The “Dynamite” Story

by Ralph J. Chin


I remember that it was a beautiful spring day in the Weequahic section of Newark, New Jersey. The sun was shining and distributing its warmth throughout the city with the highest temperature being about 76 degrees in downtown Newark. In the outlying areas it was usually a few degrees cooler and along with the warmth, a gentle breeze blew through your hair that made it feel good to be outside. There was a distinct freshness to the day that was enhanced by the birds singing and fluttering about from branch to branch on the trees. The squirrels were also out in force gathering whatever acorns that still fell from the trees. They seemed to be playing with each other as they ran up and down the tree trunks in a squirrel’s version of tag, you’re it!

This particular day was a Saturday because I remember waking in the late morning to the soft cool breeze that was coming in my bedroom window from a shaded alley. The year was 1962 and I was about 13 years old in my freshman year of High School. I had a good nights sleep and proceeded to wash up and get dress for the day. I was going to go over to my friend’s house up on Hobson Street via Forest Place and Shaw Avenue. Forest Place ended on Clinton Place about a block away from where I lived. In all, my friend’s house was only about three blocks away and I would be there in less than 15 minutes of walking time. My buddy’s name was Billy and we both played in a budding rock band together. He was the drummer, I was the bass player and the kid down the block named Alex was the guitar player. The music that we were involved with consisted mainly of the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, the Kinks and the Young Rascals. But I wasn’t going there today to practice, I was going over there just to hang out and see my girlfriend Eileen who was Billy’s younger sister. I spent the better part of the day playing around with her and conversing with Billy about the band before I decided to head home for dinner. Acappella singing was really popular in our high school at that time and I was trying convince Billy that we should do at least one song Acappella style or without our instruments. I was over ruled by Billy and Alex in this case because they didn’t think any of us sang well enough to do that. I’ll have to admit that they were right and what the heck, it was only an idea. Still I thought about it at least part of the way home until something happened to completely take my attention away from it.

As I was walking home down Shaw Avenue which was actually a small side street off the main thoroughfare that ran in parallel to Lyons Avenue. I was deep in thought when I saw my cousin Robert coming up the same street. I was surprised to see him here because I walked this way almost everyday and never saw him on this street. I greeted him with a smile and fond hello because he was one of my younger cousins and we had done a lot of things together but his mood was very serious today. I asked him what was he up to and his reply was “I’m looking for a tree to blow up.” “What?” I said. A little perplexed at his response. “I got this stick of “dynamite” that I made and I want to find a tree to blow up.” He repeats for me and pulls out this 12” long by 1” diameter cylinder object that looked like it was made from some kind of pressed cardboard. It had a short 6” fuse sticking out of one end of it and looked completely far out wild. Well, I was speechless for a moment with my mouth hanging open wide when I saw this thing. Rob had told me a couple of weeks ago that he had contacted a company that was very willing to send powdered chemicals out to people that wanted to make their own small fireworks but this was no small firework, this was a serious piece of explosive that my cousin had built! Indeed, it looked like a stick of “dynamite!” and I was really concerned because I knew that he could get really hurt even though he and I had set off hundreds of fireworks in our young lives at the Chinese New Years celebration in New York City’s Chinatown down on Mott Street. I finally convinced him not to blow up a tree and instead, to crack it open and ignite it like a sparkler. This way it would be nothing more than a big display of powder burning that would give us a thrill. He reluctantly agreed and I cracked it open very quickly so that he had no time to change his mind. I made a small trail of powder leading to the powder in each half of the stick to act as a fuse. It was lying on the ground in a “V” configuration like we had done with so many other firecrackers that we made sparklers out of. I remember feeling a little proud of myself that I had done my duty as an elder cousin and saved my younger cousin from any harm or trouble that he would have incurred by blowing up a tree!!! The one thing that he had neglected to tell me until afterwards was that the powder he used in his stick of “dynamite” was of the fast burning type and as I lit the powder, it burned so fast that my natural instinct to get as far away from this thing as possible was defeated by an almost instantaneous BOOM!!! I actually felt the air pressure from the explosion pushing me backwards! There was no fun visual display of powder burning from the open ends of the split tubing just an instantaneous and loud BOOM!!! Once we recovered from this startling explosion we realized that we needed to get out of there before anyone came out of their house to investigate what the heck that loud noise was that they had just heard. There were no remnants of the casing, it was completely gone. All that remained was the burn mark on the cement where I had ignited the powder and so we turned and ran.

So there we were running down Shaw Avenue in shock like banshees out of hell. Just as we rounded the bend onto Forest Place, my cousin turns and looks at me in amazement. He says “Oh Wow! Your eyebrows and the front of your hair are all white!” It looked like my hair had gotten singed in certain areas too! In addition to his observations, my ears were ringing like church bells on a Sunday afternoon! But despite all of this, we kept on running as I looked at my hands to see if they were alright and then checked myself and my clothes to see if I had any burn marks or other injuries. When I was satisfied that I had sustained no other injuries, I finally turned and asked him “What the hell kind of powder was in that thing!” and that’s when he told me that it was “Special fast burning powder” To which I replied “Gee, thanks for telling me” but I don’t think he caught the sarcasm of my comment. We ran until we got to my house and I manage to get into the house without my parents seeing me. I went into the bathroom and washed the blast residue off my hair and eyebrows as I washed my face. I took a scissors to the singed hair and cut it back until I looked normal again. When my looks were finally repaired to my satisfaction, I came outside to talk with my cousin but to my surprise he had already gone home a couple of blocks away. Typical Robert, I promised myself that day that I would never again set off anything like that with him until he told me everything there was to know about the device! No more Mr. Good cousin for me!

In case you’re wondering, yes, this is a true story and when I told it to a mixed group of people that consisted of friends and family many years later after this incident occurred, they laughed heartily at our youthful foolishness. I still laugh today when I think of it. But I am thankful that I’m still around to tell the story!


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