It was January 1989 RAF Wethersfield, the holiday season was over I managed to get back from Egypt with both my sanity and a nice tan just before Christmas. Some of my co-workers came back from East Germany with some of their sanity and no tan at all. It was still East Germany as the Berlin wall was ‘scheduled’ to come down on November 9th but we didn’t know that. So I got to here all the great stories about East Berlin.
The guys in my shop went to East Berlin for some construction project in June of 1988. They couldn’t tell me what they were working on anymore than I could tell them what I was doing in Egypt. But they could tell me about what they did and saw on their off time.
When they went through the Brandenburg gate they had to exchange all their American dollars, British pounds, and West German marks to East German marks. On the way back they found that they couldn’t take the East German Marks back with them, and the exchange rate was ridicules. So they were determined to spend it before coming through the gate. They went to a market and started looking for things to buy.
They bought BB guns.
Yep, cheap Communist BB guns. They bought the best they could find, about 50 marks each. We tried to figure out how much that was but it is difficult, you convert Dollars to Pounds to East German Marks you get about $2.19 for each riffle. They bought eight.
So it’s January in England. All the construction projects in Europe were either delayed or canceled due to budget cuts. What do a bunch of board welders do with eight communist BB guns?
Shoot Balloons naturally.
The welding/sheet metal shop used to be an aircraft maintenance shack back in the 50s its about 20’ wide and about 200’ long, a natural shooting gallery. Anyway someone came up with the idea of filling up birthday balloons with an equal mix of Oxygen and Acetylene gas, then placing a lit birthday candle behind the balloon. The idea was to shoot the balloon with the BB gun and a large explosion would result. The first few attempts were failures due to the fact that we were fearful of putting the candle too near the balloon and have a premature incident. (Exploding balloon in you face) We later found that the best thing is to under-inflate the balloon so the bb would push the balloon on to the candle.
This worked spectacularly. The explosions were deafening, they rattled the sheet metal and shook the windows. Dust would fall from the rafters.
Naturally we soon got board with the exploding balloons. So we started working on filling a garbage bag with gas. Two things happened that were purely coincidental but never the less perfect in timing. One was that the Oxygen bottle ran dry before the Acetylene bottle. The other was that our new NCOIC (Non Commissioned Officer in Charge) was touring the base. At about the same time he came by to visit our shop our shop Forman pulled the trigger. The bb struck a 55 gallon plastic garbage bag full of acetylene gas, and we watched with gleeful anticipation as the bag drifted towards the lit candle. We expected a gigantic KABOOM much more powerful than the little balloons.
No such luck.
The bag lit in slow motion, a hot, angry red and black fireball that slowly rose to the ceiling like a mushroom cloud from an atomic explosion. It was then that we all realized the horrible truth; there wasn’t any Oxygen in that garbage bag. When Oxygen and Acetylene burn in an equal proportion it is a clean and hot flame. If there is too much Acetylene tiny wispy black ashes are emitted. These in the welding trade are known as Boogers. Well when you burn a LOT of acetylene gas with out any oxygen you get a veritable nuclear fall out cloud of boogers. Every horizontal surface of the shop was covered with fine black ash.
Including our new NCOIC.
We naturally blamed the incident on the Communist BB guns.
Luckily for us the new NCOIC was a kind soul with a good sense of humor.
So we lost the BB guns and had to clean up the shop.
And re-paint the floor.