The Death of a Car

I guess jalopies are something of a family tradition around our house. I’m not sure why – maybe it has something to do with that old proverb about how carpenters’ roofs always leak and doctors’ wives die young: my dad is a mechanic, so maybe for us to drive reliable cars would be a waste of his talents. Well, his talents certainly aren’t wasted on our cars. I am not exaggerating when I say that we have owned cars that dad wouldn’t let mom drive, simply because he didn’t want her stranded somewhere when it broke down. Yes, folks, that’s a “when,” not an “if,” it broke down. We’re known for carrying not just jumper cables, but entire toolboxes around in the back of our vehicles.

This being said, I must admit that Luke has taken driving jalopies to a whole new level. A new low level, that is. About a dozen of the cars in our yard are Luke’s. The average value of these vehicles fluctuates greatly, depending on how full the fuel tanks are. Have you ever heard of disposable cars? ‘Cause that’s what he drives. Use it once or twice, then throw it away.

And now we get to the main point of this story. Allow me to define what I mean by the phrase “throw it away.”

The wheel fell off of his ’99 Chevy Metro. Luke was somewhat attached to this car, seeing as it had lasted him over a month, and he wanted to dispose of it in a way that would signify the deep respect and gratitude he felt toward this particular vehicle.

It was nearing the time of year for our annual Labor Day picnic. It is our tradition to have a shooting session at Ben’s range at the picnic. The boys had been keeping their eyes peeled for any free pianos to shoot at, but as of yet hadn’t found any.

“Why don’t we shoot Luke’s car?” one of the boys suggested.

According to my brothers, shooting at a vehicle is something everyone dreams of doing. I pointed out that I had never dreamed of shooting at a vehicle. Apparently shooting at a vehicle is something every guy dreams of doing.

At first the idea was to just put the car out on the range and have people shoot at it. But the more the boys thought about it, the more they realized that simply shooting at a car wasn’t spectacular enough. Sure, it’d be neat, but besides some broken glass and bullet holes, what kind of results would they get? It would still be a car. They needed something that would transform this ordinary car into something akin to a pile of rubble.

The answer was found at the local gun shop, in the form of exploding targets. Shoot the target, and it explodes! Perfect! These targets came in two sizes: 1 pound and 4 pound. The boys cleaned the gun store out of all the targets in stock, and Labor Day morning the car was dragged to the range and rigged with the targets.

Usually by mid afternoon all the people who aren’t into blowing things up have left already, and nearly everyone else heads over to do some shooting. That day there were around 30 or so people who came over to the range. It was decided to go from youngest to oldest, so the first half dozen or so shooters were younger children, who just shot at the other targets (water jugs) set up on the range. Once the adults started shooting, though, the car didn’t last long.

The windows were first to go. Then Luke hit one of the smaller exploding targets in the door. It made a very satisfying bang and blew the door panel right off the frame. Many people were impressed, but the boys were waiting to see what the big targets would do – there were two of them planted in the car: one in the front, one in the trunk.

The front one was first to go. The explosion was so huge it shook the ground. The smoke cloud was about as high as the trees, and when it cleared, the front of the car didn’t look like the front of a car anymore. The hood was shredded into a crumpled mass, and the bumper was in pieces several feet in front of the car.

Yee-Haw! Now that’s more like it! An explosion big enough to rival something you’d see in a movie. Now you’re talking!

The few men who hadn’t come over when the shooting began came over now. An explosion that shakes the ground you’re standing on isn’t something you want to miss twice.

Now the goal was very clear: Hit that second big target in the trunk.

This was easier said than done. One after another, every shooter aimed at the area the boys pointed out, and still nothing.

You would think, with all the experience the boys have had with cars, one of them would have realized that the engine block had absorbed much of the front explosion, and with nothing to absorb the explosion in the trunk, maybe it wasn’t such a good idea…

Nope, never even crossed their minds.

One after another, everyone continued aiming at the trunk. Finally, after about 15 minutes of this, one of the guests hit it.

KA-BOOM! Same awesome, ground shaking explosion. Same tree-high smoke cloud. But this time, the experience was enhanced by pieces of the car flying at us… and over us… and landing on the ground behind and around and in front of us. And in the pasture to our side, and in the trees in the pasture to our side. And in the trees behind the car.

The earth stopped shaking, and the noise of the explosion stopped echoing, and dead silence reigned as the smoke cleared. And for several seconds after the smoke had cleared still dead silence, as everyone stood staring at the remains of what had been a car only a few moments ago.

Then someone started giggling. Someone else joined them – and in a second everyone was roaring, talking and pointing at once.

“That was AWESOME! Did you see that big piece that went flying over our heads?!”

“Look at that! It doesn’t even look like a car anymore!! Where did you guys get your hands on those exploding targets? I need to get me some of them!”

“Look at all the shrapnel out there in the pasture! There’s pieces of car everywhere!”

“What is that, up in that tree? Is that the trunk?!?”

Yes, it was the trunk. About 35 feet above the car, caught in the branches of a tree.

That explosion was the highlight of the day for everyone there. The highlight of the year for a few of my brothers. I guarantee it’s a memory no one who was there will ever forget, and we continued to hear about it for a long time after. A neighbor who lives about a half mile from us works at the bank, and the next time one of the boys went to the bank, he was greeted with:

“OK, which one of you has the cannon?! It shakes my windows every time you guys fire it…”

The boys are already trying to figure out how they’re going to “top this” next year.

That worries me.

If you live within a 50 mile radius of us, it should probably worry you, too.

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