Days Gone By - stories from the past

SUNDAY SOLILOQUY: The Encyclopedia Purchase and the Explosive Result

The Encyclopedia Purchase and the Explosive Result


Raymond E. Hall

Somewhere along in the early 50s, my Uncle Carl decided to sell the World Book encyclopedias to as many families of his students as he could. He used as a sales pitch to the parents that “purchasing a set of encyclopedias for the family would be an investment in the future of your children!”

That blurb was probably true, but I suspect that the commission on a set of encyclopedias costing in the hundreds of dollars was fairly attractive to him as well.

I don’t know how many sets he sold throughout the community, but our family was soon the proud owner of this huge multi-volume set of the World Book encyclopedia. We even enrolled for the annual update volume.

Vintage book – Den Leader’s Book : A Manual for Adult Leaders of Cub Scout Dens -Paperback – 1970

Spent a lot of time reading

And I did, indeed, spend a lot of time reading in volume after volume, absorbing article after article, about any and every thing in this world. I would often read page after page, as most people read books and novels.

Some time after the initial purchase, and down to the volume “G”, I came across the intriguing entry for gunpowder. And there, before my very eyes, was the actual formula for making gunpowder. All the ingredients you needed were a large quantity of charcoal, a lesser quantity of sulfur, and a smaller yet quantity of saltpeter.

Sulfur was a problem

Getting the charcoal was not a big problem. The sulfur portion was a little more problematic, but with sulfur tablets being given to the kids in those days to keep the chiggers off of us, or red bugs, as we called them, I was somehow able to get the quantity of this ingredient that I required. The acquisition of the saltpeter was a little more difficult.  It would need to be purchased a drug store.


Today it is called a pharmacy.  And its typical use in that day’s society was pretty much reserved for the dispensing to male prison inmates. If you don’t understand what I am speaking of, your education is not yet complete.

But I decided to tell momma pretty much the truth.  That I was trying to put a small amount of gunpowder together according to a formula I had read about in the World Book and wanted to see if this really could be done as they had explained in the article.

And sometime later I was able to purchase the saltpeter from Carlyle Drug in Alexander City.



Put ingredients together in a mixing bowl

My next step was to combine these ingredients in the proportions prescribed by my volume “G” of the World Book encyclopedia. This I did, using one of momma’s large mixing bowls. Next was the selection of a suitable container for the resulting mixture. A quart size, empty Ball canning jar that had both the sealing cap and ring still with it, on a shelf in our storage shed, became the convenient container for my product.

Now I needed a fuse. One of my buddies got me a small length of dynamite fuse, from where, I don’t know, but it was just the right length to go to a depth within the powder that I felt would be sufficient for ignition, and still have enough length protruding above the jar cap to light it, and theoretically, allow the lighter, and that would be me, sufficient time to clear the area of the anticipated blast.

The next step for the mad bomber of Red Hill was the selection of some abandoned, run-down structure that would allow the true power of my supposedly explosive concoction to be demonstrated.

I kept my powder dry for a few days, and finally the victim structure was chosen.

Selected site for test of my device

Major Joe Lindsay, his wife Ms. May, who was the daughter of Aunt Lottie Hall, who I will tell you about later, and their sons, Jimmy and Danny, had lived in the house just across from the intersection of Red Hill Road and Griffith Road. Major Lindsay had received a new assignment, they had moved away, and the house had been empty for some time.  Behind this house stood an outhouse that hadn’t been used for an even longer time. The door was about fall off the hinges, but the basic structure was still pretty much intact. It was of wood construction with a tin roof, and much better constructed than the one that had fell in on Papa Theo down by the Channahatchee Creek house. So this became the Trinity site for the ultimate test of my “device.”


Beginning and end of experimentation

On a sunny Saturday afternoon, my brother Roger and I rode over to the Lindsay house on our bikes with the “device” in my bike basket

We parked the bikes behind the house and walked over to the outhouse, stepped inside and placed the quart jar of gunpowder on the bench.  I took a match, lit the fuse, and we sprinted about 20 feet away from the doomed structure. And sure enough, within about 3 minutes, a really significant “BOOOM” sounded through the quiet country afternoon. Smoke billowed from the open doorway, but the real proof of my bomb making ability was that the entire tin top of the outhouse had flown up into the air, and now lay several feet away from the structure in the grass.

This was the beginning and the end of my youthful explosive experimentation. I was quite pleased with the result, and Roger was impressed. But since there was no merit badge to be received from the Boy Scouts for bomb making, I moved on to other endeavors.

This story is an excerpt of my book, “Channahatchee Moon 11, Some Added Experience

About Raymond E. Hall

See all books by Raymond E. Hall at: Raymond E. HallGrew up in rural central Alabama and on Florida's West Coast. Served in USAF in Colorado, Germany, and Libya. Attended St. Petersburg Community College and University of Maryland. Worked with computers with IBM and Burroughs, repairing and programming. Taught electronics school to NATO and SEATO students for USAF, computer process control to advanced students for IBM. In financial institution marketing with FISI in Nashville. Have visited 4 continents, 17 countries, and 49 states. Speak English, German and Spanish. Retired.Have written the"From The Hill" column for and the Tallassee Tribune. Have authored or co-authored "Channahatchee Moon" , Channahatchee Moon II, Channahatchee Alabama 1858", and "Palm Harbor" at AmazonWill soon be publishing fifth book, "For Better or Worse" with co-author Francine Coleman Larson.Love Christ, my wife Linda, Christianity, my son and grandchildren, people, my country, history, geology, and landscape maintenance, in that order.

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One comment

  1. I was raised in a farming community in Baldwin County, where I also like to try “experiments” that I would have better left alone. I learned two things there – that I didn’t want to be a farmer, and that I loved chemistry. I did pretty well in choosing the latter as my occupation.

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