A flamethrower of my very own …
Monday, March 16, 1981
The Cosmic Liquidator ...
Spring 1980, March ...
The sequel to 1977's blockbuster movie hit
"Star Wars" was still about two and a half months away from opening at
the Cloverleaf Mall Cinema Twin but the sci-fi supernova that "Star
Wars" had ignited in the pop culture was still burning strong three
years later and with it came a never ending deluge of space toys
marketed by toy companies that wanted a piece of George Lucas'
super delicious extra-profitable sci-fi pie.
+ + = FUN!
I'd been wanting to go to K-Mart all week long because my friend at school had told me that K-Mart had a lot of "Star Wars" action figures in stock. I had waited until my dad got home on Friday afternoon from working all week out of town so that he take me to K-Mart to buy some more action figures. I had saved up my money for a couple of weeks now, money earned by doing chores, cutting yards and as part of my allowance and now that money was burning a hole in my pocket. Dad got home, unloaded his car and within an hour he and I were back in his car heading over to K-Mart on Broadway Drive, just across the road from the Cloverleaf Mall in Hattiesburg, MS. I was originally going to buy two more Kenner "Star Wars" Imperial Stormtrooper action figures to go with the two Stormtroopers that I already had and to fill out the side rider pods on the sides of the electronic Kenner Imperial Troop Transport that I'd gotten for Christmas '79. Of course, having four Imperial Stormtroopers wouldn't hurt when I was busy letting my imagination run wild with my Kenner Death Star playset.
So ... Stormtrooper figures in hand, happy as a ten year old "Star Wars" fan can be, I'm heading back to the front of the store and that's when I saw the end aisle display of one of the greatest toys I've ever owned.
Enter into my life ... the Cosmic Liquidator.
The Cosmic Liquidator retailed for $4.99 (which meant that the Cosmic Liquidator was about twice as expensive as a Kenner "Star Wars" action figure was back then so use that as a starting point to figure out how expensive this toy was back then and to adjust for inflation today). K-Mart was the only store in Hattiesburg to carry these toys and they had an entire end cap display for the Cosmic Liquidator in the toy department. As for me, it was love at first sight. It was touch and go for a few minutes ... I literally had both Stormtrooper figures in my hand, happy as a 10 year old could be, when I saw ...
The Cosmic Liquidator!
Oh man oh man oh man!
Stopped me in my tracks, that toy did.
I wrestled with my choices and after what seemed an eternity I left the two Stormtrooper figures on top of the Cosmic Liquidator display and headed to the front with both hands clutching one of the boxed up Cosmic Liquidators. Imperial reinforcements would have to wait! I had a galaxy to save and that galaxy was my entire neighborhood! Warm weather in Mississippi was here and that meant waterguns would soon be out again among the kids in my neighborhood and this Cosmic Liquidator looked like the baddest watergun I'd ever set eyes on. When I walked up with the Cosmic Liquidator firmly held in both hands my dad was skeptical of my sudden change in toy choice but I assured him that I had thought about the decision long and hard, at least as long and hard as a ten year old boy can think about a decision involving which really cool toy to buy. It was my money that I'd saved up so ...
I walked out of K-Mart that night with the biggest smile on my face because I knew, oh, yes, I just knew that I had bought a really really cool toy!
On the way home I opened the box and took my new Cosmic Liquidator out, looking it over, getting a feel for the watergun, judging it's heft, sighting down the top of the weapon and already pretending to have adventures I couldn't even begin to fully comprehend. Man oh man oh man! This was a freaking awesome toy and the first pressurized water gun on the market that I can remember ... or at least the first pressurized water gun that I ever owned. I couldn't wait to get home and try this watergun out!
The Cosmic Liquidator was a space-type pistol connected to a clear plastic liquid feed tube which in turn connected the Cosmic Liquidator pistol to the "Power Pack" which had a clip on the back so you could wear the "Power Pack" on your belt. The tiny two position flip switch at the front of the Cosmic Liquidator set the pistol for either stream or pulse fire and you charged the water gun by using the knob on top of the fill cap to pump air into the liquid filled "Power Pack" tank (much like a garden herbicide or insecticide sprayer). Setting the Cosmic Liquidator for "pulse" fired off a single, short burst of water with a satisfyingly loud "click". One pulse was fired for each pull of the trigger. Setting the Cosmic Liquidator for "max" was an endless firehose of water from the tip of the pistol ... at least as long as you had sufficient pressure and suficient water in the "Power Pack." You knew when you were out of water with the Cosmic Liquidator because it would start to spew a fine mist, sputter and finally nothing but the sound of escaping air slowly dying away would be emitted from the nozzle of the weapon. If you ran out of pressure but still had plenty of water you got a rather sad falling arc of water that eventually ended up as a dribble from the tip of the barrel.
