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Dynamite Stories

by Hudson Maxim

Editor's Note—The name of Hudson Maxim, author of the accompanying series of Dynamite Stories, is perhaps the most distinguished in the development of high explosives and kindred inventions. First to make smokeless powder in the United States, he has worked with dynamite, maximite, stabilite and motorite, with torpedoes and rams, with projectiles and armor-plate, with automatic guns and detonating fuses, as a veritable familiar of these grim agents of destruction. Long the most famous inventor in his field, he has gathered many an anecdote of explosion. Though some of these stories make saturnine sport of death, they are unique in their crisp dramatic quality, and ADVENTURE is fortunate in giving them to its readers.


IT SO happened that during a tour of inspection seven of us were together, going over the works. On entering the guncotton dry-house, I noticed a strong odor of nitric acid.

"Out of here—quick!" I cried. "The place is going to blow up!"

There were perhaps a hundred pounds of dry guncotton in the room at the time, spread out in pans. As was afterward learned, the foreman, being in a hurry for the guncotton, had turned live steam into the pipes instead of circulating hot water through them as instructed.

We were barely out of the room when the guncotton burned with a flash, wrecking the building, and setting fire to the fragments. I was just congratulating myself that no one had been injured by the explosion, when it was discovered that one of the party, the Englishman, the even tenor of whose way nothing could accelerate or disturb, who feared nothing, had not quite made up his mind in time to get out of the room before the flash occurred. On seeing him emerge at last from the zone of destruction, I was horror-stricken, for apparently every hair had been burned from his head and face, while shreds of skin hung from his hands and cheeks and brow; the dark portions of his eyes even were white under the influence of the dreadful shock he had undergone.

Nevertheless, the Englishman's usual phlegmatic manner was wholly unruffled, and he spoke in his conventional voice, hardly tinged with enthusiasm:

"I say, Mr. Maxim, you know, it's not often one has the chance to witness what actually occurs, by Jove!"


AN AMERICAN reporter, who was with the Japanese during the Manchurian campaign, told me the following story:

Column after column of Japanese had assaulted a Russian position, the capture of which was exceedingly desirable. Column after column of the brave little fellows were swept down by the unerring gun-fire of the Russians, but each time a few Japanese would scale the works, and go over them, only to be slain by the Russians inside.

There was a lull for a short space, and the reporter thought, as doubtless did the Russians, that the Japanese had given up the task, when suddenly a troop of perhaps a hundred Japanese rushed forward, without arms, in a widely scattered line. Onward they flew toward the Russian camp, and, as they went up, there was a blaze of the Russian rifles, and half the Japanese column disappeared with a flash and a tremendous report. They had exploded!

Each of them had been loaded with an infernal machine, hung across his breast and across his back upon his shoulders, so that, when struck by a bullet, he would explode and hurl death and destruction all around him.

The Russians were so astounded, so paralyzed by the spectacle and by the unexpectedness of it that they ceased firing, while the remaining living bombs scaled the ramparts and leaped in among their enemies, who instantly vacated the place, flying like rats from a sinking ship.


A CONTRACTOR, who does business up in New York State, told me the following story:

A carload of nitro-gelatin dynamite had been shipped to him, but was held up in a freight-house for a day or two before delivery. One night there was an alarm of fire. Looking out, he was astounded to see that it was the freight-house burning. Knowing that his carload of dynamite would be sure to explode, he started to run to the scene in all haste, to warn the firemen and others to keep far away from the inevitable explosion, when suddenly there was a great burst of flame, which shot high into the sky and flared out bright and wild in all directions, sending up an enormous column of smoke. But this fierce combustion lasted only a few minutes and then subsided.

He knew that his dynamite had burned up, and, curiously enough, without exploding.

He met the fire-chief after the conflagration and they spoke of the fire. The chief remarked that there must have been some very combustible freight on one of the cars burned. He said that, when the fire first started, the firemen played a full stream of water on this car, but it did not do any good. The car burned so fast and so fiercely that they had to rush away for their lives, or they would have been consumed by the intense heat, and he wondered what it could be that would burn so savagely.

When told that it was a carload of dynamite he felt like a man who discovers the next day that he had walked along the edge of a high precipice at night.

Although dynamite in such quantities as a carload would be almost certain to explode, sometimes even that quantity will take fire and burn up completely without exploding; while, at other times a single stick of dynamite when ignited will detonate.


IN the early nineties I was experimenting with a new fulminate compound as a detonator for fuses in high-explosive projectiles. The compound consisted of fulminate of mercury, gelatinated with guncotton.

