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Fire!

The good news: I didn't lose my eyebrows. The bad news: I lost my favorite jacket in the blaze. Or rather, my favorite jacket was the blaze.

Flash back to Jan. 20, the third anniversary of the day we lost my 16-year-old cousin in a car accident. Her friends and family gathered at the accident site to replace the worn cross there.

She would have been angry with us standing around crying again, so after a prayer, I suggested we do something fun. As it turns out, something was already planned.

Everyone trekked to my grandparents' home for a potato launching. Adam, my sister's boyfriend, took it upon himself to build a potato gun.

Disclaimer No. 1: As for the federal government, potato guns constructed solely for recreational use are legal. I checked the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms website.

Disclaimer No. 2: Adam is a sheriff's deputy in another county. For his protection, I won't reveal which county that is. He'll thank me later.

A potato gun is just what it sounds like. Using the propellant power of flammable gasses, a potato gun would launch a whole potato to the back 40. Key word in that sentence: flammable.

With everyone in the backyard, Adam filled the combustion chamber of his PVC gun with propane. A potato already muzzle-loaded, he screwed the cap on the back and snapped the striker to ignite the gas.

Nothing happened. We tried everything - different air mixtures, even shaking the gun - but the potato wasn't moving. Then someone suggested we use acetylene instead. Acetylene is a powerful gas used for welding. Yes, it's metal-melting hot.

Adam caught us off guard with a loud boom as he shot the first potato so far we didn't even look for it. Next was my turn.

Disclaimer No. 3: If it worked the first time, logic dictates it will work again, right?

I pulled the "trigger," heard the kapow, felt the gun "kick" but couldn't see where the potato went. I turned to see everyone staring at me, wide-eyed.

The "kick" I had felt was the cap of the combustion chamber, but it was no longer connected to the gun. It had cracked and blown off the back of the gun, followed by a ball of flame which ignited my jacket.

By the time I realized I was on fire and patted the flames out, a six-inch hole had burned through. I was OK, and nothing was injured.

After the fact, we researched the use of acetylene with potato guns. Every website said never use it. PVC shrapnel wouldn't have been fun to pull out of my abdomen, that's for sure.

We already have plans to build a better gun made of aluminum this time. The trouble is, my wife and mother tell me there won't be a next time.



Web posted on Thursday, February 01, 2007













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