Campus Life

Bombs Bursting in Air: USU Alum Recounts an Aggie Firework Fable

In 1961, Dale Z. Kirby returned to Utah State from his mission service in Switzerland only to find himself trained in pyrotechnics ahead of a Tupperware convention taking place on USU’s Logan campus that summer.

Through the experience, Kirby learned proper safety techniques and got paid to sleep in what was then known as Romney Stadium lest anyone should try to set the fireworks show off early. He not only earned enough money through his newfound skillset to pay for tuition that fall but also became the big man on campus after making another event pop.

Here, Kirby recounts some of the experience in his own words:

One late September afternoon during the fall term of 1961, I was working in the campus recreation center's bowling alley and pool room in the basement of the Student Union when Swede Larson, the president of the USU Alumni Association, requested that I come to his office.

I soon discovered he wanted me to use my new pyrotechnic education to add fireworks to the USU Homecoming festivities in October. He offered funds that I could use for winter term registration and said that the university would provide a large personal accident policy. That should have been my first clue, but I gladly accepted the offer.

USU contacted the Skylighters of Florida — the same company that had conducted the Tupperware convention fireworks that year — and asked them to prepare the show and send the necessary items. The Alumni Association had a multi-thousand-dollar budget, and in a few weeks, a big shipment of fireworks, noise bombs, connecting wires and long wooden fire sticks arrived at the office. I spent the days unpacking the fireworks and preparing for the pre-planned show.

The addition of fireworks to the Homecoming celebration was to involve two locations.

The first fireworks display was slated to take place in downtown Logan at the beginning of the Homecoming parade. Back then, there was a short automobile tunnel under the Capitol Theater (now the Ellen Eccles Theater) on Main Street.

Swede thought it would be fun to notify attendees that the parade was about to begin by shooting off five or six huge noise bombs in the tunnel. He gained permission from the theater owners, the Logan City Police, the Cache Valley Sheriff, and the Logan Fire Department.

Owing to USU’s agricultural legacy, there were many horses in the parade. We sought to inform the horse riders and handlers about the noise bombs we'd be deploying.

Our plans at the Capitol Theater went off without a hitch. The anticipation of the parade audience and their excitement for the event was heightened by the sudden major noise and smoke bursting from the tunnel onto Logan's South Main Street.

Once the Homecoming parade was underway, I took multiple boxes of fireworks, wires, mortars and fire starters that were in my old 1951 Ford Sedan to Romney Stadium and spent the day preparing the half-time fireworks display for the 25,000 football fans who would be attending the game.

By now, the excitement and responsibility of this pending display had robbed me of several nights' sleep. Still, my excitement grew almost beyond description as I watched Romney Stadium fill with fans. As the game went on, it required great personal emotional effort and self-control to remain calm and mentally prepared as the final minutes of the first half ticked by.

When it was finally time and the team, field judges and coaches had gone to their lockers, the lights of the stadium went out. The only light seen on the field was the fire starter in my somewhat unsteady hand.

On the field's north end zone and down the east sideline there were nearly 100 football-sized firework bombs carefully wired together between the mortars. Without hesitation, I lit the first fuse.

Soon sparkling fire followed the wires westward behind the goalposts and southward along the eastern sidelines. The rapid explosions from the mortars that shot the fireworks skyward filled the stadium with noise and smoke, and in the sky high above the turf, suddenly there were beautiful and majestic fireworks.

The Skylighters professionals had also created a finale for the show. This involved rapidly shooting off 15 firework bombs, accompanied by loud bangs with a ring of blue and white — the Aggie colors — shooting downward.

Unfortunately, one of the last firework bombs had a flaw. Instead of going high into the night sky above the stadium, it exploded directly above me.

The explosion and resulting shock waves knocked me to the grass playing field, stimulating "oohs" and "aahs" from the game fans; then a hush followed.

When the stadium lights came on over the smoke-filled stadium, I arose from the turf, my ears ringing and my knees wobbling. The audience gave me a roaring ovation, and then the stadium announcer thanked me by name. Moments later more than 30 of my Delta Phi Kappa fraternity brothers gave a rousing, "Hip, hip hooray for Dale Kirby!"

When the game ended, I worked until morning, picking up the remnants of the Aggie Homecoming game half-time fireworks show. This ended my short, exciting and unique career as a student fireworks pyrotechnician. After it was over I was still in possession of life and limb, sight and hearing, and went on to gain a solid education, studying German at Utah State University.

After graduating from USU in 1963, Kirby earned a master’s degree in church history and doctrine from Brigham Young University and was active in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints educational system for many decades. He is the author of multiple family books and Church histories. For the last 23 years, Kirby and his wife, Anne, have been retired in Salem, Oregon.

CONTACT

Andrea DeHaan
Communications Editor
College of Humanities and Social Sciences
435-797-2985
andrea.dehaan@usu.edu


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Alumni 190stories Aggies 149stories Traditions 57stories

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