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Opinion :: Hands-on Boomtown experience for a fireworks novice
· 11:10am August 20th, 2013
After years of watching my friends from the Iowa Pyrotechnic Association put together the fireworks displays that thousands enjoy each Boomtown (not to mention the year-long meetings and other preparations), I knew that putting on a fireworks show is a lot of tough work.
I learned that a little better last year.
“Hey Dean,” said Mark Pingenot. “Want to try this?”
He and another employee were connecting 3-inch shells to electrical wires, which were then attached very carefully to the properly-numbered connector (imagine the back of your stereo, only with a hundred times more slots for wires).
It’s tougher than it looks.
Each shell is contains a long, two-part fuse, which must be carefully tied to each side of a double wire. The two parts of the fuse come apart easily if not handled with care, as I found out a few times. Mark showed me how to put those two parts back together.
After a couple of lessons from Mark, I left the fairgrounds to write a short story about Boomtown. With a couple of free hours in the afternoon, I returned to see I could help – although help is probably not a label that my efforts merited.
I helped Mark and another man, whose name I did not write down and have already forgotten, set up approximately 60 shells in a “matching pair” display. In this display, two identical shells are ignited at the same time, but sent flying in opposite directions. This makes a for a cool-looking effect, if the fireworks technician (or the journalist trying to impersonate one) does his job right.
Each shell is assigned a number, and its matching pair is assigned the same number in another set of mortars. We lined up the shells, checked the numbers (another worker had spent hours before the Boomtown weekend, sorting, numbering and connecting the shells to the 3-meter-long orange wires.
Mark connected the wires to the yellow box containing all those stereo speaker-type connectors. The other guy and I placed the shells in the mortars, secured the wire in or near the mortar, then separated the ends of the wires into parts that Mark could insert into the connectors.
As we talked, Mark said it is impossible to count the number of man-hours that go into Boomtown, which is a larger fireworks show than the large show that Bar-Y did this year in Dubuque. Not only would it be impossible to count the hours, says Mark.
“It would be depressing,” he adds.
In addition to wiring each shell so carefully in its properly-numbered slot, the show includes hours of computer work, matching the timing of the shells to the music that accompanies the fireworks. Not to mention the regulations that come with handling federally-controlled explosives, ordering, hauling and storing the shells until the big day. And I am sure there are many more things that go on behind the scenes that I have not mentioned, not to mention those things I do not know about.
So: When you see the fireworks show this weekend, whether from the grandstand, the fairgrounds or someplace a little farther away (me, I prefer to get as close to fireworks as I can so I can see, hear and feel them – and yes you can feel the heat of the fireballs and the vibrations of some of the shells if you get close enough) , remember that for each brightly-colored burst of color you see, someone had to spend a significant amount of time making sure that you saw that shell the way it was supposed to look, at the exact moment you were supposed to see it.
I told you I was no help, and technically that is not quite true. I did help with approximately 25 percent of the setting up of cables for one display for approximately one hour.
How much help was I?
Mark and his colleague had hoped to be done by 4 p.m. We finished at 3:59. I saved them a minute, maybe.