Test(s) 5 – Science

Today's Post
For the fourth story about my high school tests, I’ve selected Physics and Chemistry. Well, these test didn’t take place in school.

Physics and chemistry classes were fun and had the potential to be somewhat dangerous for adventurous boys with underdeveloped common sense. Our chemistry/physics teacher cautioned us about misuse of nearly everything, but we 1950s teenage boys had selective hearing just like they allegedly do now.[mfn]There were girls in the classes too, but I have no idea how they heard and thought then and now.[/mfn] It’s a wonder we survived our curiosity during a time when there no laws against what we did or misapprehensions about our intent.

Amatol B

One of the bolder of us asked about the composition of the WWI artillery explosive/propellant Amatol B, a mixture of nitrates and TNT. He didn’t share, but we knew where his books were kept. One of us found the recipe. Everything needed could be bought at most hardware and drug stores. We did make a reasonable mix of the Amatol B-3 propellant.

We’d learned or honed welding and other skills in our metal shop class. One of us lived on a farm and had a good supply of random material. We made a rocket with water pipe and the fins from flat scrap iron.

We carefully packed the tube and put a dynamite fuse into the mixture and propped it vertical on a milk bucket launching pad. It didn’t fire. Finally, our successful ignition was from using a Model T Ford ignition coil connected to a six-volt motorcycle battery.[mfn]The output of the ignition coil was about 12,000 volts.[/mfn] The rocket went up over a lake, but we never saw it land or splash down.


We learned the recipe for nitroglycerin in unauthorized private research during chemistry class and decided to make our own so we could blow up some rocks on a farm were one of us lived. I’m sure we thought we were probably doing something wrong or just idiotic because we intentionally split our purchases by person, place, and day.

CAUTION: Do not be as stupid or other appropriate mental condition as we had in those days and try this at home or anywhere else.

We put some of the jell we’d made into a depression on a large field rock and covered it with some cloth. We didn’t have any primers so we thought we could provide the initial shock by hitting it with a .22 rifle shot. But it was in a depression in the big rock. It was decided to place a smaller rock on top of the jell and shoot at it. It worked. The big rock was split and the little one disappeared.

Then we awoke to how unstable the explosive material was and collectively became afraid of what we’d made. The extra jell was in a quart jar, so we put on a lid, tied a wire and iron weight to it, and sunk it in the deepest place we knew in a nearby lake.

Our logic was that the lid would eventually rust open, and the chemical would dissipate in the water. But I speculated for a considerable time about some fisherman dropping anchor and having it blasted back at him.

Sawed off Shotgun

As was our nature, we were doing some random wonder-if when one of us thought of attaching a tube at the end of a BB gun to fire a shotgun shell. Note the ‘CAUTION’ above.

It was back to the farm shop for us. We found a tube about 3 inches long that a 12-guage shotgun shell would fit inside and the shell flange would keep it from sliding through. We welded a clamp to put it over the end a Daisy B-B gun and clamped a shell in place. None of us wanted to squeeze the trigger – unusual wisdom for us. We clamped the BB gun to a fence post and pulled the trigger with a length of binder twine.

What a blast!

We tried it several more times, but an unusual sense of caution stayed with us and none of us fired it from our shoulder. One of the guy’s father had Daisy B-B pistol he used to shoot rats in the henhouse.

Nah! We discussed it but didn’t try it.

Sometimes wisdom falls into place in mysterious ways.

Mini Rockets

Another ‘could have seriously hurt someone’ what-if came from our having a longer tube that would fit a 12-guage shell including the flange and some unused Amatol B-3.

We mounted the greased tube on a ramp and filled some spent shells with the propellant. We used the ignition system from our first rocket and launched shells over the lake until the propellant was used up. We didn’t feel compelled to make more but sometimes discussed making and even selling rockets for the next Independence Day.

I taught electronics and applied physics classes, but never mentioned my teenage experiments. However, at least once to my knowledge, a boy did some outside the classroom experiments using theory he’d learned in my electronics class. No harm was done in that case and my theory about teenage boy brains was confirmed.

<!– P