By Charles Astbury
This story happened in the late 1940s. I’m some ten years old, born on a Bridgewater, side hill, one horse farm which could no longer support a family. My father worked on a nearby operating dairy farm and also worked our smaller farm to feed his six children. As the older child I had full run of all land within a mile or so of our farm. I led my next two younger brothers on many adventures. I learned early not to ask permission to go or do any thing, because if I did not ask I would not be told, not to do it Quite the brat as I heard years later. Our Hudson hill area had several interesting rock ledge formations, some with shear drops of ten to fifteen to the ground. We enjoyed climbing and exploring these “Cliffs,” as we called them. Alone one day I discovered a small cave in these cliffs about six feet deep, four feet wide and three foot high. Way to the back of the cave, partly covered with old leaves I noticed what appeared to be a old wooden box. On my knees I entered the cave and carefully pulled the box to the front of the cave. The wood box was unpainted but I could see faded red lettering on this about eighteen long by a foot wide and maybe seven inches high dusty old box. Some letters were mostly gone but I could see some Os, MS,and Ts and upon turning the box around, a few more faded letters. Using, what little spelling ability I had, it could spell dynamite! I could not pry the nailed top, off the box; But I was some excited with my find. Pushing the box way to the back of the cave, I quickly threw leaves and sticks over my find and decided to return someday with a nail hammer to get the top off that box.
Weeks later my parents and the younger children were going to Woodstock with neighbors. I was instructed to watch the two younger boys and stay near home. I instructed the boys to play in the yard and that I would have a surprise for them in a while. Fetching a nail hammer I made my way to the cave in the cliffs. I wasted little time opening that old box, inside I found just what I expected. Dynamite! I quickly counted eight red sticks of dynamite. Deciding to take only four sticks home with me I nailed the box top back on, carefully pushed the box to the back of the cave and added dried leaves and headed home. Back home two boys were not excited about the surprise I showed them, they thought the dynamite was not real; just toys, But from my excitement they soon knew it was for real. We found a old rusty damaged metal pan in the barn, just what was needed to set over a stick of dynamite. Asking the older brother to fetch matches from the kitchen, I carefully peeled loose a few inches of cardboard loose from one end of the stick of dynamite and placed the stick under the metal pan in the roadway. Telling the boys to get behind the large maple tree, I touched a match to the unraveled end of the dynamite. I quickly joined the boys behind the maple tree. Peeking out I could see smoke, I could hear hissing and more hissing, more smoke then nothing. Telling the boys to wait because maybe would yet explode ……… nope. Finding a long stick I carefully lifted the pan. Nothing but some white ashes and a few dead ants. Well, we tried two more sticks with the same results; The boys were laughing and yelling at me to take the toys back and get the real thing; But they stayed out of my reach. Okay, one stick of dynamite left, I decided to unwrap more of the outside covering and not cover the stick of dynamite without the pan. Unwrapping about six inches of the covering, we placed the last stick in the middle of the road, near the big red bam; with the old pan tossed toward the barn I again asked the boys to move out of the danger zone. They again taunted me about real toys. Lighting the match I touched the torn end of the dynamite and slowly moved off. I heard the hiss and then a different sound, I turned around just in time to see the dynamite take off and quickly fly the short distance to the wide open big barn doors and land in the dry hay scattered about the barn floor. Quickly all three of us ran in and successfully stomped out the spreading flames. We were very lucky! We carefully gathered up all the scorched hay and removed it a good distance from the barn. I then threatened my brothers as to what might happen if they told anyone about the dynamite or the fire in the barn. As far as I know they never told. Much later I learned that to explode dynamite it required a tiny exploding cap, much like a gun shell has.