Up until I got my Cosmic Liquidator I had thought that all waterguns were basically cheap plastic toys like you could buy on the spinning metal toy rack at the 7-11. Before the Cosmic Liquidator, the kind of water guns that I was used to were the kind that had the little caps that made it almost impossible to get water through the fill holes, the leaky triggers which put more water on the ground than out the front of the water gun and which most of the time the water guns that I owned were so cheaply made that they never even shot straight. Then the Cosmic Liquidator entered my ten year old life and suddenly I had one hell of a kick ass water gun that could fire a stream of water out to fifteen feet just by pumping up the water tank a few times and pulling the trigger. The other kids got thoroughly soaked by my Cosmic Liquidator, especially at close range where the amount of water that this water gun could pump out in a short time was unbelievable and wouldn't be rivaled until many years later when Entertech would introduce their now famous line of battery operated, pseudo-real looking series of motorized pump powered waterguns (I had the magazine fedTec-9, it was awesome as well ... but I digress).
Colored T-shirts, popular at the time, especially with iron-on transfers of pop culture, showed the line of the water stream as it hit and to my imagination that dark wet line traced by the stream of pressurized water was the burn of a white hot laser beam on alien skin. The beauty of the Cosmic Liquidator was that you could hose other kids down with it ... climbing a fence to get away usually resulted in crotch shots or ass shots as you were going over the top of the fence. Hiding behind a bit of cover only caused the Cosmic Liquidator user to step back and arc the stream of water into the air where it fell like rain on the kid who thought he was protected from getting wet. After a few intense liquid firefights and not a few soaking wet outcomes some of my other friends eventually talked their parents into buying them their own Cosmic Liquidators and soon the odds became more or less even. The Cosmic Liquidator was a favorite toy in the summer of 1979 and by the middle of that summer several of us were fully strapped like we were space rangers or starfaring mercenaries; a small posse of some of the riff-raff seen in "Star Wars" at the Mos Eisley spaceport now set loose to roam the neighborhood ... running and playing and using our imaginations and topping off our water tanks at whatever house we could sneak up to and use the outside faucet without the home owners noticing.
We weren't just Cosmic Liquidators ... we were adolescent water bandits as well, and sneaky ones at that!
Skill level: ninja.
Vacant lots were still common in the neighborhood that I lived and one vacant lot across the street from my house had a pair of dirt mounds on it, one at the front of the lot in the seven o'clock position and one about three quarters of the way back from the front of the lot at the twelve o'clock position. The dirt mound at the front of the lot was pretty impressive but had been worn down from our constant play and dirt bike riding. It had been used extensively as a battleground for my Marx plastic army men and I'm sure if I spent a little while digging around in the dirt I'd find more than a few of the plastic soldiers that, at the end of the battle and the end of the day, had gone MIA. The huge dirt mound towards the back of the lot reminded me of "Devil's Tower" from the Steven Spielberg UFO movie "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." It was twice as wide as the dirt mound at the front of the lot and nearly three times as tall. To our young minds it wasn't so much a dirt mound as it was a dirt mountain.
The dirt mound in the back of the lot was where we often played with our Mattel "Hot Wheels" cars (digging out tunnels and making elaborate roadways around the outside "mountain"). We also played "King of the Hill", pushing each other off the top to establish our short lived dominance before someone else pushed us off to establish their own and we used to throw dirt clods at each other ... at least until someone got hit in the head or somewhere tender and the tears started and that would be the end of the dirt clod war for at least that day. Like I said ... the second dirt mound was tall, really tall, and soemtimes we used old cardboard to slide down the steep side. Challenges were made to see who could ride their BMX bike up the side of the dirt mound and who was brave enough to ride their BMX bike down the steep side again (bonus points if you tried to do it in reverse).
The giant dirt mound was also nearly impervious to our constant assaults ... it's like no matter how much we tried to tear it down it never lost its shape and it never seemed to get smaller or shorter; it was the self-renewing, perpetual dirt mound.
