Two for one today! I’ve got memories floating around in my head of TWO, not just once, incident regarding tennis ball bombs.
For those unfamiliar with a tennis ball bomb, follow along, you’ll get the idea.
Because this deals with amateur explosives, i’m going to say it first that anyone reading, with the common sense of a lamp post, should either STOP reading now, or convince yourself that this is a fictional writing, and that it wont actually work in real life. Fire, and explosives are dangerous. My friends and I were very careful…. erm.. well.. maybe very lucky is the right term… We didnt burn down any structures, vehicles, forests, or people in the process.
Ok, now that that’s out of the way.
A very long time ago, when the internet was still new to me, i was very thirsty for information, not the kind of stuff you can find in the library, but stuff that you can only found in underground sites on the web. Things like, the Hackers handbook, the Anarchists Cookbook, phone phreaking, hacking, general mischief sort of stuff. I was pretty safe in the things i actually tried. I wasn’t dumb enough to try calling Asia for free with a blackbox, nor was I ballsy enough to try hacking some bank somewhere. But i did read, a lot, about how those sort of things would be accomplished. One of the things that was really neat about the Anarchists Cookbook was how much information they had about explosives. Wow, that sentence looked really bad, the Obama gestapo will be monitoring my e-mail and web posts for the next 7 years. So, MR. CIA, if you’re reading this, I’m not advocating anarchism, or the use of explosives without a license… That would be.. dumb. yea, definitely.
So anyway, one of the devices I read about was the famed tennis ball bomb. For those of you that dont know what a tennis ball bomb is, it’s just what it sounds like. A bomb, made out of a tennis ball. Designed to be thrown at something (or.. someone?) and exploding in a firey spectacle. These things aren’t particularly powerful, nor are they all that dangerous. I’ll get into that in a bit.
So a few friends and I decided to try to actually make one of these things. The theory is simple. You take an average tennis ball, cut a slit in it, just big enough to fit match heads through. Then you take strike-anywhere matches, and cut the heads off, leaving just the heads, as little of the stick as possible. Then you stuff as many match heads into the tennis ball. Then you seal the tennis ball up with tape. When you throw the tennis ball at something, if you did it right, the match heads strike off of each other on impact, causing a chain reaction. As they flare up, the pressure in the tennis ball becomes great enough, that the tennis ball splits open, and the match heads come flying out, LIT, from the pressure. The result is a star-burst sort of effect. Sort of like very small fireworks.
So one day, after school, we’re bored, if memory serves this attempt involved Me, Wetzel, and Jose. We’re at my parents place, i’m pretty sure no one else was home. My sister was in college at the time, so she was probably off at class, my dad worked till 5, my mom worked nights, so sometime early afternoon she left for work. Anyway. I had a tennis ball. Probably an old dog toy, we certainly didn’t go buy tennis balls for this. We had just one. We had to buy the matches though. So we had one box of strike-anywheres, a few pairs of dikes (get your mind out of the gutter) and a roll of white electrical tape. Now, you’re supposed to use duct tape. it seals better, but we were poor, and had no duct tape. We probably spent all of our money on the matches!
So we spent about an hour cutting the heads off of these matches. Then we cut a hole just small enough to fit the heads through in the tennis ball, and started stuffing. Now this is sort of tricky. If you stuff things too tight, you could IGNITE the tennis ball right there in your hand. That would be…. bad. We probably could have packed it tighter, but we didnt want to burn the house down, or burn ourselves, so we played it safe. Then we carefully wrapped the thing with the electrical tape.
So now, we had one tennis ball bomb, and about an hour before any supervision was going to arrive. Where to light this thing? I had the perfect spot. There’s an unmaintained road near my parents place, that leads up to the Flagstaff in JT. We headed up there. Now, the only one of us that had a car at our disposal was Wetzel. Wetzel’s driving is… erratic, at best. Or, it was at the time anyway. So we hop in his car, we’re looking at a 4 minute drive at best. I think Wetzel wanted to see if he could do it in 3. We’re not wearing seatbelts, because it’s a 4 minute drive, and we’re dumb high school students.
