(Spring 1970) One spring day, I witnessed a series of colossal blunders in
a small South Dakota town I lived in as a child. I dare not mention the
name, because I still have relatives there.
The town is situated on the banks of the Big Sioux river, and of course,
the river freezes solid in the winter, being as it's in South Dakota and
all. Naturally enough, we had annual attempts at Darwin Awards as people
drove their cars onto the ice, and the like. But this episode really took
That particular spring was late in coming after a particularly vicious
winter, and the river was still frozen thick with ice. By early April, the
town officials were being pressured by various transport companies and
irate fisherman to clear the river of ice. The town officials turned to
the biggest local employer, a quartz quarry that used dynamite to blast
Word got around that they were going to use the quarry's dynamite to clear
the ice from the river. Sensing a free show and a good laugh, most town
residents turned up to watch, including yours truly with my parents.
The officials -- a police chief, fire chief, and mayor -- had no experience
with explosives. They arrived at the riverside with the head of the
quarry, who. it turned out, had only slight experience in handling
explosives. It was cold, and we observed them taking generous nips from
the fire chief's hip. Rumors of brandy were later confirmed by the local
bar owner, who had filled it. So the men were nicely warmed up, and armed
with a crate of dynamite, fuses, and matches.
The idiots, er, I mean, officials, with great show, walked carefully onto
the ice, bundled several sticks of dynamite with a fuse, laid it on the
ice, and lit the fuse.
Perhaps you have already noticed the problem: they were standing on sheet
ice. When they attempted to run away, they just fell over. They got up,
ran, fell, got up, ran, fell, and so on, while the fuse merrily burnt away.
It was like a Road Runner cartoon come to life.
One of the officials finally discovered that crawling was more effective,
and the others began to do the same. The trio had just managed to get to
the riverbank when BLAM! went the dynamite.
Nothing. No impact. River still frozen solid. Frightened officials and
lots of noise, but no effect. Shaken but undeterred, and still a bit
drunk, they decided to try again from a safer position.
This time, they decided to walk to the protection of the nearby stone
bridge that spanned the river, use the remaining crate dynamite, suspend
one man from a rope to light the fuse, then pull him back up onto the
bridge with a rope tied around his waist.
Once again, the brighter reader will notice the problem: dynamite under a
The officials were admiring their handiwork and watching the fuse burn from
their position on the bridge above, when one of them sobered up sufficiently
to hear the shouts of the crowd. "Get off the bridge!" Putting two
and two together, they started to run for it. But it was too late.
KABLAM! went the dynamite, and the ice was instantly cleared under the
bridge. Unfortunately, so was the main bridge support, and the bridge
promptly collapsed into the river, sending our heroes into the icy cold
Sadly, because the bridge was only about ten feet above the river height,
they survived the fall and were saved within minutes. They suffered only
shock, hypothermia, cuts and bruises. We can only hope their gonads were
frozen, and perhaps it was so, as none of the gentlemen had any more children.
The broken bridge blocked river traffic completely for three months while
it was dredged out, and several homes were rocked from their foundations by
the force of the blast. Many windows within a half-mile radius were blown
in. All in all, the damage ran into the millions. The mayor, police
chief, and fire chief all lost their jobs, while the head of the quarry
took early retirement.
All in all, it was quite a show. But it shouldn't have been too surprising,
as the fire chief had all ready destroyed a brand new fire engine by
driving to a barn fire with the parking brake on. While they were putting
out the fire, they noticed the water pressure from the pump was dropping...
because the vehicle was on fire! Both the barn and the fire engine were
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