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.
I nearly caught the attic (where my room was) on fire once before I learned that playing with antique kerosene lanterns indoors isn’t wise .
I was probably about 14 when I discovered what a great tar remover plain old gasoline was. When my mother was at work one day I sat in the driveway on a hot, sunny day with an open can of gasoline, periodically re-soaking my rag with the stuff as I scrubbed all of the tar from the lower body of her 74 Luxury LeMans.
Having learned a little in the intervening years, I now know that I was holding a Molotov cocktail kit and was one itty bitty little spark away from a really unpleasant time. But even now I have to admit that I have never had an easier time removing tar from low on a car.
You know, I haven’t de-tarred a car in decades. Did DOTs change road composition formulas or something?
The tar-and-bug remover we always had was this nasty petrochemical stuff that came in a can with a small flip-top cap. Stuff smelled nasty and was probably about as flammable as gasoline.
Dad used to have big cans of either fuel oil or kerosene handy all the time. We used most of it up at our cottage, where all the roads in the area were gravel. The Township used to “tar” them twice in summer to hold down the dust.
After tiring of cleaning off shoe treads with the stuff, we would just go barefoot instead. Upon returning home, we’d step into a shallow pan of fuel oil, waiting for it to soften, and then blast it off with a hose before going in.
A drunk “friend” wandered up to me while I was cleaning engine parts in gasoline. He was smoking a cigarette naturally. I told him to get away from me. He proceeds to toss his cigarette into the gasoline which thankfully didn’t light.
He says:? it’s the VAPOR that is flammable man!
Of course that cigarette had to travel through the vapor to get to the gasoline my hands were in. I wanted to kill him.
Somewhere along the way I switched to diesel. Required more scrubbing but a little safer. These days kero or diesel or citrus cleaner. Its been a while since I needed to scrub greasy engine parts too much. If I did it much I’d have a proper parts cleaner with non-flammable solvent.
Ah, yes, muriatic acid and aluminium…
My brother-in-law accidentally discovered this chemical reaction, after deciding to deep clean his concrete patio. At the time he was working in the automotive paint industry, and had picked up a bunch of large aluminium paint mixing cans.
So he pours most of a gallon of undiluted muriatic into the aluminium can, which immediately erupts into a violent reaction, creating a large cloud of toxic smoke, and an even more impressive mountain of equally toxic/corrosive foam that quickly spread over most of the patio.
Cleaning up the mess required a couple of hours and an enormous amount water.
This happened some 35 years ago, when environmental standards were neither very strict nor rigidly enforced. Today, something like this would probably require the intervention of a hazmat team.
But the patio did look very clean…
Muriatic acid does a wonderful job cleaning brick. Got rid of the mortar haze after I repointed the garage last summer. Outside. No metals involved. Gloves and glasses mandatory.
Phosphoric acid is best for rusty iron or steel.
Not me, but my younger Sister. I had already moved out and she was a Sophomore in High School, I believe. Mom tasks me to “make sure your available if your Sister calls, we are leaving for a few days”. Yeah, I got a call… it’s like 11pm and she’s freaking out. So she decides to throw a causal 8 person party, and use the fire pit. Our entire backyard was all wooded, no grass, lots of tall pines and maples. The pit is in the center of an open clearing above the air, but it’s still wooded. These idiots assumed gasoline is like lighter fluid, and doused a huge pile of wood in the pit, like half a gallon.
The police told me the neighborhood heard a humongous BOOM when they lit it, and they could see something like 15 feet of fire in the air when they saw our backyard. The trees around the pit had burning embers on the tips of branches, on what was still there, up in the air 20 some feet up. Ash everywhere from previous burns that shout out of the bottom of the pit. The kids who didn’t run had obviously burnt hair, and my sister’s eyebrows were gone on top of it. She later admitted to me it was all her doing, including lighting the damn thing. Mom was so shocked she was ok she got off easy. Yes, she’s the younger of us two… I’d be whipped.
She may have meant the party to be casual, but it sure did end up causal.
I took the oil painting class at the university many years ago. Lot of times, the teacher warned us about the danger of oil painting: glass jars filled with turpentine that can leak, soaked rags that can ignite, oil in the paint tubes that can explode if exposed to heat, etc.
One day, I was riding the commuter bus to the university, unaware of a jar lid in my tackle box coming loose due to vibration. First, the bus started to smell frighteningly like a massive fuel leak, and the passengers nervously sticking their necks up like meerkats and swirling their heads like periscopes.
The bus operator rushed to the next exit on Boulder Turnpike then stopped quickly on the ramp. She yelled everyone to rush out of the bus. I took my tackle box with me on the way out because I didn’t want the expensive oil paints and large set of equally expensive brushes go up in flames.
After everyone was safely evacuated and grouped at the safe location away from the bus, I realised the smell was coming from my tackle box. I discreetly mopped up the spilt turpentine and tossed the jar and rags away. I felt very sheepish about my inattentiveness and hoped nobody would bust me…
The fire brigade and RTD maintenance crew showed up to check the bus very thoroughly. Nothing could be found, but RTD didn’t want a potential rolling inferno. So, we had to wait twenty minutes for the next bus. I was late for the class, and my teacher and classmates thought the whole incident was too funny.
