I woke up on the morning of the fourth at 7am with a dull ache in my head, and general aches in just about every other muscle. (Yes, I conceder my brain a mussel, like a clam, or oyster) My teeth felt like someone supper-glued beer stains to them. I am sure my breath could be used in place of DEET. “I’m getting too old for this shit” would have been heard by my lovely wife except she was out back gardening when I creaked and groaned my way out of bed. After a half an hour in the shower, three cups of coffee, a granola bar, and some aspirin with quart of ice water, I ready.
Off to the lake shore in Windsor to spend a few hours in the burning hot sun playing pyro battle ship. Luckily no heavy lifting is needed.
“Ok, that’s Y-12, it goes to A-4”
“Good, next is Y-13”
Pyro battle ship is what I call wiring the cross patch panel. It goes like this: Each firework has a device number; each device number has a wire. That’s the output from cross patch panel. The input is the order that they are fired coming from the firing panel. They are divided into 48 shot punch blocks with a letter designating each block of 48. So each input from the firing panel has to be connected to each output going to the firework. You may ask yourself why all the trouble to cross connect over 200 wires? Because if we did it all on the field it would take longer and use much more wire. You can’t line up all the fireworks in the order they are fired. Trust me on this one. Shell sizes are grouped together. Anyway my point is that it sounds like a real serious game of jumbo battleship where the players can’t hit anything. We were getting into quite a rhythm. Soon it degenerated to “X-23”, “C-2” Beep, next….
Once everything was wired and continuity checks were complete there was nothing to do but go home and take a nap. Only problem was I couldn’t sleep. My wife can sleep anywhere any time, maybe even standing up. Like a cat, she has the capability to nap like she is getting paid for it. I am so jealous.
At 5pm Spudgun and I packed up my Hippy Prairie Mobile with a largish gas grill, table, chairs, easy up shelter, and an ice chest full of brats, dogs, coke, mustard, macaroni salad, ice, and napkins. I drove over to the site and set up a monster BBQ picnic for the pyro crew. We ate and talked, and sat in the shade waiting for the sun to set. While the rest of the town seemed to be crowding the lake on the south shore we, for safety sake, had the entire north shore to our selves. It’s a lonely beach with just us and the pelicans. Perfect.
Once the sun set we started to gear up and review our safety plans and how the show will go off. After the last check of all the electrical systems it was time to start the show. The anticipation was getting almost unbearable; I have been waiting and working for the last three days to see the results of all our work explode in the sky. At exactly 9:15pm I lit one of three the announcement bombs. Hissssss Snap, kerlump………… Pow! The first 3” titanium salute echoes across the lake. Thirty seconds later I lit another. Ten seconds later up goes the last salute and the show begins. As I walk away from the field of fire I can feel the first 8” shell blast into the sky not fifty feet from me. I head up to the top of a low rise to watch the show. It’s nice that I can watch the show up close, but what really makes it cool is that I am standing right next to Spudgun watching his reaction to the violent art he helped to create.
The one part of the show that everyone is anticipating is the finally. This show is special as at the last minute the owner decided to add two extra shells. Two 12” shells were bought and donated by the pyros for the Windsor tornado victims.
We wanted an extra special punch to end the show. Something special about watching a fireworks show up close is that there is more of a feeling of depth in the display. There is a light breeze so some of the shells drift into other shells as they go off, this adds an interesting dimension to the display that most people never see. Finally, (Pun intended) the show was coming close to the end of the shoot and Spudgun and I were eagerly anticipating the last three switches to be clicked. One switch was for a 10” shell, a second later another for the pair of 12” shells, then lastly a click to fire off 30, 3” titanium salutes. I can’t even describe what it looked like. Everything was directly over head filling the sky from horizon to horizon east and west. All I heard from Spudgun was “wow”. There is a great photo of this on the My Windsor Now website.
Look closely at the photo and at the small yellow flash just above the water level on the center of the field.
