Strange Adventures from my Youth

Episode 1: The Jet Engine

Around 1964 I found a wonderful ad from the Johnson Smith company for a genuine jet engine for only $1.75. I immediately raided my piggy bank for the money and shipped it off with great expectations. Below is an enlarged extract from the ad:

At last it came- and it was just as it appeared in the ad. I unpacked it and ran over to show it to the guys.

We decided to test it behind the Skierski's garage- a favorite place for pyrotechnic experiements. On a brick testbed we managed to fasten it in place using some coathanger wire. The fuel tank was carefully filled with gasoline, as was the heating trough that hung under the tank.

After a minute the engine stadted to hiss, and then a stream of flame began to issue from behind the jet. The hissing grew in volume, and turned to a roar as air was drawn in to the venturi and mixed with the hot gasoline vapors. It was great!

I don't know what I did with the engine after that, or if anyone ever actually used one of these to propel a vehicle. It didn't really develop much thrust, but I suppose it's possible. If you have a story about one of these, please send it to me.


I received this great letter from a correspondant named Roy Minnich. My e-mail to him bounced, but hopefully he'll enjoy seeing his letter here:

Hi Michael,

I had one of those Johnson Smith & Co. jet engines too! It must have been 1969 or so. Some how I ordered it without my mom knowing. The instructions said to fuel it with white gas. The corner Standard gas station actually had a special pump for white gas so the attendant sold me 10 cents worth in a can I had.

The first time I fired it up it was a flaming mess. I think I had too much gas in the little trough with the wooly stuff. As the flames got a little more under control the gas in the "fuel tank" had reached it's boiling point and began to spray out the pin hole in the nozzel. This fine spray ignited from the flame in the trough and the little dangerous engine roared to life. As the pressure in the fuel tank increased the spray of gas drew more and more air into the into the tail pipe causing the exhaust flame to be a nice blue color with orange tips. Almost a quick as it had begun it was over. It needed a larger fuel tank for greater duration runs.

In the following days the engine was wired to a slot car frame which it propelled across the church parking lot (our local version of the salt flats). I eventually burned my fingeres and part of the lawn in the back yard "experimenting" with the "jet engine" and then it got taken apark and lost like so many of my things.

Many years later in 1987 I saw an old magazine article about a type of pulse jet engine that had no moving parts and ran on propane. To make a long story short I managed to assemble a working model from steel auto exhaust pipe, electrical conduit and auto brake lines. It wasn't very efficient but it did put out 4 or 5 lbs of thrust, run cherry red, burn propane by the pound, and could be heard a mile from my home.

Maybe I could work out a deal with the Johnson Smith company.

UPDATE 2 (May 2009):

I got another email from Roy pointing me toward an eBay auction for one of these little honeys, which turns out to be an M.E.W. 610 that ended up selling for around $175! Only 100x the original cost. And that, in turn, led me on a Google search for more photos:

Episode 2: The CO2 cartridge.

Kids do dumb things. Sometimes I'm amazed so many of us lived to adulthood.

When I was about 8, a few friends and I decided to investigate what would happen when you used a nail to punch open the end of a fully charged CO2 cartridge. We obtained a cartridge, a nail, and a hammer, and sat in a circle in, I think, a guy named Brad's back yard. (What kind of parents name their child after a type of nail, anyways?) Wait, it gets dumber...

I did the honors, punching the hole as we all leaned forward for a better look. Tap..tap...tap..WHOOOSH!!! The cartridge started hopping around madly, skipping all over the yard. All at once it took off vertically at tremendous speed...followed by silence...followed by, after what seemed like a lifetime, a soft "plop" as it fell to the ground.

We all looked at each other, and contemplated what that cartridge would have done if it had hit one of us. We had learned an important lesson, one that would probably stay wih us until the next interesting and stupid idea came along.

Episode 3: I shoot a Goose

My parents were pretty smart people. They never let me have a BB gun in the city, even though I was allowed to carry a .22 when I roamed the woods on farm we owned when I was 9. But my pal Mike S. did own a BB gun- a Daisy model 25- and he let me shoot it occasionally.

One such time I was standing on my front lawn when a Canada Goose passed overhead at a reasonably low altitude. I swung. carefully estimated lead, and fired. "Thunk" when the Daisy. "Squawk!" when the goose, and kept flying. I immediately realized this was not the smartest thing I'd ever done. But the goose did fly on, apparantly unharmed.

Today, I use something larger in bird hunting. And I own 3 Daisy Model 25s..

last edited 10/24/05

Return to my homepage

Return to my root page