I can’t imagine how one loose lid could disrupt the entire public transportation system and bring the whole solar system to its knees. I don’t want to know what happened to the maintenance crew who painstakingly went through the entire bus with fine-toothed comb for hours and found nothing.
Well, I’ve never blown up the house but I did participate in nearly blowing up my employer’s workshop.
It was my 1st job as a mechanical designer. My employer was a small family owned machine business and they had a great idea to build a new paint shop. In order to avoid any pesky inspections they built it as a storage shed and planned to install fans and filters later.
Well the first major painting job happened before said equipment was ready, so the painter was working into the evening and I was appointed to keep an eye on him. Because it was winter and there was no heat one of those cigar shaped propane heaters was running in the shed.
I went out to check on progress, there was a choking level of fumes in the shed, our painter was still working away with a respirator on but I was horrified to see the propane heater still running with a four foot tongue of flame shooting out of it. When I pointed this out the painter shrugged and kept spraying. I hastily retreated, fully expecting the whole building to go up at any second.
To this day I can’t believe it didn’t explode, the fume concentration must have been just below (or just above) the explosive limit. The propane heater never worked again, we took it apart but it was so fouled with green paint that it couldn’t be fixed.
Pretty typical for this company, when the forklift had to pick up something extra heavy the entire office staff used to go out and hang off the back end so it wouldn’t tip over….
Holy carp! =8^O
We never had to use more than two other material handlers on a forklift.
Ha! Good story. Muriatic acid is used by plumbers to unclog drains. Now we know why it isn’t sold to the general public. The proper rust remover is Naval Jelly, which is mainly phosphoric acid. So, close.
…but it is sold to the general public, at hardware stores in the states and in Canada, at swimming pool supply stores, and even at Jeff Bezos’ Muriatic Acid Emporium and Heavy-Duty Lawnmower Boutique.
I used to use it to clean rust from my TR4 project, naval jelly didn’t do squat compared to the muriatic acid. I don’t recall ever trying it on aluminum parts, I guess if I had I would have remembered!
That’s just it, eh! Phosphoric acid works to remove rust…slowly. Molasses works beautifully to remove rust…very slowly.
Muriatic acid works to remove rust right now. I’d’ve been fine if only I’d picked something made of glass, ceramic, or plastic instead of that aluminum pie plate.
A glass container should be used for muriatic (hydrochloric) acid. Storage tanks for HCl are glass-lined. It won’t react violently with plastic but it will eventually eat through it.
Interesting! Do they use a special plastic for the bottles it’s sold in, or just assume it’ll be sold before the plastic gives way?
Maybe it’s the concentration. I was thinking of a place I once worked where HCl was produced as a byproduct of a process using chlorine. That acid was probably much stronger than consumer-grade stuff. We were told that it damaged plastic and I just never questioned it.
Oh and also:
Quit picking on me you big meanie!
I’m trying to participate here! 😀
During the Renaissance, they were looking for the universal solvent:
As my high school chemistry teacher said, if they had found the universal solvent, what kind of container would they have put it in?
Muriatic acid is an aqueous solution of Hydrochloric acid. There is no standard concentration and it can be found in 14%-35%. I used a 21% solution when I was doing some organic chemistry long, ago. It’s perfectly safe to use if you know even a little about material handling and aren’t a complete idiot. That’s why they keep this stuff out of the hands of children unless under (non-idiot) adult supervision.
I recall watching an old guy spraying lacquer and thinners in a downdraft spray booth, no mask, smoking a cigarette. The only thing that saved him from a massive fireball was luck and the draft. Otherwise the combination of lacquer thinners, a big industrial spray gun and a strong draft recreates a giant- size throttle – body fuel injector.
As a kid, in the summertime, I lived on my dirt bike. I once refuelled it when the engine was hot from running. Gasoline spilled and dripped on the hot air – cooled engine, sizzling as it evaporated. It was only by chance the aluminum fins had cooled below the flash point of gasoline. Otherwise I’d have been in serious trouble.
My dirt bike friends tried to blow me up once. We went camping as teenagers. I went for a whiz in the woods while my friends built the fire. Upon my return they asked me to light it, so I crouched close to the fire wood and hit it with a match. WHOOSH!! The firewood went up in a 6 ft fireball. My friends had poured gasoline on the wood to get it going. Well, I’ve never jumped 8 ft in the air from a crouching position. No harm done, I just don’t trust my friends anymore.
No, but when I was about 10 or 11, a friend and I found a full case of wet toilet paper rolls in the woods. We came back with a lighter and tried to light a roll on fire. It wouldn’t light, so me being a genius decided to throw the roll as far as I could. In midair it ignited like a comet and preceded to burn down about 3 acres of woods.
All we could do was run to the nearest house and say the woods were on fire.
The woods did come back much prettier than before with lots of new growth.
Wet toilet paper ignited like a comet…? Wet with water, or somethin’ else?
Just damp from rain. Was a sealed cardboard box of it. Don’t know why it was there. It was smoldering and when the wind from the throw hit it …Whoosh!
Actually cool looking to the young me until we realized the fallen leaves were igniting faster than we could stomp them out. It really renewed the woods though. Was about a decade before they were filled up with so much dead undergrowth (or whatever it’s called) again.
This is why the paper sky lanterns that are all the rage at July 4th fireworks displays nowadays make me so nervous. I’ve seen 100 or more let loose at 1 time.
