This is my busy season. Fireworks shows, fun in the sun, and prepping for Burning Man. Rather than writing the thousands of words that I’d like to, I’ll post a dozen pics instead.
This is my busy season. Fireworks shows, fun in the sun, and prepping for Burning Man. Rather than writing the thousands of words that I’d like to, I’ll post a dozen pics instead.
What started as a simple paint job has taken on a life of its own. Each day I see something that can be added or improved upon. Each day brings more WTF looks, WHY? comments, and COOL! compliments. In addition to the appearance enhancements, I have been treating Rambette to many badly needed structural upgrades and powerplant maintenance services. These last two have me at around $1,500 which isn’t as bad as it initially sounds. I’ve saved massive amounts of money by changing the oil every 30,000 miles (instead of 3,000 miles as recommended by big oil and their whores at the motor oil companies) and neglected nearly every other maintenance procedure. You know the old saw about not fixing what’s not broke… Rambette is at 108,000 miles and still going strong.
Recent maintenance points:
New engine oil, differential & transfer case gear oil, power steering fluid, brake fluid, and engine coolant & thermostat
New spark plugs and wires
New shocks, coil springs, and sway bar end links
New mass air flow & throttle position sensors
New parking brake shoes
New PCV valve and hose
New driver’s side power mirror
New serpentine belt and idler pulley
New front CV halfshafts (axles)
All of these I have done myself and saved a couple thousand dollars in the process. Most of these things YOU, dear reader, can do for yourself. All it takes is a manual, a little bit of time, and suspension of disbelief in yourself. You may have to buy some tools but the cost of these is inconsequential in the big picture. You will still save money, lots of it, and have some pretty cool tools to mystify your friends with.
Recent appearance upgrades include:
Tail light blackouts
Hood, body, and trim details
Lift points on the hood
Enough words, more pictures!
To get to the spark plugs, remove this…
Installing the new axles. Foxfur loves him some big and sexy tools. The ratchet drive handles pictured are 3/8, 1/2, and 3/4 inch. The 3/4 inch drive handle is not absolutely necessary but sure is handy. The set I have (Proto) will cost you around $600 unless you can find a used set. Mine were free. Right time & place and all that.
New at the top, old at the bottom. The old rubber boots were torn and letting in dirt and crap. It took less than 1 hour per side. To put that in perspective, the spark plugs took 3 hours. It would have been faster but me & Mr. PBR took our time…
On to the appearance upgrades.
The tail lights were so bright as compared to the paint job that I decided it was time to balance them out. I initially used a tinting spray:
It’s from VHT. I wasn’t very impressed. It’d be ok for building a normal rice racer but looked a bit too glossy for Rambette. I remasked the lights and shot them with flat black.
A friend posted this pic of a Hyundai Elantra on my Facebook page:
Find the entire story here.
It gave me the idea for my next project.
I had a box of 500 3/8 x 1 inch long stainless steel bolts lying around just waiting for that special project. In just 24 hours it went from this:
I also got my veterans license plates! $34 to the state. If you’re a vet please look into getting yours. It will increase public awareness of just how many of us are out there and will allow vets to identify each other.
One night last week I was out in the front yard testing out Grizelda MK VI, my fire poofer, after upgrading the accumulator with an old 5 gallon propane tank. The accumulator allows more on demand volume for poofier flames.
What once looked like this:
One more Burning Man related score. I found some hot short shorts that match my orange unsafety vest!
Until next time…
I attended another pyrotechnics course at the same place as I took my general operator’s courses. The class was focused on proximate fireworks: fireworks designed to be used quite close to audiences and performers in theater, movie, television, concert, and sporting venues.
Flashpots, strobes, comets, crossettes, mines, gerbs, lances, airbursts, etc. Lotsa stuff to choose from. I’ve made and used many of these over the years and had a great time with them. You’d be amazed to see how close you can be to a properly designed and constructed pyrotechnic device…
Here’s my video of the live fire demonstration given today:
Also demonstrated was a commercial flame projector. Though nothing like the ones that I build, it’s still impressive for the simplicity of the device.
