Hey Ranger! A Hot Potato

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September 19, 2008

Two hot potatoes.Just when you think you’ve heard it all for weird campground escapades, here’s one from (you guessed it) California. This wacky event was reported in the media, so I’ll share it with the qualifier that the following example of a hot potato is definitely a bad idea!

On a Saturday morning in a recent October, employees at Joshua Tree National Park in California received reports of a disturbance in the group campsites at Indian Grove Campground. Rangers responded to the area, and during the ensuing investigation confiscated seven homemade cannons which were being used to shoot potatoes.

Yes, I’m talking about your basic spuds, originally made famous in places like Ireland and Idaho. This is definitely a bizarre twist on Longfellow’s famous line, “I shot an arrow into the air: It fell to earth I know not where.” I’d offer the suggestion that firing anything into the air without knowing exactly where it’s going to land is not a great idea, but this is especially true in an area such as a public park.

When all was said and done, in addition to the artillery pieces, rangers had confiscated parts for additional cannons and several five-pound bags of potatoes. This produce was presumably intended for launching but was thankfully spared that fate. The campsite where this activity was occurring was occupied by a Boy Scout troop, and their leader was issued a citation and warnings for a variety of offenses. This is not intended to be a put down of scouts or their leaders, most of whom do a great job. In this case, though, I had to wonder if they were trying to develop a new merit badge, which would be a combination of marksmanship and cooking.

I must have led a sheltered life, because prior to reading this report, I confess that I was unfamiliar with the concept of using potatoes as artillery rounds. However, a little research determined that this activity has something of a cult-like following. I also read about people who have lost fingers and sustained a variety of other serious injuries while engaged in potato cannoneering, and buildings as far as two blocks away from the cannon have been damaged when struck by potato rounds. Those doesn’t strike me as desirable outcomes, and having one of these spuds crash through the roof of your RV would absolutely constitute a Melancholy Situation.

We’re all familiar with the old clichés about raining cats and dogs, and with Chicken Little’s cry that “the sky is falling.” However, scattered potato showers is definitely a new–and unwelcome–twist if you happen to be on the receiving end of thudding spuds, and this situation certainly adds a new angle to the familiar question, “Would you like fries with that?”

How about it campers… do you have any examples of “not a good idea in the campground” escapades?

Jim Burnett


Life – it’s an adventure…. Find something to smile about today!

This story is adapted from the book Hey Ranger 2: More True Tales of Humor and Misadventure from the Great Outdoors © Jim Burnett and Taylor Trade Publishing, used by permission.

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  2. John –

    Thanks for sharing the story, which proves that trying to “build a better mousetrap” isn’t always a good idea!

  3. John Shelton

    I remember 10 or 12 years ago watching a group of men only slightly younger than I was who were playing/competing/experimenting with potato guns. They had some rather sophisticated weapons, some built on 2×4 lumber frames and were using ether, hair spray, and a couple of other fuels. By calculating/experimenting with weapon elevation and fuels, they were shooting potatoes more than a city block (1/8 mile). This looked to me to be very dangerous to the shooters as well as pedestrians, automobiles, pets, and any structures in the target area. During the session I was observing, one gun did exceed its ability to contain the combustion process and “blew up”. Luckily, no one was injured.

  4. DavidJ

    That’s bad, but thank goodness they didn’t learn to make pumpkin cannons.
    I’ve fired a few spuds into the air but I DID know where they would land (or more importantly where they wouldn’t).

  5. This may be the first case in recorded history where a golf ball is intentionally “hit” into the water!

    During my brief foray into the world of golf, most of my playing time was on the course at the university where I was a student at the time. One hole had a very large water hazard the crossed the entire fairway – and the bottom was probably carpeted with golf balls. After I contributed a few to that collection, I started using my worst golf balls for that particular shot. Of course, choosing a ball that already had serious dings in the cover merely increased the odds that the shot would end up in the water.

    Maybe what I needed all along was a “spud gun.”

  6. Recently at the lake some friends of ours were potato gunning and they decided to try golf balls and that worked great. Of course they were being carefull and only shooting towards the water so outside of the risk of exploding the PVC gun there wasn’t really any other danger involved for anyone.

  7. Kenny – sounds like you have a handle on an appropriate location for spud shooting.

    Bob – Wow – that’s one for the books! The humorist Dave Barry once wrote a piece about how hormones can trump brains, but your tale proves that the combination of alcohol and hormones can take that principle to a new level!

  8. Jim – At Lake Havasu State Park a few winters ago, a camper (one of the masses of college spring breakers that visit Lake Havasu City), after a couple beers, he and his buddies decided to try the sling shot concept and shoot one of them (probably the drunkest) through the air by way of a large bungee jumping cord used as a sling shot. Result: one smashed face, broken nose, asphalt embedded in face, several days in the hospital.

  9. Kenny

    Yep, the good old spud cannons. They have been in our hunting camps for years now, ignited by hair spray. The spuds, or generally sections of spuds will fly a couple hundred feet. But like a 22, BB gun, or shotgun, these target shooters should be used in an appropriate and safe manner. Certainly not in a state park or around other campers or homes.
    They can be fun.

  10. Gary – yeah, I’d rate those paper “hot air balloons” right up there on the “List”. A grass fire in or next to a campground is a little too much excitement!

    Timothy – hey, I’m glad you made it to the “little gray hair stage!” Sounds like you had a few adventures along the way – as most of us did. Mine just didn’t involve spuds 🙂

  11. Timothy

    Jim, I love your honesty!! ” I must have lived a sheltered life” You’re not the lone ranger, I think we all feel this way at times. I certainly do, but not to what are commonly called ” SPUD CANNONS.” We use to make them out of 1 1/2 ” PVC back in my prior life when I was much less sensible and restrained than I at least try to be now. We even put clicker type grill ignitors on them. Here’s the real kicker. I drive into a friends yard one day, his cannon a blazin!! He’s loadin it up with acetylene instead of lighter fluid. Never saw the spud in the air!!! Like a rocket!!! I told him “you’re going to bust the PVC with the acetylene.” He goes looking a tank of oxygen to add to the mix. The crazy of it… a deputy sheriff lived right across the street. I didn’t stick around long!!!!! Hopefully we get a little wiser as we age. I thank God I have a little Gray hair now.

  12. Gary Hauck

    I have seen campers make these so called hot air balloons out of paper. The paper balloon is placed over a fire and starts to rise, it catches fire also and starts drifting off. Luckily none landed on any campers but during dry weather they have set grass fires. Stupid people.