When in Scouts on a winter campout, the entire Troop was in a primitive large frame barracks. The place had two 50 gallon drum wood stoves in the center aisle, with large lipped cast iron griddles on top for cooking for 5 separate Patrols.
Well, we were the tough guys, and decided we were the ones to show up the others by doing all our cooking outside over an open fire. Each Patrol had its own portable kitchen box with everything you would need, provisioned by the kids in each.
Unbeknownst to the rest of us, the guy provisioning ours thought to get starter fluid, but being pressed for time, siphoned some of dad’s gas from from home into a plastic milk jug.
Early morning, and it had snowed the night before, so our wood was a bit wet and smoldering. So this guy went to go get the “liquid fire”. All of us are leaning over the fire and the grates attending to our tasks, as he walks up, unscrewing the cap. He trips on a tree root, launching the jug forward.
Whuoomp! All I saw was red and black, all of us falling back. When the smoke cleared, we were missing our eyebrows and one scout. He had run into the bunkhouse, and had his hair extinguished by a leader.
We had a great time!
Did not blow up the house, just crashed through a wall. 1963, I was 12-years old, and we had a new 1963 T-Bird. My weekly task was washing family cars which I loved. For some reason Dad would not let me take off the rear fender skirts to clean the whitewall tires. So I had to move the car a half tire rotation to clean the rear whitewall tires. This meant I was in the drivers seat, door open, hanging out the door looking at the rear tires rotate. Hit the wrong pedal, instead of brake shot like a bullet foreword into the house. The garage wall I hit separated garage from washer / dryer room, thus appliances jumped foreword at my mother while she was doing laundry and knocked her back.
We lived on an Air Force Base, Dad rushed out of the house thinking a plane crashed. I was sent to my room knowing Dad would enter and kill me. Nothing happened.
Result: The house wall I hit was moved in about 2-feet. Zero damage to the 1963 T-Bird (not one dent, blemish). From that date foreword I removed the skirts from our 1963 and later 1966 Birds when I cleaned whitewalls.
Currently have a 1966 Bird conv. Very careful when I clean white-walls.
Great story, DS! I actually don’t know how volatile the oil-based lacquer was at the time, but in the mid-80’s I was building wood furniture in my garage to make ends meet. After days of cutting and assembly, I would thoroughly clean and then build a “paint booth” in the garage, hanging painters plastic around the perimeter. After countless projects like this, one day as I was spraying away (with a respirator) I suddenly heard the gas water heater kick on right behind me. I froze in my tracks and shut down the paint gun, instantly realizing that the constant thick fog of sawdust during the construction process was also a potential risk, maybe even more so. Fun times.
You fared better than a guy I knew of about 30 years ago. He was renting an old house one winter and brought his motorcycle into the enclosed back porch for some shelter while he worked on it. The first thing he did was to take off the fuel tank and drain the gas into an open bucket. About 3 feet from the gas water heater. The water heater fired up, and the fumes in the bucket went FWOOF and so did the back half of the house.
I’m impressed that at 14 you a. wanted to help make the house nice and b. knew that you were making hydrogen.
I did a few things with model rocket engines (rocket power Hot Wheels are not stable enough to stay on the orange track!) , and I had a friend who made his own black powder and used his train transformer and a Brillo pad to set it off when his sister turned on the light switch in her room.
But my favorite was camping at age 13 with my uncle in the White Mountains of NH. It had been raining for days so the firewood was wet. He used Coleman fuel as lighter fluid, but had left the matches in the car. Unlike gasoline, Coleman fumes are apparently heavier than air, so when he returned with the matches and lit the fire, the resulting fireball was about 25′ in diameter but only knee high. I was impressed, but it was only one among many stories of my uncle’s ‘exploits’.
What was it with uncles and grandparents and their casual disregard for those placards and warnings that say “FOR USE AS A MOTOR FUEL ONLY” and “DO NOT USE TO START FIRES”?!!
(I don’t recall whether this particular attempt at helping with house upkeep came before or after mother screaming at me for having vacuumed the cobwebs and dust out of the refrigerator condenser coils, or the one where she called the cops on me for having replaced a faulty broil element in the oven. All three were at about the same time.)
Thanks Mom – you can do your own maintenance from this moment forward… 🙂
“Unlike gasoline, Coleman fumes are apparently heavier than air.”
Both Coleman fuel and gasoline fumes are heavier than air.
When I lived in California, homes typically had a gas-fired water heater in the garage. By code, builders set the heater on a pedestal about 18″ tall to place the burner above any gasoline fumes. While that solution struck me as a little hokey, it seemed to work- The only garage fire I witnessed started in an electrical box (not my house, thank goodness…).
Ah, I always assumed it was raised for natural gas leaks, not gasoline. But that makes sense too
I was experimenting with fire behind a couch, in the basement family room of a three story house, I was 7, my brother 5 and my sister 3, when the bottom of the couch caught on fire and parents in the 3rd floor bedroom.
All I remember is ending up outside. I don’t recall how the fire was put out, I know the house didn’t burn, and I don’t recall what happened to me. Fast forward to 2016 and my son is now 7 and he started to display a fascination with fire. I managed to keep him outside and occupied with the BBQ. What goes around comes around.