One of my workmen had a pup of a miscellaneous breed, which would eat anything under the sun that he could masticate. One day his master gave him about half a pound of this fulminate compound. Another of the workmen put some metallic sodium and dry fulminate into a gelatin capsule, stuck this into the end of a quintuple dynamite cap, wrapped the whole thing in a piece of meat, and, calling the dog out into the field, made him stand up and "speak" for it. Then he dropped it into the dog's throat and it was swallowed at a gulp.

The next instant, the latter workman's own dog, which he prized very highly, came upon the scene and entered into a very brisk wrestling-bout with the dog that had been charged. Before he could call him away, there was a terrific explosion, and both dogs instantly vanished from this vale of tears.


AMONG the many dynamite-plants that hang upon the verdant hills of New Jersey, there is one which stands somewhat apart from the railroad, and the dynamite has to be carted to the station over the highway. At one point the highway passes close to the edge of a precipice of considerable height, at the bottom of whose abrupt, ragged sides nestles a pleasant villa, owned by a wealthy New York business man.

I had just paid a visit to this factory of explosives, and was walking leisurely along the road. At a distance of perhaps a hundred yards ahead of me there was one of the dynamite wagons, moving two tons of dynamite to the railroad. The driver had recently purchased a couple of fresh horses, which he pronounced "a spanking pair." They were rather restive and shied at everything they saw. But the driver was a brave fellow and a strong one, and he had no fear of being unable to control them.

All at once, under the impulse of a gust of wind, a newspaper flared up in front of them. Quick as a flash, they bolted, rushing headlong, the bits held firmly between their teeth; while the high-piled load of dynamite swayed from side to side menacingly as the wagon took the short curves of the road.

At this instant the foreman of the dynamite-works flashed by, driving a pair of horses to an empty wagon. He had observed the plight of the driver of the dynamite wagon, and was lashing his horses in a mad pursuit.

Although the foreman's team was inferior, still his wagon was empty, and he was soon neck and neck with the runaway horses. For several hundred yards it was a close race, neither one achieving any appreciable advantage over the other. Nearer and nearer were they coming to the precipice, which yawned just where the road turned sharply to the right. Still on and on they flew, when, in a moment of advantage, the foreman leaped from his wagon, full upon the neck and head of the nigh horse of the runaway pair, and brought the team to a standstill within less than fifty feet of the precipice and directly over the villa I have mentioned.

Had not this driver possessed both the presence of mind and the athletic qualifications necessary, coupled with great daring, that load of dynamite must inevitably have gone over the precipice as the horses struck the curve. Little the peaceful occupants of the villa under the hill imagined what a calamity at that fearful moment overhung them!


DURING the Russo-Japanese war a certain officer of the Czar, who was an impatient, overbearing person and a great martinet, had a Chinese servant whom he treated with the utmost harshness. One of his favorite methods of inflicting punishment for offenses was to order the Chinaman to leave his presence and, as the fellow went, to give him a hard kick.

The Chinaman aired his grievances one day to a Japanese spy, whom he took to be a brother Chinaman. The Jap suggested padding the seat of the Chinaman's trousers to prevent further contusions, and this was done, the padding being furnished by the Jap. A rubber hot-water bag was filled with nitroglycerin, and percussion caps were placed in positions where they would be exploded by any sudden blow. The unfortunate Chinaman was wholly unaware of the nature of the padding.

At the next meeting of the Russian with his servant, the poor Oriental inadvertently spilled some tea upon the officer's new uniform. The enraged master proceeded to dismiss the Chinaman from his presence in the usual way, but with somewhat more precipitation.

One of the officer's legs was blown off, one arm was crushed to pulp, four ribs were broken, and it was more than a day before he was restored to consciousness. When he did come to, he found himself a prisoner in a Japanese hospital, having been left behind by the retreating Russians.

As to the Chinaman himself, poor fellow, he never knew that he had been loaded.


THE cold-storage plant of a dynamite-factory blew up and sent a rain of large stones over the countryside to an astonishing distance. In a dynamite-magazine half a mile away there was piled tier on tier of high explosives. One of the flying stones descended through the steel roof of this magazine, as if opposed by nothing stronger than paper. It dropped between two of the piles of boxed high explosives and penetrated the floor.

The diameter of that stone, as they found when they dug it out of the floor, was just eleven inches; the space between the tiers was just fourteen inches.


I WAS once called in as an expert to visit a dynamite-plant where a new form of high explosive was being manufactured instead of the ordinary nitroglycerin dynamite. This consisted of a mixture of chlorate of potash, sulphur, charcoal and paraffin wax. The inventor of it had concocted the reassuring name, "XX Safety Dynamite."

Unfortunately this safety mixture went off unexpectedly, with no apparent cause, and drove a crowbar deftly through the head of one of the workmen. This unscheduled performance awakened the apprehension of the president of the company, who was also the chief backer, and he grew suspicious as to the exact amount of safety in the mixture. On that account I was summoned, and the president himself accompanied me to inspect the plant.

