This story is about a wild adventure with humorist Dave Barry and a spud gun on the roof of the now gone, Miami Herald building. Now, the back story.
We had made a trip to Iowa to see some relatives of a friend. They lived on a big farm with lots of machinery and while walking to the huge barn, we saw a strange device leaning on the side of it that looked like some kind of a PVC pipe with a plug. I said, “What’s that?” Our host smiled; “Watch this” he said, as he took a potato, plugged it through the sharp edges of the 2-foot barrel and jammed it down the tube with a dowel. He shot some WD-40 through a small opening and screwed it closed. As he ‘aimed’ it down range, and clicked an attached BBQ igniter on the pipe, we heard a whoomp sound like a bazooka going off and saw the potato shoot through the air so fast it was hard to track the arc. How thrilling!
It collided with a thud on the side of a silo about a couple of hundred feet away. I was shocked and almost immediately started thinking about creating this gem of a device for myself. Was it illegal? The manly, up for almost anything part of me didn’t want to find out. Arriving back in Miami, I went to a Home Depot where a friendly employee helped assemble the parts. Having never utilized this new serio-comic device, I looked to a neighbor who had some requisite experience with things that shoot from a barrel. We used Aqua Net hair spray which was a perfect propellant. Not knowing how much to spray, we may have over-done it. Aiming the brand-new device into the air from his backyard, we pressed the igniter button and whoomp, that sucker flew from his yard over my house, the house next door, the house next to that and was still climbing! Success! We hoped it simply landed and started a potato patch in some unused portion of a neighbor’s yard.
In 1926, a scientist named Waldo Semon had the bright idea to invent the spud gun. At the time, Semon was a young research scientist working for the BF Goodrich Company in Akron, Ohio. For credibility he also invented the world’s second best-selling plastic: polyvinyl chloride. The spud gun seemed to be more fun.
I called Dave Barry to see if he would like to test it to see how dangerous it really was. Dave had the key to a door with access to the roof of the Miami Herald. We met on a Sunday afternoon and went straight to the roof. I brought the potatoes and Dave brought various items to shoot. I sprayed propellant (Aqua Net Super Hold) into the barrel. We could have used any propellant. (The instructions on the can did not cover small weapons use) We aimed it at an unused part of Biscayne Bay and WHOOOMP! With the sound of a mortar and a touch of recoil, that potato almost reached Alton Road.
We didn’t want to aim it at Miami proper because in Dave’s words, “Hundreds of local residents would undoubtedly have fired back.”
We were dizzy with excitement at our first attempt as we tried another potato and WHOOOMP! Just missed an ocean liner. Since there was no adult supervision, we proceeded to see how dangerous it really was and prepared to let fly with a couple of Dave’s proposed loads.
The Barbie doll exploded out of the muzzle with a flash as we aimed straight up into the air. She came down and landed on the roof, legs akimbo, which could have been a good name for an exotic dancer. Dave immediately bent down at the crime scene and drew a chalk mark around her plastic body. The Pop Tarts could not be utilized as ‘ammo’ because of their consistency. It was messy and we didn’t get enough ‘range’ to scare anyone. The sound was akin to someone doing a Bronx cheer.
It was a fun afternoon and I asked Dave to get me a little publicity in my work as a public speaker, so he published my name, address and phone number in the article. Being nationally syndicated it went far and wide. Weeks later, hundreds of phone calls followed by dozens of letters started pouring in, but that’s another story. Google: spud gun Dave Barry.
Look for me as ‘Grandpa Bezos’ in the new Amazon Prime movie Bezos: The beginning.