In the early ’50s, my Uncle Carl decided to sell the World Book encyclopedia to the Red Hill families with children. His sales pitch to the parents was “purchasing a set of encyclopedias would be an investment in the future of your children.”
This was probably true, but I suspect the commission on the books was fairly attractive to him as well. Anyway very soon, many families in Red Hill, as well as ours, were the proud owners of this huge set of books.
And I did, indeed, spend a lot of time reading in volume after volume about any and every thing in this world. I would often read page after page, as most people read books and novels. Inside volume “G”, I came across the intriguing entry for gunpowder. And there, before my very eyes, was the actual formula for making gunpowder. All the ingredients you needed were a large quantity of charcoal, a lesser quantity of sulfur, and a smaller yet quantity of saltpeter.
Getting the charcoal was not a big problem. The sulfur portion was a little more problematic, but with sulfur tablets being given to the kids in those days to keep the chiggers off of us, or red bugs as we called them, I was somehow able to get the quantity of this ingredient I required. The acquisition of the saltpeter was a little more difficult. It would need to be purchased at a drug store. Its typical use in that day's society was pretty much reserved for the dispensing to male prison inmates. If you don't understand what I am speaking of, your education is not yet complete.
But I decided to tell Momma pretty much the truth — that I was trying to put a small amount of gunpowder together according to a formula I had read about in the World Book and wanted to see if this really could be done as they had explained in the article. Sometime later I was able to purchase the saltpeter from Carlisle’s Drug in Alexander City.
My next step was to combine these ingredients per the recipe in volume “G.” This I did, using one of momma's large mixing bowls. Next was the selection of a suitable container for the resulting mixture. A quart size, empty Ball canning jar, which had both the sealing cap and ring still with it, on a shelf in our storage shed, became the convenient container for my product.
One of my buddies got me a small length of dynamite fuse, from where I don't know, but it was just the right length I felt would be sufficient for ignition and still have enough length protruding above the jar cap to light it, and theoretically, allow the lighter, and that would be me, sufficient time to clear the area of the anticipated blast.
The next step for the mad bomber of Red Hill was the selection of some abandoned, run-down structure that would allow the true power of my supposedly explosive concoction to be demonstrated.
Major Joe Lindsay, his wife Ms. May and their sons, Jimmy and Danny, had lived in the house just across from the intersection of Red Hill Road and Griffith Road. Major Lindsay had received a new assignment, they had moved away, and the house had been empty for some time.
Behind this house stood an outhouse that hadn't been used for an even longer time. The door was about fall off the hinges, but the basic structure was still pretty much intact. It was of wood construction with a tin roof. So this became the Trinity site for the ultimate test of my “device.”
On a sunny Saturday afternoon, my brother Roger and I rode over to the Lindsay house on our bikes with the “device” in my bike basket.
We parked the bikes behind the house, walked over to the outhouse, stepped inside and placed my “bomb” on the bench seat. I lit the fuse, and we sprinted about 20 feet away from the doomed structure. And sure enough, within about 3 minutes, a really loud “Boom!” echoed through the quiet country afternoon. Smoke billowed from the open doorway, but the real proof of my bomb making ability was that the entire tin top of the outhouse had flown up into the air, and now lay several feet away from the structure in the grass.
This was the beginning and the end of my youthful explosive experimentation. I was quite pleased with the result, as was Roger. But since there was no merit badge to be received from the Boy Scouts for bomb making, I moved on to other endeavors.
Ray Hill is a Red Hill resident and weekly columnist for The Tribune.