That vacant lot lasted for at least three years before a new house was built there but in that time that vacant lot was our neighborhood playground ... especially in 1979 when we started to understand that girls were different than boys and that the house next to the vacant lot with the two dirt mounds had a wood privacy fence around the in-ground pool in their backyard. That fence didn't stop my friends and I from sitting on top of the dirt mound and watching the blonde and raven haired bikini clad teenage daughters of the people who owned that house swim and work on their tans during that summer.
Man oh man oh man!
"King of the Hill" remained the main game when we met as a group at the dirt mound in the vacant lot and the Cosmic Liquidator brought a whole new aspect to the game of "King of the Hill" when you could use your Cosmic Liquidator to fire down at your friends charging up the hill at you, soaking them thoroughly. The collateral splash damage from all of our Cosmic Liquidators emptying their Power Packs resulted in patches of muddy dirt and by the end of a hard afternoon we would all say goodnight and go to our separate homes, much to the chagrin of our moms who couldn't believe that a bunch of boys could somehow get as dirty as we managed to get.
The Cosmic Liquidator went far in occassionally endangering childhood friendships through close range near-drowning experiences … You don't know what it was like to sneak up on your friend from behind, with your Cosmic Liquidator set to "pulse" and pull the trigger near one of their ears sending a quick burst of cold water right into their ear canal. The end result was hilarious ... if you could manage to keep from laughing while you ran for your life. Depending on the angle of the pulse and how deep in your friend's ear you managed to get the chase could last for several houses and yards. Many a sneak attack with a Cosmic Liquidator ended up with two kids chasing each other and eventually two bodies going for a grass roll that combined light fisticuffs with frequent experiments in profanity.
But the Cosmic Liquidator had other uses as well ... especially if you were alone with your Cosmic Liquidator and you were spending the afternoon exploring one of the other vacant lots in the neighborhood that I lived in (of which there were quite a few ... some of which never sold or never had houses built on them even 25 plus years after I first moved into that neighborhood (and some of which stand vacant even today forty years later)).
Yes, the Cosmic Liquidator excelled at tormenting garden spiders dangling in webs, swatting butterflies and dragonflies out of the air, annoying frogs, sending big beetles for a tumble or reducing giant ant beds to nothing in short order. Loading the Cosmic Liquidator up with salt water and you could go and hunt slugs in the garden, literally liquifying them with a pulse of extra salty water. A pair or three of Cosmic Liquidators in our skilled hands could quickly reduce a large ant bed to a muddy flat mess of what we pretended was melted material akin to all the post-apocalyptic images of melted cities that we’d been subjected to so often as children in that era . Of course, this just pissed off the ants to no end so we had to melt the ant beds quickly then move away before the black waves of angry ants managed to dig their way out of their collapsed, muddy home and make a concentrated effort to find and punish their giant tormentors. At the time we had a real penchant for waging war on ants and the opening salvos of that war usually involved firecrackers, sparkler and smoke bombs set off to rile the ants up, to open up their ant beds to expose the interior structure of the nest and then we'd finish the ant bed with a coordinated assault of our Cosmic Liquidators.
We started inventing games to play with our Cosmic Liquidators ... lining up Marx army men on the patio picnic table and seeing how many you could knock over using carefully aimed shots on the "pulse" setting only. One game we enjoyed playing was "moving target practice" aka "hose your friends down while you all rode your bikes in the street". Often we’d ride our BMX bikes around the neighborhood wearing our Cosmic Liquidators on our hips and we’d shoot each other in ride-bys or do fast pedal-bys on other unsuspecting children sitting on the curb or playing in other yards. Like knights of old raising their swords on horseback we'd ride our BMX bikes up and down the street, one hand on the handlebar, one hand raising our Cosmic Liquidators high ready to stream and soak the next friend to ride their bike into range. Like some kind of two wheeled dogfighters, we'd dart in with our Cosmic Liquidators hissing and we'd break off and ride away from each other, laughing, dripping wet and happy in the hot sun.
The Cosmic Liquidator worked well when riding a BMX bike but it worked even better when shredding on a skateboard. On a skateboard shredding became a crucible, a gauntlet of a challenge course where we took turns skating between obstacles while trying to hit targets that we'd set up along the course or we'd skate around some obstacle course while friends on each side of the course lobbed water balloons at you or soaked you down with their Cosmic Liquidators all trying to dislodge you from your board, make you lose your balance and take a concrete spill in the most spectacular (and often most painful) way."The Empire Strikes Back" appeared in theaters in May 1980 and after a long summer where the Cosmic Liquidator reined supreme there came a time when my interest in toys went back to the Kenner action figures. The end of summer and the start of the fall of 1980 brought with it cold weather and the Cosmic Liquidator was put away in my closet and forgotten through the winter of 1980 and the first couple of months of the spring of 1981. The fall of 1980 saw me start sixth grade at Presbyterian Christian, a private school run by a local church. With the new year came new friends and among them, Alan; one of my new playmates both at school and after school since he lived about a mile and a half from my house. If you've read some of my other stories, Alan was my partner in crime in the "Pron of Yore" story, Alan being the guy who climbed the multi-story treehouse to abscond with a treasure load of pron.
