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Chapter 2. Dynamite and the Lolo Ditch - Copyright
Dad often tried to approach things in a methodical and scientific manner. Usually this method worked well, but not always. Like the time he and my uncle made their first foray in ditch-digging with dynamite.
I was young when my family had our first Montana ranch up the Lolo Creek valley, about 20 miles from Missoula. That was in 1952. We called the ranch the Akekani Ranch. "Akekani" was supposed to be an Indian word for friend. I once tried it on an Indian kid at school and nearly got the stuffing beat out of me. Maybe I didn't have the right accent.
When we moved up Lolo Creek, I must have been about six years old. The ranch was in a gorgeous setting, straddling Lolo Creek and the Lewis and Clark trail over the Bitterroot Mountains into Idaho. Being snuggled up against the north side of Lolo Peak, I remember that this ranch was shaded and cold in the winter. When the season caused the sun to be low in the south, it just didn't spend much time above Lolo Peak, from the perspective of our ranch. There were good springs on the ranch, some of which watered our hay meadows, adding to water taken out of Lolo Creek by ditches that tapped the Creek further up the valley.
My Dad's prime hay meadow was directly west of the Woodman School. There was a soft area in the meadow next to Lolo Creek Road, where water ran off the hillside and collected -- a linear swale perpendicular to Lolo Creek Road. When haying time came for the tall grass, it seemed like somebody inevitably would get a tractor into the edge of the damp area and get the tractor stuck up to its axle in the mud. That necessitated a rescue operation that one time resulted in a second tractor stuck in the same area. Then it was necessary to get a neighbor to bring yet another tractor around with a long chain or cable, and from a distance on firm ground pull the stuck tractor or tractors out. That wet area was a darned nuisance.
So, a plan gradually emerged to run a ditch through that wet area to an existing culvert under Lolo Creek Road, to drain off the excess water into Lolo Creek on the other side of the road. The big problem was how to dig the ditch if a tractor couldn't work there without getting stuck. Not many people had dozers then, and even a dozer might have gotten mired down in that soft ground.
When it came, the solution seemed obvious. Dynamite. Yeah, great idea!
Back in those days anyone could buy dynamite at the local hardware store. Many ranchers and farmers used it for various purposes, but not my family, yet. Years later, I learned that dynamite has many uses, even recreational uses.
As a young teenager, one of my favorite entertainments for a slow day on the ranch was to sneak into the shop and into the "paint room" where a case of dynamite was usually stored. I'd get out a stick of dynamite and peel back the waxed paper to expose the raw dynamite, a mixture of sawdust and nitroglycerine. With the raw dynamite exposed, I'd pinch off a little bit and put it on the anvil in the shop. The game then was to whack that pinch of dynamite with a ball-peen hammer and see if I could hold onto the hammer as the pinch of dynamite exploded. Usually I could, but with larger pinches of dynamite it became more of a challenge to keep a grip on the hammer handle. It sure made the anvil ring.
Yeah, I know. It's a wonder that some people live to reach adulthood. But hey, we had FUN back then. And, I never did get involved in any ranchland gangs. I just banged away at the dynamite on the anvil and raised my 4-H animals instead.
Back to the ditch. Being careful and methodical, Dad had obtained a pamphlet somewhere about using dynamite. He learned that if the sticks were planted close enough together, it was only necessary to put a detonator and fuse on the stick at the end of a string of planted charges. This seemed sensible. We spent several days planting this long string of dynamite charges in a line through the swamp, from the road out into the hay meadow.
I believe the pamphlet said to put the charges no more than 18 inches apart for each charge to detonate the next one in line. Of course given the soft ground and all, just to make sure, it would probably be a good idea to put them every nine inches or so. Just to make sure, you know.
To get the bottom of the ditch down deep, we'd drive a steel bar into the mud about three feet deep to make a hole for the dynamite sticks. Once a stick of dynamite was dropped to the bottom of the hole, it seemed a shame to waste the rest of the hole. So we would put a couple of more sticks on top of the stick already in the bottom of the hole, and pack some mud down over the three or four planted sticks.
