Up in smoke
8/1/2011 1:41 PM EDT
In the late ‘70s I was training at the Posts and Telecommunications Corporation Engineering College in Harare in Zimbabwe. There were three of us, Mike, John and myself, from the Police radio section - the Police sent their techies to the PTC college for training. We lived in a police barracks on the other side of town and all of us had cars. John was probably the most staid of us, but nevertheless had a good sense of humour. He hailed from Bulawayo, some 300 Km away from Harare, and drove back home for long weekends or when he had some leave.
In one of the breaks in our course, he had taken a week’s leave and was going home on a Saturday morning. He hadn’t been home for some time and was fairly excited to be seeing his family again.
So Mike and I decided we’d see him off in style. In my miss-spent youth I had learned to make spectacular bombs from match-heads. You get a knife and carefully pare off the coating from all the matches in a box or two onto a piece of plastic sheet. You then get a length of twin-stranded wire and join the two ends together with one strand only – this acts as your fuse or detonator. You place the wire among the match-heads and wrap the plastic tightly around them. You then wrap a bit of aluminium foil round the whole lot, and then tie it up with a bit of string. You then put 12 volts on the wire, the single strand briefly glows red hot and then burns out, in the process igniting the match-heads. You get a spectacular but fairly harmless explosion with a huge cloud of smoke.
I made up one of my devices with about a foot of wire terminating in crocodile (alligator for you yanks) clips. John got an early night on Friday and Mike and I installed my device. We crawled under John’s car and connected it between the switched terminal of the starter (which on cars of that era was exposed) and the chassis. We did use a meter to make sure we didn’t connect to the live terminal and blow ourselves up.
John was up at the crack of dawn and as our rooms were adjoining, Mike and I heard him get up. We heard him lug his case out to his car and we crept out of our rooms. Seconds later there was a loud explosion. We put our heads round the entrance to our corridor and saw John’s car with a huge cloud of smoke pouring from the hood. John knew us well. He got out of his car and looked straight at our heads peeping round the building entrance. “You @#$%^&* bastards!” he yelled at us. It was the only time I ever heard him swear. Once he’d got over the shock, though, he was quite impressed at our ingenuity. I don’t remember how he got us back, but alas it was not with anything remotely technical….