2.23.2012

Pyro mania - Part II




One of the fireworks I love the very most is what's called a comet (above - there are seven of them).  A comet starts laying down its big fat sparky tail as soon as it's fired out of the tube, tracing a wide graceful arch of glowing particles through the night sky.  Just after it reaches its apogee, the head turns down (forming the shape of a comet, hence the name) and the entire tail begins to disintegrate in a rain of a million sparkling stars falling earthward.  I've long been curious about the way they're made and what they look like in shootable form, so I was very excited to see that a fellow named Jim Widman would be giving a demonstration this year (Jim also made and launched a rare and spectacular 24" shell that filled the sky Saturday night).  Jim walked us through the process from stirring together the ingredients to turning out a grapefruit sized black powder hockey puck formed with a hydraulic ram.  The hole in the middle (below right) gives the comet special properties other than being fabulously beautiful.  Jim is the fellow to the left with the blue shirt on.

While I was busy learning about comets, I also had the pleasure of meeting Bob Winkour (at right in above photo), chemist extraordinare and pyro authority, especially on the topic of glitter (the fiery kind, that is).  He beckoned me over to show me two beautiful mineral samples he had brought to use at his seminar on Sunday, one iridescent lemon yellow and the other deep ruby red.  He was kind enough to give me two small samples after I ooed and ahhed over the colors.  Turns out what I got are samples of exotic arsenic - arsenic trisulfide (also called by the wonderful name orpiment) and an arsenic sulfide that goes by the name realgar.  Better alert your personal taster.

I happened on Bob later in the afternoon while he was busy showing a group of rapt males the effect of igniting the powdered orpiment.  Outdoors, that is, since one of the vile products is mercury vapor.  It was mind boggling to witness firsthand, and happily I remembered to switch the camera to video (which I usually forget).  Lucky you can witness this amazing sight from the safety of your desk:

video


As the light began to slant late Sunday afternoon, a good many of us gathered to watch the Jackalopes finish attaching the outrageous amount of pyro they had prepared to their 30 foot Ferris wheel which now stood in center field.  It was a good time to mill around and touch base one last time with some of the great folks I'd so enjoyed spending time with.  One person in particular that I'd been delighted to run into was my wonderful friend Bob Mackey who I hadn't seen in some time.  He'd been at the very first one of these conferences I'd attended back in 2005 and I hadn't been able to spend much time with him since.  I had the bonus pleasure of meeting two of his coworkers that he'd brought along, Kurth and Dave, who were both a genuine joy to spend time with.  I had so much fun geeking out with those three.  That's Kurth at left below near the Ferris wheel and at right below taking pictures of the remains of the million firecracker wall. 














 Ken Smith, who is another fellow I adore, shot an anvil or two just for the hell of it while we all dallied about.


I went back out to the rocket line for a couple of hours, shot off a couple of dinky commercial comets I'd gotten at the vendor tent and then went and found a good seat for the last display show of the weekend.  The Ferris wheel was spectacular.  It was a profusion of pyrotechnics, but the pinwheels we made in class on Thursday lit up distinctly toward the end and made gorgeous perfect spirals of silver and gold.

I had another hour or so of driving to do before I reached my overnight destination, so I peeled out right after the show feeling a pang of separation anxiety from all my sooty friends as I drove in the dark toward Kingman.

Here are a (be warned) bunch of shots I took Saturday and Sunday nights:













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