The Boy Who Made Fire From Sticks

Posted: March 15, 2012 in Stories
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

It’s 1983.  I’m in 6th grade, I think. Blame it on “Wonder Woman” the TV show.  Out of boredom I watched an episode (not a Wonder Woman fan, just not my thing).  In the episode one of her sidekicks had gotten himself  locked in some secure room, and he needed to escape to warn her about some impending doom. But that locked solid steel door was just too strong.  Then he gets a bright idea.  He dismantles a lamp for the power cord, takes two pencils and removes the wood from around both ends, wraps the exposed wires onto the exposed carbon in the pencil ends. He plugs it in and touches the tips together and tada! A McGyvered carbon arc torch.  He cuts his way out with this nifty little tool and warns Wonder Woman, and yada yada yada.

Intrigued and rather reckless and geeky, I decided to give it a try.  I’ll be damned, it works! Problem is though, is the heat. Prolonged use starts to burn the wood that makes the pencils.  Too hot to hold after just a second or two. OK, so it would never get you out of a locked room like I saw in the show, but damn, it IS spectacular.  I thoroughly wrap it in insulation, and show my mom.  She’s impressed. Next day, she says, show this to your class at school. I left my torch for later and went on to studying BASIC.  Yes, I was programming in 6th grade.

Anyhow, next day I ask my teacher if I can show the class something cool.  She knows my mom, and I’m her best student, so  she agrees.

The scene: rural south Texas school, 6 miles from the Mexican border.  My mom had moved us from central Michigan to teach here, and I attended the same school for convenience.

I get up in front of the 30 or so kids – most of them superstitious children of migrant farm workers.

I plug in.  Getting prepped  to show off.  Little did I know what would happen next.

I touch the pencil tips together – SNAP CRACKLE CRACKLE – the carbon arc effect is again spectacular.

I hadn’t counted on two things.  First, we were in a mobile/temp classroom with less than great wiring.  Second, I had never used the torch for more than a couple of seconds.  This time I was showing off and kept it up for a bit longer….

Right in the middle of my show, the breakers blow out and the class is plunged into darkness, and a second later the pencils burst into flames from the heat.  I’m holding two flaming pencils in front of me like I’m some sort of wizard.  The class gasps.  I blow the flames out, the teacher clears the classroom and the rumor mill starts.

This is how I became The Boy Who Made Fire From Sticks.



This is one of those “don’t try this at  home” kind of things.  I know, I did, and I’m still here, but really, its a great way to start a fire, and if you aren’t careful, you could get a nasty shock. If you DO try this at home and burn your house down, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

  1. jfeden4 says:

    Again, a great story! My students in the county jail actually use a similar technique to light cigarettes and other things… or so they say. Haven’t witnessed it. I’m no longer allowed to give them long pencils for doing their work…

    By the way, I added your blog to my menu. If that’s not okay, let me know and I’ll remove it.

    Continue to enjoy your posts… you’re much more prolific than I am!

  2. titch says:

    Several things wrong with this story. First that wonder woman episode was first televised in 1978 not 1983. Second the guy doesn’t escape using the torch. He has only just started on the lock when wonder woman opens the door. Its also very unlikely that such a device would create enough heat to burn wood prior to the circuit breakers kicking in

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