Making Your Own 4th of July Fun (Jul, 1931)

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Making Your Own 4th of July Fun

by Dale Van Horn

The big idea of July Fourth seems to be to make more noise in the day time and more brilliance at night than the other fellow. But if everybody buys from the same store, it’s only a matter of who has the fattest purse. This article tells you how you can have more fun than your neighbor at lower cost, by making your own fireworks.

FROM across the street came a reverberating “BOOOMMMMM” about every minute. It was mid-afternoon and most of the youngsters had shot their kits of torpedoes and firecrackers long ago. There seemed to be no one in sight. Yet every so often came that loud noise and I got curious. The noise apparently came from behind a large bill board and so presently I went over to investigate. There, in the cool shadows were two ragged little fellows and a dog, having the time of their lives. Seemingly too poor to enjoy the usual offerings of the Fourth, they had acquired a pile of large, kraftpaper sacks and were blowing up these and breaking them against the bill board which only heightened the noise. It acted as a sounding board.

We seem to want noise in the day time and brightness at night for our Fourth of July, and the fun is there, regardless of how the noise and brilliance is achieved.

A boy in another neighborhood, a few years ago, used to send up a red flare along his kite string, providing there was a breeze after dark. It was a simple contrivance that did the trick; a small pulley wheel with wire frame and a parachute to catch the wind and pull the heavy flare up the incline. That single red brightness high up in the air was more impressive than a whole lawn-full of them going at once on the ground. And the fellow got plenty of publicity. You could spot the thing a mile or more away.

Even though there’s no wind, and you want something different, you can run a stout string or small wire from a stake in the ground up to a high tree limb, the house chimney or a telephone pole, and use the same idea, either for a flare or some other light unit at night. Or you can send up firecrackers in the same way in the day time. The wire should run with the wind and an accompanying illustration shows how the trolley and parachute are made and assembled. Any simple design will suffice, so long as the wire connecting the parachute to the pulley is so bent that the parachute will not rub the string when in use.

Where water is available in even a small quantity, a lot of fun can be derived from two or more of the easily made monitors shown in an accompanying illustration. Being needed only for a short time, they are hastily made from a board and half a tin can in which several holes have been cut. A small flag should be attached as shown. Fasten the can down with tacks, so that by springing the sides, it can be removed.

To use, twist the fuses of several firecrackers together and loosely tie a short, thick cotton cord to them. Place the crackers inside and run the cord through one of the holes. Two or more of the monitors should be prepared and launched at the same time from an upwind shore so they will move out upon the water. As the boats are launched, light each cotton cord. It will burn with a spot of red and after an interval the fire reaches the fuses. When this happens a regular miniature water battle will ensue with the popping of the crackers and smoke issues from the holes. A piece of punk can be used instead of the thick cotton cord if desired.

The cracker pistol will please the kiddies immensely. The fuse at the end is lighted, then the gun quickly aimed and “Bang”! it goes. To clean the barrel, lift up the nail which locks the round wooden rod, shove this ahead through the barrel, then draw it back in position and replace the nail for the next shot. No danger results from this weapon because the cracker explodes only from the muzzle, and this of course, is held away from the face.

Get a small hollow tube of, say, % in. inside diameter and 10 in. long. A small pipe will do, or you can find an excellent source from an old brass bedstead. Cut out a stock and grip from white pine to fit the hand nicely. Groove the top to seat the barrel as shown. Fasten this snugly in place with two “U” shaped wires which are passed down over the barrel and are twisted tight underneath.

Get a dowel or any round wooden rod to slide through the barrel easily. Drill a small hole through the barrel top and another through the dowel at such a point that the front end of the dowel will be far enough back from the muzzle to permit seating the cracker as shown. Then cut off a small nail so the head will protrude slightly. After each shot, the dowel is pushed ahead to shove out the remains of the exploded cracker!

If plenty of open space is available, the flaming meteor will furnish a thrilling spectacle. A stiff bow and some dried cat tails are needed. The cat tail stems become the arrow, while the head is broken off to leave about half the fluffy end and this is dipped in gasoline or kerosene. An instant after it is lighted, it is shot high into the air and long streamers of flicking fire tail far behind. Of course this should be used entirely away from buildings or anything which might possibly catch fire. An arrow with rags wrapped tightly about the tip can be used in place of the cat tails, or an arrow of stiff wire will permit using it over and over.

In some sections boys often use another spectacular stunt. They make a ball 3 inches in diameter from old rags and bind it with small copper wire. They don old gloves (although the writer has participated with bare hands unharmed), soak the ball in kerosene and light it. Then they play ball! The trick lies in throwing the flaming sphere as quickly as possible after catching it, to another of the party. One soaking with coal oil will last several minutes and on a dark night, the performance is especially thrilling.

Another ingenious noise maker requires a tire pump. Unscrew the base, reverse the leathers in the barrel, and tear up some thin, tough paper into 3 inch squares. Fit one of these over the end of the tube and either hold it with your hands or slip a rubber band over the edges, then quickly pull the plunger to the top of the tube. A quick vacuum is created which pops the paper with a loud, hollow report.

Here’s how you can get as much fun from a 15-cent sky rocket as you ordinarily get from a 50-center. The only equipment needed is a length of rain spout or other large diameter pipe. Two persons are needed. Slip the rocket, point up, in the pipe with the end of the stick resting on the ground. One person raises the pipe until the fuse is exposed. The other person lights it. The instant the fuse catches, the pipe is dropped tight onto the ground and the rocket roars from the top like a charge from a cannon.

