Many of us subscribe to this philosophy but to paraphrase on old cliché, too much of a good thing can at times be detrimental to one's well-being. After just one sentence some are thinking this might be a story about ingredient measuring gone wrong. If so, you're correct that it's a story about how an excess of a certain ingredient may yield, shall we say, "unexpected" results but wrong in the assumption that it has anything to do with cooking! The first part of this story goes back to 1971 when I first went to work for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game as a Biological Aide. Two other Bio-Aides and a crew of ten Explorer Scouts were camped near the Chilly Buttes north of Mackey, Idaho, working on a sage grouse study. About halfway through dinner one night we heard a truck coming down the two-rut road to our camp. Terry Williams, the local conservation officer, was coming in to check on us. (Our boss and research biologist in charge of the project was attending his two-week summer drill for the National Guard.) Anyway...Terry introduced himself, asked how things were going, and was there anything we needed from town. In the course of conversation someone asked Terry what brought him out to the remote area where we were camped. He replied that he had a couple of beaver complaints in the area and came out to, "blow some beaver dams." At this comment all us young aspiring game wardens perked up our ears! You've never seen thirteen more envious souls in your life. Only in our wildest dreams could we imagine having a job where they gave you explosives and sent you out to blow things up!
Before going on, I'd best educate some folks that I know are already lost. In the western states there are two things guaranteed to make men fight: women, and water. This story is about water. Overnight a beaver can wreak havoc upon irrigation systems causing major heartburn for both farmers and ranchers but also for the game wardens whose job it is to undo the havoc. This havoc comes in the form of dams across streams and ditches that flood some areas and dry up others. In the arid west, water is indeed the lifeblood of agriculture and where 'beaver habitat' overlaps irrigation, conflicts frequently arise. Enter the game warden and his bag of tricks. Typically the first move is to live trap the offender(s) for relocation where upon the damage in the form of dams must be undone. Only after bending over and removing a beaver dam one stick at a time can a person really appreciate the engineering skills this critter is capable of demonstrating overnight? There are alternatives, of course, to doing the job one stick at a time. If the banks are solid enough to support a backhoe and one is handy, they can make short work of dismantling a beaver dam. On the other hand explosives accomplish this "habitat manipulation" almost instantly!
As a game-warden-wanna-be, I asked Terry what I thought to be a very pertinent question, "How do you determine how much dynamite it takes to blow up a beaver dam?" Even now, many years later, I remember his exact words. In an unhurried drawl he replied, "Well I look at it, figure out about what it will take, then I double that and add four sticks!" In anybody's book that translates to "A lot does a good job, more does it better!"
Fast-forward eight years. Now I'm a rookie game warden stationed in Challis, and Terry is my bordering officer on the south. By mid-winter 1978-79 I'd graduated from the police academy as required of all peace officers in the state. With only five conservation officers out of a class of thirty-six, you can already guess we spent little time on the unique aspects of wildlife law enforcement, including the use of explosives. In fact, in the one class where explosives were mentioned, our instructor told the class to, "always call the bomb squad," whenever explosives or the threat of them were encountered. I still think the instructor didn't realize the five of us in that class constituted a different kind of 'bomb squad'! (Any guesses about where this is headed now?) The sum total of my explosives training came one afternoon when I went out with another officer and observed him blow one small dam. This of course all transpired before 'liability' became such a buzzword in our society helped along by an over abundance of zealous attorneys. But, I'll leave lawyer jokes for other authors!
My "habitat manipulation kit" consisted of the following: a pair of crimping pliers, a box of #6 blasting caps, a roll of fuse, a roll of detonating cord, and a couple of cases of Kine-Pak. The folks in the "puzzle palace", aka the state office, deemed Kine-Pak, a two part explosive, safe enough to be used by us lowly game wardens. This stuff required pouring a tube of red liquid into a tube of white powder that resulted in a tube of pink paste. With the two components mixed, one merely had to crimp a blasting cap onto the fuse and tape it to the sticks of Kine-Pak and it was "show time"!
Several months elapsed between my one-hour explosives training session and my first call from a rancher saying he had a dam that needed to be blown. So, confident in my demolition abilities, I grabbed my hip boots and blasting kit, and headed out. The offending mud and stick structure built by this particular busy beaver was quite small. In just looking at it, I knew that if I "doubled, and then added four sticks," to what I thought would be enough, it would take out the whole damn canal. I'm happy to report all went well, though, and the rancher was suitably impressed. So impressed that when we got back to the ranch he asked me to follow him into the barn. As he reached up on a rather high shelf for a wooden box marked "Dynamite" he said, "You know a helluva lot more about this stuff than I do, so why don't you take this stuff my brother-in-law left here and use it up. I don't like having it around!" "Sure!" I said, being very confidant in my newly acquired demolition abilities! Looking back now, though, I really just knew a helluva lot of nothing when it came to explosives, but such is the invincibility of youth! So, ignorance being both bliss and stupidity, I took this partial case of 40% dynamite.
As the summer wore on, I used a stick or two in conjunction with Kine-Pak, and it seemed to work just fine. Towards the end of summer, a landowner called me and asked if I could blow some dams for him. It was a stretch of a creek that beavers had free run on for years and had built so many dams that a channel no longer existed for several hundred yards. Of course I was always ready to practice my "habitat manipulation skills" so I told him I'd be up the next day. That evening I met my buddy, Hank Ketchie, for a cold beer after work. I wanted to show Hank my brand new 4X Stetson uniform hat, and I also told him of my upcoming work plans for the next day. I said, "Yes," when Hank asked if he could go along and take pictures.
No pun intended, but we had a blast that day! Things went great right up 'til we came to the very last dam. By this time I'd used a fair amount of powder including a lot of the dynamite. This was a good-sized dam and as I looked at it, I decided the time had come to utilize the "Williams Formula"! By doing so I could use the last of the dynamite, which I knew was less stable than the stuff I was supposed to use. While Hank watched from the bank, I prepared and placed my charges. I cut a generous fuse to allow us plenty of time to clear the area. At this point, I should mention that I'm proudly wearing my first ever, uniform issue, Stetson hat. We backed off to what I thought was a safe distance. Events shortly proved that to be an erroneous assumption on my part. Things happened fast when the fuse got down to that #6 blasting cap. The best way to describe what happened next is this.
Think back to the old cartoon series featuring a not-so-wily coyote and a roadrunner. In the episode I'm remembering, the coyote receives a package from the 'Acme Explosives Company' and commences to set a trap for the speedy roadrunner. Of course the roadrunner detects the trap and puts on a burst of speed to avoid it. The old not-so-wily coyote finds himself too close to his own trap and gets plastered. Well...when the column erupted I knew in a nano-second we were too close. Hank was fine, though, because he had lain down behind a gravel pile to steady his camera. But just like the coyote, I was standing out in the open. I tried to whirl around and put my back to what was coming my way and I say "tried" because mud splattered my shirtfront even before I got turned around to get my back splattered, too. Just like in the cartoon, when I thought it was all over, a gob of mud the size of a tennis ball came out of the air and dead centered my 'brand new 4X Stetson'! When Hank saw my mud splattered hat jammed down over my ears, he busted out laughing! I can't remember anyone under any circumstances laughing longer or louder than Hank did. To this day, though, I'm glad the beaver that built that particular dam did stick and mud construction…rather than stick and stone!
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