Pioneer life in the Benton Co. WA area
Blasting Cap Took Hand/Fun Turned to Pain
By BURTON 0. LUM
Tri-City Herald, Sunday, 10 June 1962
Johnnie Ireland’s hand blown off by blasting cap
This was a large headline that appeared in “The Pasco Headlight.” The official weekly newspaper of this area. This happened 69 years ago. Johnnie Ireland was the oldest of Patrick and Mary Ireland’s nine children. The father, Patrick Ireland, was Kennewick's Section Boss. A swimming party consisting of Harry Beach, Everett Call, Johnnie Ireland, Herman Leeper, Charlie Lum and myself were taking their first dip of the year in the Columbia’s icy waters. The old “swimming hole” was near the first rock filled wood crib pier of the old incline railroad track on which the pontoons ran that transferred the railroad cars and coaches from the railroad to the transfer steamboats. By the use of the incline and pontoons a transfer cuold be made at any height of water of the Columbia. The high water of the Columbia washed in sand each year around these piers. There was always a fine sand bar formed at the old swimming hole which contained pot holes that would fill with water and become quite warm in the summer sun.
The boys would play follow the leader and the leader was always Harry Beach. He was a natural born swimmer and diver and could rival a fish or a duck. This particular day we had been put through quite a tough program by our leader. The sun was getting hotter and we had all had past experience of sunburned bodies. There were no swimming suits in those days, we used our birthday suits. The leader looked around and yelled: “The last one dressed is a …” (Well, I would hate to tell ?) No one wanted to be whatever it was and we were all dressed in record time. We sat on a driftwood log enjoying the warm sun and talking over the fine swim we had finished.
All except restless Johnnie Ireland, he was climbing over the newly lodged piles of driftwood, like a rat terrier hunting a rat. His inquisitiveness was rewarded, he found hid under some driftwood a bucket containing what he thought was empty pistol cartridges. He took the bucket and sat down on the opposite end of the large log on which we were sitting and picked out one of these pistol shells as he supposed and looked in it. It was partially filled with what he thought was gray sand. My brother Charley, being the oldest present, told Johnnie to put the buck back and place it where it had been hidden and leave it alone as it did not belong to him. But Johnnie paid no attentio and took a twig and started to dig out the sand. A large explosion broke the silence. We saw parts of Johnnie’s right hand blown into the bosom of his shirt. We all ran to his aid. His eyes were not hurt. He was not unconscious. He swore like a drunken sailor. Charley improvised a tourniquet and stopped the bleeding. Harry Beach ran to get his father. Herman Leeper hurried for a doctor. Johnnie kept the air blue with oaths while with his left hand he picked pieces of his right hand from his shirt. The doctor and Johnnie’s father arrived soon. They took him to Pasco and made an amputation at the right wrist. It healed in record time and it wasn’t long before Johnnie was playing with the other children. Sticking the stub in their faces and punching them with his good left hand.
No one ever claimed the remaining blasting caps. Blasting caps are used today with powder to blast out roots and break boulders and crack hard pan. There is little difference in the blasting caps of today and those used 70 years ago. There are many safety laws and ordinances today to protect the public in regard to the usage of blasting materials but the enforcement of these ordinances are hard. It is difficult to legislate against carelessness. In a few days thousands of school children will be roaming the countryside and we owe these youngsters a safe place in which to play.
Return to Index of Burton Lum Articles