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The Repercussions of‘The Blockbuster Assortment’

One of the bills drawing the attention of our state legislators during most of this year’s session dealt with, of all things, legalizing the sale of fireworks in Iowa. Supporters argued that all Iowans have to do to buy fireworks is drive to Missouri. Actually, what seemed to bother our lawmakers was the fact that Iowa is losing out on some tax money.

Well, the bill did pass a few hurdles but died toward the end of the session. No doubt it will be back on the agenda next January and take up more of our legislators’ valuable(?) time.

The problem of fireworks in Iowa has been around since being banned in the 1930s. It also haunted me during my misspent youth back in the 1950s.

Growing up in central Iowa then was much different from today. Missouri was still the same distance away, but people didn’t drive a couple hundred miles on a whim back then. (Whim would be an understatement for what most parents thought of buying fireworks.)

They considered traveling to another state to buy fireworks stupid – not to mention ILLEGAL! What good does it do to watch a stream of sparks or hear a loud bang, they’d ask.

Looking at it now, I can see their point. It does seem a little questionable (at least from the common sense point of view.) Trouble is, I can still remember the days when lighting fireworks was about the most thrilling part of the summer.

Let me be clear about one thing. Slick and I didn’t spend time and valuable gas traveling all the way to Missouri to buy fireworks. We would just order them out of a catalog and have them shipped to the town’s depot.

I’m talking fireworks! Not the little things kids call firecrackers today. Back then, those little rolled-up pieces of paper were referred to as “ladyfingers.” If it wasn’t at least a couple of inches long, over a half-inch in diameter and have a dynamite fuse, it wasn’t worth the trouble to light.

We’d chip in most of our savings ($2 or $3 bucks apiece) and send it to the Banner Fireworks Company in Toledo, Ohio. We always ordered what they described as “The Blockbuster Assortment.”

It was packed with enough firepower to start you own little war. If you couldn’t get your fill of noise by the time you shot up all that black powder, you were definitely officer material for the army artillery.

The problem was that before long, we’d get tired of just lighting them. After all, a few hundred big bangs, a couple of severe headaches and some stern tongue-lashings were usually all accomplished long before we made it through half the assortment.

That’s when we would get creative. Blowing up mud puddles and blasting holes in sand piles were next on our list. We might even get so adventuresome as to launch tin cans into orbit via cherry bombs.

Our fireworks ordering tradition came to a screeching halt the year I came up with a real brainstorm. I decided it was time to test how far an M-80 could throw water. So I tied one to a brick, lit it and tossed it into Dad’s horse watering tank.

Well, the water flew all right. Not only in the air, but from the sides of the aluminum tank, where the rivets that held it together had popped out.

It took me the rest of that summer and fall, along with most of the winter, to work the cost of that little experiment off.

It did, however, cure me of the fireworks bug. At least for a couple of years.

(Ed Rood is former publisher of the Tri-County Times. He and his wife, Sharon, live near Cambridge.)

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