QOTD: Anyone Else Ever Almost Blow Up Your Folks’ House?


I was 13 or so, maybe early 14. Kinda the age where it was starting to be okeh for my folks to leave me alone in the house for the evening. I was down in the basement and for the nth time I tripped over the floor drain grate, which had accumulated enough surface rust that it no longer fit flush in its recess. That was one trip too many; I lost patience with it, and decided derusting and painting it would make a good evening’s work.

I picked up the drain grate and a can of bright red Rustoleum—I think it was Ford Red engine paint—and a bottle of muriatic acid (why did we have this?) and headed upstairs to the grudge. Grabbed rubber gloves and eye goggles, because, y’know, muriatic acid.

Now all I needed was a container to derust the grate in. I rummaged around and eventually found something just the right size: a pie plate. A plain ol’ disposable aluminum foil pie plate, which I set on the smooth concrete floor with the drain grate in it.

I donned the gloves and goggles and poured the acid over the grate, which began fizzing encouragingly. That lasted not very long before it very quickly escalated into a furious boil with a geyser of steam and acid spewing several feet in the air, and an odiferous cloud of foulness. Technically this is called a “thermal runaway reaction”, but I didn’t know that, having just met it, so I called it something like “Um! Oh shit?”.

It was a spectacularly violent, super-sized version of this:

Without thinking, I hit the wall button. With the customary slack-chain clank, the old Genie opener began to crank open the overhead door. That is: I hit the unshielded button and the unshielded electric motor began running directly above my fulminating cauldron of a very effective homespun hydrogen generator. This what I’d done occurred to me just after I did it.

Time slowed to a frozen-molasses crawl, like when you drop a plate and watch it doing lazy end-over-end flops as it slowly meanders toward the floor. I swear I could hear every chain link hit each sprocket tooth as I pondered whether it’d be safer to hit the button again to stop the motor (= another spark on the wall, down close to cauldron level), or just let it finish opening the overhead door (= more sparks directly above the cauldron). I couldn’t come up with a good answer. After eight or nine years the door reached the up-stop and the motor turned off, and after another month or so it sank in that I was still alive by pure chance.

But now there was another problem; the air in the grudge was thoroughly polluted, and there was a horrendous mess to clean up. I used a pushbroom to herd the heap of steaming aluminum chloride sludge out into the driveway, then hosed down the floor and the driveway. The gutter and storm drain count as “away”, right?

End products were a wholly unrusty drain grate (which did not get painted that night), a holey raggedy-edged disposable aluminum pie ring, and an irregularly-shaped extremely, brightly clean area on the garage floor, surrounded by many round extremely clean little dots, and with brushy very clean streaks headed out toward the driveway. My mother accused me of spilling white paint, which I truthfully denied.

Your turn: tell about the garage (basement, workshop, attic, shed, underhood, underdash…) oopses you lived through, even if by rights you shouldn’t’ve.