Uncle Albert and the Hammerheads

Uncle Albert and the Hammerheads.

You might think I am writing about some sharks that Uncle Albert had, but we lived inland on a truck-dairy farm. So, the explanation? Hammerhead firecrackers were barrel shaped with a wick in the middle and looked a bit like the front of a Hammerhead shark. But, I need to tell the story.

One summer when my cousin Dick was visiting, wait, I guess I need to start by explaining that. My family lived on my grandparent Nipe’s farm in a tenant house. My father owned and ran the Dairy that my Grandfather had started. Grammie and PopPop lived next door and Uncle Albert and his first wife Catherine lived on the upper floor of the farm house. For future reference, my Uncle Herb (dad’s brother) and Aunt June lived with their 4 kids on the other side at their farm. Yes, that’s all three sons living in close proximity with 8 grandchildren between them. However, Dick lived in the Chicago suburbs since his father was an executive with AirCo, Inc. Dick's mother was my father's sister and Dick loved to stay on the farm in NJ in the summer and would come for three-four weeks at a time and stay with Grammie and Poppop. Even though he was a couple of years younger than I, we were buddies when he visited, after all, his sibling that was my age was a girl cousin, not nearly as much fun to pal around with. I guess you need to bear in mind that I was probably 10 or 11 at the time.

Okay, okay we'll get to the hammerheads! Like most of the farmers and especially those with milk cows (oh, you need to know that PopPop and Uncle Albert had 35-40 cows), the truck part of the farm grew a lot of corn. The stalks and leaves were chopped up for silage and stored during the summer for winter feed for the cattle, the corn itself was feed for the mules, pigs, and chickens.

Now it turns out that crows and other birds like to feed on the corn and contrary to popular myth, scarecrows don't work very well on crows. Many farmers used CO2 cannons to scare then off, but since the cannon fired in regular patterns and since crows are quite smart (as birds go), they learn to anticipate the noise and fly up just before it sounds and return almost immediately.So, Uncle Albert used hammerhead firecrackers on a long fuse, which was a lot like baling twine. The hammerhead (see photo) fuse was inserted in the twine and hung from the top of the corn stalk. Three of four firecrackers to each long twine. The twine was lit at the bottom and the fuse would slowly burn towards the top, setting off the firecrackers in between as it went. This would cause the explosions to become random and was quite effective at frightening the crows. I know I said the were smart, but they weren't geniuses!

Having fireworks was illegal in NJ in those days and probably still is, so how did Uncle Albert come by them? Well, farmers could get a special permit to buy them and he had such a permit. Dick and I spotted them in his pickup and of course asked about them and he explained what I have related above. And, of course, we were told not to touch them and Uncle Albert kept them locked up. Naturally, we had to have some to shoot off. After all, we were boys and playing with fireworks was part of our jobs in life.

So, I schemed how we could come by some. We watched as Uncle Albert went into the corn field to start putting out about 20 strings of firecrackers. When he drove away, we just followed his footprints into the field and removed one hammerhead from every third or fourth string so that we had about four or five for our own amusement. We were smart enough to know that we should only take a few or he would notice that not many were sounding off.

So, we had fun setting them off that day under tin cans and the like. I said we were smart but like the crows, we weren't geniuses, either! We didn’t figure that anyone would notice that they heard the explosions coming from other locations on the farm rather than the corn fields and get suspicious.

Dick and I were oblivious to the coming confrontation, thinking we had pulled the perfect crime and like all smug criminals, we, of course, had to have another go at it. So, the next time we saw Uncle Albert driving out to one of the corn fields, we hid and watched him enter the field and later exit and drive off. That was our cue to follow his footsteps and begin to collect our prizes. What we didn’t know was that he had doubled back and had reentered the cornfield from where he left it. So, about the time we got to the middle of the field from his starting point, he got there from the other direction!

Caught! I don’t remember all the exact details of the arrest, but we were caught. I’m sure Dick expected a lecture and maybe some light punishment from Grammie later, but I knew what was coming. You see, we were a large close family and the adults disciplined those who needed it and I knew Uncle Albert was about to give us a spanking. In fact, I also knew he would consider that the end of the matter and my dad (who would spank me much harder) would not find out. So, I submitted and I suppose that Dick did too once the inevitability became clear.

Anyway, that’s the story and at least Dick and I had one day of fun with the firecrackers.

Davdan @ 2008-2018