Chapter Four

Do you really have enough hamburger for the barbecue?” Bill hollered from the front door.

“Yes, yes, let’s just get in the Hummer and get outa here!” Sally replied as she popped the floor post down and let Bill into the house.

“Okay, but I gotta go touch up the Hummer’s bumper paint. I kinda scratched it.”

“Okay, we’ll be ready to go whenever you are.”

Bill returned to the garage and stuffed newspaper around the backs of the Hummer’s bumpers and then carefully checked the front bumper for tell-tale bullet dents. There was a slight star pattern of lead and slight flecks of brass bullet casing — a skid mark — stuck to the bumper’s surface. Bill rubbed the area with a piece of 80 grit abrasive cloth and then with a rag soaked in swimming pool acid. The lead was hard to trace but the brass was the equivalent of a fingerprint. Finally, he sprayed both bumpers with three thick layers of rubber coating. The bumpers would be dry before the Hummer got to the freeway.

This was the first real family outing they’d had in two years. The whole family was eager to get to their mountain house and relax. Bill had promised to show Bobby how to make rockets and had bet that his rockets were so good that they could reach an altitude of 5,000 feet.

Bill’s only form of relaxation was fixing up his mountain retreat. He’d spent almost all of his weekends over the last five years making it nice inside and out.

He had planned to sell his home in San Diego and retire to the house in the country as soon as the children were in college. Sometimes he’d had second thoughts.

Bill was only able to purchase the property because its previous owner had made the mistake of thinking that the mountains were safe. Maybe they were — once — but in today’s America the Mexicans were turning open back-country into a war zone.

The FBI was up to its armpits in attempts to arrest each and every back country homeowner who might take matters into his own hands and protect his family from the Mexican hoards. The new FBI was into “prevention.”

Bill had heard about recent Mexican raids just a few miles to the east at a place called Campo. It had been a not-so-well-kept-secret that U.S. Marines from Camp Pendleton had been tasked by the Border Patrol to monitor Campo’s nearby valleys for drug smugglers.

Even well-armed drug smugglers do not win gun battles with U.S. Marines. In one instance the dead Mexicans were stacked like cord wood. The drug smugglers had promised reprisals. The small town of Campo had since been attacked again and again — probably in some effort to re-live Pancho Villa’s victory against the Americans of eighty years before.

For more than 100 years Mexicans had made a sport of crossing the border and pillaging this little town. In one case six of them had come into the general store and tried to rob it at gun point. There had been a real gun battle and four of the Mexicans had been killed. The two that had escaped were later rounded up and lynched.

There would be no “next time” for the Gaskill brothers — the store owners. The old wooden store had been torn down and a solid stone building with four foot thick walls built in its place.

Mexican raids into Campo were so frequent and violent that the U.S. Army sent in the 11th Cavalry and actually based the “horse soldiers” there until the cavalry was converted to gasoline vehicles in 1941. Campo is recorded in the Army history books as having (and needing) the last real cavalry in the entire United States. The 11th Cavalry had actually patrolled the Campo area along the border itself. Today’s Border Patrol operated six miles behind the border — creating a mountainous no man’s land defended only by local homeowners.

The previous owner of Bill’s property had come home one night and found illegal aliens trying to strip the house of everything of value. He vigorously protested and they beat his head in. Bill bought the property from the estate — from relatives who’d never even seen the place.

The property had been a mining claim. There still were big veins of semi-precious tourmaline gemstones under these hills. Bill had bought the place over Sally’s objections mainly because it included a warren of tunnels dug deep into the mountain. Bill had also taken it because the prior owner had stockpiled more than a ton of commercial ANFO — all in nice 50 pound double-wall paper bags, plus a hundred of pounds of Tovex “C” water gel explosive, some Deta-sheet and several cardboard spools each holding a thousand feet of 100 grain per foot Primacord. The guy had needed large quantities of explosives to explore the thick clay seams for gems. Explosives are just a tool — and they move dirt a lot cheaper than some Mexican illegal hired for a daily wage — especially when the Mexican steals the gems as he shovels the dirt.

Bill had taken a page out of the previous owner’s handbook and funded much of the home’s construction with tourmaline from the mine. Once a year he would sell the raw stones at the big Tucson, Arizona gem show — for cash.

Rather than waste the “good stuff” the previous owner had stored, Bill made his own explosives — using a recipe he had spent years perfecting. The one he liked best was 94% ammonium nitrate, 5% powdered charcoal and 1% diesel fuel. Diesel fuel made the charcoal sticky and then everything stayed together quite nicely. This mixture created a very good Ammonium Nitrate / Fuel Oil explosive — commonly called ANFO.

Many people think that ANFO is not a sensitive explosive and that even a blasting cap won’t set it off. They are wrong. This stuff can be very dangerous. Entire shiploads of plain ammonium nitrate have even detonated on their own — once in Brest, France and once in Texas City, Texas.

ANFO is tricky in that a loose or improperly mixed load may not explode completely. It can be quite embarrassing to attempt to detonate a hundred pounds of the stuff and have only two pounds explode. To ensure a complete detonation one should contain the explosive — even a paper bag will work — and use a booster charge. Bill used a knot of Primacord as the booster charge — a simple wrap that looked just like a hangman’s noose. He would just tape this booster it to the outside of the bag containing the explosive.

Now Bill had found one ANFO formulation that would explode completely and without a booster. It was a bit of work to make but it was far more powerful than commercial ANFO and even a bit better than Tovex — Du Pont’s replacement for dynamite.

One must take use extreme caution with explosives or their components.

To make this “hot” ANFO the first thing he did was take four pounds of fertilizer grade ammonium nitrate and add one pound of water. He then heated this mixture in a teflon coated electric pan to 195 degrees Fahrenheit (he used a candy thermometer) constantly stirring (with a large plastic spoon) until all of the ammonium nitrate was dissolved.