A video of Ken explaining and demonstrating:
Another highlight at today’s class was my friend Espressodude whom I build stuff with and camp with at Burning man. He has built “The God of Hellfire”, a motorized flame effect platform that traverses a full 360 degrees and elevates from 0 to 90 degrees (horizontal to vertical). With twin “flamethrowers” and an all electric firing system, it is quite possibly the coolest thing I’ve ever seen anyone build in their garage. He brought the flamethrowers out to my property a few weeks back for testing after the fire department asked him not to do it at his house anymore… Today was the first full system test. He had a custom trailer built to carry the self mobile platform that allows operation without unloading.
A video of the God of Hellfire in action today:
I’ll share more on this particular project in weeks to come…
I’m finally finished with all of my coursework for my Washington state pyrotechnician’s license! The last course, as far as I’m concerned, was the best of all. We spent a bit more than 2 hours setting up and loading racks of mortars and wiring them up for electrical firing. We spent less than 2 minutes firing them…
Electrical firing allows the operator a greater degree of control over the timing of launch of the shells which can give a show a nicely polished appearance. It also makes timing the show to music a bit easier. Lastly, it is quite a bit safer than hand firing shells due to the removal of personnel from the mortar racks.
Ematches are used instead of fusees (road flares) to ignite the fuses of the shells. An ematch is simply a wire bridge, a low resistance, small diameter wire that heats upon applying electrical current. The bridge is at one end of a small gauge pair of wires while the other end has stripped ends that are shunted, twisted, together to reduce the possibility of inadvertent ignition. The bridge is coated with a mixture of flammable compounds that burn insanely hot when given the juice.
The firing slat runs alongside the mortars. This one has 50 individual pairs of connectors allowing 50 cues (single or multiply connected items) to be fired from the board in any desired order.
Espressodude is a good friend of mine and is the one who nudged me into earning my Oregon and Washington licenses. We camp together at Burning Man and build propane flame effects together at home in the Portland area. He is a crew member with Black Rock FX, an awesome group of highly skilled and dedicated pyrotechnicians who coordinate, install, and fire many fireworks and effects displays at Burning Man. They did the Flaming Lotus Girls Tympani Lambada as well as The Trojan Horse shows last year. If everything goes right and I get the nod, I will be on the crew this year in some capacity…
Smaller candles are typically not used in big shows. Smaller shows like high school games and grand openings and the like will use them quite a bit due to their low cost.
Pepper is one of almost ten folks at the display company (where we trained / launched at) who have switched from tobacco to personal vaporizers (e-cigarettes).
The firing board shown here will set you back around $4,000. They’re well made and will stand up to a shitload of abuse (within reason…). Each point, when touched with the stylus, the black test probe, will fire whatever is hooked up to the corresponding point on the slats. The slats connect to the 50-pair connectors at the upper right. The board is powered by the sealed lead-acid 12 volt battery shown atop the board. It is connected to the board by the terminals at the top left corner. To the right of the terminals is a switch that selects between test and fire. In the test position it restricts the outgoing current to a few milliamps in order to check the continuity of each circuit. If the cue is ok, you’ll see a light illuminate as well as hear a tone from the speaker. Although we check each cue before connecting it to the slat terminals, something can always go wrong. Test twice, fire once. There’s no do overs during the show…
I need four more live shoots, two letters of recommendation, and the passage of a state exam to obtain my Washington state license. Two more live shoots and passing a state exam will net me my Oregon license. Because I love certifications and licenses (locksmith, gunsmith, heavy equipment operator, alarm and security installer, etc.), I’ll probably go for my Idaho license as well.
Fireworks display companies are always looking for people to help on their shows. Think about it. Most folks spend their Fourth of July eating brats (or chasing them) and passively watching fireworks shows. Then there’s us pyros. We’d rather let someone buy tens of thousands of dollars worth of fireworks for us to fondle, er, handle, load, and fire. Unless you’re the lead pyro you won’t be making much. You’ll do well to cover your gas and get a lunch or dinner out of it. Money isn’t the point of it though. The opportunity to work with like minded individuals and the chance to entertain a crowd with the harnessed power of a thousand year old art form, that right there is payment enough for me.
