Times have changed a lot in the almost 50 years that I’ve been in the construction business. The only economical way to excavate rock for installing underground utilities in the first 10 years was blasting with dynamite. It tapered off over the next decades to where that method is rarely even used today. We blasted up and down streets in very congested areas. In my first 4 or 5 years there wasn’t even a city permit required in Austin to transport and use explosives. Anyone dealing with the City of Austin now, would find that hard to believe. Now you need a permit to break wind on a sidewalk, I think. When Austin passed an ordinance requiring a license to do blasting, I studied and received one of the first one issued. I was no more than 24 or 25. Ironically my license number was 013. Not being a superstitious person, I paid little attention to the number. Perhaps I should have. There were many calamities that happened using dynamite, but there were a lot of calamities with everything we did. We got a lot stuff done, but it was always at a cost.
I have many blasting stories but perhaps none as good as the following:
Pete was our explosives salesman. He worked for a national explosives supply company. He never said anything, but I think he may have wondered if I was the most careful blaster around.
One day Pete came by my jobsite back in the mid 1970’s. I had a huge pile of boulders that were mostly too large to load on a dump truck. The normal way to break them up was to drill a hole right down to near the center of the rock and we would place a very small charge at the bottom of the hole. When detonated, in theory it would make lots of little rocks out of one big one. But if everything didn’t work exactly right it had the potential to throw rocks all over that end of the county. Pete remembered a product a guy in there R&D Department had developed some time back. It was called a Boulder Buster. He said they worked really well, but never found commercial success because they were a bit too noisy. They had a few leftover in their stock. He said if I wanted to try them, he’d have them shipped down from Dallas the next day and I could try them out. It sounded like a wonderful idea. We wouldn’t have to drill all the holes and should really speed things up. Pete, wanting to get them out of the warehouse, agreed to give them to me and ask how many I wanted. “Give them to me”? That should have been the big tipoff. I said, send them all to me.
My project was out west of Austin at Jollyville. I had grown up in my early years in Jollyville. Things were really beginning to grow out that way, hence the reason for this new development.
With the noise warning from Pete, I knew we needed to take measures to dampen the sound. There were existing houses and business within a couple of hundred yards so, not wanting to disturb anyone I got the idea that if I put a few layers of used carpet over the rocks and explosive devices, no one would hear a thing. So off to the city dump I went. They had a huge pile of carpet set off to the side. They gladly gave it to me when I ask for it. I pulled out of the gate with a full pickup load of stinking dirty used carpet.
I need to explain what a Boulder Buster looked like. They reminded me of a Tupperware bowl with a lid on it, turned upside down. There were three sizes, depending on the size of the mass you were working with. Kind of like the three most popular Tupperware Bowl sizes. Now imagine in the very center of the lid of the bowl, there was a plastic cone shaped piece that extended down into the bowl. The explosive filled the bowl. The cone somehow helped direct the energy into the boulder, causing them to accomplish their intended purpose. These things were red in color, danger red with a warning label on them.
That day coming back from the dump with the carpet, I had thoughts of the genius that I had come up with. I even had thoughts that with the Boulder Busters, coupled with the carpet idea and since that company had decided it wanted no part of them I may be able to wrestle the patent away from them. I could become the King of Boulder Busting. I could fly around the country, heck even the world, with my Boulder Busters making little rocks out of big rocks. It was all sounding like a wonderful business model. Maybe even have my own jet. All this planning in the 15 minute drive from the dump. All I had to do is get past this first little test run. “I wondered if I could hire Pete to promote my new business”.
Friday afternoon was chosen as the time for the first of what I figured to be many successful detonations. With the charge set in place I started with the biggest boulder and the biggest bowl, so I could move this new idea right along posthaste. With a blasting cap inserted in the device, carpet on top (I used about 10 layers for the first trial run – knowing over time I could start taking layers off until the perfect combination could be achieved). Nothing left to chance. A wire to detonate the blasting cap was unreeled to approximately 100 yards, to allow for a safe distance in case a small pebble or two escaped from under the carpet. I wasn’t wanting to leave anything to chance.
Pete had asked to be there, so he could witness history being made in Austin, Texas that day. Pete pulled up and stopped about 500 yards away. I wondered why Pete stopped so far away, doesn’t he want a ring side seat? I decided to sit in my pickup, a 72 model ¾ ton Ford. The countdown in my mind started. Then with the Fire in the Hole called out (that’s proper protocol for blasting) I pushed the detonator button.
I had never felt anything in my young life that felt like the concussion that came across the ground. It was reminiscent of what you saw at the dropping of the big bomb on Hiroshima. My Ford pickup literally felt like it lifted off the ground and set back down. Being always in a dusty work environment, I was completely covered in dust that shook out of the headliner. Hurriedly gathering up the lead wire and tossing it in the back of the truck. I made my way to the pile of boulders. When the dust and smoke cleared I could see that the subject rock was more like a pile of gravel. Strange, there was no carpet. It had literally rained carpet fibers all over the area. When I looked around it reminded me of putting tinsel on the Christmas tree. A lot of Christmas trees. There was never a piece of carpet found that was larger than a 2” square.
