Friday, May 16, 2014


123RF Stock Photo/schrades
The night sky was deep black, cloudless and filled with stars.  Though a thin crescent moon was peeking over the Slate Range Mountains, it gave little light.  The lights from the chemical plant burned as brightly as ever, but Trona, California is such a small town, so far out in the desert, there is almost no light pollution.  It was a perfect night for star gazing, except for one small distraction.
Floating hundreds of feet above the town, a small, reddish-white light burned fiercely in the sky, swinging gently in the breeze and drifting slowly to the south-east.  The time was almost 9:30 pm.  If anyone was outside watching, the floating, swaying flare would have been a strange sight.

Without warning, the night sky filled with a brilliant, bright-white flash.  Light flooded the sky for less than a second, and then was gone—taking the small reddish light with it.  For several seconds, only silence and the deep black of the cloudless sky remained.  Suddenly a roaring rumble blasted across the town, followed immediately by a shock wave that rattled windows and socked you in the chest as it passed. 
Faces peered out of windows and open doors.  Was this lightning and thunder heralding a storm?  Those rushing onto their porches, found only a totally clear sky.
123RF Stock Photo/eteimaging
At that moment, Ed, Herb, Bill and I huddled at the back of the Trona football field, grinning at each other.  We had spent weeks planning and preparing for this spectacular event.  Herb, the science class assistant, who was a year younger than the rest of us, had borrowed a condenser and heat resistant beakers from the high school science lab. Bill had set up the equipment on his back porch where we had some privacy.  Ed brought aluminum foil and Drano—the key ingredients in creating hydrogen balloons. I brought dynamite.

After hours of careful work we drove to the Trona Cemetery behind the chemical plant and launched our creation into the night sky.  We knew we had only five or ten minutes to reach the football field before the big display.  The results exceeded our expectations.

The next day others asked, “Did you hear the explosion last night?”  “What happened at the plant?”  As was our practice, we said nothing, only shrugged and smiled.  Though often accused we were never convicted. 

Although I would never encourage others to attempt this prank, I admit growing up in the Mojave Desert provided unique educational opportunities.

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