When we were kids, making models was a big thing. You could get a model kit for existing cars, cars that didn’t exist, airplanes, ships, tanks, and even lunar modules. You would also get a temporary buzz from using the glue, a bonus at that age.
For my best friend and I, we were into World War II airplanes and battleships. We were heavily influenced by shows like “12 O’clock High” and “Combat” with a little “McHale’s Navy” for comic relief. We lived and breathed that war.
Of course, his little sister was into destroying them. Whenever we had a destroyed battleship, we gave it a burial at sea, which was only proper. This involved some tactical planning on our part and we were more than up to the task.
We figured some firecrackers, smoke bombs, a couple bottle rockets to imitate emergency flares, and some underwater fuse would do the trick. I’m not sure where we got the underwater fuse, but it was handy. The first broken battleship we filled up with these items and took a walk to nearby Lake Michigan. It didn’t go like we hoped…
We decided to use about 5 feet of the fuse and pushed our ship out to sea…or lake in this case. Every wave kept pushing the ship to shore. We took off our shoes and waded out further even though it was Spring and the water was still frigid. We tried it again, lit the fuse, then watched in dismay as an errant wave sunk our ship without letting us blow it up. We ran out and pulled the fuse and cut it with a knife to save what we could. We fished out the battleship and went home to take out all the wet fireworks because the model battleship was still good to go.
We realized that Lake Michigan was a lousy place to blow up a ship so we opted for a small pond next to the train tracks. The only sign of life in this pond were some frogs and a billion mosquito larva. Most of the frogs swam away and hopped on the shore on the other side so we didn’t have to worry about hurting them…yes, we were worried about hurting something that didn’t deserve to be hurt…except for the mosquito larva, we had no qualms about destroying them. They were acceptable battlefield casualties.
The only thing we did a little different was to put a balloon inside the hull and blow it up. We figured this would keep the ship afloat until the fireworks. It was a good idea…so we thought. We pushed the ship out into the water and it floated just fine. Then we lit the fuse and waited.
ME: Is it me or is the ship beginning to list sideways?
BEST FRIEND: It’s listing sideways…
ME: Oh no! It’s going to flip upside down!
Sure enough, it flipped over and we watched our fireworks get wet again. It was too late to pull it back and neither of us was willing to jump into the brackish water so we just watched as the fuse burned it’s way to the ship. Nothing happened. We used a long stick to get our ship back and went back to the drawing board. We were determined to make this work. We only had about ten feet of the underwater fuse left so we couldn’t really screw up again.
Our next idea was a better one. As usual, we stuffed the hull with fireworks but omitted the balloon this time. Instead, we stuffed the gaps with gasoline-soaked paper. Then we took two balloons, the skinny kind that people use to make balloon animals, and taped them to both sides of the hull. We filled up the kitchen sink and placed it in to see if it would float properly. It did and off we went back to the pond.
We pushed the ship out, lit the fuse, and waited. We could just barely see the lit fuse in the water and when it was only inches away, we backed away so we wouldn’t get hit by any plastic shrapnel. Then it blew up, creating loud pops and smoke before shooting a flame about three feet into the air. It was awesome!
ME: That was awesome!
BEST FRIEND: That was so cool!
ME: Do we have any more ships?
BEST FRIEND: No, but I’ll leave one that my little sister can reach…maybe.
Then we heard the shouting. About 200 yards down the tracks was the switching station for the trains. There was a guy who worked there and I think his sole function was to chase us kids off the tracks with a salt gun. We had heard of kids getting shot, but we weren’t one of them. We ran as fast as we could in the opposite direction and got away cleanly.
During the next couple years we blew up another half dozen ships and one airplane…the airplane didn’t go as well. We became sabotage experts at destroying battleships. The one thing we always did before destroying the models was to take off any American flag decals that were on the ships. Even at that young age, we respected our flag.