Well there’s this hairpin turn that we have to go around to get on to this road. Wetzel’s driving, i’m riding shotgun Jose (a big hispanic guy) is in the back seat HOLDING the bomb. Most NORMAL drivers slow down to about 5mph for this turn. Not Wetzel, he must have taken at it 20. Which doesnt sound like much, but you need to see this turn. Now, Jose’s in the back cradling this bomb like its a damned newborn. So both of his hands are taken up with keeping this thing from enduring any jar’s or shocks, after all, we wouldnt want it to explode, in the car, right? So wetzel takes this turn, Jose, who has no hands to hold on with, weighs probably better of 225lbs (maybe more) gets tossed across the back seat from the force of this turn, slams into the drivers side rear door, and quickly exclaims "I’ve got a BOMB back here!!!". We laughed and continued on.
So we got to a "safe" place to finally try this thing out. Wetzel is elected as the designated "thrower". We find one of these cement drainage things. it’s got a little raised wall made of cement. We figure, cement doesn’t burn, cement’s sturdy… Perfect! Wetzel winds up, and throws. Now, here’s the part no one told us…..
Remember how i said the matches ignite, and start a chain reaction, build up pressure, and THEN explode? Well it takes 3-5 seconds for this to happen. We expected contact and BOOM, nooooo.. it doesnt work that way. Here’s somethign else we didnt think of… Tennis balls (even those with a hole cut in them, stuffed with match heads, and wrapped in electrical tape) BOUNCE!
So the scene played out something like: Wind up, throw, bounce, look of slight confusion from Jose and I (who are safely standing back), look of terror from Wetzel as he realizes that the tennis ball, containing what may or may not be a chain reaction of igniting match heads, is headed STRAIGHT FOR HIM as it bounced directly off the wall, and back in the direction it came from. Well, Wetzel’s never been called lethargic, he spring into survival mode and as the tennis ball bounced right between his feet, he jumped as high and as fast as he could, and IIRC, tumbled out of the way. Sure enough, right as it hits the ground, it explodes! Rather anticlimactically. The electrical tape didnt form enough of a seal, the pressure wasnt contained long enough, and it just split the tape right at the hole we made for the matches.
We studied the result, took notes for next time, and headed back to my parents place.
We didnt try the tennis ball bomb idea again for a little while. Wetzel joined the air force and spent 4 years defending our country, and the rest of us went on to either college, or some other sort of after high-school things. Well one day, Wetzel’s in town, on leave IIRC. I get a call from one of our friends, they invite me up to Wetzel’s parents place. Everyone’s together, and.. making tennis ball bombs! This time we’re all working, we all have a little money, we all have cars. So many more possibilities. So i hop in the Jeep, and head up there. I get there, i forget everyone that was up there, but at the very least it was the 4 horsemen, maybe pecic, i forget if he was involved in this particular disaster, or.. i mean.. event.
I find them sitting at the kitchen table, surrounded by bowls full of match heads, and a standard tube of tennis balls. Also a few rolls of duct tape. They sprang for the good stuff this time. This has promise. I grab some dikes and start assisting in the match cutting. Wetzel’s dad was a Marine, in Nam, seems everyone I know that served in Nam is a lot more easygoing when it comes to things that could kill you. So he was actually right there giving us pointers, and sort of supervising. His family had foster kids as well, they were there, some watching, i think waiting for us to light ourselves on fire, others excited to see the result, others completely dis-interested (they had a lot of foster kids…). so we cut enough heads to fill 3 (iirc) tennis balls. We were a little more daring this time, and packed them just a tad tighter than the last time. We were older now, and smarter (right?). Then we carefully wrapped them in duct tape. Then we loaded them up in someone’s car (pretty sure we didn’t let Wetzel drive this time). We head to this little lot in the middle of nowhere that wetzel knew about. It’s one of these little lots that you find at the entrance to state game lands and things. Except this ones paved, instead of gravel. Perfect! Pavement is hard, sturdy, and doesn’t burn!
We learned a little from last time.
1. There’s a delay
2. Tennis balls filled with a chain reaction of igniting match heads DO bounce
3. DONT throw the tennis ball at something that MIGHT bounce it back at you.
4. STAND THE HELL BACK!
We have 3 attempts this time, so a few of us get a shot at it. This time, we stood on the pavement, and threw the tennis ball, as hard as we could, at an angle down on to the pavement. This made them bounce up into the air, and AWAY from the thrower. This, we found, was the RIGHT way to do it. It worked perfectly. It was dark. We used the KC HiLights on my Jeep to see what we were doing until the toss, and then i cut them off just as the thrower was doing his throwing. Spectacular! each one worked perfect. It bounced, and at about 20ft up, it popped. The match heads exploded outward in a star burst, and burned up before they hit the ground.
So there you have it. Fun with explosives!