Alan was a little chunkier than me and when his shirt came off he had scar tissue covering his left shoulder, part of his chest and down a good bit of his back. This was burn tissue, from when he was very, very young and he had pulled an electric coffee pot down off the kitchen counter and onto him with boiling hot coffee. He didn't remember the incident, it happened when he was really young, but the scar tissue always kind of fascinated me.
Apparently being burned over a good portion of his body didn't deter his love for fire and in Alan I found a kindred soul, a fellow pyromaniac who could almost (almost) rival my own love for fire at that tender young age. By the time I was ten years old I was a fairly accomplished pyromaniac with a long history of abusing gasoline, my mom's "Ms. Breck" hair spray, matches, BIC lighters, firecrackers, sparklers, raw black powder scavenged from fireworks and anything else I could find that would explode, ignite, combust, or burn. Alan and I played with fire ... a lot. We burned stuff in his backyard. We burned stuff in my backyard. We went down to Gordon's Creek and burned stuff down there. We rode our Schwinn bicycles up to the local 7-11 where we played the stand-up "Phoenix" arcade game, drank Coke in "Big Gulp" cups and when we bought our drinks we always bought two or three boxes of matches (five cents each) and we used those matches to burn stuff. At school we brought our glass magnifying lens and burned ants and tormented entire ant hills during recess and PE. At home we burned ants with magnifying lenses and blew them up with firecrackers.
Alan and I enjoyed fire probably more than we should have and that may have lead to the heart of this story. While digging around in my closet looking for some old toy that I no longer cared about, an old toy that I could burn or melt or blow up with firecrackers I came upon my nigh-on forgotten Cosmic Liquidator water gun. I hadn't played with my Cosmic Liquidator in about seven or eight months but here it was, ready to be used again and I started to think ...
The power of the Cosmic Liquidator came from the simple concept of the pump-up liquid tank "power pack" … as long as you kept it pumped up and under high pressure you had a stream of water at the touch of the trigger. I say "liquid tank" because the Cosmic Liquidator would take just about any liquid you could put into the tank … Coke, Pepsi, Kool-Aid (a stream of red Kool-Aid, while sticky, was pretty awesome to behold), Gatorade, water from the bathroom toilet (which one kid told us he did when he went inside to fill up his Power Pack) and even ... gasoline.
Oh my God!
Gasoline was a liquid, so I rationalized, and therefore the Cosmic Liquidator should be able to squirt a high pressure stream of gasoline ... and then if I could somehow light that stream of gasoline on fire I'd have ...
Holy Mother of Milton Bradley!
Why hadn't I thought of this amazing idea before?!?!
If I could fill my Cosmic Liquidator with gasoline, pump it up, set it to "max", pull the trigger and somehow light the stream of gasoline as it left the barrel of the watergun I'd have myself an honest to Moses homemade flamethrower and as soon as I realized that simple fact I think I got that funny feeling you get when you climb a rope in gym class, right then and there. Yes, I did.
Oh! This had to be done!
This was going to be so cool! So very, very cool that words could not describe it! I could already picture the Cosmic Liquidator spewing out a high pressure stream of flaming gasoline!
I looked at my Cosmic Liquidator ... I couldn't believe that I hadn't thought of this amazingly brilliant idea before now!
Put gasoline in the Power Pack instead of water.
Pump it up and pull the trigger!
I was about to have a watergun that was a freaking flamethrower!
How awesome was that going to be?!
A five dollar pump up watergun turned into a homemade flamethrower shooting a stream of gasoline, flaming gasoline, fifteen feet!
Okay ... not flaming ... at least not yet because I didn't know how I was going to light the stream of gasoline on fire. Still working that detail out.
A working flamethrower ... A flamethrower of my very own!
My mind began to race with possibilities and scenarios!
Oh, the fun I could have with a flamethrowing watergun!
But how to set fire to the stream of gasoline as it left the Cosmic Liquidator?
