Many stories herein are subject to the faulty, and sometimes creative, memory of the blog owner and should not be taken as factual, although the names and events are real! Kind of.
Sunday, March 07, 2010
Big Bertha, Viking, Alpha...Rockets!
The end of school is always an exciting time for any grade school kid looking forward to a summer of freedom. But ours was doubly exciting as we looked forward to the end of school, the end of school picnic and building Estes model rockets!
Every spring, the upper grades studied space and rocket flight. One year, we even had a real live astronaut visit our school and talk to us about spaceflight and his walk on the moon! Remember that space flight was still new and people were still amazed that man could fly to the moon! (unlike today's blase group who doesn't care if the Shuttle launches or not and it's just another note in the news when it does.) He talked about space rocks, splash down and being quarantined to ensure the safety of those who were stuck on earth!
The highlight of the space unit was a hands-on rocketry building extravaganza! We eagerly perused the catalog, searching for the model rocket we could afford and had the ability to build. And of course the one our parents and teacher would allow us to buy--there was no use begging for an expensive one or one that was too complicated!
Paint was ordered at the same time and a great deal of thought went into the color scheme and design. I loved those little square bottles of Testors paints. The richness of the rainbow colors and the tiny glass bottles enticed me like candy--I wanted one of each! It seems to me that the all-American country kids I went to school with stuck with the good old red, white and blue with a bit of black or yellow thrown in for accents.
I well remember the excitement of the ten of us in fifth grade the day Mrs. Janzen announced that our kits had arrived. It was our first year to be allowed to participate in the rocket building and we could hardly wait to get started. That flimsy box of cardboard tubing and balsa wood pieces held as much promise as a Christmas stocking!
Finally, after an eternity of math and science and health and penmanship and reading and music and P. E., our desks were cleared and we could lay out the pieces of our kits. Before doing ANYTHING, it was imperative that directions were read, parts were accounted for and there was to be no horseplay with the razor blades. Yes, it was in the 70s, when teenagers carried a gun the back window of their pickup to go hunting after school, every boy (and some girls) carried pocket knives and 5th graders were allowed to use razor blades at school for crafts. I'm betting the glue was a hallucinogen too if we sniffed it but we didn't do that kind of thing.
Model Rocketry was a roller coaster ride of emotions.
Oh, the joy, when an (almost) perfect tail fin was cut out of the balsa wood using the paper pattern. Oh, the sorrow, when it cracked in two while being packed away for the day.
Many anxious hours were spent cutting, gluing and painting in order for the rockets to be ready for launch day at the end-of-school picnic.
Some days, we would arrive in our classroom to discover that no matter how carefully the rocket was propped allowing the glue to dry that held the tail fins onto the body tube, the rocket had tipped over, breaking off a fin or knocking over a classmate's creation. Many a rocket had a hard time flying since it was glued and glued again, then taped as a last result--sometimes they were held together by paint and hope!
When at last school was out for the year, it was time for the end-of-school picnic. A family with a creek running through their pasture would volunteer to hold the annual event and maps and notes were sent home to remind the parents of the forthcoming celebration. Long tables and chairs were set up under the cottonwood trees and soon they were filled with platters and bowls and baskets of delicious home made food--chicken and potato salad, jello, deviled eggs, cakes, pies, cookies.
After lunch and a wild time on the creek bank that involved much wading, splashing and tossing in of unsuspecting friends, it was time to find a clear spot for the rocket launch.
It was both a time of mourning and a celebration. With a swoosh, Viking, Alpha, and Big Bertha rockets were launched one by one into the beautiful Oklahoma spring sky. How lovely it was, when high above, the nose cone would pop off and the carefully packed paper parachute brought the rocket back to earth to land safely in a patch of sagebrush.
Sometimes the rocket didn't fly at all--the engine fizzled, there was a blowout, the tail fins fell off (again). Or the rocket would soar higher and higher and the nose cone would fail to pop off or the parachute didn't open because it was tangled in the shock cords. The biggest disappointment was when the rocket launched beautifully, the nose cone popped off, the parachute deployed....and a gust of wind carried it far away. Even the Navy, who managed to find the real rocket nose cones in the ocean could not have found a rocket carried away on the Oklahoma wind. Occasionally, a high flying rocket was stranded across a high line wire. And hey, we were country kids and all--willing and able to squash very large bugs, kill an occassional snake and probably capable of wringing a chicken's neck--but we didn't mess with high line wires!
When all the rockets were launched and the food was packed up, it was time to head for home. The station wagons and pickups loaded with kids began to wind their way toward the road. The only evidence of the big day was a patch of flattened buffalo grass in a remote pasture and the memories of a red, white and blue rocket soaring high into the clear, blue sky.