A huge cloud of dust and smoke hung over the area. Pete was gone. He had left the scene. I heard the sirens from a nearby fire station come alive. I signaled the crew that it was quitting time. We all made flight from there as fast as we could. When I hit the highway and headed toward home, people were out of the surrounding buildings looking, with fire and police headed to the site.
When the next Monday came we went back to drilling holes down to the core of the rocks the old conventional way. I never heard a word from the authorities. I guess they never really figured out what had happen on that Friday afternoon.
I have thought about that episode many of times over that past 40 years. I think now the carpet really wasn’t a very good idea after all. It only served to help hold the concussion and sound down closer to the ground.
I abandoned my idea of flying around the world in my private jet with The King of Boulder Busting painted down each side.
A Friendship Rekindled
Pete was a friend I made through business many years ago. He was a dynamite salesman and a dang good one. We first met in the early 70’s, probably 1972.
Pete was a part of my life for about 15 years, but with the business turning away from blasting in favor of other safer methods of excavating rock in our industry, we no longer had a reason to come in contact. So I hadn’t seen Pete since the mid 80’s, some 30 years.
After recounting what a great guy Pete was and the fun we had back in that day, my curiosity kicked in one night and I decided to see if I could find him.
With a little searching I found that he and his wife Francis were living in San Antonio. But I couldn’t find a phone number. So I got in my car one morning and drove to his home address and knocked on the front door. In a just moment Pete was standing there and I’m sure he was wondering what does this guy want.
I told him who I was. He immediately remembered me and invited me in. He and his wife were entertaining another couple, some of their dear friends. The other couple was getting ready to leave, so after a few minutes it was just Pete, Francis and me. We visited for almost an hour and a half. It was as if it had been 30 days since we last saw each other, rather than 30 years. The visit was so enjoyable. While I went there with a lot anticipation, I returned home recounting what a great thing old friendships are.
Pete is now 85 and in excellent health with a very good mind. He was able to remember everyone I mentioned from “the old days”. He had some memory that he shared about most of them.
One of his favorite memories seemed to be of a time he stopped by a job site for a visit, it was at lunch time and a big excavator was just sitting there. He said he had always wanted to get on one of those things. I invited him to climb on it and dig away. He seemed to remember that I kept looking away, as to not see what he was tearing up. But with all the wildness I had been through, I doubt that there was much that I thought Pete could destroy.
My advice to any of you. If you have an old friend, get in touch with them even if it’s been years since you last connected. You never know, they may be just as glad to see you and you are them.
It’s never too late to have your first book published.
NDEH – Angry Dance
A while back, I wrote about going to San Antonio one Saturday to visit an ole friend. An ole friend I hadn’t seen or talked to in 30 years.
Since that visit we have been in contact many times. Luckily he has a son and daughter in law that live in Liberty Hill, just down the road. So Pete and his ever lovely wife, Fran, come up this way often. He has become a part of our Angora Chronicles family.
He contacted me a few weeks ago about a writing project he has been working on for 35 years. That long ago he started going to New Mexico to the Gila Wilderness and other places in Arizona New Mexico and Texas and taking long hikes where the Apaches had once inhabited.
From those yearly hiking adventures, a book about a young Mexican girl that was captured by the Apaches started developing in his mind. About 20 years ago he started writing a book.
When I started talking to him about how economical and easy it is to self publish a book can be, he put things in motion to finish the book and get it out into the marketplace. I went to San Antonio to help Pete get the book entered into the correct format for publishing.
Within a few hours we had it about ready to go. I brought it back and over the next few days I worked on it back in Bertram, with several emails, texts and phone calls to Pete.
A few days later the first draft copies were in Pete’s mailbox. He sent me a copy.
After making a few corrections and format changes we hit the send button and off it went to be printed.
By the next day, the book was already available on Amazon. I ordered a copy. Pete ordered his copies directly from the printer at his special discounted price.
I am so proud that Pete brought me in to help with this wonderful project. I am blown away by Pete’s writing style and the way he brought the story to life. I am not kidding when I say that it is written so well that it has a Lonesome Dove quality about it.
It is a fact based novel. Anyone that enjoys learning and reading about the Indians and early settling of the western territories, this is the book for you.
The Wise Words Of A Fellow That Knows
(This was an emailed I received from Pete one day)
The most important thing I learned during 57 years of blasting with high explosives, is I can tell whether a blaster is good, mediocre or lousy. A good blaster is akin to an artist, very creative. A good blaster always plans his shots so as to achieve a desired result. He thinks about every aspect involved; that is necessary to achieve desired results, and Safety. I have never met a blaster, be he a Saint, a sinner, or just a plain asshole, that didn’t care about the results of a blast that he designed. But I have seen many “blasters” who were what I called “Monkey see, Monkey Do”. They learned the mechanics of loading a shot, but knew nothing, or very little about how to design a shot, or about all the “what if’s”. I am also aware of the fact that there are blasters who have experienced fly-rock, and then there are blasters who have not experienced fly-rock…….yet.
You, my friend, are a good blaster, or you would not have lasted in the contracting business as long as you have. Lastly, there is one thing that I never did learn: HOW TO TURN INVISIBLE, AFTER A BAD SHOT.