I used to have hobbies. When I was a kid, I would focus on one hobby each summer. One summer, I was a biologist. I had one of those Tasco microscopes that many of us got for Christmas. With this inexpensive microscope, I was able to discover a miniature world, hidden from the human eye. We lived next to a swamp and just one teaspoon of swamp water resulted in a myriad of wild creatures. I bought some petri dishes and had quite a collection of swamp goo in my room. I would draw what I was seeing through my microscope. I bought some slides that had a small concave area that would hold liquid and this is where taking a medicine dropper, I would place a drop of swamp water so that I could view it through the microscope. There were all kinds of creatures swimming around; many of them had lots of legs and flagellum. Wow, I haven’t used that word since 9th grade.
Another summer, I took my Chemistry set and decided to be a mad scientist, creating god awful smells. It seemed that all of my experiments had a good amount of sulfur in them and sulfur melting in a spoon over a bunsen burner is the most awful smell there is.
It seemed that I was always running out of denatured alcohol which is what fueled my bunsen burner. If my chemistry experiment didn’t smell, explode or make some kind of foam that spilled down the side of a beaker, I wasn’t happy. There were all kinds of experiments that just changed the liquid from a clear to a blue. It was supposed to teach you something about the chemical you just added, but to me that was boring. I wanted to be Fred Macmurray and invent flubber. For some strange reason, the chemistry set included all the sulfur you needed, but they seemed to always be missing the saltpeter and charcoal. Hmmmm, I wonder why. I think that the chemicals permanently ruined the finish on my maple desk I had been given.
Many of my summers, I built model rockets. I loved to build rockets, but soon got bored with the small models. Back in the late 60’s, the largest engine they made was a D engine. The small rockets used an A engine. As you have already figured out, A is the smallest and D was the largest. After building all of the rockets that looked interesting, I decided to build my own. I found an old cardboard tube that held mylar sheets in it. It was about 48″ long and 2″ in diameter. This was just wide enough to fit an old frozen orange juice container inside the bottom where I took 3 D engines, glued them together and slid them up into the bottom of my rocket. Igniting 3 engines at one time was tricky. It took more than one attempt to get it to work. My grandfather from Alaska was visiting. He got a chance to go to the field where I was going to launch it and watch. The launch rig that they sold couldn’t hold my large rocket, so I made one out of a 6×6 and a nice straight rake handle. It was satisfying, seeing my own rocket creating head up into the sky. I was finally pushing past what they sold in the stores to satisfy these kids obsessed with space travel.
The next summer, I intended to build a 12′ tall rocket made from a carpet tube. It was going to have a second stage made from a smaller tube. This would require making my own rocket motors. To do this, I talked my dad into buying me a 50 lb bag of ammonium nitrate fertilizer which was going to be the oxidizer for my rocket fuel. I dried it out in the oven on a cookie sheet. It’s a wonder that our house didn’t explode. I talked to a chemist at our church prior to drying it out and asked him why the ammonium nitrate was so wet when I ground it. He said I needed to dry it, so hey, an oven seemed like a good idea at the time. I wish I could say that I was able to create my own engine, but I did not posses the skills to weld or fabricate the nozzle that was required to compress the flame into a concentrated blast. I quickly found out that making a nozzle from copper and solder quickly melted when faced with the intense heat that the engine produced. Oh well, it was fun getting to the point I got to.