Three days later we'd gone through several cases of dynamite. But hey, dynamite was cheap, and we didn't want to have to do it twice. We'd laid a line of dynamite charges about 100 yards long, perpendicular to Lolo Creek Road.
When it was finally time to put the detonator and fuse in the last charge, somebody had the good idea to stop traffic on Lolo Creek Road, so no motorist would be driving too close to the ditching operation when the detonator finally lit the dynamite. We decided to stop traffic about 100 yards back from where the line of charges met the road.
Because of a shortage of personnel (except for short people like me), I was designated to be the road guard to stop traffic coming from the west. I held a portable stop sign, a very important job for a kid. There was probably also an underhanded intention to keep me away from the immediate vicinity and excitement of the about-to-be ditch. I made my own compromise with the standoff requirement by stopping traffic only about 60 yards from where the line of charges met the road, just to be a little closer to the action.
The first vehicle to my roadblock was a logging truck with a huge load of logs, coming from somewhere up Lolo Creek. I waved my stop sign. When the truck stopped I climbed up on the truck's running board and explained to the driver what was going on through the truck's open window. Stepping off the running board, I noticed other Lolo-bound vehicles beginning to collect behind the log truck.
Meanwhile, Dad was putting the detonator and fuse into the last stick, and tamping the stick on top of the others in the last hole. He was careful enough with this that it took longer than expected. Finally I saw Dad running away and knew that he'd lit the fuse. Of course, he used plenty of fuse for lots of "get-away" time. In fact he used so much fuse that traffic was getting pretty well backed up both directions, maybe ten vehicles each direction.
I was about eight years old at the time, so this was pretty exciting for me. It was almost the Fourth of July, and I'd been playing with firecrackers for couple of years, blowing up tin cans and such. But, this would be a major promotion for my experience with blowing things up.
The dynamite finally blew.
I.T..W.A.S..S.P.E.C.T.A.C.U.L.A.R!@#& Actually, it was well beyond spectacular. It was several notches on the far side of stupendous.
The explosion knocked me down!
It seemed like it rained mud for a week. Everybody was impressed. Even the cars waiting last in line were covered with mud. Midway through the rain of mud, I managed to struggle back to my feet to better enjoy the effects. Just when I was convinced that the rain of mud was over, a chunk of soggy sod the size of a car tire came sailing out of the sky and landed on the front of the log truck, half on the windshield and half on the hood. The log truck driver was also impressed that this large chunk of sod had buckled in one side of the hood of his truck. But hey, it only caved the hood downward about three inches. The driver probably popped it out with the heel of his hand when he got home. At least it didn't break his windshield.
It took a while for the smoke and muddy mist to clear so we could see what we had accomplished. That was spectacular too! We'd wanted a ditch about three feet deep and three feet across. We got a canal, about ten to twelve feet deep and probably twenty feet across. No wonder it rained so much mud! It was an amazing job!
I know. It's easy to impress a kid. But hey, the adults there were impressed, too. I didn't do much more with firecrackers that year. They were entirely too tame after creating the canal with cases of dynamite.
The drainage canal worked fine. All the water from the surrounding wet area collected in our new pond. Geese reported this new wonder by telepathy to their cousins who flocked from three hundred miles away. And, at last Dad finally had a place to put all the rocks that us kids had been rolling down the hillside into his hayfield.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1. Introduction
Chapter 2. Dynamite and the Lolo Ditch
Chapter 3. The Rock and the Schoolhouse
Chapter 4. BBs, Catching Skunks and Missed School
Chapter 5. Early Rocket Experiments
Chapter 6. Dodging the Draft, and KP
Chapter 7. Building a Ski Area with a Quad 50
Chapter 8. Africa, Carol and the Camel
Chapter 9. Oleh and The Bear
Chapter 10. Airboats Can Fly
Chapter 11. Lost Dog and the Dutchman's Ptarmigan
Chapter 12. Happy Trails To You, With Graham Crackers
Chapter 13. The Great, Headless Caribou Hunt
Chapter 14. Kijik, Champion Sled/Attack Dog
Chapter 15. Fire Department / Paramedic Stories
Chapter 16. Delivering Babies
Chapter 17. Prairie Dogs, Cows and Don Robinson
Chapter 18. Legislative Tales
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