You’ve just reminded me: about a decade after this garage incident, I was moving out of a ground-level apartment. It was an international move, so I couldn’t take with me my big box of fireworks. I dumped them into two paper grocery sacks, rolled the bags down to a triangular shape, put them in the Weber kettle charcoal grill I had outside (and also couldn’t take with me), lit the top of each bag, put the lid on the grill, and zipped back insde to watch. After a pause just long enough to make me think nothing was going to happen…everything went off in a very loud, very smoky fusillade. The smoke from the fireworks plus a large amount of charcoal ash. It went on for long enough that I was sure cops or firefighters or both were going to be called, but neither was, and I got away with it.
So BBQs aren’t necessarily antithetical to playing unwisely with fire. 😉
Popular method to distress electric guitar hardware to look more “vintage” is suspending them above Muriatic acid fumes in a container. My knack for missing key instructions glossed over that step about “suspending”, and found out quite quickly DUNKING stratocaster parts directly into the acid, tied to a “metal” wire, what parts were aluminum, including said wire which became what I can only compare to a TNT fuse lol.
On a very cold night while watching TV the conversation in the room went similar to this. OMG you’re farting… It’s not me!… Gross! open a window or something!… Oh if you smelt it you dealt it…
Going to the kitchen to crack a window open I noticed the smell was stronger near the door to the basement so I went down to investigate. Opening the laundry/furnace room door I was hit by a familiar smell of ethyl-mercap. GAS! everyone out. I shut the gas off outside at the meter because… pilot lights in both the furnace and water heater. There was no boom so back inside we went to open windows and by all means nobody touch any light switches.
The culprit was a propane torch, normally kept outside, was used earlier that evening to thaw out a padlock on the shed and then put away in the laundry room where it could easily be found again should the lock need heat in the near future. The valve was closed when the torch head was at -15C but as the metal heated up in the room where the furnace lives I guess there had been some expansion allowing the potential kabooms inside to leak out.
New rule: No more propane cylinders in the house and the torch heads are always removed.
Don’t look at me I didn’t do It… BS! you went to the shed not me…
Going to add one.
Hanging out with a high school buddy of mine, done with school and not quite out of our teens yet, we had a few beers at a local pub. On the way back to his parent’s house well after midnight we attempted to prank a cop which backfired in a good way. No longer tired and buzzing with adrenaline we arrived at the house and found a couple of burgers in the fridge. I could eat. And you? Yep.
Out to the back yard and the gas barbeque we went so we wouldn’t wake his parents. Crank open the valves and push the igniter… push the igniter… push the igniter. Nothing. My buddy goes into the house to find some matches. Meanwhile the bbq is hissing away with all the valves open and the lid closed. Returning with a box of wooden matches and too drunk to realize what we were doing, we had cracked open a couple more since arriving at the house, we sat on the ground in front of the hissing monster taking turns feeding lit matches through the stamped hole in the underside. All of a sudden Whoomp. The lid blew open and the largest fireball we had ever seen lit up the night. Good burgers though.
Next morning after letting us sleep it off a while, his dad asked which one of you idiots cracked the lid of the barbeque? and nice eyebrows by the way. Funny, neither one of us had eyebrows.
I’ve watched a lot of FailArmy the last few years. It will amaze me if enough boys get through their youth alive and able to keep the species going.
My elementary school friend (whose mom drive a 356 and his dad a Beetle, for CC relevance) and I decided to make gunpowder. Sulfur, saltpeter, and carbon. Can’t be hard. And believe it or not, in 1966 you get all that stuff at the hardware store and they’d sell it to 10 year old kids. But we were smart, didn’t want to burn his house down, so we mixed it up and made a pile in the middle of the street.
It took a while to get lit, but then started to smoke like crazy. We hid behind a tree to watch and then heard sirens, and a fire truck rolled up. They put it out, maybe just with a shovel, and left. No toxic cleanup in those days.
Too many close calls with fireworks to list. Thank God we never got our hands on real M-80’s until around 20 years old. By the time we reached 23 everybody grew up and realized it was a waste of money. Regarding Muriatic Acid I had my first experience last year simply filling up a squirt bottle. I was in the kitchen with all the windows open when I noticed a small cloud forming above the bottle. I stopped what I was doing held my breath and took two steps away. Well I still managed to breath some and my lungs basically froze for about five seconds. Then I ran and grabbed a fan to clear out the kitchen for 30 minutes. I was planning to use it for removing rust from 50+ year old bathroom fixtures outside. After watching some Youtube videos I found it’s incredibly effective but far too aggressive for rust removal. It loves to eat the good metal too if your not super careful. Decided to use Krud Kutter rust remover instead and it took a few applications but I could use it in the basement with the fan on during winter and still breath fine. I’ll keep it just in case I get a plumbing clog that the snake can’t reach.
In second week of basic training for the Air Force, (someone, not me, honest, probably!) was putting black boot dye – not polish- on his boots at ‘Lights Out’ and at that moment somehow managed to dropped the open bottle of dye onto the beautifully waxed and daily polished floor of the barracks, splashing a huge black circle of very permanent boot dye onto the floor.
