Dad’s Tractor

Dad’s Tractor

Dad walked into the garage. “Hi boys!” Bob, Steve, and Roger all greeted Dad. “What are you kids up to today?” Uneasily, the guys all looked at me to answer Dad. I finished adjusting the pipe in the bench vise and began to crimp shut the remaining open end as I told him, “Making a Bomb.”

“A bomb you say.” Dad chuckled and winked at Bob. Rog and Bob were brothers. Bob was a couple years older than the rest of us and in high school. Dad apparently figured that since Bob was older and wiser, he shared Dad’s skepticism about foolish kids who thought they could make a bomb.

But this was my third bomb and the first two seemed to work fine.

The big rock in the woods still had the scars and burn marks to prove it. Then there was the time I demonstrated the second bomb to my older sister’s boyfriend. The bomb was on the top of a fencepost when it went off. I couldn’t prove that though since the fencepost disappeared when the bomb exploded. Mel always enjoyed interesting things like that.

My bomb making projects had started a month ago when the guys and I bought some fireworks for the Fourth of July. We got the biggest ones they had at Rockford store just down the lane a half mile or so.

The firecrackers let out a loud snap when they went off. They were fun but not as loud as we would like and you couldn’t really blow up anything that amounted to much. After a while they seemed a little childish. We tried bundling several firecrackers together and that was better but still not quite the effect we were looking for. You never knew when a guy might need to do a little serious demolition.

Firecracker packages were made out of paper. The empty ones contained a fine grey residue that reminded you of the gunpowder you see when you open up a shotgun shell. Everyone should break open a shotgun shell to see what’s inside.

The guys and I talked it over and agreed. It was common knowledge; firecrackers were made with gunpowder. I rolled that around for a week or so before I decided to do a little further research.

We had a big old Webster’s dictionary in the bookcase with the glass-covered shelves. It said firecrackers were papers rolled up with an explosive powder. Well that didn’t prove or disprove the gunpowder theory. I already had the dictionary out so I looked up gunpowder. Sure enough, gunpowder was used to make firecrackers, rockets, and all manners of fireworks. Not only that, but good old Webster listed the ingredients for making gunpowder. They seemed to jump at me from the page, sulfur, salt peter, and charcoal.

Nothing about proportions but I could experiment with that a little. A quick check to see what Webster had to say about salt peter and I found out it was potassium nitrate. I didn’t know anything more about potassium nitrate than salt peter, but knowing the proper terms is good. Using them made it sound like you knew what you were talking about. Making a good impression can be important.

Money was tight, but I was always raising rabbits and chickens and stuff on the farm. I usually had a little pocket-money for educational projects of one kind or another. Early the next morning after my consultation with Webster, I was at a drugstore in town.

I walked up to the counter. “How much is sulfur?” The pharmacist looked it up on a chart and gave me the price. “Ok I’d like a pound of sulfur please.” He weighed it on the scales and put it in a sack. “How much do you get for charcoal?” I was happy to hear that charcoal was much cheaper than the sulphur. The Great Depression was supposedly over by then, but old habits are hard to break and I liked to see my money go as far as it could. Soon I had two sacks on the counter. “How much is your potassium nitrate?”

The druggist looked at me over his glasses. “Do you know what you get when you mix all that together?”

“Well sure, it makes gunpowder, everybody knows that.”

Suddenly there were no sacks on the counter and I was asked to leave. I guess he didn’t approve. And I’d used the proper term for salt peter and everything. So much for making a good impression.

Out front on the sidewalk I decided my first lesson in the manufacture of explosives was to not purchase all the components from the same supplier. I considered my options and as it turned out there were other drugstores in town. Before long I was back home with sacks of chemicals purchased from three different stores. We had some old pipes in the scrap pile and several yards of fuse left over from when Dad used dynamite to blast a few big rocks while clearing one of the fields. I now had everything I needed to make gunpowder, and real bombs. What an educational summer this was turning out to be.