Remember, fireworks aren’t just for the 4th. New Years Eve, Christmas, weddings, parties, funerals, grand openings, and movies are but a few other events that make use of splodey goodness.
Google your area or state for fireworks display companies and give them a call. Most will be glad to train you or tell you where you can obtain training. Most states don’t require licensing to fire shows. Of course, if you don’t have a license, you can’t lead a crew on a shoot. If earning some extra money is one of your goals, get your license, put some time in as a crew member, get to know the operators, build a reputation as a safety conscious and hard working individual, and you’ll be able to lead your own crew.
For those of you who don’t know it, I like fire. All kinds of fire. Flamethrowers, road flares, Bic lighters, candles, fully engulfed oceangoing oil tankers, the sun.
Of all forms of fire, I think I love fireworks the very best. How can such small things contain such massive amounts of fiery goodness? One word. Chemicals. I love chemicals! Ok, back to fireworks. I have had a serious obsession with fireworks since I was a wee lad in short pants. My earliest memory must be from the womb when mom went to a firework show at Griffith park. I remember it like the day…
Last year a friend (who really likes espresso) suggested to me that I earn my pyrotechnician’s license. I thought this was a magnificent idea! He brought it up again last month and I went ahead and registered.
I went to my first class today and I’m going to ace this thing. We spent the day focusing on safety for the crew, crowd, and ground based flammable objects other than flammable people. We were regaled with stories of people who, for one reason or another, were made to pay the stupid tax. Some of them were good enough to pay their own while others made bystanders pay it for them (the slimy bastards!)…
Ok, enough with the words. Y’all know how much little Foxfur loves him some photos, so, let’s get on with it!
Mortars are the tubes used to launch the shells and are usually buried up to their necks in the ground or in sand filled boxes. When you hear the “Thump!” and see a dim trail of sparks heading upwards, it’s a shell that came from a mortar. The cylindrical base under the ball is filled with black powder, coarse grains unlike sporting powder, and functions in the mortar tube just like a cannon launching a cannon ball. Most of the time the shell goes up, goes bang, and the crowd goes “Ooh!”, “Ahh!”, or “Wheeeeee!”. In this instance the crowd probably went “WTF???”. The shell burst prematurely in the tube and kind of blew it to hell. I say kind of because that while it is obviously trashed, 95% of the tube is still there though not where it was when manufactured. The tube is made of HDPE which does not shatter or splinter. Instead, it deforms and largely stays intact preventing the nice fireworks man from being perforated and being made terribly unhappy.
A bank of three 5 inch mortar tubes.
I’m thinking of adopting! A fine example of a 12 inch aerial shell. The pattern (burst) is a bit over 500 feet in diameter.
The next two classes will involve live firing of shells. After that I’ll be firing a show at a major northwest sporting event and one at a firefighting training facility. I’ll give them some good practice…
I’ve been told that I’ll be given a place on a team of pyrotechnicians at Burning Man 2012 to work on some major fireworks shows this year. This would be a true honor and privilege and would be one of the highlights of my burn. As goofy as I come off, you can bet your last dollar that I’m dead serious about safety, hard work, and attention to detail. If I’m going to put my name to something, I’m gonna do it right.
Updates to come…
What an ironic outfit, huh?
Now I really need to set something on fire…
(I’m standing in front of a mobile turret-mounted twin flamethrower)
For some time now I’ve been playing with a phrase in my mind. Flammable People. It popped into my brain last year and I had nothing to do with it other than giggle when I think about it. I’ve decided that it will be the name of a flame effects collective that I’d like to assemble. It would consist of people who build and operate both propane and liquid fueled (gasoline, diesel, kerosene, alcohol) flame effects devices.
I was messing around with MSpaint and came up with some concept graphics to use for the collective. I pulled an image of a DOT flammable placard from a safety supply website. In the second version I added a pedestrian icon from iconpedia.com. I’d like to find someone with the capability to print some prototype (small run, 5 – 10 pieces) placards and / or vinyl decals.