Wiping it up with towels just made the spot bigger and worse. A flashlight-lit crowd gathered in a circle in the dark around the growing spot, whispering and offering advice and help. Someone poured on some kind of cleaner, and someone else poured on something else, and someone else did the same. Suddenly, the linoleum floor started bubbling and making glopping bubbles like some miniature geyser at Yellowstone. Then acrid and horrible fumes, obviously toxic, began to fill the room. Time to hit the eject button we all did although it was verboten for basic trainees to leave the barracks at night. The poor Drill Instructor had to get out of bed and drive over to find out what the hell had happened. He was….unhappy. He demanded a full report which three of us spent the rest of the night writing. It explained that in the dark and confusion it was impossible to identify anyone. Amazingly no one was punished and the the incident never mentioned again; completely forgotten except for the reminder from the caldera of melted linoleum next to someone’s bunk….
Thanks Daniel for a good story.
My grandfather, working at Standard Oil New Jersey, and standing in a Company yard, yelled at a man coming out of an onsite office building to put out the cigarette. The late evening was cool and foggy and my Grandpa smelled gasoline vapors. The office worker said, more or less, what the hell? And my Grandpa watched a flame reach from the cigarette across the yard to a non-secured (…truck or tank, I forget) which then blow into a conflagration. People died.
Grandpa went on to own a local gas station/ small general store (SOCONY) which was the 1928 version of a modern 7-eleven, including 3.5 acres of farm/ 1/16th acre of livestock and smoke sheds, and a beer brewing setup for his known customers. He took in lobsters and geese and scallops in trade to settle bills, and gave vegetables in turn.
This happened at work. It was an old mine site we were dismantling, and we used all sorts of left over equipment, like a forklift.
We’d drive that forklift to wherever it was needed. Now, one things mines do not do much, is pave their roads. And forklifts have about no ground clearance. So us young’uns, summer students, would drive the snot out of it so as not to get stuck and have to call the guy with the payloader to push us out.
So there I was, driving the snot out of it, and had to turn to go up the ramp into one of the buildings. Rear wheel steer forklifts. They’re fun. And they’re tippy.
Tippy it did. It went over on its side with me riding. I put out my hand to break my fall onto the gravel, and the cage that was installed to keep things from falling onto the operator missed my hand my this | | much. Maybe a bit more. But it certainly would have hurt. I might not even have a hand.
Anyway, got up, looked at it. Tried to lift it. Nope. You can’t lift a sideways forklift. Had to call payloader guy.
There was also the time we were using pluggers (pnewmatic drills) on a Great Big block of concrete we wanted to get rid of. Made holes, the blaster put in the dynamite, and boom. And then we went back to drilling. Part way through the first hole, we noticed there was one charge that had not gone off. We were smart enough to call the blaster back.
When I was about 20 years old I was at my uncles house and he was drunk which wasn’t at all unusual for him. He was wanting to get his old Minneapolis Moline tractor started but it hadn’t been started in quite some time. He had me dump some fresh gas in it and try to start it. It cranked over good but wouldn’t fire. He determined that there must be some “shit” in the fuel line so he pulled the glass bowl off of the carburetor to let the “shit” run out of the line. The only thing in that line was fresh gas. I was in the drivers seat and couldn’t see what was going on but that fresh gas was pouring all over the starter. When he determined that there was no more “shit” in the line he told me to give it a try. Yep, I pushed the starter button and WOOF!!! Up she went. It knocked him over backwards and I baled quick. Before we could put out the fire most of the gas just burned off. I hit the remaining fire with an extinguisher. The tractor was salvageable but the distributor cap and wires were all melted and the radiator lost a lot of solder. Surveying the damage my uncle said, “Fuck this. Let’s go in and have a drink.”
Similar, but it was with a lawnmower, and my Dad was supervising (so guess I can disavow my own actions…though I was 18 at the time).
We had a Craftsman lawn mower which was notoriously hard to start. I needed to get it going, probably because the lawn was pretty high (likely coming back from vacation, it got long). As usual I was having problems getting it started..my Dad (who was a chemist, he’s deceased now) took off the air cleaner and sprayed ether into the carburator…well, the lawnmower didn’t start, but caught on fire. We got it extiguished but never did get the mower started. Glad I didn’t do it myself. This was before they started putting the priming bulb on the carburator, so ours didn’t have one. Around the same time we had an Ahrens 2 stage snowblower, which started OK, but after using it unless you got into the 2nd stage with a toothbrush and got rid of any residual snow that had melted, it would freeze up and seize the mechanism such that when you engaged the impeller, it would shred the belt. We’d have to walk about a mile (since we didn’t have the driveway shovelled, car wouldn’t get out, this was in 70’s and we didn’t have 4WD) to get another belt. Eventually we bought a stock of them since it happened so often.
A few years later, I kind of did the opposite and put out a fire..my parents had just moved to Texas and my Dad’s gallbladder ruptured, so he was in the hospital, I flew down from where I lived in Massachusetts and was staying at their house in the guest bedroom right off the kitchen. I went to sleep before anyone, and heard a noise in the kitchen that I assumed was my sisters cooking or something, but I opened the door to find the drainboard on fire and smoking coming from upper kitchen cabinet. I did know where to find the extinguisher even though they’d just moved there, for some reason I just yellled “emergency” or something to that effect, but I woke everyone up. There was smoke damage in the kitchen and we called the fire department and they got the smoke blown out. Turns out there was a short in their electric can opener and it caught on fire itself. My mother still lives in same home, by far the longest they’ve ever lived in same place after moving quite a bit when we all were younger..40 years next year, this was in 1982. Ended up moving to Texas myself the next year, been here ever since.
