I had been visiting my cousin, JD, when he developed a sudden interest in chemistry after our firecracker supply from the Fourth was exhausted . I think this was the same year that we bought the hydrochloric acid for our experiments in generating hydrogen for “lighter than air” craft. Most of these “experiments” were trial balloons, so to speak, for other experiments preformed as young adults and generally yielded the same results — blowing up in our faces. Children back then were praised for having an inquisitive mind and most everything that we did as children in the late 50’s, early 60’s was regarded as a learning experience, although we kids regarded it as merely surviving another day. And a lot of my learning experiences did involve trips to the emergency room..They were builders of character or at least a tough hide… if you survived. Now these same “experiments” would get me incarcerated.
Our experiments in basic chemistry consisted of mainly trial and error–mainly error, but we were soon happily laying blackpowder trails across any fire ant hill that hadn’t already been vacated due to our continuous harassment with a variety of household weapons of mass destruction. It didn’t take long before boredom and “what if’s” turned our interest from homemade fireworks to projectile geometry.
That summer day we built our – get ready for the scary part– First black powder gun . Even at the tender age of 12, I knew we needed to develop our concept in stages before moving into full scale production. Our first try lacked the beauty and grace of a Kentucky flintlock, but was an interesting first attempt using plumbing supplies and tools borrowed from my uncle while he was at work. That being the best time to borrow things from him.
As a matter of fact, because he had driven to work earlier that morning instead of catching a ride ended up saving what was eventually left of our butts from still being grounded 38 years later. In the interest of efficiency, we decided to speed up the process by combining several tests involving powder amounts, fuse time, projectile spread, decibel levels, recoil and such. Never ones to shirk safety, we used glass marbles as a test load. The theory being, they would shatter on impact with the side of my uncle’s garage that we were using as a backstop.
We carried a heavy vise around the side of the garage to hold the “gun” or maybe, slightly more precisely, small bore cannon, in position while we fired it. Neither one of us would volunteer to hold it, having learned some degree of prudence from previous “experiments” and watching Roadrunner cartoons. Who says the old cartoons weren’t educational?
When the acrid cloud of spent powder finally lifted, we realized we might have paid a little more attention to our testing procedures. The marbles had indeed disintegrated as planned, although not on impact. At least not on the first wall. We stood gaping at the splintered hole through the garage wall when a heavy hand landed on each of our shoulders and we were spun around to face JD’s next door neighbor, Mr. Clegg, whose mouth was furiously moving but making no sound other than a strange loud ringing sound. He proceeded to swat at our rears every other step as we headed for JD’s house. Periodically a dust cloud streamed like a jet”s contrail from the seat of our pants at a particularly accurate swat. No mean feat on two kids skilled in broken field parent dodging. You have to remember that in those days if a neighbor or relative had to whup your butt, you got another one from your mother for making the neighbor whup you in the first place. And all the while, she would be yelling ” just wait till your Dad gets home”. Fortunately for JD, once his mother was finished with us, he was mostly through except for his dad getting “our attention” later. Unfortunately for me, my mother wouldn’t be picking me up till the next morning, giving my dad plenty of time build up steam on “getting my attention”.