True stories of younger, wilder days
"It was not an experiment -- we were going to war," said Jack. "We weren't sure who with, but by god, we were going to be ready."
An understandable attitude these days, but Jack was recounting an incident from many years ago, when he was about twelve. The concept was precocious, with plenty of room for being terribly misguided. So was the actual plan for putting it into practice.
Jack ran with a group of boys who were all seriously lacking proper parental supervision. None more so than his friend Mark, famous in the neighborhood for eating live frogs and cockroaches, and for being able to "get" things. Fireworks. Live ammunition. On this particular occasion, Mark had managed to "get" a recipe for the ultimate in twelve-year-old home defense: napalm.
Jack and his friends weren't stupid (in their opinion). They researched their plan thoroughly. Jack would get gasoline, a cutting torch and a fifty gallon drum from his father's tool shed. Mark would bring dish soap and the recipe. They would meet Brent in one of the pastures of the farm Jack grew up on and concoct their napalm. They would be able to throw it. It would stick to stuff and burn. It would be really, really cool.
Ah, to be young and naive again.
A fire pit was dug. A fire was lit. The cut down fifty-gallon drum was lowered into the pit and gasoline was carefully poured in. Surprisingly all was going well. The dish soap was added successfully. The gasoline was brought to a boil. In theory, the mixture could be boiled until it reached a certain consistency, then could be cooled into a gel that would burn and cling nicely. Now for the final step: adding the nitrates. Where do farm boys get nitrates? Manure, of course.
So exactly what happens when you add horse manure to boiling gasoline?
"It fizzles," Jack says. "Then it foams." The young would-be soldiers watched with a growing premonition of disaster (better late than never) as the contents of the drum foamed ever higher, up to and then over the rim of the barrel. At this point, the boys did the smartest thing they had done all day. They ran.
Woomph was how Jack described the sound of the explosion as the foam finally reached the fire, sending flaming shit spraying in a good forty foot radius. "We were really lucky that day," he recalls. Lucky they didn't get caught. Lucky the field had just been disked under and no fire started. Lucky the mixture didn't foam faster than it did. Lucky they ran when they did. Lucky no one was hurt and Jack still has all his fingers left to count his blessings on.
Someone should have told those young men the war was over.
Originally appeared 2002-07-05.