Orgone Research

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Exploding Propane Tanks

I had a little accident in welding class yesterday. Of course it was not my fault...

I had welded together several pieces of metal to form a v-grooved butt joint for an innershield test coupon. I grabbed a propane and air tank with an old style valve that you have to manually light in order to pre-heat the metal before the final weld. I had used this unit before, and in fact it was my instructors tank. I lit it with my butane lighter. Almost immediately, a gas leak appeared, somewhere about the neck or the valve of the canister. I didn't have my gloves on or I would have simply turned the valve off. The entire valve and burner area was engulfed in flames. I decided this could become serious so I grabbed the canister by the base in my right hand and boogied it outside. I set it on the concrete outside, still burning. It looked like a Molotov cocktail. My instructor saw what had happened, and simply put it in a big water tank, which I didn't happen to see on my way out. I was shaken by the experience, but not hurt. I sloughed off some burned hair from the back of my right hand.

I suspect, but do not know, that a great deal more heat would be required to actually cause the canister to rupture, but hey, in a situation like that your emotions take over. I'd probably do the same thing again. This incident reminded me of something that took place way back when, probably about 1991.

It was winter time, and I was out target shooting in an old gravel pit near North Bend WA. I think it was right around the time of the first Gulf War, at least when Desert Shield became Desert Storm. I had gone through several hundred .45 rounds, and had actually stuck around into the darkness of the late afternoon to see the orange fireballs created by the burning propellant. Now it was quite dim, and I decided that it was time to pick up my ejected brass cartridges before I stopped being able to see them. I holstered my pistol.

Now a car pulls up and parks on the road beside the gravel pit. I hear someone get out. This is vaguely creeping me out, as it does not make sense that someone would start their target practice when it is just getting dark. Soon I hear the unmistakable sound of a round being racked into the chamber of a firearm. My instincts tell me something is wrong, but I still have live rounds left in my holstered pistol should worse come to worse. I continued to pick up my brass, hoping that I will get done post haste.

Presently the man rolls up to me and says hi. He is as friendly and charming as can be. Suddenly I understand why he has arrived at this hour; he's planning on shooting a propane tank! He sets a typical plumber-style propane cylinder down range and beside it lights a pool of gasoline or some flammable liquid. The burning liquid helps illuminate the propane cylinder. He takes several shots at it with his rifle, but does not hit it. He asks if I would like try. I take very careful aim, as the target is probably 30 yards away. Indeed, I was able to hit it with a .45 pistol, and the canister erupts in a ball of flame. Strangely, a car just happened to be driving down the road at the exact same time! It think it safe to assume the driver would have been startled...

It's strange how the mildly mundane things in life can remind you of the truly weird stuff that actually happened. That was the last propane cylinder I ever blew up, and it will probably remain that way.


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