I’ve also thought of using Flammable People as a Burning Man camp name. It wouldn’t necessarily mean that everyone who would be part of it would have to build or operate flame effects. Fire admirers, junkies, and groupies would be 100% welcome. The next graphic might just become a gift sticker at the burn in 2012. Depending on the length of the name of 2012’s theme, it may be included as well.
Call me silly, many do, but I absolutely adore Spam. The wife and I go through 3 cans a week. Really. The most popular consumption method in our house is “Spambled” eggs.
Lightly brown the Spam cubes in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir / toss every 30 seconds. Add the onions to the Spam and cook until translucent. Crack eggs into the pan and add the vinegar quickly. Stir eggs to incorporate everything into the mix. Cook until it’s done to your taste.
The vinegar keeps the scrambled egg “clumps” smaller, gives a creamier texture, and adds a nice tang to the eggs. I use rice vinegar, usually seasoned (has salt & sugar in it), but I’ve been using garlic rice vinegar lately. White, cider, and wine vinegar work just as well, it makes no difference at all. You can omit it entirely if it creeps you out but it won’t be the same…
Onions. I typically use white onions. I’ve used yellow, red, Walla Walla sweets, Hermiston sweets, And Maui sweets and they’re all wonderful, especially the WW’s.
Pull the Spam loaf from the can intact. Stand upright. Slice into 6 slices. Use wire cutters to remove the hook and neck of hanger. Straighten hanger then fold in half. Put a few twists in it 6-8 inches from the pointy end and sightly spread end. Slide a slice onto hanger. Light flamethrower (it helps to have a friend run the flamethrower) and hold the Spam in the middle of the flame, turning and moving constantly. Cook until browned. Serve with your favorite side dish.
A medium flame works best until you perfect your technique. Knowmad the bunny runs the ‘thrower in this photo.
If you don’t have a flamethrower, a charcoal fire, camp fire, house fire, or burn barrel will do just fine. Here’s a link to an episode of my cooking show that shows the technique:
Enjoy the Spam. Don’t be afraid of it. The ingredients are listed right on the can. Don’t believe the bullshit about ‘mystery meat’, lousy quality, or the rumor that it’s made from people. If it was good enough for grandpa, it’s good enough for you.
Here’s some photos of propane burning fire toys I have built. While I’d love to make a step by step tutorial, the nature of these systems prevents me from doing so. They aren’t inherently dangerous, quite the opposite actually. Rather, the construction and operation of them by individuals unfamiliar with building systems like these may lead to accidents that can be prevented by a little bit of knowledge. I built this “fire poofer” based on seeing photos and diagrams elsewhere on the net. The first two photos show the construction details of poofers. These are from The Department Of Spontaneous Combustion. The concept is simple. The poofer consists of an accumulator tank that also serves as a base. Rising from the accumulator is a manifold consisting of an inlet for the propane gas, a safety valve to shut off flow to the solenoid valve (or hand operated whistle valve), a solenoid valve (or whistle valve – a quick opening and closing valve typically used on steam whistles and air horns), a vertical ‘stack’ or pipe leading upwards, and a pilot light to ignite the released propane as it emerges from the top of the stack. My manifold is truly overbuilt. It is made up of stainless steel and 5,000 PSI hydraulic fittings (propane gas pressures seldom exceed 150-160 PSI). It’s what I had laying about in my workshop. It can easily be built from plumbing fittings available at most home improvement stores for less that $100.
The rest of the pictures are of my fire poofer.
A video of the poofer running in Auto-Fire mode:
The Manchester Power Jet hand burner puts out 750,000 BTUs. See details at Manchester’s website. They’re not cheap. Expect to spend around $200. Here’s one for $130. That’s just the burner, no hose or regulator. They have a package deal including them which costs $220. I don’t use a regulator with mine, never have, not needed. I want wide open, right now, burn it all kind of flames. You can get a 10 foot hose online or at a propane dealer. The valve that it uses is what’s referred to as a whistle valve. It allows nearly instant full opening as well as infinitely variable flame adjustment.
