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Jackie Harrison and the Carbide Bomb

Story ID:7100
Written by:Charles Dishno (bio, contact, other stories)
Story type:Story
Location:Dillon Montana USA
Year:2011
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Another memory of my past in a small town.

Jackie Harrison and the Carbide Bomb
Chuck Dishno

In the 1930’s and 40’s my hometown of Bly, Oregon was a very low-keyed town and didn’t claim many wealthy people. There were a few cattle ranches that were fairly affluent but most of the Bly people were just hard working loggers or mill workers.

Bly had a couple of “mom & pop” grocery stores that took care of our immediate needs. These stores were convenient where most patrons had an open charge account that would be settled at the end of the month.

The nearest town of any size, Klamath Falls , was only 53 miles away and almost everyone would drive to K.F. on a monthly basis to get their supply of large grocery items such as flower, beans, rice, potatoes, etc.

This all changed when shortly after the Second World War ended, a man named Jack Harrison moved into Bly and announced plans to build a large (by Bly standards) grocery store.

The first thing Jack did was to build a large house in a meadow at the East end of Bly. He then proceeded to build the Sycan Grocery Store. This store had everything the residents wanted and at a fairly competitive price.

The store also had a number of frozen food lockers of various sizes that could be rented by the month. This was great for the sportsman who now had a place to store their deer meat, ducks and geese and other wild game. They could also buy a side of beef from the ranchers and Jack would cut and wrap it for a fee. The “mom & pop” stores didn’t seem to suffer too much as they were owned by great people who had seen Bly thru some tough times and their customers were very loyal.

I don’t recall too much about where the Jack Harrisons came from but he apparently had more money that anyone else around. As I recall he had only one child named Jackie. He might have had more but since Jackie was our age, he is the one I remember.

Jackie was the typical “rich kid” who got everything he wanted. Things that us regular Bly boys could only yearn for when we saw pictures in magazines.

One of the most coveted things that Jackie had was a Whizzer bicycle.

For those of you who don’t know, a Whizzer was a beautiful bicycle with a motor built into the frame. This motor drove a belt that wrapped around a pulley just inside the back wheel.

Jackie’s Whizzer was a thing of beauty. It had a 2 gallon gas tank that straddled the center bar, chrome wheels and handle bars with tassels streaming from the handgrips. It also had a “knee action” front fork that took the shock out of riding on Bly streets. It also came with a price tag of over $200. Needless it was the envy of every kid in Bly.

Jackie was a nice kid though who seemed to fit right in and was well liked. I think most of us were a bit envious of all the nice things he had, such as Lionel Trains, Gilbert Erector Set, Gilbert Chemistry Set, steam engines and anything he wanted.

I’m not sure how Jackie came by it, but one day he brought a carbide miners lamp to school. This was an old time lamp and used calcium carbide dissolved in water to create the gas provided for the light. Jackie also brought a small bag of carbide and proceeded to show us how it worked.

Imagine bringing and demonstrating something like that to school today. The student would be suspended, the parents would be jailed and the FBI would be called. Not so in Bly. As far as we knew, FBI meant Full Blooded Indian.

We were fascinated by the carbide lamp but were more interested in the chunks of carbide and what we could do with them.

It wasn’t long before our experimental minds decided to put a small bit of water in a wine bottle, drop in a small chunk of carbide and then push the cork back into the top. After a couple of shakes we would then place the bottle on a pile of dirt and get away. In a few minutes the gas would build up and blow the cork sky-high. Usually a couple of ribbons were tied to the cork to help keep track of it as it gained altitude.

I remember some enterprising boy taping a kitchen match to the cork and lighting it as soon as the cork was in place. When the cork blew, the match lighted the gas and left a fiery trail. It was a wonder that we didn’t set Bly on fire or had a hand or leg blown off if, on the rare occasion, when the wine bottle broke before the cork took off. I don’t recall anyone getting hurt though or any houses burning down.

On another occasion when I was in the seventh grade, we had those long rows of desks complete with glass inkwells and a rubber stopper.

The ink was a blue powder that the teacher mixed with water. When we had penmanship class we would take out the stopper, dip in our scratch pens and proceed to do “push-pulls and ovals” like the ones illustrated in the Shafer Penmanship books.

One day while we were waiting for the teacher, Miss Hadley, to come in, some boy decided to make things a little more exciting than doing push-pulls. He walked to a front desk, removed the rubber stopper from an ink well, and dropped in a pinch of carbide. He then replaced the stopper and calmly walked back to his desk. He had no sooner seated himself when Miss Hadley (all 200 pounds of her) waddled into the room. She had no sooner reached her desk when the stopper blew. The room, kids and Miss Hadley were covered with a fine blue spray not to mention the ceiling. Miss Hadley panicked and ran out of the room to report the incident to the principal, Mr. Graham.
I can only imagine what he thought as this large blue specked lady came running into his office.

I don’t remember what happened to the would-be bomber but I’m sure he was turned in by some girl in the class. As for the rest of the boys and a few of the girls we were in “blue heaven”. Jackie was a hero!

The next year, Miss Hadley didn’t return to Bly School. She had had enough of us and since it was her first year of teaching I hope things got better for her as the years went by.

About a year later, the Harrison’s beautiful house burned to the ground. They sold the grocery store and left town. I just hope it wasn’t one of our “wine bottle rockets” that set the fire.

I never heard about the Harrison’s again and don’t know where they went. I just thank Jackie for all the nice memories.