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S: Fireworks Memories

BC: Great Memories Fireworks Forever

FC: Mark Ells Fireworks Inc. established 1950 (I was born a pyro!)

1: Dear Dad/Mark/Grandpa Mark, Happy 61st Birthday! We are lucky to have you for a Dad. We have wonderful memories because of your spirit of adventure, hunger for knowledge, and your willingness to find the fun in everything---even a trip to Columbus, Nebraska! Several years ago you decided to take a fireworks class, and next thing we knew, our family is getting it's own personal, professional fireworks show every July! We know it is 'your' hobby, but your joy has spilled over and created joy for us as well! You've generously shared the fireworks experience with friends, family, and--most importantly--the future generations who will someday be hosting the Cottonwood Beach Fireworks Show! We hope this book will be a place you can record the 'whole' fireworks story--how you got started, what you love about it, and whatever else you want to record. Thanks for teaching us to enjoy life and embrace new things. We love you! Alisanne, Stephanie, Nathan, Adrian, Jackson, Carissa, Scott, Evelyn, and James

2: I cannot remember NOT liking (OK, loving) fireworks. My earliest memory of really enjoying them was when I was probably 10 or 11. We were on a family vacation in the Black Hills, and saw a fireworks show in Custer State Park. My memory is that we drove into a field, parked the car, got out and watched. It seemed like the sky was full of explosions, and that the sparks would surely fall right on us. Which they never did. The sounds, sights, and the smell of gunpowder just did me in. I was totally hooked.

3: It's impossible NOT to infect others with the bug. Carissa and Stephanie both loved to make things go BOOM. | In 1993, we went to the National Mall in Washington, DC, for the 4th of July. Every American should experience that. A million people, and the best fireworks ever.

4: From that day forward, the 4th of July was almost as anticipated as Christmas, and later, more so! Firecrackers, cherry bombs, silver salutes, bottle rockets, Roman candles, mortar shells, sparklers, fountains, snakes. It didn't matter. If it had a fuse or could be otherwise lit, I couldn't have enough. But, as one grows older, one hopes to get a little wiser. Eventually--in about 1998--Alisanne & I went to a pyrotechnician certification class. We learned about safety, how things are made, the process of getting "legal" AND had a two hour show of every shell the sponsor made. That sealed it. I dotted all my "i"s and crossed all my "t"s.

5: This is my state "shooter's" permit. I have to take a written test every three years to stay current. | I also need a federal permit to possess and transport explosives. Also needs to be renewed every three years, but no exam is required.

6: Each time I want to put on a show, I need a permit from the State Fire Marshal. The local fire chief also has to approve this.

7: Ready to direct the set-up crew. The racks next to me are 5" mortar tubes.

8: It was quite something to watch you and your set-up crew work almost an entire day at the beach to get everything set up. There was lots of grunting, sweating, and drinking of beer. You patiently and methodically directed the traffic while your crew diligently followed your instructions without question. Proper set up of the tubes is essential to the safety of the show as well as to how the show looks. There's a lot of recoil when the shells leave the tubes, so we bury them deep enough they won't tip over, or move much at all. We also want enough angle in the right direction so the shells explode where the crowd can get the best view.

9: Setting up for the 2011 4th of July show. Nathan, Scott, and Jim all helped me set up, which is a lot of work. Scott is holding a tool I made to extract paper from mortar tubes. I have a stick with safety flares taped to each end, which I use to light the fireworks.

10: SAFETY FIRST In the preceding page, Jim is holding the fire extinguisher we have on hand for minor fires in the "pit" where we light things. The water is for misfires that don't get out of the mortar. We all wear hats, safety glasses and earplugs. The shells are LOUD when you're close to them at ignition.

11: I always have (and need!) lots of good help to get set up. The tubes need be set a specific distance from spectators, we try to figure how the wind will affect things, and we need to account for all the recoil the shells produce. We partially bury the tubes so they don't tip over during the firing of shells. That would be VERY bad.

12: Time to load the shells...Shells are the things that go high in the air and make the great effects we all love. The bigger the shell, the higher they go and the bigger the effect: A 3" shell goes about 300feet in the air, and a 6" shell about 600 feet. I can't light anything larger than 6" without an electronic firing system. | Nathan is holding a 5" shell

13: Note the "for professional use only" warning | 1.3G refers to professional grade fireworks. 1.4G are consumer grade | 5" tubes loaded with shells. Note how they're buried | This is a 4" finale rack. Light one fuse and the shells go up in rapid sequence | New 3" and 4" mortar tubes in newly constructed racks

14: Several hours after the process began (and lots of sweat, digging, and beer consuming), the beach was littered with fireworks for the big show. The challenge was always to keep people from shooting their other fireworks off anywhere near these (which could cause premature explosion). As a result, much of the afternoon and early evening requires policing the area.

15: Of course, it wasn't all work and no play...there was plenty of time for shooting off the 'little' fireworks and sharing my passion with the next generation! Check out the lessons being taught...

16: As a safety precaution, the local Blue Springs fire department is always asked to be present at the show in case something went wrong. The first year, a few guys showed up...and the next year, the word spread and they all came...with their families! The Chief of the Blue Springs Fire Department--Brad Robinson--was always very helpful.

17: Of course, the fire department weren't the only people who caught the Mark Ells Firework Extravaganza Fever! When we first started doing the show over the 4th of July weekend, it was just for the Ells extended family...but as the years passed by, Marge & Bill began to support your efforts as well. After Marge & Bill came the masses of Cottonwood Beach! It was great to hear everyone cheer after the fireworks each went off. The booms were so loud that we could feel them shake the ground! It was amazing to see the fireworks from so close. They were so much bigger and brighter than you would ever think!

18: Evan, Tom & I are getting ready to light things up!

19: Wait for it....

20: BOOM!!!

24: Way to go Grandpa Mark! That was AWESOME!

25: The next morning was always clean-up time. We gathered our buckets and our good (well, mostly good) attitudes, and helped pick up the debris that littered the sand around the beach. It was a family chore--a way for us to say: "Thanks!" | The Aftermath

26: 2005 | I got to light a few for Carissa & Scott's wedding, in Lincoln, which was quite different than down at the lake!

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  • By: Stephanie H.
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