One summer, I bought a 3 wheeled go-kart frame from a kid at school for $25. I was determined to build a screaming machine out of it. My dad had an old self propelled lawn mower engine from a reel mower which meant that it had a horizontal output on it. I figured out how to mount it on my go kart frame. I bought the 4th wheel for the kart, which wasn’t exactly the right size and made the go-kart kind of teeter like a 4 legged stool where one of the legs was too short. Eventually I got it going. Once I got it going, there was a line of neighborhood kids wanting to ride it. I told them to go build their own, but my parents made me give them all turns. The go kart wasn’t fast enough for me so I found out how to rig the governor so that it went faster, that is until the motor blew up due to exceeding the maximum revolutions per minute than it was designed for. That didn’t stop me though. I went on the search for a new motor, one that was faster. I had another friend that raced go-karts, and his engines were super fast. I bugged him enough so that he sold me an old used one for $20. It was a 2 cycle engine which meant that it was as loud as a chain saw. This one was difficult to mount onto the go-kart frame, but I somehow finally managed to make it work. The chain kept popping off, but in between the chain popping off, this engine would scream I think it got up to 45 mph, which was fast for a 3 legged go-kart! Eventually the go-kart made way for my first car, a 1967 VW Beetle, not much more than a go-kart. When I had kids of my own, I did buy another go-kart frame that was 70% finished. This time, I bought a book on how to properly build the go-kart. By now I had a repair shop with the proper tools. We had 3 acres and the kids used that go-kart for years until it eventually rusted and was sent to the scrapyard.
When I was in my 20’s, there was a hobby shop in Portsmouth. They sold all kinds of things, but what sparked my attention were the radio controlled airplanes that were hanging from the ceiling. Years ago, I had a small control line airplane. I wasn’t quite sure how to fly it, running in circles, but it was fun, but these in the hobby store didn’t have a wire or line holding it to a handle that you went in circles flying, these used a transmitter and receiver to fly. I had to have one. I talked to the manager of the store and asked which plane was a good beginner to start with. He pointed me to the Falcon 56.
It took me forever to build it. Between work and other interests, the RC plane took a back seat, but finally when I was in my 30’s, I finished it. I went to a RC club and watched them fly. They told me that I needed to be trained to fly it. They said that someone else would get it up in the air and I would slowly take over the controls. I brought my plane to the field the next week only to find out that there were some tips on building the plane that I was not aware of and I really needed to add these features to fly it. I took the plane home rather dejected, but altered the plane so that I could fly it. Instead of return to their field, I decided that I could fly it in my backyard which was a pretty good size. How hard could it be? I started up the engine, walked back to a safe distance and revved up the engine until it started to roll forward. As soon as it got enough speed, it took off. Never learning how to fly it, I jerked the control to the left. The plane took a quick dip to the left and hit the ground. The wing broke and the propeller dug fast into the dirt shutting off the engine. Immediately I told myself, “You are an idiot. How in the heck do you think you could have flown this without any experience.” I picked up the broken pieces of my plane and took them back to the garage, to my workbench. Slowly over several months I repaired the wing and vowed to not repeat this exercise.
When I was in my 30’s, I read somewhere that these guys were building their own rocket engines. There was a how to book that showed you how to build a solid propellant rocket engine. It required buying a lathe to make the forming materials for the nozzle and a rock tumbler that would be used to mix the propellant along with non sparking brass plugs the size of a good Tootsie Roll section. I also had to buy a triple beam balance to measure the chemicals. There were quite a lot of steps in making solid rocket motors, but I methodically made all of the tools necessary. I even built a small rocket motor test stand so that I could test all the different mixtures, varying how much of one chemical to put in to achieve the best thrust. Eventually, I built size G rocket engines, about the size of a flare. These were much larger than the D size engine that I bought from the hobby shop. To see how high they would go, I would attach them to a long wooden dowel, just like a bottle rocket and launch them out of a 4″ PVC pipe that was 8′ long to guide them. I didn’t want to blow up a rocket that I had spent tons of time building so I tested it this way. What I learned out the hard way was that you can’t rush the drying process of a rocket engine. I had some of my kids friends show up one evening and I got to talking about the engines I was building, but had none to show them. I figured, hey I’ll just whip up an engine from some of the propellant that I had in the garage. I packed the engine, put it on a dowel and inserted it into the 8′ long PVC pipe. I was standing about 25′ away and pushed the ignition button. Instead of the rocket engine shooting out of the top of the PVC tube, it detonated in the tube sending shards of very sharp PVC chunks all over the yard, over the house and somehow missing me entirely. There must have been an angel somewhere protecting me, because none of the shrapnel hit me. My neighbor about a half mile away said it shook his house. My kids were standing on the porch with their mouths open, not sure what to think. The next day, I walked around picking up the chunks of white PVC. Somehow a good number of them had gone over the house and ended up in the front yard. I realized that this was not a toy. These were explosives that had to be handled with care.