What if ...?
Maybe I could build some kind of bracket on the bottom of the water gun, maybe a foot long, and put a BIC lighter at the end of the bracket and tape the gas button down, strike the flint and then I'd have a source of fire to shoot the stream through ... at least until all the butane in the lighter was used up but lighters were cheap and I could buy a few of them just to waste them if it meant that I had a working flamethrower. I sketched out a bracket and tried a few different ideas but nothing really seemed to work and I grew frustrated.
I hated it when I couldn't figure something out ... something mechanical ... something simple like this.
Wait a minute!
What if someone held a lighter downstream, say a foot or so, more or less, and the stream of pressurized gasoline went through the flame on its way to whatever target I felt needed to be baptized in glorious liquid fire?
Suddenly it made sense ... it all made sense!
Fire and fuel!
This was going to have to be a two person experiment and I knew just who to ask to be my lab assistant / partner in crime; my friend and fellow pyromaniac, Alan.
When school started that Mondayh, the third week in March of 1981 I told Alan about my plan to build a flamethrower using my Cosmic Liquidator water gun. Alan was intrigued and together during recess that day we discussed the mechanical problems that we were trying to overcome. We had ideas of taping a wooden ruler to the underside of the Cosmic Liquidator then notching out the end of the ruler, putting a BIC lighter there, taping the gas trigger down, flicking the striker and when the lighter had a flame we could pull the trigger of the Cosmic Liquidator and send a stream of gasoline through the flame!
We drew out several sketches of how we would mod my Cosmic Liquidator and how we would make our very own flamethrower! During the rest of the day we'd take turns catching each other's attention in class, making a gun gesture with our hands and softly making "fwooooosh" noises like a flamethrower. A few of the other kids in class got curious and during PE that afternoon we explained our plans to a small group that had gathered to see what we were working on and what the sketches we were doing were for. By the end of the day almost everyone in our class, except our teacher, Mr. Griffith, knew about the plan to build our own flamethrower and they wanted to know all about it the following morning when we got back to school.
This was going to happen!
After we got out of school I got a snack and called Alan. He was home and waiting. I asked him if he had any gasoline since the gas can for my dad's lawnmower was empty and I didn't have any way to get any gas. Alan said his dad had a gas can in the garage and it was almost full. Great! I packed everything I needed in my Boy Scout harvester sack, threw it over my shoulders, rode my bike over to Alan's house and saw that he was waiting for me, standing there on his front porch. I parked my bike near his garage and dumped out my harvester pack so he could see what I'd brought with me. I had a pair of wooden rulers, a pair of BIC disposable lighters, a couple of big heavy duty rubber bands (the wide kind, not the skinny kind you got on your newspaper every day), my trusty Boy Scout knife and some black electrical tape. Alan looked at the electrical tape and shook his head, saying electrical tape wouldn't do and then he went over to his father's workbench in the garage and picked up a roll of silver gray duct tape.
Alan and I put everything out on his father's workbench there in the garage and we started modding my Cosmic Liquidator. There was a feeling that afternoon, a feeling that we were going to do something epic, something great ... something so totally cool that we didn't have the words for it. As we worked all we could say were simple phrases like "this is going to be so cool!" I started to whittle out the end of the ruler to put the lighter in but Alan had a better idea and flipped the ruler around to the other side, grabbed his dad's power drill, plugged it in and then began to drill out a series of holes in the ruler starting about an inch back. I didn't understand what he was doing but once he had drilled out several holes he used my Boy Scout knife to poke and prod a roughly eliptical chunk out of the middle of the ruler. He then reached over and picked up one of the lighters and tried to push it down into the hole that he had made. It almost fit and I could see what he had tried to do. Putting the BIC lighter fully down in a slot in the ruler was better than trying to put the BIC lighter pinched in a "U" notch at the end of the ruler. Plus, Alan said, we could slide the lighter up and down to adjust the height of the lighter and thus make sure that the flame from the lighter was properly positioned to be in the path of the stream of gasoline from the water gun.
We were mechanical engineers!
The lighter still didn't want to fit so Alan got a metal file from his dad's tool box and handed it to me. I spent the next five minutes filing away at the eliptical slot in the ruler, doing a little bit at a time, all the way around, then each side, until the BIC lighter fit into the slot with a snug fit.
We attached the wooden ruler holding the BIC lighter to the bottom of the water gun with duct tape and then we took turns holding our creation, waving it around to get a feel for it and taking aim like we had already loaded it and lit it.