The explanation is simple. With the usual method, there is no confining of the gases; here they are confined and the writer has often sent small, cheap sky rockets higher and farther than much larger and more expensive ones can be sent by the trough method. Another advantage is that by merely aiming the pipe, you can pretty accurately tell just where the rocket is going. Besides, the stick doesn’t wobble when shot through the pipe. The speed of the rocket, as it leaves the pipe, is terrific. There is no danger in using this method and several rockets can be fired in rapid succession before the metal becomes hot.

Another rocket stunt is this: to a large rocket stick, tie in reversed position a rocket not more than half its size, in such a way that the fuse of the smaller rocket will be in line with, and some 12 or 15 inches from, the other fuse. This hookup should be used only through the pipe, described above, to insure plenty of height with the added load. This is somewhat risky so take no chances. After the large rocket is lighted and leaves the tube, the sparks, sooner or later, ignite the smaller rocket and if this occurs about the time the first rocket is exhausted, a quick right-about occurs high up, and the smaller rocket, now only with the empty shell as load, continues on its flight.

Or, a bunch of flash crackers can be wired to the stick of a single rocket. Be sure to wrap the stick with tin or aluminum to prevent breaking. Each cracker should be fastened in place and with the fuse pointing forward, but one behind the other. Then the first flash cracker explodes, and in so doing, exposes the next to the sparks from the rocket which explodes, and so on. Thus, during the flight of the rocket, rapid and brilliant flashes augment the spectacle.

If you have an “electrical bent” you’ll enjoy making the can bomber, which consists of spark coil, a 2 or 3 cell battery, spark plug and switch. Mounted on a base, a heavy tin can with tight-fitting lid becomes the bomber proper. The spark plug is fitted up through the base and when the switch is closed, explodes charges of powder. This blows off the can lid with a loud report—and you’re ready to repeat.

Use a pint or quart can and be sure the lid fits tightly. Get a board 1 inch thick, 8 inches wide and 20 inches long and put two 2 by 4 inch pieces under the ends to raise it above the ground. Bore a hole through the board near one end of such a size that the spark plug to be used can be screwed tightly in place from the underside. Make a hole to just fit the top of the plug in the can bottom and set it in place. Describe a circle on a 2 by 8 by 8 inch block the size of the can and cut this disc out with a band saw, making a cut to start from the outside. Then slip it in place and pinch the starting saw cuts together to squeeze the can and hold it in place. Then nail down the block to the 1 by 8 inch base.

Get a spark coil and rig it up as shown with a switch so when this switch is closed, a spark jumps the plug gap.

The bomber can be used in several ways. One method is to get some small grain black powder and make up a batch of small cartridges by putting a small amount of the powder on a square of tissue paper and tying the top shut. This cartridge is pressed down upon the spark plug points, the lid pressed on, and the switch, carried some distance away, closed.

Another method is to merely fill the cup in the plug with powder, bringing the top up and touching one of the points. If this is done, care must be exercised and the plug cooled off after each charge to prevent a possible premature explosion.

Or you can fix a firecracker in the can in such a position that the fuse lies between the spark plug points and when the switch is closed, the spark ignites the fuse. This form of Fourth of July fun is both effective and cheap, since 50 cents’ worth of powder will last a long time. Use a can large enough to admit your hand easily.

A lot of fun can be had with an easily turned wheel on a suitable support. A bicycle wheel is best and it should be mounted to a post well off the ground. To make a gigantic pin wheel, bind two small sky rockets diametrically opposite, to the rim with wire. Remove the sticks carefully as they are not needed. After seeing that the wheel turns with but little effort, light one of the rockets. Confined to a small orbit, it will roar around the circumference of the 30-inch circle with almost terrifying speed. After a time it stops and you can light the other rocket with a repetition of the performance. By fastening both rockets in place at the same time, even though one at a time is used, the wheel will be balanced properly. Or you may rig up a light tin deflector in such a manner that some of the first rocket’s sparks are thrown against the fuse of the other rocket, and presently the wheel will be going in the opposite direction.

In like manner, a number of sparklers can be attached to the rim of a large wheel that turns easily, and another effective spectacle results. Lighting one or two at a time produces a striking effect when the wheel is spun at a good clip.

Now a few don’ts in conclusion.

Don’t take undue risks.

Don’t let youngsters meddle when not wise.

Don’t let spectators stand too close.

Don’t violate city ordinances regarding fireworks. If your city prohibits certain July Fourth demonstrations, arrange your party out of town.

  1. Rick Auricchio says: July 3, 20129:41 am

    And then we see an article in, say, 1935: “New burn and trauma center opens…”

  2. Toronto says: July 3, 201210:30 am

    Cattail dipped in gasoline, then lit and fired like an arrow. Really?

  3. Hirudinea says: July 4, 20121:55 pm

    @ Rick Auricchio – “Doing your own 5th of July Skin Transplants.”

  4. JediaKyrol says: July 5, 20129:31 am

    I love the firecracker pistol…
    “No danger results from this weapon because the cracker explodes only from the muzzle, and this of course, is held away from the face.”
    yep…no danger at all…kids would never do anything like point it at anyone.

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