Fast forward about 10 years. One day, I packed up all of my toys, my RC plane, rocket making tools, triple beam balance and rock tumbler. I took them to a friend that was into the same type of hobbies and said, “Here you go. I want you to have all of my stuff because I know that you will find good use for it.” He looked at me with a quizzical look and simply said, “Well, uh ok.” I got back into my car and left without another thought of what for so long, had been a big part of my life. I’m not quite sure why I did this. It was if the whimsical part of my life had just fizzled out. Maybe I said to myself, “It’s time to grow up. Quit playing with toys.” I never really thought of it much, but my business had gone from working with my hands to managing other people and typing on a keyboard like I am doing now. Instead of standing back and looking at a project with pride, I was looking at a profit and loss statement and trying to figure out how to grow my net profit. This is pretty much the progression of most business owners.
I had “grown up”, …but at what cost? The childlike wonder and enjoyment of spending time working with my hands building something that others would consider a hobby had been replaced with spreadsheets, meetings and managing employees. I find that I also had become much more cautious. I now tend to over analyze every decision, not wanting to make any errors at all, even if it would bring enjoyment or fun. Instead of becoming more confident and wanting to push the envelope to discover new worlds and ways to do things, I signed up for doing life the way that Harvard Business School said to do life, starched, tried and true. Don’t get me wrong, I have a successful business, even in the wake of extreme competition on the web, but I haven’t been exploring any new lands or opportunities either.
Why do we trade that childlike imagination and curiosity for what I call shampoo living; shampoo, rinse and repeat. I haven’t figured it out, I mean why I gave away my hobby things. I really can’t put my finger on it at all. My wife bought me a drone. I had been eyeing them for a while, so she bought me one last year. I haven’t used it much. I gave the excuse that we have too many trees around our house and I don’t want to get it stuck in the tree like Charlie Brown’s kite eating tree. It’s still sitting in a drawer. There are all kinds of really
cool things that you can do with a drone, but it still just sits in the drawer. Just a few decades ago, I didn’t care about trees, but now I’m so cautious that I have refused to let myself have fun. My other excuse is, “It’s too windy.” Well, that never kept me from launching any of my rockets when I was a kid. Wind or no wind, I launched them. I simply adjusted the initial launch angle to compensate for the wind, and most of the time it worked, that is until the parachute opened and it floated into that rocket eating tree anyway. There is a phrase that has been used for
young people called ‘Failure to launch’, but what if you own a drone and don’t fly it. Would that be called ‘Failure to fly a drone’?
When I would here a guy’s wife saying “He like’s his toys, he is always buying some new gadget.” I always felt kind of proud because I didn’t buy any toys. I didn’t play video games. I didn’t buy golf clubs. Should I be proud? Not buying ANY toys is rather extreme. Buying too many toys is irresponsible. Guess what, I’m not irresponsible. A happy medium would be nice. I have tried to be a little more whimsical in the past month or two. We need more whimsy. When we are young, our parents want us to grow up, but when we grow up, nobody says to become more childlike. We just heap more responsibility upon ourselves and drown out that childlike wonder and imagination.
I think that the reason that I gave up my toys is because I gave up on my imagination. Between trying to take care of everyone else, I stopped taking care of myself. Somehow I thought that by continuing my hobbies, I was being selfish. Imagination and ideas is the core of who I am, but I have seen this parts of me slowly dying. That scares me. To see the part of me that God created dying, is really sad. I refuse to let this happen. How will I change this? Well, I’m going to Disneyworld next week, that’s a start. I will also sit down and write out fictional story about what I have always wanted to do, writing it as if it was already in existence. This will cause me to use all of my imagination as I live in a state of uber reality. This will cause me to leave all of my limitations and excuses behind as I revel in the land of whimsy.
The next post might be of me climbing a tree while wearing a super hero outfit!