Assuming that most if not all of those who posted are males, it does seem that the Universe is lenient with boys, perhaps because they are needed later in life to help perpetuate the species.
My friends and I were into fire and explosions, and generally ignorant of safety precautions. A few highlights come to mind.
We collected nubs of flares left behind by the police after a car crash. We couldn’t make them explode, but they were great for igniting other objects, including piles of dry leaves, which were then extinguished with a shovel, until of course an overzealous fire-starter got too far ahead of the fire-stompers. This caused a scary conflagration that required great effort to extinguish. The fire was dangerously close to a garage and a fence.
An attempt to launch a ball into orbit using gasoline in tubular Pringles cans caused a flaming spill in the driveway. Being wise lads, we had the foresight to keep the hose nearby, which of course turned a small, isolated fire into a larger, spreading one.
My father bought me a mold to make fishing weights. My fishing companion and I borrowed Dad’s wheel weight removal tool for nighttime lead-collecting forays, which must have left many townsfolk wondering why their wheels were suddenly unbalanced. Accumulated weights were then melted down in a small pan on a kitchen stove. One time we had a visceral demonstration of the gas laws when molten metal poured into a recently washed (but not dried) mold shot back out at us. A mark on my arm serves as a permanent reminder, and I like to think that exposure to lead vapor contributed to my subsequent intellectual development.
Do not clean your mildewed shower tiles with bleach to get the stains out and then spray Scrubbing Bubbles in there to clean it up and make it look all new and shiny.
You’ll make chlorine gas with the combo of bleach and the ammonia in the cleaner…
I encountered a similar situation recently at work – I ducked into the men’s room and it had just been cleaned and “sanitized” using bleach because of the covid hysteria. I took a leak, washed up, and walked out. Suddenly I was aware of a burning sensation in my nostrils and had a loss of smell for a day. After thinking about it, I concluded that as the urinal was not a manually flushable type, it still had bleach it it and the ammonia in the urine had combined with the residual bleach to produce chloramine gas.
I look back at my childhood in New Guinea, where 10 year old me could buy fireworks, and marvel that I still have all my fingers & both eardrums. No real arson attempts, but many a model aircraft met a fiery/explosive end in the back yard.
Daniel, I always enjoy reading your stories. Funny how I did a lot of the same stuff you did when I was a kid. My dad was finishing the basement and had a gun powdered nailer that was used to secure the 2x4s to the concrete. I wanted to see what was in the brass piece that was used to make the nail go all the way into the concrete. I took a hammer and busted it open next to the hot water heater and the furnace onto the concrete. Thinking back I cringe at what could have happened.
This string of stories is really humorous with a lot of style in the writing. Thanks
my home( through generations, built in 1840) has had improvements over ther years,indoor toilet 1930s, full bathroom , late 30s with a sidearm water heater, had to light it AND remember to turn it offin 30 minutes/40 max or the pressure valve would opem, but pressuer still built ,as a kid in the 50s there were times we qall fell asleep, w/h on. Wake to the house shaking and sound of a full steam locomotivw by the b-room. RUN,but one has to turn it off, dad ,til my teens and if i lit iit i turned if off. Once all out get 100 plus feet awwy, the relief pipe spewing steam into the sky above trees, thr train roar strong, over 15 -25 minutes, roar calms. we lived through it agaiun, 1961 a house 8 blocks away a side arm heater blew, leveled it, destroyed 2 others, shook oue house, dad got a w/h with pilot light.
2 at a friends house, 16 y/o, we’re inthr pool when the ham exploded in the kiychen…
3 nORM bought a long stting ’59 Imperial, i was cooking franks on the bbq, norm trying to start imp, dont know what he did, but the pressure wave knocked me from behind, blew norm clear, he normally had a fuull head of hair, but his eyebrows ‘stach and haird halfwy back was gone, his face bright red, but he heled, the fireball benr the hood, but it started…
In a high school auto shop kids were practicing static timing a Chevy V-8 engine. The exhaust was hooked up to a forced ventilation system. When a girl attempted to start the engine, it backfired into the exhaust system which promptly blew up with major force. It blew the lids off of the other exhaust outlets through the ceiling and blew out the main duct in the wall into the roof. No one was hurt. After the huge blast the girl who turned the key to start the motor, said,”What did I do?” Gas fumes are powerful, understatement.
Here is my extremely stupid adventure, and I managed to survived it unscathed!
I was in the US Army, Military Police. I was trained [but not enough!] in high explosives. I’ve worked around them all my adult life, and especially the group I was with until my advancing age meant my BATFE license was not renewed. We were very proud of the fact we shot the largest shells on the 4th of July [24″, shot from a tube buried 12′ into the ground, the shells going so high into the air we were required to notify Dover Air Force Base 30 minutes before shooting].
Back to the stupid act . . . As someone who had been restoring antique cars long before I got drafted, the Battalion Commander wanted his M151A1 Jeep repainted, and asked me if I could do it. Sure, I’d painted several vehicles, so a Jeep, with no trim to mask, should be easy. It’s flat paint, so no worry about the actual finish quality.
Obtaining a couple of gallons of O.D. paint was the easy part. Finding the thinners to cut it down for the paint gun, not so easy. Only one paint booth on the entire base, and they were not willing to let me have a couple of gallons of thinner. So I had the C.O.’s jeep all sanded and ready for paint, windshield taped, lenses covered with a light coating of grease [makes clean-up a lot easier], and no thinner around.