When we were close to the factory, a sudden explosion occurred which shook the earth for miles, and a tremendous pall of smoke instantly covered the sky. Going on, after a moment of stunned pause, we found that the site of the plant was now one vast crater, around which lay a litter of debris. A number of men had been in the factory at the time of the catastrophe. Now the sole survivor was walking busily about the crater, with a basket on his arm, picking up bits of something from the ground here and there.

As he observed us, he spoke casually: "I can't find much of the boys. I guess you'll have to plow this ground, if you want to bury 'em!"


ONE of the most anxious moments that I ever experienced was during some experiments in throwing aerial torpedoes from a four-inch cannon at Maxim.

These torpedoes were about four feet in length, charged with a very powerful high explosive and armed with a detonating fuse. We had successfully fired several of them into a sand-butt, where they exploded with great violence. There were six of them. Five had been fired, and the sixth was loaded into the gun ready to be discharged, when a passenger train hove in sight and was passing us about a thousand feet away when the gun was fired.

We had no idea of there being any danger to the train, as its position was at right-angles to the line of fire and each of the preceding projectiles had behaved so well. But this time the torpedo glanced from the sand-butt and went after that train. We stood paralyzed with dread as we saw it pass over the train, close to the roof of a car, and strike in the swamp just beyond it, perhaps a couple of hundred feet behind the track. An inverted cone of black earth shot up, followed by a dull sound.

In imagination we had witnessed a frightful catastrophe, the wreck of a passenger train, with fearful loss of life, and all the horror of our own resultant predicament. Now that the danger was past, the even tenor of our way did take on a new relish. What objects we are, after all, of the mercy of chance!


DURING the Russo-Japanese war, more than one of the Czar's warships disappeared without leaving a trace. I received the following narrative somewhat indirectly, and for that reason I do not dare to vouch for its truth. Its origin, as I was given to understand, was a Japanese officer, who revealed the facts while in a mood more confidential than is customary among his kind.

This officer held a command at the time on board a torpedo-boat. In the flotilla there was a torpedo-boat that carried neither guns or torpedoes. For that matter, air-compressors and every mechanical device not absolutely essential to the navigation of the craft had been removed to lighten it. It was then loaded with the most deadly explosives to the fullest capacity that it could carry at high speed. Next, a call was issued for volunteers to make up the small crew necessary for navigating the boat. The Japanese officer declared that ten times the number required offered themselves, despite the fact that they were well aware that those who voyaged in this vessel went to certain death.

The flotilla was steaming slowly along a short distance out at sea from Port Arthur, in the dead of night, when the huge gray bulk of a Russian warship loomed up in the dark, just in front. The 'dynamite-laden torpedo-boat, which in itself constituted an enormous floating mine, made a dash, head-on, then veered abruptly, just as she went alongside. At that instant, the doomed Japanese crew sprang their mine.

The explosion blew in the whole side of the huge warship, and hurled her decks and guns high in air. She went down in fragments, like a rain of stones.

The patriotic death of the Japanese was accomplished in the same moment. Such bravery in the service of their country may have been equaled in history, but certainly it has never been excelled.


JUST back upon the hills that rise up from the southern shores of Lake Hopatcong there is one of the most important dynamite-works in the country. James Wentworth began his labors there, first as an errand-boy at the age of twelve, soon after the works started. It was his brag that he had grown up with the works, but that he had never gone up with them when by some freak of chance a packing-house or a nitroglycerin apparatus would be blown to the four winds of heaven, spraying wreckage of men and timber over the whole celestial concave.

Jim had no lack of courage. He had worked in every department of the business: had made nitroglycerin, nitro-gelatin, and had become one of the most skilful dynamite-packers. As he did piece-work, he made money rapidly.

One day, at a church strawberry festival, he was drawn into the vortex of that swirling passion—love—and married. The young wife importuned him to give up the dynamite business, as he had already laid up sufficient money to start him in another field. Yielding to her wishes, he gave notice that his resignation was to take effect at the end of two weeks.

On the third day of the period of his notice, on the advent of the noon-hour, he was seized with an uncontrollable impulse to take his dinner-pail and himself out of the packing-house where he was working. He said afterward that he got to thinking: "Suppose this packing-house should blow up; what would become of Susie?"—to say nothing of his own dispersion.

He went to the top of a little knoll to eat his dinner, in full view of the packing-house, continuing his pessimistic reflections.

The place began to look suspicious. For the first time in his life, he felt fear. On a sudden that packing-house became a white, dazzling ball of flame, and he was knocked down by the concussion.

He told the superintendent that the three days he had served on his notice must suffice. He had lost his nerve!