A manually operated poofer:
The manually operated poofers can use a whistle valve (best due to the speed of operation) or a ball valve (less expensive). Electrically operated (using a solenoid valve) poofers cost the most to build and require a power source to operate the valve. I like them due to their adaptability to automation and remote operation. Manual ones are quite safe to operate but you are so close that you can’t appreciate the look of the fireballs and flares.
Be careful and have fun. Wear all cotton, wool, denim or aramid clothing when operating any fire toy. Synthetic fabrics melted onto skin are decidedly un-fun…
Update, May 5th, 2017. Nick Poole, another flame effects and electronics enthusiast, has a poofer build at Sparkfun you should check out. He listed this page as reference used in his research, AND, he’s still alive! If you’d like to improve your chances of survival and integrate a microcontroller into your project, go and learn how here.
Feel free to leave a question or comment below. I’ll try to answer your questions. Be sure to click “Notify me of responses” or whatever it says so you’ll know when I answer it. You’ll have to enter your email address to use this option but don’t worry, you won’t get any spam from me.
Mish mentioned some kind of funny and improbable merit badges that were available somewhere. Our friend Elaine posted a link two weeks ago on her page that pointed me right to the source. Brooklyn Badges. Robert Marbury is the genius behind these extremely high quality embroidered patches. He has 21 different badges available. I’ll display some of them below. I’ve attached them to my Burning Man un-safety vest to show everyone just how accomplished I am in various improbable areas of dubious skills.
Among the badges are:
Over the course of my life, I have demonstrated my proficiency in the skills necessary to truly earn these badges. Until now I had no means to share these accomplishments with the world. Robert has finally given me a way to show others just how damned good I am. Thanks Robert!
Bunny and I set out for the deep playa on Sunday afternoon. We were heading for the chill platforms, seven raised platforms with futon mattresses and cloth shades with a revolving mirrored heart in the center, to relax and kill some time. Upon arriving we found all were occupied… We rode further out into the playa and happened upon a tall triangular structure. As we rounded the corner to the open side we saw two gentlemen comfortably lying down, one with a megaphone. Just as I thought we were going to get a blast of abuse, the guy opens up with “Hello! We’ve been waiting for you…”. The volume of the megaphone was just barely audible. He said a few more very nice things that I cannot remember. We had a wonderful conversation exchanging light talk and compliments; me with my voice and him with his megaphone. I gave him his new name: The Nice Megaphone Man. I opened my backpack and dug around for something appropriate to give these fine people and came up with a chocolate pie. They accepted it warmly and almost disbelievingly. I dismounted my bicycle and went to sit with them. Sitting only feet away we continued our chat with him still talking barely above a whisper over his gentle megaphone. I couldn’t stop smiling. This encounter was one of the most memorable I’d had so far for its simple kindness and good humor. I sat and drank some water, nibbled on a snacky cake, and enjoyed the shade the structure provided. The nice magaphone man eventually curled up for a nap with his head on his companion’s belly. They looked so tranquil. It was contagious. As Bunny and I rode off, that tranquility stayed with me. We went back to the platforms, found one open, and curled up for our own nap.
This is how I cook spam at Burning Man…
The flamethrower is a Manchester Power Jet with the gas orifice removed. Add propane, no regulator, and you’re ready to cook.
Burning Man 2011 was my first burn. I’ve been meaning to go for 15 years but work and caring for sweetpea had kept me away until this year. I retired a year and a half ago and Sweetpea said to just go and do it.
The desert is one of my favorite places to be. I was sent to many deserts while serving in the US Army, but the Black Rock Desert in northern Nevada is unique among them. No sand for starters. Just talcum powder fine alkali dust. No plants, no animals, no washes or dry streambeds. Just flat wide open expanses that stretch for 30 to 70 miles with only mere feet in elevation difference. It is truly one of the most beautiful environments that I have ever had the privelege to visit. I was there in late July, long before 55,00 other people were there to share it at the burn. It was quieter than anywhere else I’d ever been and totally empty of everything. Nothing but lots of nothing. That all changed in early August when advance crews began to build the world’s largest temporary city.