This was happening!
The end product, our first homemade flamethrower, may not have been pretty but it was going to be functional because all of our sketches and all of our thinking and all of our planning and hard work told us this flamethrower was going to work!
We fixed one of the rubber bands to the lighter and used the band to hold down the gas trigger of the lighter. I rolled the flint and adjusted the flame. Line of sight from the nozzle of the watergun to through the flame looked spot-on. I mean it looked spot-on! We congratulated each other and took turns waving the watergun around with the lighter lit in front of it. We couldn't swing it around as fast as we wanted to because the flame was prone to go out if we did but if we took care, with a little practice, we found that we could move the watergun turned flamethrower around quick enough for what we intended it to do and still keep the flame lit.
I reached up and slipped the rubber band off of the gas trigger.
The flame died.
A moment of silence shared by both of us for deep personal introspection.
"Okay ... where's the gasoline?" I asked, finally breaking the shared silence.
Alan almost started, went over, picked up a metal gas can and set it loudly down on the workbench in front of us. It was faded red, with almost illegible lettering, rusty and it smelled of gas and had oily stains around the fill port and down the side near the neck. I took out the "Power Pack" for the Cosmic Liquidator, spun the cap off and held the water tank steady while Alan poured the gasoline. I attached the feed line from the "Power Pack" to the Cosmic Liquidator and together, Alan and I marched across the street to a vacant lot that we often played in and thus on a warm spring Monday afternoon that third week in March of 1981, two boys set out to set the world on fire ... never knowing that was almost exactly what they would do in the next twenty minutes.
The vacant lot that was full of dry grass and weeds. It was almost the lot that developers had forgotten because the lot had been vacant for years now and it was the only vacant lot on the street ... the only lot still vacant in the neighborhood. Now, there were a lot of vacant lots in my neighborhood, in fact, there were a lot of vacant lots in all the neighborhoods around where I lived but this one vacant lot just seemed like no one wanted to buy it and no one wanted to build a house on it. The vacant lot was overgrown, the overgrowth was mostly dead and dried, there were few trees, and some old paths through the overgrowth where neighborhood kids had ridden their BMX bikes and then, later, given up on the lot. As far as vacant lots went, this lot was definitely the least favorite of ours out of all the vacant lots that we played in and I guess the only reason we were going to use it to test out our flamethrower was simply that it was a convenient place to do so being right across the street from Alan's house.
This location and the distance from Alan's house would be of critical importance in the next twenty minutes but we wouldn't realize that fact until a good bit later.
The vacant lot across the street from Alan's house was ... sad.
It felt lonely.
It felt like no one wanted it and no kids wanted to play in it.
It was bordered on three sides by wooden fences set up by the owners of the house on each side of the vacant lot and the owner at the rear of the vacant lot. There was a loose board at the back left side of the property and Alan and I often used that to slip through the fence there so we could go and play with two of our other friends who lived on the street behind the vacant lot. It was literally the vacant lot that time and progress had forgotten. As far as vacant lots went, the lot across from Alan's house was the last choice on our list of vacant lots to play in but the first choice of where we wanted to test out our homemade flamethrower simply because of location and distance.
We walked around the vacant lot for a few minutes ... trying to find ... something ... worthy of the first test of our homemade flamethrower and after a few minutes we found it! A large ant hill ... probably the biggest one we'd seen in a while which, given the low traffic of kids and adults that the vacant lot saw the ants probably had lived pretty much undisturbed lives. We couldn't allow that circumstance to continue.
"That's big!" I said, pointing at the ant hill.
"Looks kind of old ... maybe dried out."
Dry grass grew out of the partially collapsed ant hill which had settled in the aftermath of a few hard rains we'd had last week.
"Get a stick. See if anyone's home." I said, checking the homemade flamethrower that I held.
Pressure felt good.
Selector switch set to "Max" setting?
Alan found a good sized stick and stuck it down in the ant hill, stirring it up to see if it was a "live" hill or a "dead" hill since the ant hill looked to be a little old. We were beginning to wonder if anybody was home when suddenly a small army of black ants scurried out of the hole that Alan had stirred and began pouring out of the ant hill looking for whoever had disturbed them. Within seconds the entire ant hill was covered in scurrying, pissed off black ants.
"Oh, yeah! They're home!"
