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The Flaming Oil Can

I grew up in a very small farming community in Iowa. We used to joke that the village had 75 residents and that 15 of them all lived in one little house up on the hill.  It was, after all, a good Catholic community.

My father had a rural mail route, a job that kept him busy from 4 AM to 2 PM.  In the afternoons and evenings he sold seed corn, life  insurance, and farmed 120 acres of land. Seemed like only half was in crops. The rest was gravel pits, river bottoms, and trees.  We spent many hours, cutting trees, pulling stumps, and trying to expand the little farm into something bigger. With all our work, I became quite familiar with our old F-20 Farmall tractor.  I can still remember my father adjusting the valves using his pocket knife as a feeler gauge.  But that’s another story.

The tractor had to be filled with gas from an above-ground storage tank. The tank was near both the garage and an office that Dad had constructed for his various businesses.  A large propane tank that supplied gas to our house was near the storage tank as well. Worst of all were the wasps that seemed to like the area.  Every time I would stop to fill up with gas I would have to fight off the wasps. They liked to build nests on the eaves of the office and garage near the large propane tank. Dealing with them was a battle and it appeared to me that the wasps were winning seeing as I had more stings than there were dead wasps.

Finally I’d had enough. I decided that I was going to do something about those pesky ole wasps.  First, I tried knocking down the nests. But the next time I came back to fill up the tractor, there were more nests and more wasps. Next, I tried spraying them with the hose, but got the same results. A few days later, I finally came up with the perfect solution.

I found an old oil can that had a lever on it that was used to pump out oil. I discovered that if I filled up that old oil can with gas, then lit the spout at the top with a match, I had my very own homemade flame thrower. All I had to do was pump the lever and out would spout a stream of flame, just the thing I needed to rid myself of those nasty wasps.

I used my invention for a couple of days, walking around the garage and office.  Each spray into the eaves left a wake of flaming wasp destruction. Sometimes the nests would turn into fireballs.  And sometimes a wasp would flee the nest, nose-diving into a tailspin while still on fire.  Oh, what fun I had watching the wasps nests burn to ashes as they hung from the eaves.  I soon had the wasp population dwindling.  Things were going great.

That is until the day my dad came home early from his mail route.  As usual, I was using the flame thrower and getting great results.  I was sure he would be proud of his young, inventive son, and the genius method I had created to eliminate the wasps. I was standing alongside the office near the propane tank with my flame thrower in hand. Suddenly I got the bright idea to give a live demonstration.  Dad was headed for the garage in his car.  Good, he can see me now, I thought.  I squeezed extra hard on the lever and let rip a stream of flames about 10 feet long.

 Wow, even I was impressed.  The flame shot to the top of the eave on his office.  Small droplets of flaming gas landed on the side of the building and dribbled on the ground near the propane tank. Burning wasps dropped like fighter planes shot from the sky and spiraled towards the earth, leaving the rest of the nest scorching away on the side of the office.  I smiled proudly, like a kid with a shiny new toy.

The tires on Dad’s car skidded to a stop on the driveway as he slammed on the brakes.  His car door flew open, he took off his old police belt and the shouting began as he strode toward me with broad steps.  I stood, frozen in fear, holding onto my flame thrower while flames licked the top of the oil spout.  Oh, crap, caught red-handed with my flame thrower, I thought.  As I stared at that old police belt I thought,  this is going to be bad.

This being a family web site, I can’t repeat all the things he said, but let’s just say he was mighty unhappy with his young, wasp vanquishing son.  How did it end?  Well, I was a little sore for a couple days.  It was hard to sit down, and my ears hurt from the shouting.  But the worst part was watching the flame thrower get turned back into a useless ole oil can and admitting defeat to the new nest of wasps now forming on the eaves.

Lesson learned: Some inventions are better left on the drawing board.