Thursday, May 13, 2021

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Collections & Hobbies



Not done making noise

Chris McAninch made his first trip to the Missouri border to buy fireworks when he was 13. Photos by Jeff Pitts.

Chris McAninch made his first trip to the Missouri border to buy fireworks when he was 13.
Photos by Jeff Pitts.

Interesting conversation with Chris McAninch is easy. He makes his own whiskey, used to sell guns, and he patented the Handi-Racker — a product that helps manipulate the slide on a semi-automatic pistol, thus making it easier to fire.

But when McAninch wants to really liven things up, he blows off steam by making his own fireworks and detonating them.

Under current Iowa law, it’s illegal to shoot fireworks under most circumstances, but McAninch says he is allowed to do so because he has a federal explosives license (FEL) and a permit for his property.

He also has the benefit of years accumulating knowledge. McAninch says he made his first run for the Iowa- Missouri border when he was only 13 years old, and it was love at first kaboom.

Prep Iowa

“It’s a real interesting hobby,” he says. “It’s not for everybody, and it’s kind of an expensive hobby, and a dangerous hobby, but so is motorcycle racing, right?”

He has undertaken extensive training to gain knowledge and expertise.

As part of that training, he once took a class on how to blow up a car — Hollywood style.

“And we actually did that,” he says. “It’s a little sleight of hand.”

He says the secret is to load firework guns with sand and mount them in a car. Then the car’s door hinges and latches need to be removed before setting the door gently back into place. When the crew simultaneously detonates the explosives loaded with sand along with a large fireball, the sand easily blows the door off, and the sand quickly falls out of view and is hidden by the flash from the fireball.

McAninch frequently volunteers to assist professional pyrotechnics. He says this has helped him learn how to use the high-tech electronic firing system that is used to detonate most big-time fireworks displays. The explosives are set off electronically with a handheld device. The bigger shows require hours of preparation, running wires and programming the controls.

“For every minute of show, it’s about an hour of work onsite,” he says. “And it’s probably five hours of work on the computer. And there are wires running everywhere.”

He says the hottest trend in the industry is to choreograph music to the visuals in the sky.

DSC_0143“I choreograph mine to a narrative and then also to some patriotic songs,” he says.

He then sits back at a safe distance with his remote control and enjoys the show with friends as his homemade gunpowder catches fire and blasts whatever it is hooked to into the atmosphere.

“When I start my script, the music starts and everything falls right in place,” he says.

According to McAninch, making fireworks takes time, chemicals, patience and guts. It also takes a lot of black powder, which he can make himself. Sometimes he uses the homemade variety, and other times he uses a store-bought brand. The factory powder makes projectiles go higher, but the homemade stuff is less expensive. He says black powder is made from sulfur, potassium nitrate and charcoal.

“We’re not done making noise yet,” he says as he smiles.

McAninch can make almost any conversation interesting. ♦


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