Just for good measure I pumped up the "Power Pack" a few more times until I couldn't pump it anymore. The pressure in the tank was so much that the sides of the tank were bulging as it hung there on my belt! I rechecked the lighter to nozzle alignment. We looked good. I slipped the rubber band up over the gas trigger of the lighter, spun the striker wheel and made fire. I adjusted the flame for its tallest setting then slowly took aim at the ant hill, making sure that the angle wasn't too steep ... even I wasn't dumb enough to want a potential bit of fire to feed back into my watergun full of pressurized gasoline ... let alone, in one scary thought, lighting the not a little amount of liquid gasoline I was wearing on my hip in the gasoline filled "Power Pack" on my belt.
"Ready?" I asked, my finger on the trigger of the Cosmic Liquidator.
"DO IT, MAN! DO! IT!" Alan whisper chanted excitedly.
The fact that Alan took two steps back as he nodded might have concerned me were I not so confident in our mechanical engineering ability. I took a breath, let it out, squeezed the trigger and ...
The Cosmic Liquidator hissed and spat a stream ...
... a stream of high pressure propelled gasoline ...
... right through the flickering flame of the lighter!
And that's when magic ... pure magic ... happened.
Instant stream of liquid fire!
It was the neatest thing I'd ever seen!
I'm sure that Alan shared that sentiment ... if his expression had anything to say about how he was feeling at that exact instant in time. His eyes were almost as wide as his wide open mouth.
Our eleven-year-old minds had envisioned, planned out, designed and built a glorious flamethrower from a $5 water gun I'd bought at K-Mart a year ago ...
We were not disappointed in the least at the end result!
In front of me a giant ant hill and all of its scurrying, pissed off inhabitants were suffering a rain of liquid hellfire incarnate. I played the Cosmic Liquidator back and forth, slowly, bathing the ant hill in lurid, liquid flame. Ants died by the hundreds! Burning! Bursting! Squealing! Curling up! Roasting! Burning!
This was freaking awesome!
The more I played the stream of gasoline over the ant hill the bigger the fire became!
We had a real flamethrower!
We had a real freaking flamethrower!
Dear Lord! What we had made was nothing short of glorious ... ! Seeing that liquid stream of fire was like seeing something from Charlton Heston’s “The Ten Commandments” in person! It was better than almost any special effect in any movie short of “Star Wars”. Using gasoline in the Cosmic Liquidator was everything that we had hoped and thought it would be and for a few short minutes two eleven-year-old boys had a working flamethrower which devastated the large ant hill and its pissed off inhabitants in an ever increasing lake of splashing fire. The dry gras nearby easily caught fire in the wild firestorm that I was creating and Alan stepped up to stomp out the stray sparks and upstart flames from getting out of hand.
I poured fire on the ant hill and even concentrated one long four second stream down into the hole that Alan had stirred with the stick then I sent another stream up the stick that was still poking out the ant hill, setting that stick on fire as well.
"Hey! Let me have a turn!" Alan said, reaching for the Cosmic Liquidator.
With a guilty bit of reluctance I took the rig off and handed it to Alan who proceeded to finish what I'd started. Alan and I took turns shooting gasoline out of the Cosmic Liquidator, each trying to get an equal amount of time as long as the gas in the liquid tank held out and for the effect of our flamethrower it didn't take much on the trigger to make some pretty impressive results. Within five minutes we had destroyed the ant hill ... when the flow of ants from the hill slowed Alan would step in with a big stick and dig out another part of the ant hill. When new, fresh ant troops emerged ready for battle they would be met with fire!
It took five minutes for that ant hill to be completely razed to the ground ... the dry grass and area around the ant hill was burned to white ash and bodies of dead ants littered the displaced dirt. A few solitary ants roamed the devastation that we had wrought ... shell shocked survivors trying to make sense of the fiery apocalypse that Alan and I had brought down upon them. After we had thoroughly destroyed the ant hill we began to look around for another target. He handed the rig back to me and I was surprised that the tank still felt about three quarters of the way full. I pumped the liquid tank until it bulged again but noticed that the pump seemed a little hard to pump. I didn't think much about it at the time because we had a flamethrower and by God there had better be things nearby that needed, nay, deserved to be set on fire!
We were the keepers of the sacred flame and bringers of the holy fire and we would be entertained!
Early on a near accident set up the ground rules that when we went looking for another target whoever had the flamethrower would slip the rubber band off the lighter to save on butane and prevent accidental flamethrowing.
