Really loved the book Rocket Boys, by Homer Hickam Jr. I wanted to save a few excerpts here before I return the book to the library.
page 71 Rocket Boys
"What do you think?" I asked. Quentin shrugged. Neither of us knew how rocket fuel was supposed to burn.
We decided to test two of our best mixtures inside devices we hoped resembled rockets. There was some one-inch-wide aluminum tubing under the back porch that Dad had brought home from the mine to make a stand for Mom's bird feeders. I appropriated it with a clear conscience since it looked as if were never going to get around to it. I hacksawed off two one-foot lengths. Quentin called the lengths our "casements." We hammered in a short length of broom handle at one open end and then poured in our powder mixes, crimping the other end with pliers to form a constriction the <i>Life</i> magazine diagram called the rocket "nozzle." The result was obviously crude, but it was for testing purposes only. We attached triangular cardboard fins with model-airplane glue. We knew our fins would probably burn off, but they would at least give our rockets something to sit on. "We need to see how the powder acts under pressure," Quentin said. "Whatever the result, we'll have a basis for modification."
I was becoming used to Quentin's way of putting things. What he was saying was that we had to start somewhere, either succeed or fail, and then build what we knew as we went along. It seemed to me, considering all the rockets that I read about blowing up down at Cape Canaveral, that was the way Werner von Braun and the other rocket scientists did their work too. Without Quentin, I might have been too embarrassed to fail in front of God and everybody. With him, no matter what happened, I felt "scientific." Failure, after all, just added to our body of knowledge. That was Quentin's phrase too. Body of knowledge. I liked the idea that we were building one.
page 298 Rocket Boys
[Thanksgiving weekend 1959]
I used up almost all of my zinc dust loading the Auk XXIII. Getting more was a problem. The BMCA treasury was bare. Still, I wasn't terribly worried about it. I just had this belief that whenever I needed anything to build my rockets, somehow it was going to be there, provided by the Lord or whatever foolish angels had taken on the BCMA as a project. O'Dell said he'd think about a way to get us some money.
. . . I was tense as I began the coundown. Although Quentin was confident, I was a little afraid of the big rocket. I took a deep breath and turned the firing switch on the professional-looking console Billy and Sherman had built.
. . . There was no sign of our rocket at all. It had simply vanished. Quentin rang up and reported the same result downrange. A towering funnel of smoke gradually drifted over us. <i>Auk XXIII</i> was up there somewhere. What if it came down on the crowd or on us? What if it went uprange and landed in Coalwood again?
"I see it!" Billy yelped. Good old sharp-eyed Billy!
It was just a dot, but it grew, and it was downrange, although veering toward Rocket Mountain. It hit the top of a big tree, which shivered from the impact, as if to let us know it had caught our rocket. Picking up our shovels, we ran down the slack, the crowd cheering us as we went past.
"Forty-two seconds," Roy Lee cried breathlessly as we ran.
"Seven thousand fifty-six feet," both Quentin and I called out at about the same moment, both of us capable now of working out the calculation in our heads. It was our highest rocket yet, but it wasn't what my nozzle design had predicted. "What happened?" I worried as we pounded down the slack. "According to the equations, it should have gone three thousand feet higher."
"Don't know," Quentin puffed. "Have to look at the rocket."
Billy led us up the mountain, weaving through the trees and bursting through a line of thick rhododendron into a green glade beneath a ridge. Auk XXVIII was buried there, up to its fins in soft, wet loam. O'Dell looked around and held up his hand. "Stop, boys," he ordered. "Don't trample this place!"
We pulled up short. "Why?"
He dropped to his knees beside a big oak and dug carefully with his shovel, pulling up a gnarly root. "You know what this is?"
When we all shrugged, he smiled. "Money."
"Not another crazy scheme," Roy Lee groaned.
"No, this one's for real. It's ginseng. This glade's full of it. I've never seen so much!"
"What the hell is ginseng?" Roy Lee asked.
"Indian medicine. People over in Japan and places like that think it cures everything."
"How much is it worth?"
"Well," he said as he dug up another root. "I don't think we're going to have to worry about zinc-dust money for a while."
I had vaguely heard of the stuff being dug around the county, but had never actually seen any of it before. I looked at the dirty ginseng specimen O'Dell handed me, thinking of God and whatever angels He had assigned to BCMA. "The Lord preserves the simple," was Mom's response when I mentioned this to her.