Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Now, you boys be careful

The last time I went to the welding shop I was warned there will be an acetylene shortage for an indefinite time due to a recent fire destroying the only producer of calcium carbide in the US. This started me thinking about some childhood adventures and how much the world has changed.

I don't recall how I was introduced to "carbide" but it was readily available and inexpensive. I suppose I was about twelve years old and that was old enough to go to the hardware store and make a cash buy of a quart tin of it and a few feet of dynamite fuse. Blasting powder was also avaliable. The clerk would dutifully caution, "Now you boys be careful with that."

The clearest recollection I have of using the carbide was blowing up mole runs. We would insert some dynamite fuse into a run then open up the run several feet away and put in some carbide and water and cover up the hole. After a minute or so we would light the fuse and soon the explosion would rip the top off the tunnel.

This rather pointless activity eventually focused our explosive interests toward making model rockets and rocket fuel. From 1959 to 1961 we made and launched a series of experimental rockets and recovered all but one. I still have all the photos and drawings and other records from those projects which provided many hours of fun and education.

Today we have become so risk averse that most of those experiences couldn't be repeated. Some of them would surely land us on a terror watch list. I'm glad I was a kid at the time I was and got to deal with dangerous things rather freely and develop a sense of risk that was based on experience. I suppose I should also be thankful too that my luck was a good as it was.

Doing blacksmithing means I still live with danger. I believe my senses of risk and responsibility are pretty well developed now but it pays to keep hearing the the back of my mind that clerk saying, "Now you boys be careful with that."

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