Ten years ago, Sonny and I became infatuated with the explosive power of propane. We went so far as to build a cannon that used it as a propellant.
Our contraption is referred to by most as a potato gun, but we didn’t bother to just use potatoes for ammunition. We also used carrots, nails, marbles, zucchini, a dead mouse and, once, even a rolled-up magazine that put a dent in the side of my truck.
We were rather proud of our accomplishment even though it was a slipshod affair capable of seriously hurting us. We once shot a potato straight up that didn’t come back for about a minute.
When it did return, it was partly cooked, glowing, traveling just under the speed of sound, and drilled a hole in the ground between us.
Since I reported on this for the newspaper, it put us on the radar with public safety officials.
Shortly after I announced the first successful firing of our new cannon, I received official notice from the Utah State Fire Marshal’s Office that we (but mostly Sonny) were in violation of state law.
Deputy State Fire Marshal Bryan Thatcher went so far as to send me an email citing all of the statutes we had violated in constructing an illegal “explosive device.”
“Robert, you idiot. Those things are illegal. If you don’t believe me, see 76-10-501, 76-10-306, and 76-10505.5. Knock it off before someone less expendable gets hurt trying to copy you.”
There were some other warnings about illegal firearms, bombs, fireworks, catapults and something that is still top secret that Sonny and I invented for our “Rats in Space” program.
In closing, Deputy Fire Marshal Thatcher added the full weight of the law: “If you tell anyone that I used to build that crap myself, I’ll get a search warrant for your garage. Bryan.”
That was back in 2011. In the seven years since, a number of things have happened. First, Sonny and I have improved our research to include things like camp stoves, argon gas tanks, bowling balls, frozen turkeys, starter fluid, lug nuts and unripe melons.
Our research hit a bump when I moved last year. As it so often happens with irony, the new place was only half a mile or so (within range of a bowling ball) from our old place — but directly across the street from now-Draper Fire Marshal Bryan Thatcher.
It was almost a deal-breaker. How was I going to enjoy life living so close to someone who had already warned/threatened me with the law?
That turned out to be easier than I thought. Using compressed air — which is kind of a silencer for projectile enthusiasts — I could shoot Bryan’s official fire marshal SUV all I wanted from within the confines of my new garage.
If he ever wondered how he got so much bug splatter on his vehicle when he hadn’t even driven it, he never said. Also, I was careful not to hit his wife Erin’s car because she’s a woman AND an attorney. That’s a really dangerous combination.
Nothing fun ever lasts forever. Thursday night, Erin called me in hysterics. She had returned home to find Bryan unresponsive on the family room floor downstairs.
I got there in time to hold her while Unified Fire EMS tried to pound the life back into him. It didn’t work. Despite drugs, electric shock and seemingly brutal manual effort, Bryan slipped away into the Great Down Range.
Godspeed, Fire Marshal Bryan. I know you’ll hit something soft and welcoming.