Saturday, April 4, 2009

"Something they won't learn in school": An anecdote on the importance of unsupervised play in childhood development.

From Bob K., a current-serving member of the United States armed forces, we have this reminiscence via email of an early improvised munitions lesson.

Around age 10 my dad got me one of those little badass compound bow beginner kits. Of course, the first month I went around our place sticking arrows in anything that could get stuck by an arrow. Did you know that a 1955 40 horse Farmall tractor will take 6 rounds before it goes down? Tough sumbitch.

That got boring, so being the 10 yr. old Dukes of Hazzard fan that I was, I quickly advanced to taking strips of cut up T-shirt doused in chainsaw gas tied around the end and was sending flaming arrows all over the place. Keep in mind this was 99.999% humidity swampland, so there really wasn't any fire danger. Ill put it this way - a set of post hole diggers and a 3ft. hole and you had yourself a well.

Anyway, one summer afternoon, I was shooting flaming arrows into a large rotten oak stump in our backyard. I look over under the carport and see a shiny brand new can of starting fluid (ether). The light bulb went off. I grabbed the can and set it on the stump. I thought it would probably just spray out in a disappointing manner. Let’s face it, to a 10 yr. old mouth-breather like myself ether really doesn't "sound" flammable. So, I went back into the house and got a 1 pound can of Pyrodex (black powder for muzzle loader rifles) to add to the excitement.

At this point, I set the can of ether on the stump and opened up the can of black powder. My intentions were to sprinkle a little bit around the ether can, but it all sorta dumped out on me. No biggie. A pound of Pyrodex and 16ounces of ether should make a loud pop, kinda like a firecracker, you know? You know what? Screw that. I'm going back in the house for the other can. Yes, I got a second can of Pyrodex and dumped it on, too. Now we're cookin'.

I stepped back about 15ft and lit the two-stroke arrow. I drew the nock to my cheek and took aim. As I released I heard a clunk as the arrow launched from my bow. In a slow motion time frame, I turned to see my dad getting out of the truck... OH SHIT! He just got home from work. So help me God, it took 10 minutes for that arrow to go from my bow to the can. My dad was walking towards me in slow motion with a WTF look in his eyes. I turned back towards my target just in time to see the arrow pierce the starting fluid can right at the bottom. Right through the main pile of Pyrodex and into the can. Oh, shit!

When the shock wave hit, it knocked me off my feet. I don't know if it was the actual compression wave that threw me back or just reflex jerk back from 235 fucking decibels of sound. I caught a half a millisecond glimpse of the violence during the initial explosion; and I will tell you there was dust, grass, and bugs all hovering 1ft above the ground as far as I could see. It was like a little low to the ground layer of dust fog full of grasshoppers, spiders, and a crawfish or two. The daylight turned purple. Let me repeat this...THE DAYLIGHT TURNED PURPLE! There was a big sweetgum tree out by the gate going into the pasture. Notice I said "was". That mother got up and ran off.

So here I am, on the ground blown completely out of my shoes with my Thundercats T-shirt shredded, my dad is on the other side of the carport having what I can only assume is a Vietnam flashback – ECHO BRAVO CHARLIE YOUR BRINGIN' EM IN TOO CLOSE!! CEASE FIRE DAMMIT CEASE FIRE!!!!! His hat has blown off and is 30 ft. behind him in the driveway. All windows on the north side of the house are blown out and there is a slow rolling mushroom cloud about 2000ft over our backyard. There is a Honda 185s 3 wheeler parked on the other side of the yard, and the fenders are drooped down and are now touching the tires.

I wish I knew what I said to my dad at this moment. I don't know. I know I said something. I couldn't hear. I couldn't hear inside my own head. I don't think he heard me either... not that it would really matter. I don't remember much from this point on. I said something, felt a sharp pain, and then woke up later. I felt a sharp pain, blacked out, woke later.... repeat this process for an hour or so, and you get the idea. I remember at one point my mom had to give me CPR so dad could beat me some more. Bring him back to life so dad can kill him again... Thanks, Mom.

One thing is for sure... I never had to mow around that stump again. Mom had been bitching about that thing for years, and dad never did anything about it. I stepped up to the plate and handled business.

Dad sold his muzzleloaders a week or so later. And I still have some sort of bone growth abnormality either from the blast or the beating. Or both..

I guess what I'm trying to say is, get your kids into archery. It’s good discipline and will teach them skills they can use later on in life. Something they won’t learn in school.


Jim said...


Made me flashback to another arrow mishap.

rexxhead said...

Growing up in Brooklyn back when it was a tough place to grow up, I was the 'before' of those Charles Atlas ads in the comic books -- knock me over with a feather.

