Black Cats, Cherry Bombs, M-80’s, & Punks

“Some student at Clark Junior High flushed one down a toilet. The explosion resulted in this crapper being blown to smithereens.”

Bucket warning

As a child, I grew up in an era when there were no warnings about sticking your head into a 5-gallon bucket of water. Child seats were unheard of. Cribs weren’t ‘safety tested.’ Kids eagerly drank out of garden hoses each summer. Pocket knives were allowed in school. Some fireworks had the power as a quarter-stick of dynamite. In spite of all this, I’m still kickin’.

There’s valid reason for government stepping in and making rules and guidelines to protect children. Child seats are perhaps one of the best. Many young lives have been saved since infant and child seats in cars and trucks became a requirement in 1985.

For the most part, only baby boomers like myself know of the steps taken by government and state officials to tamper down the danger of fireworks. I was either fortunate, or unfortunate, depending on how you look at it, to have grown up during the time fireworks had unrestrained power.

Black Cat firecrackers

Black Cat firecrackers manufactured prior to 1968 are of a different breed than those of today. The earlier version contained substantial more flash powder. Because of such, the bang was louder and the chance of injury to little fingers greater. Black Cats are still available although they’re not the same powerful cat as they once were.

Cherry Bombs are still out there yet in name only. The Cherry Bomb’s of yesteryear held approximately three-quarter more black powder than those being sold today. A full-strength Cherry Bomb could easily annihilate a large anthill. They could also remove small fingers.

Farmers and ranchers used them quite often in Texas to take out large colonies of red ants. We did the same, oftentimes finding a small crater where the explosive had gone off. The concussion was enough to blast downwards into an entry hole destroying many of the pests.

My father warned my brother and I early on about the dangers of fireworks, especially Cherry Bombs and M-80’s. It seems strange that neither Jim or I was injured by the more powerful devices. The only hurt ever coming to me that I remember, was being burned by the hot wire of a sparkler. This was after the sparks died. It only happened once.

M-80’s are perhaps the most dangerous firework of all where losing fingers are concerned. I read archived newspaper account after newspaper account where children and adults had tips of fingers, or complete fingers blown off. Death caused by these powerful explosives was not unheard of as well.

From a 1966 Missouri newspaper

By 1959, some states were outlawing Cherry Bombs and M-80’s. Alaska must’ve been the last to follow through because they were still legal in 1968. There was a fireworks stand located across the road from where I lived on Muldoon Road. Cherry Bombs and M-80’s could be purchased there for twenty-five cents a piece. That was a bit steep, as advertisements for these things going back to 1960 show them selling for, three for a quarter. Regardless of price, my paper route profits supplied me with many.

Cherry bomb

An M-80 could blow a tin can a hundred feet in the air or more. We used them as propellant for homemade mortars. A perfect-size round stone was placed into a thick pipe on top of a lit M-80. When powder exploded, the rock would quickly go sailing out of sight. This homemade weapon had the power to shoot debris directly through soft tissue. Thankfully that never happened!

M-80’s wrapped in mud could be tossed into a pool of water. The firework would sink before an explosion sent water flying upward. What’s amazing to me was the ability for an M-80 fuse to burn underwater.

I know of kids fishing with them. When thrown into Chester Creek, they’d explode often times resulting in a salmon floating to the surface. The fish would be quickly scooped up before regaining its senses. It was the terrific concussion causing them to surface. I doubt there are any salmon left in that stream.

I recall a student at Clark Junior High flushing one down a toilet. The explosion resulted in this crapper being blown to smithereens. M-80’s were that powerful. Yes, it was a good thing that authorities eventually stepped in and banned them.


Last but not least are punks. Most folks not accustomed to firework lingo, will believe I’m referring to those juvenile delinquents misusing fireworks.

The punk I refer to is a bamboo and sawdust stick that’s lit by a match or lighter. A punk will burn for several minutes and is used to light fuses. Punks were generally given out free to customers with their fireworks purchase.

As I mentioned earlier, dad taught my brother and I the safe way to use fireworks. He advised us to always have a water hose or a bucket of water close by. One thing that he never mentioned was,

Never stick your head in a bucket!”

He must’ve figured we had brains enough not to do that!

These punks…
…and not these punks!

Author: michaeldexterhankins

ordinary average guy

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