Friday, October 7, 2011

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy: Trouble--Backyard Rocket Science

A guest post from my hubby, Wally, about troubles as a teen in Cleveland, Ohio:

One summer when I was14 or 15, I taught myself how to make gunpowder (!) out of the ingredients that came in my trusty A.C. Gilbert Chemistry Set (similar to the one above)...and quickly realized that the compound would work as a rocket fuel.

So I took apart a bicycle horn that had a trumpet-shaped bell and soldered it to a small tin can loaded with my homemade gunpowder (doing this with tools readily available in my family's basement workshop).

Outside, I suspended my makeshift rocket from a wire that I ran the length of the backyard--only a foot off the ground. Then I crouched beside it and used an eyedropper full of sulfuric acid to set off the gunpowder inside the can.

The gunpowder caught fire, burned, smoke and fire came out the nozzle of the "rocket," and it zoomed across the wire!

My parents had no problems with backyard rocketry until the first time I put my dirty jeans in the laundry chute. My mother pulled my jeans out of the washing machine and noticed they were polka-dotted with dozens of holes, some as big as a dime. Hmmmm....

The sulfuric acid had weakened the denim and in the wash, the threads disintegrated, leaving neat little holes. Lots and lots of them.

"No more sulfuric acid." So I then had to devise another way to ignite the gunpowder from a distance. To be continued!


  1. Im waiting. This outta be good...

  2. I can't wait to see how this ends. Thank your husband for being a guest blogger.

  3. Amy, thanks for reading. I'm going to coax the continuation out of him this week, I hope. You can be sure the chemistry set gets a lot of use!
    - Marian