What kept me alive, I think, was that I knew how to make black powder. Reloaders will scoff, but citykids generally don't know this stuff.

One day while everyone else was in the park playing (something)ball I put together a half-pound of 'homemade', put it (loose) in a brown paper bag, set that on the manhole cover in the middle of the street, lit the bag, and walked away.

Well... It produced a cloud that filled the street door-to-door, avenue-to-avenue, and pavement-to-rooftops of our 3-storey brownstones.

Ah, fame! And the best part is that I didn't get arrested.

Yes, indeed, things you don't learn in school.

Anonymous said...

GREAT story. Kinda reminds me of the time in Hawai`i a friend and I "solved" his dads cesspool problem much the same way. We were told a piece of dynomite would loosen the shit in the walls of the cesspool and allow drainage. Well! We used a little too much--about 3-4 sticks! They found the bricks used to line the walls of the pool 1/4 mile away. The lid [solid concrete 24x24" and ten inches thick in a swimming pool two blocks away. Friends house was knocked 3-4" off the foundation. So were our asses. Took two years of hard work to pay the damamges.Needless to say Construction companies tightened security on their TNT storage facilities!!
Aloha, Mark

blah said...

Woke up this morning with a bad attitude. I'm not gonna use any "e" terms because shortening it doesn't do it justice: I LAUGHED MY ASS OFF!!!! Reminds me of a few things in my boyhood! I agree with the message. Thanks again, I needed that!

Chaplain Tim said...

Ah, unsupervised childhood. I remember those days- probably one of the reasons I kept an eye on my own offspring at about the same age.
Other than making napalm to light the wood-burning tank heater in the stock tank (when it's 10 below zero you want any outside job done fast), assembling a flare from a cardboard tube (paper towel roll) and six road flares, and using BB guns to set off shotgun shells we'd stuck in a dirt bank (they fly straight back, so stand to one side), the most fun we had was when we obtained some thermite from a family friend who worked for the railroad. A 50 pound bag of that will melt right through a Chrysler straight-six engine block. A beer can full is more than enough to totally ruin your night vision for the rest of the night if you use it as a finale for the 4th of July show. Padlocks and chains don't hold up very well at all to the heat that stuff generates.
Yeah, I was (am?) a pyro at heart. The explosives didn't interest me until I got into the Army and learned how to use them properly.

Anonymous said...

And I thought putting lighter fluid in a tuna can with some 22LR was bad. My dad was lucky I guess. ROFLMBO.

thedweeze said...

Heh. Sounds like the time I grabbed some tubing and a handful of M2 Ball in order to make my own rifle.

Still have all my fingers, so it was all good. :)

Pat H. said...

Awesome. Or as John Ross said in Unintended Consequences, If you've never put a small can of ANFO in a hole and lit it off when you were a kid, you've lived a sheltered life. Or something to that effect.

CCK said...

Quite literally tears down my cheeks from this. Fantastic.

ReverendFranz said...

When i was a kid, my favorite (hypothetical) sport involved cutting the head off of aluminum crossbow bolts and filling the hollow shaft about halfway with some tissue paper, tamped down, and the remainder filled with pyrodex, capped with a shotgun (or black powder) primer, glued in place.

Aim at a hard object, hope the shrapnel doesnt maim you, and wham. Guaranteed smile.

Never shot one at a can of ether tho'

As an adult (or in these changing times) its hard enough to have fun with things that are legal without getting in trouble, and im not sure that today you would be able to explain "It was just some kids playing" to an alphabet soup licensed agent of FEDGOV and have it pass as a "Learning Experience"


Theres an old article i read about ethics, and firearms, that essentially says that life and death problems occur everyday, and without something like firearms to teach that, people are unlikely to realize that THEY are responsible for the decisions made in response to those problems, (doing nothing is still a decision) and that they have the ability, and responsibility, to change the nature of those problems, ethically.

Well, to quote a fairly famous gunshow bumpersticker:

"There are few problems in this world that cannot be solved with the proper application of high explosives."

Its a shame our children may never learn that responsibility...

3legdog said...

Now that is some funny shit, I tell ya whut.

Dr.D said...

Great laugh!! reminds me of the time I set off a bomb, it was suppose to be a fountain but the orifice was Juuuust the right size to make it a bomb. A neighbor 100 yards away called over to find out if we were blasting stumps. My ears rang for days, I only found 1/2 the metal propane can I had used. Never underestimate the power of sugar and potassium nitrate. Great memory's of child hood my kids will never know.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

that was hilarious had me lmaorof

Anonymous said...

