Mattel also sold sheets of “stickem” caps to put on the end of the bullets to make a rather wimpy little “bang”. A stickem cap was a circle of green paper about a quarter of an inch in diameter with a little mound of gunpowder in the middle. A good concussion would make it “pop”.
A friend of mine named Glen and I took these Mattel “shootin’ shell” guns and turned them into apparatus that would be the envy of most teenage boys of the time. We discarded the contemptible gray plastic bullet heads, and with needlenose pliers yanked out the springs from the inside of the brass cartridges. Then we drilled a small hole in the back of the resultant empty casing and put a stickem cap on its smooth and inviting flat end with the mound of gunpowder placed carefully over the hole we’d drilled. Then we poured a suitable amount of gunpowder into the shell (acquired by patiently opening up fifty or so caps and depositing the few grains of gunpowder each provided into a growing pile), and then pushed a small wad of paper into the casing and rammed it tight with a construction nail that had a proper-sized flat head.
Put them headless bullets into your Mattel “shootin’ shell” gun and you just ached for some smart aleck to provide you with the leanest excuse for pulling out your iron and sending some flaming paper flying his way with a boom that could set dogs barking for several streets around. Lacking some unsuspecting kid toodling about the neighborhood waiting for us to shoot him, we staged gunfights while we stood on opposite sides of the road as cars approached. Once we got chased by some busybody driver who had an overdeveloped sense of community service or something.
We also took some gunpowder, painstakingly acquired by the method described above, and grew a pile on a piece of wax paper about three or four inches square, put a bolt or a marble over the pile, and then twisted the wax paper into a teardrop shape. These made highly satisfactory bombs for throwing. The intensity of the explosion was, of course, directly proportional to the amount of gunpowder used and the weight of the bolt or size of the marble employed.
I remember when Glen and I were out somewhere and saw a girl we both knew. Peacefully, casually, almost aimlessly, she was riding her bike. Our eyes bulged at the providential opportunity that had been afforded us. We hastily dug into our pockets as we both yelled her name: “Hey, Cindy!” Forty feet away, she stopped her bike and turned toward us, an innocent and unsuspecting smile spread across her countenance, as we hurled two or three bombs apiece. One or two seconds passed—that sweetly delicious but all-too-brief span of time in which you know that an unforgettable, thrilling moment is about to precipitate, while your oblivious and naïve victim hangs suspended in time, puzzling just what it is that she has done to earn the wide but somewhat lopsided grins on your faces—and then small clouds of gray smoke erupted from the ground on all sides of the girl, micro-seconds apart, accompanied by dearly satisfying eardrum-shattering detonations. Cindy’s eyes opened wide and popped out like hard-boiled eggs as if she’d been hit hard in the back. Panic-stricken, the unfortunate lass dropped her bike and fled.
It is a miracle that neither we nor our victims were crippled, defingered, disfigured, or blinded, or that none of us now has wattled epidermis, the lasting result of hundreds of inextricable microscopic shards of marble glass that had sprayed into our adolescent bodies. Considering the idiotic chances we took with these homemade explosives, I now consider my good health and complete anatomy as strong evidence that God loves me.
Once, however, as I was cramming a wad of paper into a “shootin’ shell” with a large nail, the explosive detonated. Glen and I, sitting at his dining room table, looked around for the nail until I found it firmly driven about half an inch into the end of my left index finger. Just as we saw it and started laughing, his mother’s voice wafted from the back of the house: “You boys be careful out there!”
“We will,” responded Glen with a smirk.
NOTE: The author of this blog disavows any responsibility if some idiot reads this material and then tries to duplicate or excel the lunacy herein described. Don’t try this at home or anywhere else. It’s stupid. I used to be crazy and foolhardy, but I’m smart now and usually know better. “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” (Deuteronomy 6:16, quoted by Jesus himself in Matthew 4:7).