Tuesday afternoon, Jenn got out of work at noon and I picked her up there and we headed straight for Walla Walla. It’s about a five hour drive and we got there early that evening, just in time to check into the hotel and head over to the site to take a look around. We measured out where we would need to place the fireworks so there wouldn’t be any fallout raining down on spectators and such. That was interesting because the site, on the grounds of the Walla Walla VA, had some interesting features. For example, we were right next to an elementary school that was built entirely underground (it was sort of a mound of earth, like a bunker).
After measuring things out, we headed out for some dinner. Tuesday was the easiest day.
Wednesday morning we got to the site around 9:00a to start setting up. Greg was there much earlier to take the delivery of the fireworks. Once the whole crew was there (seven of us), we got things moving.
Setting up for a fireworks show is a lot of hard work. We had all sorts of things to shoot - shells ranging from 2.5” to 4”, multi-shot boxes with 1.5” and 2” shells, some candles (like the Roman candles you can get at stands, only way bigger) - and you have to secure all of the apparatus you’re firing them from so it doesn’t tip over and shoot, say, into the audience (or at you). All of this apparatus gets unloaded off the truck, laid out, set up, and loaded.
Take, for example, a 4” mortar rack. It’s a set of 10 lengths of 4” diameter PVC pipe. Each pipe length is about, oh, 30” long or so. Lay those pipes out side by side and secure them in a wood rack made of two-by-fours. Space them out with two-by-fours as well. The whole contraption weighs probably around 35 pounds, give or take. (I’m poor with estimation, so the lengths and weights are rough, but you get the idea.)
Anyway, we had about 20 4” racks, 50 3” racks, and 5 2.5” racks to unload off a moving truck, position, and stake down (you hold them in position with wood stakes you hammer into the ground and then use baling wire to keep the rack-and-stake combo together and unmoving).
We also had like 20 or 30 multi-shot boxes. A multi-shot box is like a big cardboard box that has a bunch of pre-loaded mortars in them. A 2” multi-shot box is like a 30” cube that has 144 2” tubes in it in a 12 x 12 configuration. (The number, size, and configuration of the boxes vary, but you get the idea - it’s a bunch of tubes that are jammed together and loaded with shells in a cardboard box.) You basically just cut the top off the box and you’re set to go. All of the multi-shot boxes have to be unloaded, opened, and positioned inside a wood trough (so if they break open during the show, it’s all contained).
Once it was all unloaded from the truck and set up, we loaded the shells into the mortar racks.
It was about this time that the 100°F heat out in the middle of this field really started to get to me. I had a headache that was creeping up on me, but by this time (probably around 5:00p or so), I was dying. The shade wasn’t cool, the headache was pounding from my chest up, and every time I leaned over to drop a shell into a mortar tube, I felt like I was going to puke. I ended up having to go sit in the car with the A/C on for quite some time, and Jenn busted out a prescription migraine pill she had to help me with the headache. Meantime, everyone else was wiring things up so the show could be shot electronically.
When you shoot a show, there are basically three ways to do it. Hand-lit is where you actually manually go down the line of mortars and light them with a road flare. That’s the sort of show we usually do. Electronically-lit is where you wire all of the fireworks to blasting caps (basically) and each cap gets wired to a master panel where you can hit a button to send current down the wire, blow the cap, and the firework goes up. That’s what this show was. Computer-controlled is an electronically-lit show where, rather than a person hitting the buttons to set off the blasting caps, a computer does it, usually synchronized to music or something. The really big shows are computer-controlled.
So while I was laid out with a headache, the rest of the folks were wiring up blasting caps. Jenn did some of that, then we both went to Taco Bell to pick up dinner for the crew. Driving around with the A/C on was really good for me, and that with the migraine pill really got me back in the action. I still feel bad for crapping out on the crew, but there wasn’t much I could do. I have a desk job for a reason, right?
Around 10:00p, we started the show, cued by the local band playing a specific song. Greg pushed buttons, I sat next to him with a road flare at the ready in case any shells didn’t go up, and a couple of the other guys on the crew waited at the ready with fire extinguishers. The rest of the crew, including Jenn, sat on top of the underground elementary school and enjoyed the show. The pictures we got are ones Jenn took from up there.
The show lasted about 25 minutes and was definitely the biggest and best one we’ve done. High-fives all around after it finished, and after a 15 minute cool-down period and a safety inspection, it was time to start cleaning up.
We didn’t get very far cleaning up before the sprinklers in the field kicked on (thanks, Walla Walla, for turning those off in anticipation that we might not be able to get everything picked up in 20 minutes) so we had to abandon the cleanup effort for the next day.
Thursday morning at 8:30 we were all back at the field, cleaning things up. Pulling stakes out of the ground, raking up debris, stacking racks back on the truck. It was 102°F out there according to one of the clocks on a bank we saw. Let me tell you - the cleanup never ended. We just kept raking and picking up garbage. Finally a bit after 1:00p we finished and headed out to get some lunch and start the five-hour-drive home.
Today I am exhausted, sunburned, and ridiculously sore from throwing mortar racks around. I’m sure the exercise was good for me, but I’m not so sure the heat was. I’m glad I took the day off from work; I’d be so unproductive.
I think if we end up doing this show again, we need a bigger crew. Seven people is about right for the smaller show we’re used to, but we need more folks, particularly for the cleanup effort. Maybe twelve or so would be a better number. That and some leaf blowers or something to move the debris around a little more efficiently than garden rakes. I thought a riding lawnmower with a catcher on it would be ideal.
Check out the pictures. It’s good stuff.