Always a curious kid, my parents recognized early on that I needed creative stimulation other than being a cowboy and a farm boy. They had high hopes that I would go on to college. My brothers called me the bookworm because I read every book I could get my hands on from a very early age. And my parents always were finding ways to encourage my education. One of those ways was by inspiring the knowledge of science. When I was about 12 years old, they bought me a chemistry set for Christmas. This Skil-Craft Micro-Chem Lab came in a metal fold-out container with a microscope, test tubes, chemicals, and a book with all sorts of experiments. It was the occupation of many hours in the cold winter months.
I set this lab up in my brother Larry’s bedroom—he didn’t need it anymore because he had left home and gotten married. He was 9 years older than me. I tried doing the experiments that came in the jiffy Exploring Chemistry manual, but they were pretty boring. I started mixing chemicals on my own and trying to create things like adhesives, and fire retardants. I mixed up some of the chemicals and created a solution that I thought might put out a fire with just a couple of drops. But to test an effective fire retardant, you have to have a fire, right? So I used a kitchen pan as a crucible to start a fire one day. Well, the little fire in the pan was burning and I took out my eyedropper and squeezed two drops onto the fire. In a blinding flash, there was an explosion and the fire shot up to the ceiling. Fortunately, it did extinguish. No worse for wear.
My fascination with explosions and fire, however, wasn’t extinguished with my near-disaster experience in my makeshift lab. Later that spring, I was rummaging through a drawer in an antique wash stand and found a handful of M-80 cherry bombs. Now both my brothers Chuck and Larry had at one time or another told me to leave them be—that they were dangerous. I was unaware that in 1966 Congress criminalize the possession of these firecrackers. They had been laying in the back of that drawer for years. So I decided to conduct another “experiment” to see just how powerful these seemingly harmless cherry bombs were. I grabbed some matches and a couple cherry bombs and headed to the pond. There was a huge oak tree next to the pond’s bank. I wanted to see how far up a cherry bomb could launch something.
I found an old porcelain jar—the kind that probably held something like Vick’s Vaporub. At the base of the tree, I lit the cherry bomb, put the jar over it, and ran. Nothing. No explosion. This time, I put two cherry bombs under the jar, set a match between them and kind of walked away. BOOOOM!!!! Fire shot up the side of that tree by about 20 feet and that Vick’s jar went so far I never found it. The horses snorted and high-tailed it. I was afraid my folks would hear it, too. There was a large black streak up the tree. Dad later wondered about it, but I never said anything. There might have been even a bigger explosion. Proverbs 27:12 says, “The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it.” I guess I was somewhere between prudent and simple, but I avoided suffering. God watches out for fools.