By Norris Chambers

             I was so young when I learned what salt was that I donít even remember learning. It is as if I were born with the knowledge. The same is just about true concerning sulfur. When I was very young we lived less than a mile west of the railroad tracts going to Galveston and I distinctly remember seeing the railroad cars stacked high with the big chunks of yellow stuff. I was informed that it was sulfur and it was on its way to be shipped somewhere where it was needed.

            Later when I went to school I learned to spell the name of the yellow stuff sulphur, but now the proper spelling is sulfur. I guess that isnít too bad since it shortens the word and makes writing it a little quicker and easier.

            The powdered sulfur was used for dusting vegetable crops to keep insects away. It was also sprinkled in chicken nests to keep the hens free of mites, fleas and other undesirable parasites. At an early age I learned that sulfur was a valuable tool for the farmer. The yellow stuff is a primary ingredient of gun powder. Sulfur and lard was also a sure cure for the seven year itch when applied continually for nine days!

            Cows require salt. Salt was available in either bulk granules or hard blocks about a foot in diameter. The blocks were not eaten, but were licked by the cow until she thought she had enough. The block slowly grew smaller, but not uniformly. The surface was covered with holes of various depths where the tongues had scoured away the salt. There were also salt blocks that contained sulfur. These blocks were a pretty yellow in color instead of the plain white of the pure salt ones. I suppose the sulfur was to help keep flies, ticks and other blood suckers away from the livestock.

            Clifton and I learned early in our hunting days that sulfur would burn and that the fumes were very irritating to the nose and lungs. As a matter of fact, we were told that the gas was very dangerous and could even be fatal. We did know that a small amount could be placed in a hollow log or a hollow tree and lighted and that the wild beast inside would make a hasty exit. Hopefully we were able to capture the vacating animal and add the pelt to out fur inventory.

A small bottle of sulfur was a necessary item on any hunting trip.

            When working in the oil field I learned that engines, compressors and other heavy machines that were mounted on concrete slabs were often held in place by bolts that were secured in the concrete with a mixture of salt and sulfur. When we mounted something we took about equal amounts of sulfur and salt and melted them together. They both melt at a reasonably low temperature and mix together to form a metallic colored substance that looks like melted lead. The melted mixture cools and forms a very hard compound. I had always assumed that lead was the best thing to use when setting a bolt in concrete but the old timers said the salt and sulfur was much better. It worked well.

            Someone else knew about the mixture and its solder-like texture because it was advertised and sold as a simple solder for leaky pots and pans. To use the wonder solder all that was required was to heat the pan and rub the solder stick over the hole. The hole was closed with a metallic appearing solder and worked well as long as the utensil was used with a liquid inside. Of course it would melt away if a pan were heated without a cooling liquid. These solder sticks worked well when used as directed.

            All of this talk about sulfur is leading up to the true tale I am about to tell concerning Clifton ís introduction to sulfur solder. We had a few sticks of the hole mender solder in the shop and we happened to have the blow torch on and the soldering iron thoroughly heated when he decided to see if he could do some good work using it as regular solder. The impressive project he chose was to solder two six-penny nails together. This is a simple task with regular solder, but Clifton being anxious to test the utility of the new solder had to test it.

            He carefully sanded the ends of the nails and placed them end to end on the anvil. Taking the soldering iron in his right hand and the stick of solder in his left, he touched the iron and the solder at the junction of the nails. He jumped back suddenly, coughing and strangling and using a few unprintable words. When the hot iron touched the solder smoke and fumes flashed in his face. Not many things smell worse than sulfur fumes!

            Although it was quite funny, I didnít dare laugh. There was a difference of opinion about whether it was fun or not. I do not advise anyone to try it for fun Ė just stick to the instructions and donít use a hot soldering iron when you use sulfur solder.