Another Rock Blasting Story

During the first 15 years of my contracting career most trenches in rock were blasted, before good productive and dependable rock trenchers were developed.

We had one crew that their primary job was drilling and shooting (term we used for blasting) rock.

We were building a new subdivision right behind the Bannockburn Baptist Church (it wasn’t there then) on Brodie at McCarty Ln. in the Southwest part of Austin, Texas.

All was going real good on that project. Don the crew foreman and our ace blaster was short handed, so he hired an old hippie that happened by.

The old hippie only had one job and that was to put the fertilizer in after Don would drop the dynamite and cap down the hole. To insure that you had the correct amount of fertilizer in hole, you had a wooden tamping pole that had a mark on it and as you poured in fertilizer you slowly tamped and felt with the stick until the mark arose in the hole and became visible. That would leave a certain amount of cover (the dirt) over the shot. The weight of the cover kept the explosives from blowing out and causing danger to life, limb and property. It is very important to have that predetermined amount overburden above the intended shot. You can tell how important that was by the amount of explaining I’m doing here, right?

Sometimes the crew would drill and load holes all day with the detonation coming at the end of the day.

I drove up just before the “fire in the hole” was called out. I liked getting there for the fun part. When Don pushed the button, you could see the time delays at work, with the ground rising as the blasts below ignited. It happened in milliseconds, but it was fun to watch several hundred feet of trench line just raise up the ground right before your eyes.

Suddenly it was like a bomb had gone off. In fact a bomb had gone off. The Ammonia Nitrate Fertilizer mixed with diesel fuel is more explosive than the dynamite, pound per pound and is much cheaper to use. The dynamite is really just used to ignite the fertilizer.

Luckily there was only a little rock in the the bottom of the trench he was blasting with mostly dirt on top. So most of what filled the air was dirt and huge dirt clods.

I was driving a brand new 1980 Buick Rivera and was parked at what I thought was a safe distance away, which was several hundred feet away. One huge dirt clod, came flying my way and hit the passenger door, caving it in.

Other than my car, the only damage was to a house that was adjacent to the project. The roof was completely covered with dirt and dirt clods. There actually wasn’t any damage we could see. Luckily it was a renter that was kind enough to let us send a crew over and shovel off his roof. I’m sure if it had been a homeowner, we would have been putting on a new roof.

The Old Hippie had followed Don’s instructions, only filling up the hole to the certain mark on the tamping pole. But what no one knew was there was a small cavern below ground, and it took about 3 or 4 bags of fertilizer to fill the hole and get it to the correct marking on the stick. Generally 1/4 of a bag was doing the trick. Hence the problem.

I think the Old Hippie had to find employment elsewhere.

Things like this happened often. That was the nature of that business. The last day we ever had to do blasting was a very happy day for me.

This is not one of our projects but is representative of a blasting operation.

One thought on “Another Rock Blasting Story

  1. Before the current lockdown, I was at a grocery store and had a short conversation with a guy about my (our) age who asked me why someone my age had a pony tail. I told him that I wanted to feel like I was in my 20s again. He asked if I’d been a hippie, and I was forced to say, “no, just a longhair.” That was true. What also was true was that I was too scared then to do the hippie thing. I think that fear saved me a lot of grief.

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