One Boring Summer Day - A Story From My Past
After having told my Chevy Blazer story two years ago, I thought sharing my gunpowder story from when I was twelve years-old would make for a good summer posting.
"Mom, I'm bored!", I told my mother one summer morning with the hopes that she would tell me something exciting to do.
After giving me a list of numerous other options that I also categorized as "boring", I decided to go across the street to see if my neighbor Stuart wanted to play. Stuart was free. However, we could not figure out what to do to occupy ourselves that day.
Our pre-pubescent brainstorming session quickly led to us looking up the entry for gunpowder in the World Book Encylopedia that was sitting on my shelf at home (these were the days before we could have done a simple Wikipedia search here). The encyclopedia entry revealed that there were only three ingredients in gunpowder: charcoal, sulfur, and potassium nitrate (also known as "salt peter).
Charcoal: "We can take those charred logs in your outdoor fireplace and use big rocks to smash down the charcoal on them into a powder!"
Sulfur: "Hey, I have a thing of sulfur in the chemistry set I got as a present!"
Potassium nitrate: "Hmmmm....were are we going to get that? I know! Sniders!"
Stuart and I got on our Schwinn dirt bikes and road down the hill to the Sniders Drug Store. We proceeded past the candy aisle directly to the pharmacy at the back of the store.
"Excuse me sir, would you happen to have potassium nitrate?", I asked.
"You boys are trying to make gunpowder, aren't you?", the elderly pharmacist responded.
"Umm......no", I replied before Stuart and I quickly left the store.
Not easily dissuaded, we decided to ride out bikes clear across town to the Osco Drug Store where we successfully were able to buy potassium nitrate after asking the pharmacist for it innocuously as "salt peter".
Returning to Stuart's back yard with all three ingredients, we prepared our crude gunpowder for its first field test. Although we were only novices, we already considered ourselves to be somewhat of experts in the field of gun powder production since we had both viewed countless cartoons where dynamite was used. When we lit it with a match for the first time, we were quite surprised when it did not blow up in a gigantic explosion (we certainly did not take any precautions for this occurrence to begin with).
Experimenting a bit further, we started making wicks by rolling small sheets of toilet piper in our crude gunpowder. Once this too got boring, we decided to attempt to blow up a Star Wars figure. I looked through my collection and selected the one I cared about least; the Emperor (I would have never dreamt of blowing up the mail-order Boba Fet after having sent in proofs of purchase for him).
Stuart and I snapped off the Emperor's head, filled his insides tightly with gunpowder, and then stuck a gunpowder-rolled toilet paper wick in his neck. I lit the match with great anticipation and...... the flame quickly fizzled out in the Emperor's neck. After one more attempt of filling an empty metal band-aid container with gunpowder and setting it off in an empty field, Stuart and my experiments came to an end.
Perhaps the reason I routinely got D's in science class growing up was because class was never as exciting as my summertime neighborhood experiments with Stuart.