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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs
Some rocks on the road were too difficult for Bert's grader to move, so they needed attending to.

Submitted: August 14, 2016

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Submitted: August 14, 2016



There is a rhyme that refers to beating a walnut tree to make it produce more nuts – I’m not writing it down though because it doesn’t belong here. Nevertheless, Henry heard the rhyme long ago and beat the tree in their backyard! It didn’t seem to make any difference but the scars lasted a long time – like the scars of that rhyme! (If you know what I mean.) Anyway, he was sceptical when Bert advised him to use half a plug of gelignite under his greengage tree! Henry had complained about the lack of fruit on the tree and Bert assured him that the gelignite trick would work. Well now, Henry had his shot-firer’s ticket, a requirement for a Forest Ranger on a small forest, so he took half a pug home with him plus a detonator and about thirty inches of safety fuse. With a crowbar he made a hole big enough for the half-plug and about two feet deep, set it all up and lit the fuse. It was a good boom, not affecting the tree at all but probably shattering the soil below. Sure enough from then on the tree produced copious amounts of fruit!  

Bert came down to the forest headquarters for help. Henry wanted him to level off Road Ten, The Larches, but large rocks on the surface made Dorothy the grader bounce around, unable to dig them out! The solution, according to Bert was to shatter them with gelignite! Trouble was, the compressor was away, borrowed by another forest, so although the jackhammer and drill bits were there, they couldn’t be used.

Bert was an old hand, used to doing things the hard way and was going to give Henry a lesson. There was a rock drill in the storeroom, a three foot cold chisel, which Bert sharpened on the grinder. He mumbled, pipe-in-teeth that the edge would soon be knocked off, but the faces of the chisel were not steep enough. He then took a foot or so of number eight wire (the old-time farmer’s friend) and bent one end to make a rough handle and the with other end, he bent the very end half inch at right-angle to the ‘shaft’. That half inch end bit, he put on the anvil and beat it flat with a hammer, which turned it into a little, flat spoon!

With the rock drill, sledgehammer, spoon, a Gerry-can of water, five pugs of gelignite, a box of detonators, a broom handle and a roll of safety fuse in the back of the old Commer, Henry drove up to Road Ten. He held the rock drill, ‘you have to hold it straight-up-and-down, and after each strike with the sledgehammer, you give the drill a quarter turn!’ He eyed Bert, wondering how safe his fingers were! After twenty swipes with the hammer, the drill had gone about half an inch into the rock, so Bert poured a few drops of water into the hole and using the spoon, dragged out the wet rock dust. It was Henry’s turn to use the hammer, and he found that twenty swipes was any amount at a time because they were going to do this for most of the afternoon.

The rocks were not that very large and sometimes the drill went right through them, but for the rest it was only necessary to drill eight inches to a foot deep. It was certain that the rock fragments were going to fly, especially the ones that the drill went through, likely the whole rock would be blown out of the ground!

Bert liked big bangs and wanted to fire off five plugs at a time, well actually not whole plugs, a quarter was enough in most holes, but by varying the length of the fuse, it was possible to have five blow at the same time! But Henry pulled rank! One at a time seemed safer to him because he had assumed Bert had matches, after all, he was a pipe smoker! But no he only had a lighter, which Henry was aware of. With safety fuse, you cut it at an angle of about forty-five degrees, and place a safety matchhead on the powder in the middle of the fuse. You strike the matchbox against it and the hotter burst from the matchhead igniting causes the powder to start more easily to burn. With the lighter, the lighting is not so reliable.

The process was to break off the bit of gelignite required, on a blunt end of safety fuse push the detonator on and crimp it [Henry had a gap in his teeth that was ideal for that], with a wooden skewer, bore a hole into the gelignite to fit the detonator. Now, by regulation, you were supposed to tie string onto the plug, so that if it fails to go off, it can be extracted – bugger that, Henry had another method! Once the plug with detonator and safety fuse hanging out was in the hole, clay was dribbled in on top and tampered down using the broom stick. This way the rocks were prepared one by one.

Bert had a shot-firer’s ticket, which had expired, but his eyes shone like Fagin counting his riches, so Henry watched as he flicked his lighter into action and the fizz of the fuse started. Bert wouldn’t run to water if his arse was on fire! So it was just an amble to safety. Henry didn’t want to look less brave, so while every instinct was to run, he curbed it and ambled alongside him.

As the afternoon progressed, Bert’s enthusiasm didn’t falter and from time to time bits of rock landed close enough to make his cheeks rosy with excitement and all the time he was like a Cheshire cat!

The last rock sounded different to Henry and he realised it was one that the drill had gone right through! As they ambled making distance, he looked around and saw the rock, about as big as a football, sailing up, and its trajectory was squarely in their direction!

‘Look out!’ called Henry, walking backwards with an eye on the projectile!

Bert’s pace did not change, nor did he look! With a thump, the rock hit not more than three metres away from him and then it rolled to within a meter of him.

Only then did he turn, he place a foot on the rock, rolled his tobacco, filled his pipe, fired it up and puffed with satisfaction. He pushed the rock over with his foot, still bright-eyed and flushed, said drily to Henry:

‘Nup, me name wasn’t on it!’

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