Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Dynamite Stories: Episode 3 - Guarding the M

In September 1940 I became a member of the pledge class of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity at the Colorado School of Mines* along with seven other freshmen from Illinois, Mississippi, and Oklahoma, and various towns in Colorado. We were given the duty on the night before the Colorado College football game to guard the "M," a large lighted stone assemblage high on the side of Mount Zion in the front range of the Rockies (above Golden) that could be seen for many, many miles out towards Denver and the prairies. We were given a pack of fused dynamite to use as a signal to alert the campus below if any Colorado College vandals showed up.

It was a long trudge up the mountain to the darkened "M" that night, but we were honored and alert. A road block at the bottom of the mountain intended to deter any invaders was manned by other Miners so we confidently settled in, not expecting any action. Then over the other side of the mountain from the direction of Buffalo Bill's grave on Lookout Mountain came several automobiles with their lights out. CC Invaders! 

We were obviously outnumbered but we ran around in the dark, throwing stones and shouting hoping that the CC guys would think there were many of us. I was in charge of the dynamite so I lit the fuse and threw the pack over the side of the mountain. It exploded with a glorious "BANG" that rang across the entire valley below.

The CC guys were obviously startled and spooked and jumped in their cars and roared down the mountain. I learned that most of them avoided the roadblock but one carload was captured. They were treated to an application of fast-evaporating carbon tetra-chloride to their privates, had their heads shaved and an "M" drawn on their bare scalps with hair-growth inhibiting silver nitrate.

I don't suppose that kind of activity would be tolerated these days.

At least one of the unsuccessful Colorado College vandals who got captured and dosed with carbon-tet and silver nitrate was a good sport. At the following football game at Colorado Springs he was vending popcorn or peanuts or something in the stands on our side of the stadium. Some of our guys recognized him even though he was wearing a cap to hide his shaved dome. We all started yelling for him to take it off. With a smile and a laugh he doffed his cap and bent over to show the audience his heard with the "M" plain to see. The cheers and laughs were loud and gratifying.
*Being a mining school with Army Engineer ROTC mandatory explosives were part of the curriculum. We didn't ring the school bell to awaken the campus, we would set off dynamite over the face of Castle Rock which would reflect the sound far and wide.
© Arthur Lakes Library

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Dynamite Stories: Episode 2: Don't Try This at Home

When I was a kid on Paw Paw Avenue in Watervliet, we had an old red shed out back full of tools and junk and one wooden box mysterious to us boys. It turned out that it was a box partially full of old sticks of dynamite. Now dynamite is actually sawdust-like "fuller's earth" or diatomaceous earth soaked in nitroglycerin and wrapped in a kind of wax paper. When it gets old and sits around too long it leaks some of the nitroglycerin. That was the case with this old box. The wood of the bottom and lower sides of the box were soaked with nitroglycerin.

As you can imagine, this creates a tricky situation safety-wise. How do you get rid of old dynamite in a nitro-stained wooden box? You sure don't haul it to the town dump.

Our solution was for Dick and I to gingerly lift the box and carry it down to the woods in the river-bottom behind the house. Then Dick got his .22/250 varmint rifle with the telescopic sight, assumed the prone firing position on top of the hill, aimed at the box, and fired.

The result was tremendous blast that reverberated up and down the Paw Paw River Valley, and, as we later learned, scared the hell out of the people in the house nearest across the river. 

Obviously, we didn't publicize the incident.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Dynamite Stories: Episode 1 - The Lombardy Poplars

Conversations with my nieces and nephews about trees in the yard at the old home place on Paw Paw Avenue in Watervliet reminded me of a number of stories involving dynamite. This is the first in the series.

Episode 1 - The Lombardy Poplars

If you've been to the Woodruff family compound in Watervliet, you might wonder, "what Lombardy poplars?" There are none anymore. Their demise is the story.

Between Mother and Dad's house (now owned and occupied by Pat and Geoff Geisler) and the field where my brother Dick built his house were a number of trees. From north to south: an overly mature sugar maple out by Paw Paw Avenue, then two mature Lombardy poplars just east of the house, a big spruce tree, and finally two Catalpas.

One of the Lombardy poplars died a natural death--they are relatively short lived--and soon after the other just gave up and died too. Dad cut it down or had it cut down (I don't remember which), then decided to get rid of the stump. This was before you could get somebody to come in with a "stump grinder" to make the stump go away.

Dad's choice for stump removal was dynamite.

The problem was the trees were pretty close to the house, and Dad didn't want to splatter the house with dirt and wood chips. (I don't think Mother was around when Dad decided on dynamite.) So he came to us and asked for our favorite pup-tent to smother any debris.

We boys objected strenuously to that idea but Dad convinced us that our tent would be alright. So he dug in around the roots of the poplar stump and inserted what turned out to be an excessive number of sticks of dynamite.

He lit the fuse (we boys were in the house observing out the dining room window) and BALOOEY!! Our shredded tent sailed all the way over the house and dirt thoroughly splattered the east side of house. 

Mission accomplished, you might say--the stump was completely disintegrated--but we were not privy to the discussion Dad eventually had with Mother about the whole episode.