Borepatch recently had blogroll update, including a link to Chemistry Sets. His led elsewhere than this post, but, the title tickled my brain a little.
I suddenly remembered stuff from my childhood. I think I was in the 5th Grade when Leigh Bradbury and some of his older friends built a model rocket. They were 7th Graders. Leigh was famous for making the balsa/tissue paper airplanes powered by gasoline motors. He painstakingly painted the tissue-paper with butyrate dope, to give the wings and fuselage color and rigidity. One could get high smelling this stuff. (And a name meme began). They were cool to watch fly and all, but, this was the 60’s and all the guys were into the space program. Going to the MOON!
Suddenly. Leigh had a model rocket. It was balsa wood and cardboard, and had a pre-built, pre-packaged, solid fuel engine.
He marched off 1/2 mile to the elementary schoolyard with an entire block of kids in tow. Word had got around.
This tiny toy rocket (perhaps 5″ long) had a soda straw affixed to it’s side, and a stiff, straight wire (a little thicker than a coat-hanger) for it to ride on.
And we all stood silent, awaiting preparations for the launch. A launch, in our neighborhood!
And Leigh made us stand back a couple hundred feet, for safety – and because he liked the audience.
Then…a countdown…and WOOSH!
The little missile took off, well, like a rocket! Maybe 500 feet in the air. Then fell back to Earth, undamaged.
And the playground was permeated by the smell of burning sulfur and saltpeter. What a cool smell. How cool was that?
And Guffaw was hooked.
Not just on model rocketry, but rockets, pyrotechnics, chemistry, fireworks, and yes, firearms. Anything to get that sulfur/saltpeter smell back. And we made and launched bunches of them.
By the time I got to high school, the log cabin playhouse in the backyard (that had failed as a casino during the James Bond period-kids don’t have money) had become the lab. And my Dad’s friend and co-worker, the middle-school science teacher, got all kinds of stuff he either had duplicates of, or didn’t need.
I had the best kid’s lab in the neighborhood! And my best friend Carl and his brother Vince and I used it.
And, by high school, we’d graduated from the paper model rockets with prepackaged/premeasured engines to making our own rocket fuel.
We’d go the the local drug store and buy sulfur and potassium nitrate in big jars. No one questioned our purchases.
It’s amazing we kept our fingers, hands and eyes. Carl and Vince’s dad policed his .22 casings – he had plastic buckets of the things. They made great containers as firecrackers!
We never did graduate to launching sleek metal tubes miles up, mostly because we couldn’t afford it. And, I’ve a sneaky suspicion at least my parents would have put the kibosh on 5 pound bags of chemicals arriving by freight to the house.
Of course, now, we’d be designated domestic terrorists. And be tracked by the FBI. A couple years ago, Senator Schumer wanted to ban the toy model rockets, because they might be used by terrorists. No need, Senator, they won’t hold much payload, and the space program is toast, anyway.
Toast that doesn’t smell like sulfur and saltpeter.