The Fourth of July and the Gophernator

The fourth of July is a bad day for gophers where we live. While the rest of the United States is busy creating gunpowder explosions in the atmosphere, we celebrate with fuel/air explosions underground. These are not as visually attractive as pyrotechnics but they have practical value and it is deeply satisfying retribution to these rodent terrorists..

Gophernator is a trade mark of a company that makes an appliance that uses a torch handle as a mixing valve, a battery powered igniter, and a ball valve and automatic check valve as redundant features to prevent the explosion from climbing back up the hoses into the tanks and killing the operator and anything else within, say, a hundred yards. This would be an entirely unacceptable win for the gophers.

While laws and association regulations simply could not specifically anticipate such a device, one can be sure that powers that be would find ample general language to prohibit them if they hit the radar. I got mine some time ago just after the company reorganized with the automatic check valve feature following a lawsuit from the heirs of someone who forgot to shut the ball valve.

Initially I blasted with joyous abandon and had succeeded in driving the scurrilous rodents off my two acres. The kill rate is low, particularly for a beginning user, but the satisfaction is enormous, and the surviving gophers definitely leave. I began to get queries from my neighbors, “you been doing some shootin’?”.

It became clear when once friendly neighbors began to look down and spit on the ground that my shock and awe strategy was not going to fly and I was going to have to pick my battles with the rodents. I learned that they hate the taste of 2-4-D on their favorite weeds. I learned to trap them. I tried using a motorized plumber’s snake to find their catacombs. I learned to locate their main tunnels and be sure they were nearby before blasting them. Kill rate way up. Number of blasts way down.

Still, I was developing a reputation as the unibomber. One neighbor called the sheriff to complain of the noises and was told it was hunting season on adjacent fields.

Perhaps I should explain that my reputation was long since tainted by my use of a roofing torch to start mesquite in my barbecue. This is also moderately noisy and produces impressive sparks in the night, but the Fire Marshall ruled that while I was no longer allowed to use it on weeds, there was no regulation to prevent my use as a barbecue starter.

One day I set off the mother of all gopher blasts. My best explanation is that gopher tunnels has somehow tapped methane from a nearby wetland. The earth trembled. Perhaps a quarter of an acre levitated. After I had trundled the rig away a posse of neighbors showed up. The war on gophers is far too important to confess a secret weapon. It was impossible for them to know it was on my property and not on adjacent open fields or vineyards beyond where propane cannon are used for birds. After some arm waving and reference to hunting they left, but not before one neighbor looked at me knowingly and said with masterful understatement, “That was NOOO shotgun!”

So this is why all that remains of my shock and awe joyous blasting takes place during the fusillades of the fourth of July.

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