My best was a 20ft fireball and a mushroom cloud above that. Lesson learned. When lighting a camp fire coleman white gas is not the same as kingsford lighter fluid and should be used in lesser quantities... about 3/4s of a gallon less. I spent the summer with no hair on the front of my body but one good story to tell.

Brian K Miller said...


That was hilarious! Funniest story I have read in weeks, months maybe!

straightarrow said...

You sonofabitch. I have laughed so hard, I hurt.

The Trainer said...

Tears...simply brought to tears laughing!

Anonymous said...

That story was so funny I am still laughing.
Thanks for making my day.

Anonymous said...

All I can say is O.M.G!!! (GASPS)

Great post, and now you have made me actually consider getting a nice compound bow and practice with it.

I am probably much more of rifleman than an archer, I tried shooting bows and arrows before and I generally suck bad LOL, but re-thinking it over, it actually makes absolute perfect sense to learn about other weapons systems as well.

Although I do preach a lot of warnings about being too dependant on technology, I have a to admit I fall victim to this very trap occasionally :D After all, a rifle, loaded with it's cartridge in the chamber, and the modern optics adorning it, makes it look absolutely "simple" to handle, compared to someone who lived in the past in an era where skills with the bow will mean the difference between meat on the table or starvation, or life or death in a harrowing defense situation.

But that fire arrow post gave me ONE HELL OF A GASP! OMG! moment, I gotta say!

The posts by the other readers are just as great.

Crucis said...

Ohhh, man!

It reminds me of an incidence once long ago with home-made ammonium iodide, a fence-post and a .22 rifle.

I may write about it someday.

Anonymous said...

Oh lord childhood flashbacks here. Remember when you could buy r12 at wal-mart? Dad worked on cars a lot, and we had easy access to empties. Now the neat thing about a freon can is that it's designed so that in the event of overpressure a seam in the bottom will bust and vent it. Sounded to me like a great way to make a "Shaped" charge. Me and my friends decided to have a little friendly competition to see who could make the loudest noise with those freon cans, some pyrodex and since we had no real fuse, we used electrical tape with some powder sprinkled down it as a makeshift fuse. We lived in a small town, sothe idea was to set the thing off in a dumpster, light the fuse and take off, so the local police wouldnt interfere with the fun.

Now, all went great the first two times, pull up, set the can in the dumpster, light the fuse and drive like hell and wait for the BOOM!! The third one though was the funniest thing. My friend, who we'll call Jay, had never done anything like this before. He made his noisemaker, but instead of leaving the e-tape flat he poured powder neatly down the middle and folded the tape up. Now, you know in fireworks, they call that kind of thing "Quickmatch" because it burns from one end to the other almost instantly. Now Jay placed his noisemaker underneath some trash, lit er up and SWISHBOOM!!! and then you hear the meek voice - "go". We kicked him out of the car, because the trash he had blown out of the dumpster was used diapers. Yep, there he was stinking to high heaven with baby shit blown all over his face.
Made him ride home on the trunk lol

Anonymous said...

I hang my head in shame. I'm 40 and the closest I ever came to that was a Bic lighter, can of WD-40 and flamethrowing wasps on the wing in my parents' basement.

Stephen said...

A good friend thought it would be funny to blow up our mailbox (I wasn't involved in the plot). He filled a small container with powder he harvested from an number of basic firecrackers and added one of the fuses.

The thing sputtered and flashed but there was no boom.

His second mistake was driving away before learning that he had to recover his first mistake. That mistake was to build his "bomb" in a prescription bottle with his name on the label!

tom said...

Friend from my younger days (since we were 7) I forwarded this to forwarded this to his dad. Both of our fathers being people that created members of the alleged Merry Gang of Three Percenters....

Got an email he got from his dad forwarded to me this morn from his dad:

I laughed so much I cried. This made my day.

[I was the kid that taught HIS son that if you put black cat fire crackers in expended .30-06 brass it made them louder when we were both 7. I guess at this point his dad has forgiven me for my minor transgressions of youth]

Mad William Flint said...

Anonymous 40yo: Closest I ever came...YET. The operative (omitted) word is YET.

Dude, go for it.

Nothing quite as much fun as blowing up something you shouldn't be blowing up with more blow-upedness than it can possibly need.


Do it.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful writing. Reminds me of how stupid and gutsy we are at that age. Since I teach in a class with ten tanks of map gas and torches, I attract this type of kid. I even own one myself. I read this to my class in case any of them got any bright ideas. We thought it was hilarious!

Anonymous said...

rexxhead - Brooklyn has never been tougher to grow up in than it has in the past 25 years.