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Jon Kennedy's recent book, The Everything Guide to C.S. Lewis and Narnia, from Adams Media, F&W Publications, is available for purchase in support of the Liberty Museum in Nanty Glo and can be ordered here. It is also available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and in Kindle and Nook ebook editions.

JONAL ENTRY 1247 | August 14 2012

The west coast's most famous newspaper columnist ever, California's answer to H. L. Mencken and Walter Winchell in one (or at least the closest proximation Lotus Land was capable of producing), the San Francisco Chronicle's late Herb Caen, used to refer to some things as "only-in-California" phenomena or, when being more arcane, as "only-in-Marin" phenoms, "Marin" being the county just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. In Caen's heyday, Marin was the trendiest baileywick in the trendiest state in the contiguous 48.

But last month I encountered what I thought of as an "only-in-Pennsylvania" development, the potato gun and potato shooting. It was one of the pasttimes of some young male members of the family who hosted me for a Fourth of July gathering somewhere in Central Pennsylvania.

The potato "gun" is the large PVC pipe being fired in the photo above. A potato is inserted in the "barrel," the gun is aimed (the target in this case was a turkey buzzard soaring above the far end of the field), a propellent (hair spray) is sprayed at the business end of the pipe, and the propellent is ignited with a lighter. (Apparently the procedure requires two men, one to hold and aim the "gun" while the other ignites the propellent.) The resulting explosion expels the potato in the barrel with force. In the instances I witnessed, the potato flew through the air a considerable distance (I'm guessing 50 to 100 yards). I never witnessed any targets falling to the ground.

Click the > on the video to launch. After the video launches, double-click the screen to play it at full-screen. If your browser cannot open the video in Windows Media format, you can try it on YouTube, here.

The video above, just under one minute, shows the procedure, which resembles the firing of a cannon. And of course I was wrong about potato shooting being an "only-in-Pennsylvania" phenomenon. A Google search of those two words reveals that an Ohio man had been charged of manslaughter in the death of a friend who died in the misfiring of a potato gun in that state.

And the same search turned up "second amendment" arguments defending potato guns and counter claims that their use is a sure sign of idiocy. And instructions for making a variety of potato guns, and YouTube videos on how much fun they are. Proving again that there's nothing new under the sun.

As far as the claim of danger goes, what I saw reminded me of the carbide can bombs we used to set off to make a noise on the Fourth of July when the Redmill Road gang were boys and probably not much more likely to injure someone doing it than shooting a double-barrel shotgun is. And of course carbide can bombs came with risks, too, and I cannot in good conscience recommend them.

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