One of the more idiotic ones was how to deal with the large number of gopher holes that kept popping up all over one of the side lawns. Each week we set traps and caught three of four of the beggars, but they just kept coming back. Dad gassed a couple with a special poison gas bomb that he buried in their burrows and that gave us a great idea. Why not burn the critters crispy by pouring gas down their hole and then dropping a match?
OK - gopher control had nothing to do with the idea because we knew that they were far enough down in their burrows that we probably wouldn't do any lasting damage to them. Besides, we had already done the ditch experiment and were still dissapointed with those results. Still, it would be a good story if Dad asked us what we were doing. DK and I started pouring gas down the holes and then dropping matches. The result was pretty cool - a quick flash of flame shot out of the hole and sometimes blew dirt out as well, but it wasn't so spectacular that we did it all the time. Every so often, after we had finished mowing the lawn and we had gas left, we would flash gopher holes.
On one particular Saturday it was DK's turn to mow the side lawn. He got it finished and then decided to flash a few gopher holes. He had already flashed one and liked the effect so much that he decided to pour more gas down the hole and flash it again. Unfortunately something in the hole was still burning, and the fire flashed back up into the plastic gas can as DK was pouring. He didn't realize it at first, but when it started to burn his elbow he saw that the can was on fire and dropped it. Burning gas splashed up through the opening and all over his clothes, lighting him on fire. He took off running at first, but then remembered his cub scout training of "Stop, Drop, and Roll" which probably saved his life. He executed the maneuver and then ripped his clothes off. His shirt, which was made out of polyester, had already melted to his skin in a couple of places.
I was inside the house when this happened, but heard him yelling and ran out with my mom. DK was in the driveway wearing only his underwear and his socks and was limping towards the house. Behind him the gas can was melting away, and the fire grew to an enormous height - well above the level of our roof. Mom helped get DK in the house while I ran over to the fire to try to put it out or at least keep it from spreading. There was nothing I could do but wet down the lawn around the perimeter of the fire, and the heat was so intense that I couldn't get close enough to really even do that. The fire was right by a tall elm tree and I could hear the sap boiling and popping in the trunk. It was a jaw-dropping awesome fire. (And I mean "awesome" in the original sense of the term - not "cool")
The top of the tree caught fire, but the whole thing only lasted about 10 minutes and it was all out. The tree was a total loss and had to be chopped down later that year.
DK was soaking in the bathtub inside the house as Mom dumped ice into the water. While Mom watched, DK's skin started bubbling and boiling right before her eyes as if he were a chicharron. We carried him out to the car and Mom took him to Dr. Hatch's. He returned a few hours later wrapped like a mummy and wearing very loose fitting clothes.
DK still has a rather nasty scar on his leg and a more minor one on his belly. (You can just make it out on his left leg in this picture.) It is painful to see him in shorts, but other than that he doesn't have any other ill effects from flashing that gopher hole.
In terms of coming close to tragedy, DK pretty much takes the cake. He was very fortunate to get off as light as he did. I would like to say that this little event kept us away from gas and fire, but it didn't. We had several other close calls, one explosion in particular almost knocked me on my fanny (about a month after DK's brush with death) but we somehow avoided serious accidents after DK taught us not to flash things twice.
Next up - The River