What I did at Burning Man…
I played with my fireball generator, AKA “Fire Poofer”. I design and build propane flame effects and built this one, “Grizelda MK IV”, to bring out to the desert.
Elder Wrong, Burning Man’s own PBR guzzling Mormon missionary, manifesting his own “burning bush” through the miracle of the fireball generator. You can follow Elder Wrong and his mission at: http://ElderWrong.wordpress.com
Directing traffic on ‘A’ street. DO NOT fuck with a man with a sign, a gun, and orange hair. It’s just not a good idea…
Hanging out with the pretty ladies of Burning Man. This is Piney. She is one of the founders of the Booby Bar, a bar featuring two giant domes with huge pink nipples on top. Sadly, 2011 was their last year of exsitence as supporting the boobies was just too tiring and didn’t allow enough time for the supporters to experience the burn. Piney is also a member of Reno’s “Controlled Burn”, a fire conclave that features fire spinners and very large flame effects including two liquid shooters firing 20 gallons of gasoline into columns of fire reaching altitudes of 100 feet into the night sky.
Firing sunset salutes with FOGBANK, the propane & oxygen fueled sound cannon built and operated by Espressodude. The sound of the cannon reaches 180 decibels, twice as loud as an F-16 with afterburners engaged. Espressodude also served up over 50 pounds worth of Starbucks coffee beans in the form of espresso to the citizens of Black Rock City. His espresso, made with one of his two commercial espresso machines, was provided free of charge to the citizenry. His name comes from the fact that he uses his machines at home to consume up to a dozen shots of espresso per day. He is a VERY high energy individual and I can’t even begin to keep up with him…
Brushing my teeth and having it documented by Ben tang of Ben Tang Photography.
Roasting and eating midgets in Terminal City. Here I have shrunken Elder Wrong and thrown him on the barbee. We ate of his flesh but, of course, he was raised from the dead with no complications. We saved some leftovers for him which he greatly enjoyed…
Hanging out with more of the beautiful ladies of Burning Man. Here is the exquisite Miss Savannah. She handmade a wonderful pendant for Sweetpea who was unable to attend. I am honored to count her as a friend and was privleged to be able to wrap my arms around her for hugs and photos.
The pendant Savannah made for Sweetpea. So many of my friends know and love Sweetpea from my frequent mentions of her. Notice the map cast under the resin and the words “Black Rock Desert”. Thank you so much Sav. The Sweet One and I love you very much!
Dressing up for nighttime adventure. I’ll let you use your imaginations… The skirt made from a pair of US Army paratroopers trousers was graciously given to me by Quick, the beautiful Chief Warrant Officer of MASH 4207, “The Best Care On The Playa”, a medical relief camp providing comfort to the afflicted of BRC. The gold helmet is my genuine kevlar helmet brought home from my gig in the US Army.
Cooking Spam with my 1.5 million BTU liquid propane fueled flamethrower. Knowmad provided the heat while I held my meat. Nom nom nom…
Burning Man, something to do before you die.
These are some quotes that just tickle me…
“You go into any men’s section and it’s all blacks and browns, walk over to the women’s area and it’s like getting a blow job from a rainbow.”
Her: I’d totally make out with you!
Her: Sorry, I was talking to her (points at the girl working next to her).
Last time I was at the Dairy Queen drive thru…
“I need a platonic sugar daddy.”
“Telling a guy I work with to try a sandwich shop down the street,
“Na, I want something smothered in something” ”
“Embrace your freedom to be angry and eat junk food.”
“Larry says to bring him a toothbrush. And some Crest whitening formula! He’ll gift you a Pall Mall nonfilter…” Me to another person when I told them I was camping with Larry Harvey at Burning Man.
I emailed Adam to let him know that I had blogged him. This was his response:
It’s always nice to hear from people who really connect with my work. Thanks for sharing it on your blog.
I see you are going to Burning Man.
I have had many good times there.
Why am I not surprised that he’s a burner?
Scroll down a few posts to see his art and a link to his website.