Dad was getting more amused by the minute with my silly little bomb. I checked the fuse to make sure it hadn’t been damaged when

I crimped the pipe. “Hey Dad, you know the tractor out there in the middle of the field.” Dad agreed he knew the tractor. He’d bought it brand new a couple years back. We used it the first year we bought it, then stopped using it, what with the war, gas rationing and all. “Well we haven’t used it for a while and the gas tank has been drained.”

“That’s right. But I plan to use it again so don’t be blowing up my tractor.” At this point he could hardly put two or three words together without bursting into fits of laughter.

“Naw … it’s just that I’d like to see the pieces of this bomb after it blows up. So I was thinking if the bomb was in the tank when it went off, I could pull the tank and shake out the pieces.”

Dad composed himself long enough to say, “Alright, but be sure the fuse is long enough. I don’t want anyone to get hurt now.” He was really getting a kick out of ribbing me but I didn’t mind too much. It was always fun when he took an interest in my projects. I grinned as I pulled back the handle on the vise releasing the pipe, and headed for the tractor with my bomb. Good Ole Dad. I was finally going to see one of my bombs after it exploded.

Ok the bomb was in place. I checked the house. Dad and my friends were on the porch. I scanned the area for people, pets and livestock. All was clear so I lit the fuse and headed for the house with a deliberate brisk walk. You don’t want to run from a freshly lit charge. Running increases your chances of spraining an ankle or something and not being able to get clear of the blast. If you need to run, the fuse should have been longer.

Safety first!

Back on the porch I could still see the fuse burning and spraying sparks like a sparkler as it worked it’s way towards the tank. I had timed it well. A few seconds later the sparks disappeared into the tank. Everyone was quiet. You couldn’t even hear them breathing. I guess they probably weren’t. I know I wasn’t. I should have invited Mom to come out and watch. Now there wasn’t enough time.

The shockwave rocked me back and I had to catch my balance. The disapproving druggist probably heard the blast from town. The big picture window to the left of the porch rattled so much I thought it was broke.

At first you couldn’t see the tractor. Dad was slowly, softly repeating, “My tractor! My tractor!” It was very mantra-like.

The cloud of smoke and dust began to clear. Now you could tell it had probably been a tractor at one time. But it wasn’t going to be one again. One of the large rear wheels wobbled and fell over with a thump. I looked at the guys. They weren’t on the porch anymore. Funny, I hadn’t noticed them leaving. They were disappearing in all directions. Up the driveway, around the house, leaping fences. We were all very athletic.

I looked at Dad. He wasn’t mad yet, but his new mantra was coming louder and faster all the time. It kind of reminded me of the fuse burning shorter as it came closer to setting off my silly little bomb.

I inspected the blast site as thoroughly as one can when setting a new personal record for the 200-yard dash. Tractor parts and pieces of this and that were still falling from the sky.

As I cleared the rock wall and headed into the woods, I wished the high school football coach was there to see my broken field running potential as I cut one way then another to keep from slamming into tree trunks at top speed.

Still running, it occurred to me that I should follow up an adventure gone awry with a new adventure as soon as possible. One of those “get back on the horse that threw you” kinda things.

I decided the perfect follow up adventure would be to spend tonight in the woods with nothing but a jackknife and some matches. It also seemed safer than going home right away.

Like I always say, “Safety first!”


9 Responses to “Dad’s Tractor”

  1. Tiffany Woods Says:

    This one is always a favorite! I’m sending it to Aaron to read….him being a tractor finatic and all. 🙂

  2. Cricket Says:

    This story does bring a smile to my face, along with the memory of Dad’s red face gasping for air as he is laughing so hard telling his tractor story. Good job, keep writing 🙂

  3. sandy Ledesma Says:

    Good story Harry! Did this really happen??

  4. Marie Says:

    Great story!!! I felt like I was sitting on that porch when the dust settled….

  5. Susan Gregory Says:

    What I appreciated is that I felt I could actually visualize this happening! Certainly explains where you got your spirit of adventure!

  6. Carol Hukari Garibay Says:

    Harry, I liked this story. Your timing and verbiage is great. But it didn’t really happen…not really…no way! P.S I am not being critical, so don’t take me off your prayer list yet.

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