There was a summer when my brother, Bill, and I discovered the things one could do with black gun powder. Bill located a guy in Ojeda who sold the stuff in round tins.

For those of you not familiar with the laws in the area in the early 60's, possession of smokeless powder guns was frowned upon by the Guardia National -- you asked for big trouble if you were ever caught and major fines. The local natives could have black powder shotguns which were called “chopos”.

Well, having black powder caused the inventive juices to flow as we could not do some things -- for example we could take the large bolts and nuts used one the well derricks and partially screw one bolt into a nut, fill the cavity with black powder and a shotgun primer and screw another bolt in from the other end and then compress the powder and then drop or throw the bolt bomb and have a nice display with it struck the ground with enough force and at the proper angle. When we were younger we used to do that with caps for cap-guns but on a smaller scale. We tired of that quickly.

We decided to build small cannon and so we took a hack saw and at night cut off about two foot of capped fence post from the staff school playground fence. We then used dad's drill and drilled a small hole in the cap in which we could insert a firecracker fuse.

We filled the cap with black powder and then crammed toilet paper down the tube and packed it on top of the powder and then we took about a half cup of lead bird-shot and poured that down the tube and then more toilet paper on top of the shot. We built a small wooden support to which we wired the tube and took it over to the play ground and aimed it out into the play ground and lit the fuse and ducked behind the 55 gallon waste paper drum by the entrance of the school. The cannon let go with a delightful blast and the toilet paper flew out the end on fire and smoke filled the air. We heard a swish go by us when the blast occurred and something struck our jeep in the driveway. Birdshot was sprayed everywhere.

We walked up to where the cannon had been braced and no tube to be found, just pieces of the wooden brace. The swish we heard had been the tube as it shot past where we crouched and we located it where it had bounced off the jeep. We saw bits of lead bird-shot markings on just about everything at least 25 feet from the ignition point. A resounding success.

Dad was not aware of what we were up to -- however he did know we had black powder.

Now, when the dry season came the blackbirds used to flock out on the golf course near the greens where the sprinklers ran and where there were lots of things to eat and so we charged another tube but with more powder and shot and drove out to the green nearest the big drainage pumps at the corner of the Campo Verde and the Operations fence --the farthest from the camp housing. There we discovered a large flock of black birds and we quietly drove up as close as we could and then very carefully set the tube up facing the flock and lit the fuse ducking around the other side of the jeep and "WHAMMM", the thing went off and when the smoke cleared we saw that the flock was decimated and the tube had disappeared out of sight and could not be located.

This success exceeded our expectations. But what if someone saw us and reported us. So being prudent we decided to refine our designs. By the way, nobody said a thing about all the dead birds out and about that green.

We next took iron water pipe used in the housing construction and this time had a welder who was working on a new well that Shell was drilling out in the golf course along the dike area and towards the office. The welder welded the one end of the pipe shut and we then drilled a tap hole in the pipe and for the pistol tube wrapped a small quantity of clothesline wire around the end and then cut a pistol grip out of wood and wired the tube to the grip. We used the end of a Parker Fountain pen to form bullet molds using tinfoil as the mold, melting the lead with a plumbers torch that you pumped up to pressurize and then filing the lead slugs down to fit into the tubes. The long tube had wire wrapped around the tube and then a large lead mass molded around the wire and tube -- this was to prevent the tube from exploding near your head because to fire this thing you rested the lead mass on your shoulder, laid your head down on it and sighted along the four foot tube.

I fired the pistol and fortunately we did not over charge it with powder and I held it off to the side slightly to ensure that if the tube took of it would not lodge itself in my skull. I lit the fuse and “BAM” smoke and burning toilet paper and the tube shot pass my head and disappeared in the brush leaving me with just the grip and a very sore right hand. That was close, but the lead slug did depart the end of the tube on its way to who knows. My brother then said he would fire the long-tube. So we charged the tube but with extra powder and he set it on his shoulder and he aimed as best as he could at a bulldozer that was about 100 feet away and I lit the fuse and got out of the way. What a blast and we could hear the lead slug strike the dozer -- success.

I gave up on the guns because of the danger but Bill continued on his own with the long-tube until one day he came home and found that Dad had removed the black powder and had bent the long-tube. He had heard from somebody of what we were up to and he said for our safety we had to stop.

Later we made “zip-guns” which were not too sophisticated but could put a small hole in you if close enough. But that too did not last long. We watched too many gang movies I guess. We even had nice Italian switch-blade knives -- but a machete was much more versatile and you could reach further. I still have my German made, 24” black-griped Carl Schroper NR 23 razor-sharp machete with its tooled leather sheath that I kept with me in the jeep when we left the camp on rides.

It is truly a wonder that we had not severely injured ourselves, but we were young, dumb and it was summertime, you know.

 

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