Just messing around, that is what I tell my wife. Messing around the farm shop. She knows by now what messing really means. Did you know you can gain a pretty good potato mortar by just changing the pipe on the bead-setter? You know, the compressed air 90 psi bead setter, exchange the flattened steel pipe for PVC, dab a little silicone on the potato, range just shy of a quarter mile. A neat thing is watching an eighty-count potato disappear over the ridge row to land the next forty over. The compressed air bead-setter is the safe alternative to using starting fluid to set the bead. Which is also neat. The tire afterwards quivering on the floor like a border collie in want of exercise. With the ether method it is best to live down range lest your neighbor call 911 to report a bomb. An ample supply of kitchen matches is also necessary, these to set off the ether sprayed inside the tire rim. The lit match flung across the room at a tire, in turn chained to something not about to move. Sometimes instead of quivering, the rim sets off for low earth orbit, explaining the chain. As said, chained to something immoveable.
Farm shops are like this. Did you know you can cool a can of soda in thirty seconds flat by putting the can in a Tupperware container with a small hole drilled to insert the tube end of the aerosol Endust, otherwise used to clean computers. Or if you fill an empty soda can with liquid nitrogen, liquid oxygen will drip off the can. And if you get somebody to lay a lit cigarette under the drip, the cigarette disappears in a spill of photons like a flashbulb went off. If you remember flash bulbs.
Farm shops have a singular tradition to uphold, actually more a formula than a tradition; charcoal brickets, field sulfur, salt peter to name one. Also catapults come to mind, like the one Harold Altenburg built for his pumpkin patch. There is also the neat trick to be done with anvils one placed atop of the other, the casting dimple filled with 3F black powder, a playing card over the cavity to prevent sparking, then a length of fuse. The neat thing about that ninety-pound anvil twirling eighty feet in the air, it is ringing like a Sunday morning clarion. Another neat thing is the dent in the ground where it lands, will do the same to a pickup truck; don’t ask how I know this.
Farm shops are a separate universe, my wife adds also a separate god. Iron filings and a cutting torch. Aluminum filings and a torch, titanium filings and a torch. We never attempted pipe bombs because they’re illegal, I will restate that for non-believers, illegal. The distractive thing about farm shops is they are out in the boonies in the first place so the weight of the statutes diminishes by the square of the distance from the courthouse. An oatmeal box shaken with a little cornstarch inside, a match put in the hole provided, takes the hat right off that smiling Quaker. For my brother’s 50th birthday party we brought balloons, filled at the farm shop. Half propane, half oxygen from the cutting torch, the attached string dipped in diesel fuel. Did you know a garage door spring makes a heck of a crossbow, uses a pitchfork for an arrow.
In the monthly Amnesty International newsletter I was reading how corrupt regimes use children “as young as 10 years” for combatants, this is meant to be shocking. Nice people always act surprised and insulted that a 10-year-old kid can be trained to use an AK-47, like as not in a blood-thirsty way. As for myself I’m not surprised the saboteurs in Iraq are adolescents who have yet to shave. Cynical as it sounds, an ideal age. Ever notice the kind of video games the kids are playing at the village rental: bombs, guns, and blasters are required. Add that about 50 percent of rental movies are of the horror genre. My personal theory is the fascination for bombs, guns and blasters is naturally occurring. Black Hawk, the tradition-bound Sauk chief who instigated the last good war in Wisconsin, said the best warrior was the option of the young men, 11, 12, 13 years old. As they mature, Black Hawk added, they grow too fond of peace.
In the farm shop we had several variations on potato cannons, fabricated from PVC and hairspray, range about the same as the bead-setter model. My neighbor welding too near his septic tank vent heard a dull underground noise; had to replace the entire drainage field but said the tremor was awesome. As is where the idea came from, the plastic tarp over the manure pile, a hole pricked near the top when the bubble in the tarp formed, we lit the gas and watched it burn. Fascinating that a manure pile does such a thing. Later that year I went to Washington D.C. with the senior class from P.J.Jacobs. Visited JFK’s new grave at Arlington just down the hill from the Lee mansion, saw the eternal flame that molded my generation. Had my own version of where the gas came from, farm shops are like that.