in a morter like fashion. Light one bunger, drop it down wick upwards, immediately followed by unlit bunger facing wick downwards. First bunger goes off, shooting and lighting the second bunger waaaay off into the sky, where it explodes. FanTAStic.

Home I went to create my own version. I cast around my parents garage looking for materials. I think I inherited my pack-rat shed-stuffing genes from my parents, certainly there was a lot of material to choose from. But I just wanted to do a proof of concept before getting too elaborate.

I settled on some light aluminum piping, the type you normally see on TV antennas. It was the PERFECT fit for a thunder. And guess what! A shooter marble is almost exactly the same diameter as a thunder AND the pipe, so why mess about with a morter when you could make a REAL gun. Woooo Hoooo!

I sawed off a two foot length of the pipe, clamped over the end, then drilled a small hole for the wick to come out. It was a bit tricky to tease the wick out, but I decided to leave rectifying that design issue for later. Roll marble down the pipe followed by a bit of packing to stop it rolling out again. Nail the whole thing to a piece of planking (leaving shaping the wood to proper gun shape for later), and set off to a friend's house to give it a go.

I got about half-way there when I thought I'd better test it before arriving at the friend's house. Didn't want to embarras myself after all. So I tucked the contraption under my arm, lit the fuse and aimed the thing at a nearby, fairly substantial, tree so I could see what impact the marble would make.

The fuse burned down and down. As it burned, I got to wondering about what would happen. This WAS an untested gun after all. So I untucked it from under my arm, and held it by the edges of the board with the pipe facing away from me.

The fuse burned down and down. I got increasingly nervous, and ended up holding the wood by my fingertips at arms length, with eyes closed and face averted. Probably just as well.


The whole mechanism leaped out of my hands. I was fairly deafened from the sound (and my ears continued to ring for most of the afternoon). Retrieving the device from the ground, I observed the pipe had split along most of its length, which would have been VERY interesting had that happened in my armpit. I never found the marble.

Ahhhh, those were the GOOD old days......


At 11:44 PM, Blogger Leetie said...


We're vacationing in South Carolina next week where fireworks are legal. I'll be thinking of you as I light some penny bungers (great word, by the way) from the beach house deck. :)

At 8:44 AM, Blogger neophyte said...

I'm going home where firecrackers are legal! Not bottle rockets anymore though, nor M-80s (which is what the Thunders make me think of)

My kids have been looking forward to this for MONTHS.

I've told my parents to put the local ER on speed dial.

WaaaaHOOOO! It'll be a GREAT Fourth!

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