A New Year's Rocket Experience
It is amazing, when an unexpected, fast, traumatic event occurs, how one's brain instantly goes into high-speed 'recording' mode and engraves the experience indelibly into memory forever. This is one of those events. Though I cannot remember the exact year, I'll never forget what happened! Text falls far short of being able to capture the feeling - I will do the best I can. This particular celebration, and others before and after, was held at my friend Mark's house, because he lived in a rural neighborhood that was partial to this kind of thing. Fireworks and noise, I mean.
The homebuilt rocket carried a large salute (like those things at firework displays that make a huge flash and a very loud noise). It was a 'proven' design, one that had worked beautifully on many previous New Year and Fourth of July occasions. It used a trusty storebought 'D' series motor for reliability - they had never failed. The salute case was a 2" diameter, 1/4'" wall cardboard tube 6" long. The motor was solidly hot glued into one end of this, and the tube two-thirds filled with perchlorate/aluminum flash mix, and the other end capped and filled with more hot glue. A four foot length of 1/4" dowel, a glitter comet star glued to the stick near the motor nozzle where the fire will light it, a red foil paper nose cone and festive holiday gift wrap and crepe paper nosing made it look as good on the ground as it did in the sky. The loud, big flame from the motor plus the long glittering trail would immediately command attention, telling all within sight that this was no ordinary bottle rocket. Soaring into the sky, the motor delay would kick in and the rocket would appear to go out, the last of the glitter twinkling away. And three seconds can be an awful long time. Then, always higher than you thought it would be, a giant flash, high enough to give appreciable delay before the very palpable BOOM! - which in itself was impressive enough, but what always awed us was how the sound continued, rolling like little thunder across the rooftops, for ten, fifteen seconds afterward. No other rocket ever did that! Then we'd laugh, congratulate ourselves and the champagne would flow.
So here we were again, another New Year, and another 'Grand Slam' rocket to help bring it in.
Midnight approaches. Everybody moves outside. Many neighbors are outside of their houses, too. We can hear firecrackers in the distance and the occasional something louder, and we look at each other and smile, 'Wait'll they hear THIS!'. Neighbors and friends light fireworks and crackers, too. The rocket stick is slipped into the launcher, a length of 1/2" diameter pipe sticking out of the ground, about five feet long, at a slight angle, about six feet from the garage and about four feet in front of the fence separating the front yard from the back, the fence being set back from the front of the garage about fifteen feet.
Waiting for midnight... waiting, listening to/watching the ever-increasing pyrotechnics near and far. Excitement builds. I'm always nervous at times like this. Five minutes to go? Oh, man this feels like forever! Crackers crack. Rockets fly. Somewhere, the unmistakeable, deep boooom of acetylene. Time drags and drags. Bangs, pops and booms everywhere now. One minute - got that lighter ready? Yeah, yeah...Fifteen seconds...Ten - Quick! get it lit!
The fuse is lit. Yelling 'HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!' at the top of my lungs, backpedaling to where Mark and I are now standing, near the corner of the garage, about twelve feet from the rocket. My heart is beating fast. The fuse burns slowly up to the motor then fire jets from the nozz-
! ! !
lightning in my eyes icepicks in my ears
brisant brilliance far too sharp
stinging concussion slamming around me
no no way too close-
-YAOW !!! damn oh damn I can't see oh no no what have I done I'm blind hurt my ears what's that shrieking (stumble) no, oh, no I can't see, oh, that hurt - what is that - it's a streetlight?! swimming in my view the lamp itself is the only thing I can see... everything is light gray... I'm blind -"I'm okay"- I sure hope so... I know I'm not missing anything "Mark you o.k.?" wow my voice sounds far away like helium - that loud keening wail what is that - oh, it's my ears ringing never rang like that I hope it's not permanent - (bumping into something/someone) - "Mark?" -who's got the transistor radio?... no it's people - yelling? talking?... man are my ears screwed up -"yeah, I'm okay, I'm okay"- Boy they sound weird... I hope no one's hurt -"You all right?"- Mark(?) laughing "Yeah, but I can't see a damn thing" "Yeah" -man, oh, man... someone else there "- want to know if you guys are all right"- blotchy shadows... good, my vision's coming back - that's a relief -"Yeah, we're all right!" -we yell to the neighbors across the street - they saw us silhouetted against the flash and it looked to them like we were right on top of it. Well - yeah.
Everybody is fine, nobody is hurt at all; Mark and I were much closer than anyone else. Nothing damaged but my pride. Whew! My ears are ringing like front row at a rock concert, and I can see better now, but at the center of my field of view is the luminous, 3D afterimage of the flash - the wall, the fence, the ground, illuminated by a brighter cloudlike shape the size of a 55 gallon drum floating on top of the launch pipe. Twelve feet away...
I start laughing, from nerves, surprise, relief, and incredulity. ''Whooo, man!" Not a scratch. Little pieces of paper everywhere. By now everyone has recovered from the surprise and already are laughing and talking (many expletives deleted). "I felt that across the street" "Damn, that was ridiculous!" "Well, everything's okay now" "Jeez, Dave that was LOUD" "Never been that close to anything like that" "Was it supposed to do that?" "heh, NO" "The motor blew. The factory motor. I can't believe it" "Hey, the stick is still in the pipe!" "Minus about four inches" "The pipe?" "No, the stick" "It never even moved" "Man, I can still see that thing" "Where's the champagne, we got good reason to celebrate now!"...
And I get way back from the bigger stuff now.
Happy New Year!
Copyright © 2000 by David McNamee. All Rights Reserved.
This portion of Tungsten's Castlepage last revised October 22, 2000.