One of the M.P.’s comes over and says he can thin the paint, and takes it away. 15 minutes later he returns, the paint nicely thinned. It was just right, no drips or runs, the paintwork came out great, and of course it had no shine because it was a combat vehicle. That should have alerted the few remaining brain cells I had, to make sure I wasn’t doing stupid stuff, but nooooo, not that day.
As I was cleaning up the motor pool bays, and opening up the 12 big vehicle bay doors to let the fog of paint/thinner dissipate from the entire building, on removing my respirator, I asked the other guy where he had found some thinner.
“Oh, that wasn’t thinner, it was just gasoline.”
Great stories! We had been shooting off firecrackers and when we were finished we had several duds left over. Not wanting to waste them I got the five gallon gas can out of the garage and poured gas over them. Luckily we had a gravel driveway. Tossed a match on the pile of gas soaked “dud” firecrackers, whoosh goes the gas, nice warm summer day you know, and pretty soon, boom, boom, boom firecrackers start cooking off. What I failed to do was have a hose ready and also failed to make sure the gas can was well clear of the area. We look over and the gas can is on fire! Oh boy, quick run and get the hose and wash everything down. Really hard to put out gas with a water hose. Finally got it out. Nothing to really clean up, gravel driveway is fine. Empty the contents of the gas can on the gravel road that we are located on. That’s also the road that absorbed all the old oil from oil changes. 1960’s who knew better.
So about this time my heart has finally gotten about back to normal and my mother is calling me. Hey what are you doing, better get your tail to school for your band lessons. Summer school, individual private lessons to keep us out of trouble. I don’t remember exactly what the teacher said to me but he did notice a distinct odor of gasoline.
Lastly was the near disaster at a truck shop. Rocky was a bit of a moron mechanic. He had this C50 Chevy straight truck jacked way up in the front doing king pins. Old ones were stuck as usual and he got the torch in his hand heating that axle near cherry red and then swinging a hammer trying to get the pin to move. Well the owner apparently had stopped at the local gas station and filled his dual gas tanks FULL. These fuel tanks had the fill ports at the top rear of the tank. Well the truck is jacked up so high the gas is dribbling out the gas caps and pooling under the truck. There’s Rocky, torch in one hand standing about two feet away from a lake of gas slowly spreading across the floor. My first reaction was run to the torch tanks and shut off the acetylene tank. The torch popped loudly when it went out, scared the bejeezus out of Rocky. Rocky was pissed, ready to throw his hammer at the jerk that shut off the torch. He quietly changed his tune when we pointed to the puddle of gas. This guy nearly killed the whole crew once when he was going to cut some bolts off that were loose on the fifth wheel plate of a trailer. A gasoline tanker trailer. Rocky was fired that day.
1982-1983 era…..I was rebuilding a small block Chevy, the pistons were pretty nasty and needed to clean as the rebuild was on a tight budget. A buddy gave me a bucket of Permatex carb cleaner and I proceeded to clean away. Well not thinking past getting them cleaned for the next day…. did this by hand with no gloves. What a shock after getting done for the evening and tried washing my hands. I had managed to turn my hands a nice green and it took about two weeks to finally wear off. I looked like the hulk without the muscles.
My parents began to leave me alone at home at about 8. Nothing happened much, except for cutting the hell out of my hand making something for lunch once. My mom’s best friend took me to the doctor for stitches. Not a huge deal. But I still got talked to about it by mom. Dad just shrugged his shoulders and said, “it happens!”.
When I was about 12, I was sick at home with a bad cold. Instead of laying in bed doing nothing, watching TV, or sleeping, I decided it would be a good idea to begin to assemble my latest electronic project, in bed, with a soldering iron. Mom had gone to the grocery store, and as soon as she left, I got going on putting the PC board together. I inserted the components and started soldering, taking breaks to blow my endless supply of snot out of my nose before it drips on my project. I had a hunk of cardboard I used to clean the tip of the iron, and it worked fine, but some solder dropped into the wastebasket with all the tissues in it, Suddenly, the wastebasket has fire coming out of it, and numerous burning tissues are floating in the air from the heated up air coming out of it. The rug next to my bed caught on fire, my slippers were burned, and my wooden floor was burned too. I finally ended up taking a pot holder and putting the wastebasket into the shower and putting it out. Smoke was all over and my one slipper’s sole had melted into the floor and rug. Mom came home, and I told her what happened, and she told me, “No more soldering in bed!”. I agreed, until the next time I got sick. Mom said, “I thought you said you wouldn’t solder in bed any more!”. I looked puzzled and said, “Oh, I thought you meant when I was alone!”. She just rolled her eyes and left me to solder away. Last time I did solder in bed was when I was about 50, and sick with a cold. I made up some new speaker cables. My GF at the time said, “I never had even dreamed you would still do that stuff at 50 years old!”. No fire that last time, just a drop of solder on my leg. YOW!
I don’t know how, but by 7th grade, we knew about the muriatic acid and aluminum thing. We used muriatic to clean the railroad spikes and tie plates we sold to some company who would make book ends out of them and then nickel or gold plate them, and they sold a lot of them. How we got the spikes and plates they bought from us? They didn’t want to know.
