THE ROCKET BOYS OF CALHOUN COUNTY - A Time For Believing

(11/24/2001)

By Bob Weaver

Lying flat and gazing at the stars in the pastures and meadows around the Joker Ridge was a summer pastime of the country boys around Hur, opening their universal wonderment and nagging at their devils of dubious excitement.

To fly faster than any bird or plane and crash though the misty clouds. Could we go beyond the distant galaxies and discover the very nature of God? William Everett Barnes believed we could, and I did too.

We must build a rocket.

So, four years before Russia shocked the world with its Sputnik in 1957, the rocket builders of Calhoun County began to plan and design.

Lacking financial backing, the early years were spent launching 13-foot army surplus balloons filled with natural gas with sundry items tied on a string, not the least being aluminum pie pans doused with oil and set on fire to tease the neighbors into believing in UFOs.

We also blew up a lot of things.

The real thing got under way after ordering items from Popular Science and Edmund Scientific, but first to use that which was available, 12-gage shotgun shells which were fashioned into miniature rockets, with a straight pin inserted into the gunpowder chamber and hooked to an electric train transformer for an igniter (You didn't read that here).

Studying books on rocket science, we built the aluminum shell of a lightweight rocket with a pointed nose, fins, decals and all. It stood three feet tall, impressive to say the least.

Joined by Lewis Lamar Ferrell, we began to produce a "radio" program about flying to the moon, enlisting the acting services of other Eight Graders and recording the production on the only tape recorder in Calhoun County High School, with sound effects and music, a pathetic version of "2001".

Then it was played over the school's new PA system with the announcement that we were going to launch a real rocket on the football field of CCHS.

The ranks of the rocket boys continually expanded.

It was the pressure of this commitment and the lack of money that halted the years of scientific endeavor, but not without fanfare.

The eventful day arrived and we didn't have an engine to launch the shiny, beautiful rocket.

Reverting to our earlier experimentation with shotgun technology, we inserted ten shotgun shells into the empty rocket chamber, inserted straight pins into their powder pockets and carefully wired them together.

Stretching about 75 feet of wire to the faithful train transformer, we were ready for the blast off before the entire student body of Calhoun County High School, dismissed to the football field to watch the grand event.

Over the cheers of students and a drum roll provided by Billy Dean Roberts, the countdown began on the PA system. Ten...nine...two...one...zero! Ka-boom!

The ship swiftly went into the sky, plum out of sight, bearing slightly toward Town Hill, never to found in our lifetime.

The kids cheered and the teachers praised and we felt proud on that glorious day in 1954.

We could have done the real thing, if only we had the money. It would only be a matter of time when we got it all together and flew to the stars, anyway.

It was a time for believing.

There was no consideration regarding the toppling of the shotgun shell rocket, or what kind of problems it could have caused.

POSTSCRIPT 2010:

In 1957 we constructed our version of the Russian Sputnik for the high school homecoming parade, emitting those strange beeping sounds as the device was pulled down Grantsville's Main Street.

William Everett Barnes went on to become a leading West Virginia surgeon, airplane pilot and sports car enthusiast, to die of cancer at an early age.

Lewis Lamar Ferrell obtained a Doctorate in Divinity, a devout Christian and clergyman, to die of cancer at an early age.

I engaged in radio broadcasting, reporting, and was a mortician, to later recover from alcoholism in 1979 and help start and administer treatment centers for alcoholics and the drug addicted, to return to my native spot, to become a county commissioner and start the Hur Herald.

I'm still alive.

If we had once lived in the same town Bill could have treated folks until they died, Buck could have preached their funeral and I could have buried them.

Another Calhoun rocket boy, Vearl Haynes died in 2009,with Ronzil Lynch, Jack Barnes and Hibbert Linville still around.

They were among my friends who dreamed of rockets and stars, excursions beyond the limbo of life, and visions of worlds far away, searching for the meaning of God.


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