I looked down to see if there was an all clear signal from the shooter, and at that moment one of the three inch salutes went off only a few feet over the tree that my wife was standing under. For some reason the shell had either a defective delay or a weak lift charge and went off lower than the others. I called her on the radio and shouted “are you all right” of course she couldn’t hear me. So I did a dog trot down the hill in the dark to see if she was all right. Sure enough she was fine, rattled but not injured. The shooter and his crew were shaken as well; they were under the same tree. I was especially concerned because I was the safety tsar for this shoot. Good thing that the entire crew wears extensive safety gear. We all ware suits, hard hats, safety goggles, gloves, boots, ear plugs and ear muffs, so my wife was well protected.
Other than that incident and a few shells that failed to light due to chain fuse failure the show was a complete success. We started the dud hunt while we waited for the guns to cool down. The dud hunt is not only important for safety reasons but it gives the crew some time to come down from the adrenaline rush. It also gives us time to talk about the show while looking for duds.
There is something about being in close proximate to violent and dangerous devices. I can see why people would enjoy sky diving, mountain climbing, or motorcycle jumping. I am not sure about actually doing it, but it must feel great to survive the experience. After each show I feel a rush of relief that everything went well and no one got hurt. It’s the same feeling I get when I almost skid off the road on an icy road. There is an adrenaline rush from the show, followed by total relief.
Once the dud hunt is done its time for the senior pyros to check the field to make sure the guns are clear of any product before the crew comes in to clean up. It took a while because I was one of only two senior pyros on site. After checking the guns and storing the un-used pyro, it was time to set the crew loose to put away all the toys. Setting them loose sounds a lot more aggressive than it is. They were not straining at the starting gates ready to jump in. It was more like opening a box and letting turtles loose. We were tired, and most of us started work early and stayed up late for three days strait. It was almost 11:00pm when we started to pick up the wire, guns, stakes, cables, cakes, cat boxes, and stuff. Then my lovely wife got a call from our son. The down stair toilet overflowed, and apparently no one noticed for a bit of time… They got the toilet turned off but there was a lot of water…so home she went. I couldn’t leave, there was just too much work to do and not enough crew to clean up the mess.
There are three things about a fireworks show that the general public is un-aware of.
First: The firework tubes are covered in tin foil, plastic wrap, duct tape, masking tape, and sometimes rubber bands. When the mortar tube firers, all of this instantly turns into shredded debris. Burning trash cannons.
Second: For some reason, due to pressure, heat, and moisture, when a mortar is fired it condenses moisture on the inside of the tube. This moisture seems to attract all the black powder residue and smoke. During cleanup, this black, stinking, goop gets everywhere. Like liquid brimstone mixed with black toner, it smells of rotten eggs, and burnt rubber.
We should contact Mike Rowe about getting this in Dirty Jobs.
Third: Everything has to be picked up and cleaned up after the show. All of the little bits of fuse, tinfoil, burnt pieces of tape, and miles of yellow wire must be picked up and thrown away. (Recycled when it comes to the wire) The majority of the people who put on the show are not paid. They are volunteers, and are primarily motivated by the art of painting the sky. The show is wonderful when seen close up, and the sense of satisfaction for a job well done is reflected in the screams and applause of the audience. The price we pay is to help clean up the mess.
Spudgun and I worked until we were not only exhausted but it was getting hard to find little scraps of tinfoil with a flashlight. Clean enough. It was well after 1am when we rolled up to the driveway in my HPM. After a much needed shower, I found that I couldn’t go right to sleep, that’s ok, I still had my shop to bail out. My wife and sons did a great job getting the water cleaned up, but they didn’t want to touch my shop. Its just on the other side of the bathroom and there was about a half an inch of water on the floor. So I grabbed a bucket, a beer, and some towels and got to work.
By three am it was as clean and dry as I could get it and I was starting to feel the need to stop moving. It was odd, I have worked long and hard before, but this is the first time that I literally felt like I could lay down on the floor and sleep soundly. I don’t remember going to bed, or even how I made it upstairs. No dreams. No sense of time. The next thing I remember I was awake and the sun was up, apparently for a long time. After a nice shower I set out to find my lovely wife. Eventually I found her in the back yard playing with the cats and pulling weeds. “Morning, have you called Comcast yet? The kids are climbing the walls”
The coffee maker was still broken, all our towels were dirty or in the dryer, the HPM is full of pyro junk and a used portable picnic, and the Intertubes were still clogged.
There is a lot of work left to do.