By Norris Chambers

            Open fires were always a good place for Clifton and me to have fun. Our fun seemed to drift toward explosions of some sort. Our earliest booms were with syrup buckets and a little water. The water was placed in the bucket and the lid was tapped down tight and the unit was placed in the middle of a nice outdoor fire. We retreated to a safe spot and waited for the bang. Usually the lid blew out with a nice sound and a cloud of steam. We thought that was fun. Our bucket fun expanded some when we started using gasoline or kerosene instead of water and stood a little farther back. This operation was better on a dark night when the fireworks effect was brighter. The boom was more intense and coals of fire were blown in all directions. That kind of explosion was a good one to stay away from and watch from a great distance. But it was spectacular.

In later years we sealed the gasoline in pint or quart cans using the vegetable canning equipment that did a nice job of sealing cans. Usually these cans would explode with a bang and a big flash and would scatter the fire in all directions. Sometimes the can would only leak and it would leave the fire and scamper around in all directions spewing fire and acting like a rocket. When this happened we had to keep out of its way!

Probably one of the most original fire-fun devices we came up with was the balloon-bang. Little round balloons were cheap and a ‘possum hide would buy a sack full. We carefully inflated the balloons with natural gas, directly from a gas line. Since many gas outlets were available in our area without regulators, it was a simple matter to fill a balloon with as much gas as we thought  it would hold. We didn’t fill them too full since a full balloon was more likely to burst than a lightly filled one. Transporting them from the filling point to the fire was a slight problem but was solved by pushing the filled balloons into tow sacks.

In our first experiments we tied a balloon to the end of a long bamboo fishing pole and held it over the fire. Or first trials were with a small amount of gas in the balloon. The fire quickly melted the rubber and ignited the gas. When that happened there was a wild, threatening sound and a ball of fire that came almost to the end of the long pole where the operator stood. The explosion was spectacular. We felt that we had a winner in a contest for the best fireworks display. We solved the pole problem by stretching a wire over the fire and suspending the balloons below. We could then pull one over the fire from a safe distance and enjoy the great sound and flash.

Clifton and I had our own special balloon-bang area properly isolated from combustible material and complete with the wire suspension poles. We enjoyed exploding the gas balloons for several years.

Several years after the ‘possum hunting days and gas balloon exploding days were gone I told a co-worker about the gas balloons. He was very interested in the tales and, being of an inventive nature, decided to try something similar on his own. He had a nice work shop in his back yard where he spent many hours doing what guys do in a work shop.

He visited a war surplus shop and bought a weather balloon. This one was probably about eighteen inches in diameter. Instead of using natural gas to fill it he adjusted a welding torch with acetylene and oxygen and filled the bag with that mixture. Since it worked so well in the welding torch, why not use it in the balloon experiment. He knew it would make a more spectacular display at night, but he decided to test it first in daylight. He picked a sunny Sunday afternoon for the demonstration. He invited me to come see the test, but I had other business that day.

Instead of sliding the balloon over a fire my friend hung the device on a backyard clothes line and lighted a sponge that he had moistened with kerosene and attached to it. He then retreated to his shop and peered out the window to see the flash.

There was a flash. It was like a brilliant lightning display along with a clap of thunder. The building shook and the window glass cracked. He noticed that some of the windows on the house next door had broken and fallen out. When he ran into the house he found his wife terrified, but no obvious damage.

It wasn’t long until the police arrived and began questioning residents in the area. When they interviewed the culprit he told them that the explosion scared him and his wife but that was all he knew. The neighborhood bomber was never apprehended and he never repeated his violent experiment.

If you are looking for fun, there are other ways of finding it – such as dropping a wriggling gecko on an elderly lady in the pew in front of you!  That is real Sunday fun! After thinking about it, maybe the exploding balloons would be safer!