Alan wanted to write our names in cursive burning liquid on the back side of a neighbor's fence … we took turns trying that but while "ALAN" was easy to write, "Christopher" had to be shortened to just "Chris" to get the full effect. Just as we were admiring our handiwork in flaming cursive behind us we heard the tell-tale sound of brush and dry grass on fire ... the soft crackle and whispered roar of fire moving through dry stuff and we turned ...
Maybe it was a stray spark from our ant hill apocalypse ... maybe it was an ember carried on the hot wind of the fire or maybe a small flame that we missed stomping out. Whatever it was, it had not only gotten a good start on us but it had taken hold. The area all around where the ant hill had been was now roaring and crackling with fire ... fire that we had not intended to start.
"Uh ... Alan ..." I started to say.
"That's a lot of fire!" Alan said.
A lot of fire out of our control.
"Grab something! Quick! We've got to put it out before it spreads!" I said as I dropped the Cosmic Liquidator / homemade flamethrower rig and looked around for something to do some impromptu firefighting with.
... and there was more fire than we could stamp out, believe me, we tried. When we realized the extent that our gleeful abandon had brought us to and the implications of the quickly spreading fire there was more foot stomping than a Red Bull sponsored audition for "River Dance - The Musical" and more cussing than a ten hour long Richard Pryor concert. Alan and I grabbed up old wooden boards and pieces of old carpet and started beating the overgrowth. Ashes and still burning embers flew up only to land nearby and start fresh sparks and fires. We fought valiantly but no matter how hard we fought the fire seemed to be winning ... and spreading ... and mocking us.
While we were more than passable mechanical engineers and hard core pyromaniacs we were, in hindsight, pretty piss poor fire fighters and with that realization came the further realization that we were suddenly in the middle of a very bad situation that was about to quickly get a lot worse ... a hell of a lot worse! There we were, two eleven-year-old boys that had just set a vacant lot, in a neighborhood, ablaze with our very own homemade flamethrower.
And now we had a fire on our hands that was about to get out of control. Visions of just how much trouble we were in ... how much trouble we were about to be in ... suddenly were crystal clear to our young minds.
Knowing that we had only one chance to avoid what could only be trouble of Old Testament proportions, Alan ran back across the street, grabbed about a hundred feet of coiled up garden hose with a spray nozzle, turned it all the way on and ran back across the street, stretching the hose out as he ran. Meanwhile I beat the fire with a broken two by four in a manner that could only have been described as "furious caveman" style. Together, Alan and I spent the next ten minutes doing our best to keep a vacant lot in Hattiesburg, MS (and probably the neighbor's fence and several houses around that lot) from burning to the ground. The fact that the hose didn’t reach all the way and we had to arc the stream of water high in order for it to reach some of the burning grass added to our predicament but the art of firefighting was a skill that we both acquired very quickly and did our best at.
With help from Alan’s mother and father (who came out to see why their son was suddenly hooking all their garden hoses together and stretching them across the street …) the fire was quickly contained and put out. Alan's mom and dad grabbed shovels from the garage and helped me beat the hell out of the fire, stomping and beating and digging up dirt to throw on the fire where the water from the hose fell too lightly to do much of any good. Ten minutes later the four of us stood there, looking at all the blackened, burnt overgrowth and Alan and I both realized just how lucky we were and just how close we had come to not only causing a major problem but also being liable to more than just some stern words of disappointment and reproach from Alan’s parents. In fact, with all the smoke hanging in the air, I was pretty surprised that we hadn't seen blue or red lights so far pulling up next to the curb.
Alan's mom and dad sent him to his room and I was asked to leave for the day so I grabbed my gear, shoved it in my backpack and rode my bike back home. When I got home I thought it would be a good idea to clean the gas out of my Cosmic Liquidator and that's when I made a startling discovery ... gasoline and cheap plastic are not friends. In fact, gasoline likes to eat away at cheap plastic. Yes, our brief adventure with the Cosmic Liquidator using gasoline as a projected medium of entertainment had melted the air pump and most of the internals of the water gun rendering it useless ... but while the gasoline spewing water gun had worked and before things had gotten out of hand with the out of control brush fire our experiments in making a homemade flamethrower had been nothing short of awesome.
Other than the loss of my cherished Cosmic Liquidator which the gasoline had eaten up, literally destroying my water gun from the inside out I never got in trouble for almost burning down the vacant lot across the street from Alan's house. Alan, on the other hand, got spanked by his father and was grounded for a week. I found that out the next day when Alan got to school and the two of us began to tell the other kids all about what we'd done.
Of course, a little embelishment on our part didn't hurt either of our reputations for a while at school after that ...