By last week’s sale, we’d cleared away all that detritus, ranked what was left, and could spot the stuff that we didn’t use or need, but might have value to others. One such item was a potato cannon, or “spud gun.”
Wolfgang Merk, a man of endless skills, had crafted it to match one he already had made for himself. He’d taken a four-foot length of four-inch plastic pipe, screwed it into a standard PVC clean-out box, and screwed a sparkproducing igniter into the box as well.
Loading and firing is simple. You ramrod a spud down the long tube, then unscrew and remove the clean-out box cover.
You squirt a small puff of hair spray or ether into the box, quickly replace the lid, put the cannon upward, and click the igniter. There’s an immediate, gratifying THWOOP! and the potato soars upward, perhaps two hundred feet — unless you’ve sprayed in too much vapor. Then nothing happens. Or unless you’ve added not enough. In that case the gun emits a gassy sigh and the potato rises perhaps a foot and then flops to the ground. For some reason, women invited to watch the firing find this failure hilarious and laugh themselves to tears. I’m left crestfallen, hoping I don’t get what they’re laughing about. At one point, Wolf Merk, John Phillips, and I all had potato cannons and gave thought to forming a precision drill unit for the Springfield Parade. But by temperament, each of us marches to his own drummer; we could never have kept in step, much less fired a synchronized volley. And so we all used the spud gun only occasionally to entertain visiting kids.
They love it, of course. With Rich McCaffery, Donna and Doug Greene spent the whole of yard sale day with us. Donna and Doug had even brought some furniture and clothes from their home to expand the sale.