We even found some old rail that we sold to them too. My friend still has a set of the nickel plated ones in his den, over 50 years later. It has our initials, BF, TW, and PM engraved on the top of the half rail on each side. The last time I saw a set of those on Ebay, they went for a couple hundred bucks. And I’m about 99% sure, they were made by the same company ours were, and we might have supplied the parts.
Looking at that reaction I’m wondering if this was a component of old school powdered Drano which had little metal shavings mixed in. Since you poured it down the drain and then added water all the interesting chemistry would be contained in the black iron or galvanized drain pipes.
I’ve been either lucky or cautious and the worst I did at home was discharging a fire extinguisher at a burning pan, which was probably my sister’s fault.
OTOH I do have a fun second hand tale of a coworker at the rental yard innocently starting a towed air compressor and being reward with a large bang and the battery launching itself out the bottom of the chassis. I was also in the shop the the day the hydraulic rock splitter cylinder split, spraying fluid at 10.000 psi.
Me and my buddy were into farting around with model rockets. Rule number one was: Don’t try to chop up wooden match heads and push them into the opening of a used little Co2 cylinder (you know, the kind used for air pistols and such). So that’s what we did in my parents basement.
Then we got out the old Lionel train transformer and bit of nichrome wire and stuffed the igniter in there and wedge the cylinder into an old wooden shoe shine box and let’er go.
Holy shit did that make a lot of smoke and noise. The ‘rents were not amused.
This is why you can’t get kids’ chemistry sets anymore…
2 stories, more or less as an adult.
The really crazy one wasn’t my fault, yeah, that’s what everyone says. I know. I was working, briefly, long story, at a major chemical plant. Big enough it had 2 fire departments within the plant. And stoplights. So I’d been there a few weeks, with my 15 minutes of training, cutting out a chemical reactor to be replaced as it was leaking too much. Bunch of pipes basically, 2 inch pipes, but pipes. All was well until I set the residual phenol on fire with the acetylene torch. Which started running down the open drain setting the wastewater on fire. And the next stop for the open wastewater drain was the monochlorobenzene plant. Highly flammable. So I’m out there with a hose trying, and eventually succeeding in putting out the wastewater with I think it was service water. They had 3 different grades of water IIRC, waste, service and city. But I was able to put out water with water.
A few years later in my mid 20’s, I was working on a Jeep Gladiator pick up truck I had. Oh what a pile that thing was. Regardless, I was dirty up to my elbows, went inside to clean up, first with Boraxo powered hand soap, then thought I’d add a little dishwashing soap to it. No fires or explosions or anything, and I don’t know what exactly the reaction was, but the vapors about took my nose off my face. Whoooooooh, I don’t think I’ll do that again.
We also had an old Craftsman lawnmower. It was August and I was in a bad mood for having to mow the lawn in the blazing heat even though it was my own lazy teenager fault for not having gotten up earlier when it was cool.
I was about halfway through cutting the yard when the mower ran out of gas. I filled the tank, it overflowed a fair amount onto the muffler housing which started a pretty good fire with 3 foot flames. I ran to the garage for the Class B extinguisher and when I returned to the mower I was met by my neighbor carrying a bucket of water. I asked him to skip the water and got things out quickly with the extinguisher. I’ll always remember what day it happened as my neighbor had then informed me that Nixon had just resigned – August 9, 1974.
Funny thing, when my dad got home that evening, he looked things over, replaced some charred rubber fuel line, put some gas in, primed it, and it started right up. The Craftsman thereafter looked like it had been in a fire but it was a 1962 model with minimal plastic. I don’t think my dad even once changed the spark plug, the oil or any of the filters, nor ever cleaned the carb and it ran from ‘62 until when he gave it away in the late 80’s.
Learned about this in science class at highschool 3 of us had to sand down and revarnish the desk/bench we sat at, the reaction escaped the container and turned out to be a very effective paint stripper and the stink was remarkable, teacher went white as a sheet and evacuated the class, no sense of humour that teacher.
It was actually my dad who was more of a fire danger. He was an exceptionally talented and ambitious handyman. The year I was born he built our cottage from the foundations to the roof. This included all the plumbing (all copper including drains) and wiring, which seemed to require all connections to be soldered. At the time there were no propane torches, so my dad used a gasoline fueled blowtorch. These are extremely scary. To light them you have to fill the little trough with gasoline and then light it to heat up the torch. There was the torch, full of gasoline, with flames all over it. Also, unlike a propane torch, you cannot hold it at an angle. Years later when I was working on the cottage I would find sections of scorched wood behind pipes and electrical boxes. I am glad that propane torches came along by the time I started to do soldering. The photo is very similar to my dad’s torch.
Here’s the photo.
MOM! Today I learned how to make Mustard Gas!
So, I was 14 and had been taught about the PH balance of pool water and the whole testing kit rundown to keep the pool healthy…
so alot of pollen had dropped the PH levels so i was adding hydrochloric acid to the water and topping off the chlorine float.. the chlorine was also pretty low due to evaporation so i thought id crush a few extra pellets to “make it dissolve faster” .. which was ok.. but instead of tossing the cryshed chlorine pellets in the pool i figured id save a trip and toss it in the measuring cup with the hydrochloric acid …..
instantly this horrendous cloud burst into the air, mustard gas.
i think they should large print ‘DO NOT MIX WITH CHLORINE’ across the top of the rear label on every bottle of hydrochloric acid sold for pool use …
*RAISED* PH levels.