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John Conaway's

“An Advanced Study into the Ignition Properties of Gasoline”

I guess we should file this adventure under the heading of “I wonder why we had any friends at all”.

In the fall of 1957, there was a very popular TV program called Zorro. Two of our friends, Gordy (Gordon Bennett) and his fraternal twin Nancy, were avid fans of the program, and made sure that they didn’t miss a weekly episode. The demented minds group, Daryl, Jack and I, couldn’t pass up this opportunity to show our friends how much we appreciated them.

The program’s theme song was a catchy little ditty that sounded great if one was to sing it into a tape recorder and then play it back at a higher speed, almost like the Alvin and the Chipmunks songs. The demented minds group would telephone Gordy every week, just as Zorro came on and play our version of the song for him, without announcing who we were. It didn’t take long for Gordy and Nancy to catch on to our game, so that they stopped coming to the phone when we called.

It was time to escalate the torment. The demented minds worked on a solution and finally came up with a plan that was a show-stopper.

We planned to build a pole with a large Z attached to the top. The Z would be wrapped with cloth, soaked with gasoline, and then stuck into Gordy and Nancy’s front yard. The Z would be ignited by a fuse and then we could hide across the street and watch the blazing glory as Gordy and Nancy came rushing out of their house to admire this wonderful sight. We also hung a sign on their front door that read “ZORRO WAS HERE”.

We learned a great deal about the ignition properties of gasoline that night. We were two OUHS seniors and a Chico State freshman, so one would think we would have some intelligence, but one would be wrong! We drove up to the Bennett’s house, parked down the street out of sight, and snuck up to G and N’s front yard with our Z and a can of gasoline. We were giddy with excitement and could hardly contain ourselves as we stuck the Z pole into the yard and applied gas to the rags. We made a fuse by pouring a trail of gasoline out to the sidewalk where we were planning to watch the scene unfold. It was dark and it was almost time for the TV program to start.

We struck a match and our physics lesson started. We didn’t get a nice trail of fire up to the Z pole, as seen on TV, but an instantaneous ignition of the trail, pole and Z. Along with this display of fire we lost most of our eye brows and hair on the exposed parts of our arms. The fiery spectacle was inspiring. The sky lit up and the Z was spectacular. I was glad that we had placed the Z pole far enough away from the front of the house that it didn’t catch the house on fire, but it was close. The conflagration scared the crap out of us and we ran to a hiding place across the street to watch Gordy and Nancy’s obvious admiration of this display of affection from their unknown admirer. The first person out the door was Gordy’s father, minus his pants, who knocked the Z pole down on the grass and started stomping the fire out. Gordy, Nancy and their mother gathered around the smoking pile of sticks, marveling at the bonfire.

We hid in the bushes until the excitement was over. No one called the fire department or police nor did any of Gordy and Nancy’s neighbors come out to see what the excitement was all about. As soon as everyone went back inside, we snuck off and drove home.

I can image what the modern response would be to this obvious act of terrorism. We would be just getting out of jail. On our way to school the next day we detoured by G and N’s house and saw their lawn with a Z burnt into the grass. I thought we got away without being found out until the school bell rang the next day. I was still chucking to myself when I got to my desk and saw a brown paper bag filled with horse droppings and a sign that read, “Zorro’s horse was here too”.

Once again, “I wonder why we had any friends at all”.