By Norris Chambers

            I guess we old timers, when kids, were more careful than modern toddlers. Most of the toys that I remember were designed to bang, pop, scream, whistle, explode, change color or whistle Dixie when tapped, scraped, squeezed or placed in the hot sunshine for 2 minutes!

            Probably the most popular item was the cap pistol. It was called a cap pistol because its bang was produced when a bit of powder was sealed in paper and called a cap. There were several types and sizes of pistols available. Caps for a simple pistol were part of a sheet of paper and were cut or torn out in little squares with the explosive sealed between the two sheets of colored paper that formed the cap. Ammunition for the automatic pistols came in narrow rolls. Each time the trigger was pulled the roll unwound and another cap was placed beneath the hammer. Long strips of paper with properly spaced caps were used for toy rifles. All that was necessary to fire a shot was to let the hammer of a weapon fall on a cap. The loud bang was enough to let another outlaw “bite the dust”! 

            Clifton and I made our own weapons and fought many battles, keeping the bad guys at bay! A nice variation using the cap was a “torpedo”. The construction was simple. A hollow ball about the size of a large marble was formed from clay and while still moist a cap and hard pebbles mixed with gun powder were stuffed inside it. The little bomb was allowed to absorb hot sunshine until the clay was hardened. When the ball was thrown against something solid the cap was suddenly squeezed between the pebbles, causing it to explode. The explosion ignited the powder and a loud bang resulted. Another little item that produced a beautiful light display was called a sparkler. This was a heavy wire about a foot long that was covered with some gray metallic compound that sparkled as it burned. It could be held in the hand while burning and used to chase the dog, cat or some kid who was afraid of the sparkle.

          These devices were sold as fireworks for celebrating July 4, Christmas and other important events. Two little tykes known as Norris and Clifton had other uses for these noise making ingredients! Our April First gadget was pretty simple. The trickster carried a small battery in his pocket and switches on his sleeve were connected to wires that applied electricity to the display chosen for the occasion. Clifton was wired for the selected action to begin when he pressed the switch. His plan was to approach the home of Abe Blain, knock until Abe came to the door, then bow deeply and press the switch.  A stream of sparkler beauty would light two units, one on the left and one on the right side of his head. Each unit was bent to form what appeared to be a horn!

            The purpose was to surprise and scare Abe. It being Halloween we knew he would be near the door and would open it. I concealed myself in a heavy shadow and waited for the fun! Clifton knocked and the door opened two or three inches and hesitated. Abe was probably suspicious and didn’t want to get too deeply involved before he saw what was in store. Clifton spoke softly and said, “Hi, Abe. It’s me. Clifton. I thought you might want to go out and see what’s going on this Halloween.”

            Before Abe answered Clifton pressed the contact and the contoured sparklers flashed their weird pattern almost in the face of Abe. In his frantic attempt to escape he must have jumped forward and knocked Clifton off of the door step and into the yard, following closely behind and on top of him as Clifton fell on his back.

            There was a wild outburst of popping, hissing and screeching as every fireworks item on our menu seemed to explode at the same time.  Clifton was grunting and groaning while Abe was yelling for help. For a moment I stared and made no effort to help, and then I realized that Clifton and Abe might be in real danger. The wire forming the horns was red hot and the two victims were popping and smoking and trying to regain a standing position. I started pulling devices and wires from Clifton’s shirt and eventually all was quiet and calm.

            A few minor burns seemed to be the extent of the injuries. Clifton was rubbing his back and asked me to take a look at it. The back of his shirt was burned off and I saw that he had a large red area that displayed a blistered back.

            Several years later a great grand son told us that it was not a true story. Clifton and I admitted that it was a foolish thing to do. Rather than be branded a liar, Clifton pulled the back of his shirt up for the kid to see. Across his back heavy purple scars stood out forming a well formed picture of a set of dangerous looking horns – a tattoo artist couldn’t have done better! The grand son grinned, I laughed out loud and Clifton let it be known that he didn’t think it was funny.