For memories of fireworks we have to go to town for that. When I was a kid we always shot off fireworks beginning several weeks before the fourth and by fireworks I mean fire crackers and some snakes. Firecrackers could only be bought at roadside venders. Now and then we shot off Cherry bombs which were really small sticks of dynamite. They have since been outlawed but they could be used very effectively crumbling large dirt over hangs. My dad told the story of how he and several friends blocked the stream flowing through Cambridge, Nebraska. It was hot and they wanted a deeper pool for swimming. We call it skinny dipping today and the focus is on the lack of swim wear. But at the time, you went swimming and swimwear being scarce that’s how you did it. The pool of water made by the earthen dam they blew into the stream worked great and they had their pool for swimming. It’s probably important to say that the dam was upstream from Cambridge. It worked so well that the water got deeper and deeper and eventually found another way into town flooding the streets. The boys realized their problem and left quickly. In fact, it was about the time the dam was discovered by the town constable who was looking for the source of the flooding.
I never heard that story during my early days of shooting off fire crackers and that’s probably a good thing. We collapsed a few banks in the ravine and blew up some ant hills but the main thing we discovered was how high you could blow an empty can in the air with a fire cracker. Naturally more fire crackers lit at once meant the can went higher in the air. One of my friends in Mankato, Minnesota suggested we use a water base. I’m not sure why he suggested shooting the can in the air from water but it worked so well that it became a part of the process.
The only time I remember shooting fireworks off on the ranch was in the barn. I found an oat bin from the previous year that was full of tunnels dug by mice. As I was setting the charges, a friend of mine whose dad worked part of the ranch said this was a really bad idea. And I said, “Why? This will blow up the tunnels and with any luck a few of the mice too.” He shook his head and ran for cover as I lit the fuses. The resulting boom was huge but a bit underwhelming. All of the tunnels were gone but I didn’t find any dead mice.
The firecrackers in the barn happened when I was 12 or so and probably happened about the same time I heard the story of the swimming pool created by cherry bombs. I only heard about the diversion of the creek and not about the resulting flood. I was constantly looking for ways to emulate my Dad and the tunnels looked perfect. Boy, was Doc Pop mad. Now to say that my Grandad got mad was not that unusual because his temper was legendary. Like when my 5 year old cousin and I (about 6) bent the tie rod on his jeep. He got really mad at that, but this time his anger was epic. He had probably seen enough house and barn fires in his day to realize the danger. It wasn’t that dry yet because the summer was just starting but the barn fire could still have spread to the hills around the barn setting it ablaze. It could have been catastrophic. My Mom and Dad agreed with Doc Pop and it never happened again.
Firework shows always took place at our house. We didn’t go to community firework displays but shot off bottle rockets, fountains, rockets at the end of the drive way at hour little house in Lincoln. We kids were too little, so Dad lit them all after it was dark enough. We watched the fireworks into the night. Of course, every family on the block did the same thing so I could watch our display or other displays at the same time.
The only real community fireworks display I saw as a kid was at the rodeo grounds in Crawford, Nebraska. Crawford is in the Northwestern part of the Panhandle. It’s where the sand hills end and the Buttes begin. Its a few miles from the state of Wyoming. Anyway, after the rodeo on the fourth the town shot off a bunch of the larger displays and that tradition goes on to this day.