Friday, August 29, 2008

"Dyn-O-mite" How Not To Use Dynamite!

After mustering out of the Marine Corps the first thing I did was get a job in a pie factory. I baked pecan pies and strawberry shortcakes—millions of them, I saved my money bought a Jeep and then 10 acres of woods. I wanted to build a small house in the very middle of the land, deep in the woods. After inquiring about the cost of excavating work I knew I couldn’ t afford the heavy equipment it would take to put a drive into my woods. Many people discover this cost and decide to build closer to the property line—but not an ex-Marine. They don’t call us "jarheads" for nothing.
I knew I would find a solution so I went ahead and cut trees down at chest height all the way to my building site. Not long after that I met a guy at work who had been a powderboy in the coal mines of West Virginia. The light bulb went on inside my head and I started quizzing him on how explosives worked. He assured me that they were not all that dangerous if you were careful and knew what you were doing. I should have stopped right then, knowing I didn’t qualify in either category. I’m almost sure he said, "That dynamite can’t go off unless you light that fuse!"
It sounded like a plan to me. I could blow those darned trees off my land. I went to the local hardware and found out that first I had to get a permit from the State Police. After fingerprinting me and asking me a few basic questions I was a certified dynamite technician. I went back to the hardware and said, "I need some dynamite!"
The clerk looked at me a little suspiciously and said, "You want wire or cap and fuse?"
I said, not so confidently, "What would you use?"
He yelled to the back of the store, "Charlie, we got a dynamite buyer who doesn’t know the difference between wire and fuse."
Charlie came out and looked me over. I thought for sure he was going to refuse to sell me dynamite but instead he said, "Ya want 40 percent or 80 percent?" I was feeling lucky—I said 80.
He said, "I have forty in the basement but I keep the eighty in a bunker outside of town." I decided forty would do just fine. I bought a whole case, a hundred feet of black powder fuse and twice as many caps as dynamite sticks.
I threw it all in the back of my Jeep and headed for the woods. I wasn’t quite sure how many sticks it would take to blow each tree. I had to experiment. My only reference was how many sticks the bad guys used to blow up railroad bridges before the Lone Ranger caught up with them. I decided to start with three sticks. I taped them all together, used an ice pick to create a nesting hole for the aluminum cap and then attached about ten feet of fuse to the cap. Again, I was going by what the Lone Ranger would use. I remember he would shoot the black powder with one of his silver bullets and it would burn quickly all the way to the explosives. So I lit that fuse and ran like the wind until I was behind my Jeep. I waited with anticipation, knowing there was going to be an explosion any second. I waited, and waited, and waited. NOTHING!
I thought, "Must have been a dud."
I just couldn’t figure it out, but I wasn’t about to go look. After several minutes I decided I would leave.If it didn’t blow by morning I would go check it out. About halfway out of the property I heard an explosionand a tree went off like a failed Air Force missile heading down range. I decided maybe I should try lessdynamite and a shorter fuse. Actually, I lit a piece of fuse and discovered it was slow burning. Nothingas exciting as the Lone Ranger used. .
Eventually, I whittled that TNT down to quarter sticks and it would blast those tree stumps right out of the ground. Mistakenly confident that dynamite could not explode unless lit, I would make up a stick with cap and fuse and just toss it aside while I used an ice spud to make a hole beneath the stump I intended to blast next. It wasn’t until I had used the whole case of dynamite and removed every stump on my right-of-way that I discovered otherwise. I ended up with three aluminum caps left over. I tossed them on my work bench and one of them exploded. I learned—a little late—that the caps contained nitro and any of my careless tosses could have set the charge off. When I told the hardware guys, they wouldn’t sell me stuff that might hurt me anymore—even plumbing supplies they said!
—Keep Smilin’, Dick E. Bird


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