My cousin and I didn’t care what you saw in the Lord of the Ring, Gladiator, Chronicles of Narnia, Night at the Museum or King Arthur; we designed a catapult for the common kid. And it had potential to get us in more trouble than we could have ever imagined.
I’m sure the few of you that are reading this have a preconceived notion of what a catapult may look like from the movies you’ve seen
Those complicated machines are cumbersome, confusing and expensive for a couple of 9 year old boys. In spite of these drawbacks, catapults can be the ultimate neighborhood weapon capable of hurling any number of things at any number of things.
At least, that’s what my cousin, Kit Thompson and I thought when we designed our first catapults anchored in our respective front yards aimed at each other’s house, across Jerome Ave. in Elberon Park, NJ.
The idea was to get the rocks that were part of the railroad bed underlying the track upon which all the commuter train ran from the Jersey Shore to New York City everyday. An unending supply of ammunition.
Our objective was to sit across the street from each other and lob railroad rocks at each other. We didn’t want to hit or hurt either Wiggles (Kit’s dog) or Smokey (my cat). We didn’t want to hit either of the family’s houses. We really didn’t have a target, we just thought it would be a cool thing to do.
Somehow we rationalized it wouldn’t be something our parents would be interested in so we didn’t tell them what we were doing.
They never asked our objectives when we dug up the yards to implant the legs of the catapults. We were always digging and covering things in the yards so this was not particularly out of the ordinary.
We felt it was probably better not to enlighten them when we took the tires off of Ricky’s bike. We needed the elastic inner tubes for a tension source when propelling the railroad rocks.
Not surprisingly we were able to dig the stability posts into the yards with no parental interference. We were even unnoticed when we surgically remove Ricky’s inner tubes from his bike tires and cut them to size for the tension sources in the catapults.
We could argue that Rick never rode his bike anyway.
With the parental members of our family immersed in things other than monitoring for catapult construction we were able to complete our mission.
Kit and I went over to the railroad tracks to collect some ammunition
We literally collect a Bucket of rocks. Perhaps an apt label for the intelligence used in creating and completing this odd childhood mission.
We divided the rocks on either side of the street, piling them next to the catapults.
We took our places behind our respective weapons and: assumed the proper posture for a shot by placing the feet on the stability posts, a railroad rock in the middle of the inner tube tension band and pull back as far as the flexibility of the band would allow.
My cousin and my business plan for our catapult (circa 1951)
Best to pull a bit downward to give the railroad rock a little lift so it would go further. Much like a “Hail Mary” desperation pass in the waiting seconds of a football game.
My first shot was an unqualified success. The rock not only crossed the street onto the Thompson’s property but sailed over the house to land in the woods in back.
I looked up to see similar results with Kit’s initial attempt. His actually hit the roof of Emmy Lou’s house behind mine.
As I watched the rock roll down the roof, I thought, even at my early age — there are some things in life that are actually better than you think they’d be.
It took me until late teens to repeat that thought — with reference to sex.
Kit and I had a high level strategy session. Our parents wouldn’t be in favor of this type of contraption in their front yards. Not that they were unsightly but apparently they could be lethal.
We decided to take the initiative and rehearsed our narrative.
Around our respective dinner tables that evening Kit and I had the same story when questioned about the poles we’d sunken deeply into the front yards:
Ahhhh, oh that-home made soccer goal. The rocks are to hold a sheet to stop to ball when it goes in the goal. A homemade net!
Kit and I pledged to use the catapults when no one else was home. Not even Ricky or Bruce (my brother).
It was only a matter of a short time before our ruse was uncovered.
I put one through Aunt Betty’s kitchen window with an errant shot. The rock landing in the kitchen sink.
We didn’t have time to cover up before Aunt Betty got home and made us fess up.
I had to become a father myself before I realized that Aunt Betty was so relieved that the Barrabees and the Thompsons averted catastrophe she didn’t have the emotional elasticity to discipline us strongly at the time.
Betty reacted much like a parent whose child disappeared in a mall who goes on a wildly desperate search only to find that child peering in the toy store window a number of stores away.
Anger for the child wondering away substantially diminished by the relief of discovery.
However, there WAS retribution for the kitchen window I broke with my erratic shot.
For her silence to the other parents, Aunt Betty sentenced me to actually convert my catapult in my yard to a soccer net like I told my parents it was.
If I didn’t have any school related activity, chore or some other parental related demand for a month; I was sentenced to practice soccer with the homemade catapult/goal every day after school until I was called in for dinner — unless it was raining.
Kit said that I was lucky his mother was my aunt — and not my mother; like she was his.
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