Fichigan

Small Stream Trout fishing in Michigan

Small Rockets

When Feral and I were kids he mail-ordered a couple rocket engines from an ad in the back of a comic book. They looked like CO2 cylinders and had a wire frame that held a pan below which the user filled with lighter fluid or some other flammable substance. To ignite the rocket engine you touched off the suspended pan of lighter fluid with a match. Once the cylinder reached a certain temp the rocket engine ignited which would then propel anything it was attached to forward. The rocket could not be pointed vertically to the stars, but rather horizontal to the earth else the flash pan contents would spill out.

We were suspicious about whether the rockets really worked so we asked a neighbor boy if we could clamp one in a vice in his dad’s garage. The garage was about fifty years old and made of wood dry as paper. The vice was bolted to a bench a few feet from the double swing-out door. On a side note, I had made the mistake of mentioning our rocket project to my mother and of course she was concerned, but not enough to kill the project.

We clamped the rocket with the vice and filled up the igniter pan with gasoline and touched her off. And waited. Flames licked the rocket cylinder for maybe a minute while we shook our heads, sure it was a hoax. Then magic – a slow roar as flames shot out of the rocket cylinder, about 4 feet, just shy of the tinderbox garage door. Our enthusiasm was dampened somewhat by the realization we could burn down the garage. The neighbor boy freaked out, of course. I opened the garage door so it wouldn’t catch fire and waited for the flames to die. (There was no way to turn off the rocket.) It lasted several minutes. Feral was satisfied with the test.

On that earlier side note, I went back home, next door, to our upstairs apartment and found my mother crouched in the living room where she was refinishing a piece of wood furniture. As a practical but somewhat thoughtless joke, I pretended I burned my hand. My mother jumped up, grabbed my hands, turned them over, turned them over again. Then looked in my eyes. Then slapped me so hard I may have seen stars. I received the “don’t cry wolf ” lecture after she cooled off, about a year later. In my defense, my humor may have been a nervous reaction to the underlying realization we could have burned down the whole neighborhood of close-knit stick-built homes.

Feral had a second rocket engine. He related this story to me years later. He mounted the rocket to a plastic model car. He and another friend took it out in the street, lit the engine, and watched it take off at rocket speed down the middle of the road until veering to the right and sliding under someone’s parked car, where it lodged against the curb, rocket engine still running. I understand there was some panic involved this time also since car gas tanks and rocket flames do not co-exist well. Again, there was not much Feral could do until the flames died. I would need to confirm this but I believe Feral and his buddy didn’t wait around. They were, of course, just kids.

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