One day my brother and I were contemplating what kind of mischief we could get in to. My Dad (the Rev. Donn Brown*) could see we needed something to do. The church was about to undergo a major renovation. Mr. Bayard Underwood had drawn up the plans already, so there was a lot of cleanup to do. Dad sent us to a storage room that looked more like a dungeon. Dust covered everything, but we could tell what most of the stuff in there was. My brother spotted them first, "Rockets...Cool!" he exclaimed. There were all different kinds of these "rockets" for us to play with. We brought one of the smaller ones to Dad and asked if we could play with them. He said they were to be scrapped, so yes, after we were done emptying the room we could play with them. We couldn't wait.
Neither of us understood aerodynamics or rocketry half as well as we thought we did. We had watched the first few Apollo moon missions recently, and these rockets we had looked a lot like the Saturn V's, but we soon found out they didn't fly like the real thing. We tried throwing them, no luck. I went to a friend's house and got a couple rocket engines. We tied and wired the engines together and stuck them in the bottom of the "rocket," and leaned it against a bush, and then pressed the wires to a large 9 volt battery we found on the railroad tracks. It was a steep learning curve from this point.
From "Rocketry 101" we learn that weight, balance, aerodynamics, control surfaces, proper fuel, thrust, nozzle material and shape, winds and weather, etc. are all factors that must be considered in any successful launch. We considered none of these, yet we were still surprised by the outcome.
I'd have to guess at what happened next, because it all happened so quickly. The engines probably shot up into the cone end of the "rocket." Lacking the adequate thrust to weight ratio, the rocket simply lifted inches off the ground and stalled. When a rocket stalls, there is no air flow over the control fins, thus no control of direction. This was compounded by the fact that there were no fins anyhow, and the loose engines and missing nozzle kept changing the vector. As the rocket started to settle back down to earth from its lofty altitude of 13 inches, it simultaneously leaned over, lit the bush on fire, and started a horizontal flight directly at us. It did manage to accelerate, and only missed us because of its own random turns, not because we started running. We lost track of it in the shuffle, but figured we'd go get it after we stamp the fire out. The scare made us realize we were supposed to be cleaning out the storage room, so we did. The remaining pipes that we didn't lose were neatly stacked on the church front lawn, and scrapped for the metal.
We spent the next couple days looking for the rocket, with no success.
A month or so later the garage between the house and church was tore down as part of the big renovations. My brother and I were playing with the wreckage of the garage roof, and found our rocket jammed into a drain pipe down spout. This meant we successfully flew over (or around) the mighty church building, and gave us the false impression that we, two pre-teens from the little hamlet of Ayer, were already brilliant rocket scientists.
Being a father is challenging enough. Being a father of seven boys must have been beyond explanation. At times I'm sure it was a great source of joy and pride, as he mentioned many times. But other times, like finding a half burnt bush in front of your church building, and KNOWING it was one of your own, must have been pretty tough!
*Editor's Note: The Rev. Donn R. Brown served as rector at St. Andrew's Church from 1968 to 1975.