In a large plastic bucket he then mixed 1.4 pounds of #2 diesel and another 18.6 pounds of ammonium nitrate.

The next step required that he slowly pour the first mixture into the second and stir until absolutely and completely mixed.

The last step required that he dry the mixture. He always remembered that he had the equivalent of about twenty pounds of TNT sitting there. It had to be handled with utmost respect. The easiest way to dry the mixture was to put portions of it onto a paper towel and then inside a beef jerky / vegetable drier. The vegetable dryers seen on infomercials broadcast by fourth rate TV stations worked quite well.

The best way to dry the mixture, however, was to use a vacuum pump and let the water “boil off” on its own at the reduced pressure of a near vacuum. This method also made the mixture more porous and much more explosive. In a way one could consider having just made a “crack” explosive. It works for cocaine so why not put the technique to a positive use!

He purchased his vacuum pump at a surplus store and he used a pressure cooker bought at a garage sale as the tank. The vacuum pump hose was connected to the pressure cooker through the little stub where the relief valve weight would normally be attached. With the vacuum pump and pressure cooker he could dry about five pounds of sensitized ANFO at one time. He did the drying down in the mine shaft so that if the whole thing went boom it wouldn’t cause too much damage.

While he had never had a problem with this high performance mixture there was always that fear in the back of his mind that the whole thing would just detonate on its own some day.

When blowing things up it was always best to use commercial but untagged commercial explosives if at all possible. Yes, it is possible to “un — tag” tagged commercial explosives.

Taggants are microscopic lasagna-slice looking objects that are made of several layers of plastic. The top and bottom layers of the plastic fluoresce green under UV. The five inner layers are the serial number of the explosives maker and batch number. The standard coding of such things is “bad, boys, roger, our, young, girls, but, violet, gives, willingly — which is black, brown, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, gray, white —which is 0 through 9 inclusive. Five internal layers give the feds 99,999 ways to find you.

DuPont Tovex products, for example, had a ten character alpha-numeric ID which can and has been discerned from these taggants.

There was one flaming idiot who worked swing shift at a Bethlehem Steel plant in Maryland who purchased two tubes of Tovex and two DuPont blasting caps — giving the explosives store his correct name and driver’s license number from his West Virginia license — and who then promptly blew up his nephew. He was eventually caught “thanks to the taggants.” This is the only recorded arrest and conviction attributed to taggants — but one must always be careful.

To satisfy his own curiosity, Bill had tried three different methods of removing taggants. Of course removing taggants for any reason was a felony.

Commercial explosives are sold in liquid, powder and solid form. Commercial booster charges usually come in solid form and often in metal cans. They all may contain taggants.

Bill thought that he could sometimes dissolve the explosive — filtering the taggant from the soup and then reconstituting the explosive into a solid again. If he only needed a few pounds it was marginally worth the effort.

He could use magnetic separation — the taggants are magnetic so dusting his explosives past a set of powerful magnets at least five times would remove the taggants. Of course, he had to be careful. A single spark from static electricity might be the end of all life as he knew it.

He also tried using mechanical separation — the taggants were almost always either heavier or lighter than the explosive. By slowly pouring dry explosive in front of a blower the particles would separate — the heavier particles would land closer to the blower and the lighter particles farther from the blower. A simple electric leaf blower was the cheapest choice. Explosives are explosive and placing himself near an explosive in dust form and near a big sparking electric motor was a good way to discover if there really was something called reincarnation.

Bill also found that liquid — or liquefied — could be “de-taggant-ed” using a centrifuge or even magnets. Spinning a five gallon bucket-load of liquid explosive at 3600 rpm would stratify the various components. He also realized that just pouring a liquid down a long stairstep of magnets would also remove the taggants and with a lot less work. This machine looked like and old gold miner’s slew.

What made him feel secure in his efforts was that taggants were taggants. You could see them! He could just look closely at his processed explosives and see if he had filtered out all of the taggants. An ultra-violet light is the only special equipment he needed. When he filtered the explosives and still saw green taggant he just processed the stuff again. Bill did not want to see the inside of the federal prison at Marion, Illinois.

Once he had done all this filtering of his commercial explosives there was another step that he could take. He thought about adding taggants. Most quarry operations required explosives. The taggants will be blasted into every load of sand and gravel coming from that quarry. By dragging a magnet through somebody’s load of quarry material he would have enough taggant to send investigators off on trips to cheap motels near quarries everywhere. He could also have made evening visits to freeway construction sites and other places that go boom during daylight hours.

Bill knew that making your own explosive was dangerous but certainly offered far less chance of eventual discovery.

Because the feds were so terribly interested in everyone using taggants there really was nothing wrong with him adding somebody else’s taggants to his home made explosives.

Only about 4% of all “crimes” involving explosives are perpetrated using commercial products so adding somebody else’s taggant to Bill’s homemade brew would really send the feds into ever widening orbits someplace out beyond the planet Pluto. He realized that he had to use some level of intelligence. One should only put taggants into an explosive that would normally have them. A match-head filled pipe bomb loaded with Du Pont taggants might do little more than add a few extra years to your federal sentence.

It was also true that the feds only forced manufacturers to put taggants into explosives as a political gesture to placate the hand-wringers in Congress. It was quite possible to make good high explosives from all sorts of household items — even aspirin — and besides, 96% percent of America’s “mad bombers” can’t be wrong — they used home made explosives!

What all of this really indicated to Bill was that the feds were in “La La Land” and thought that White Americans were no smarter than Negroes.

He did not think that this idea was in any way racist. How many Negroes actually built something? They might steal something (a gun, a knife) but they wouldn’t build it. Of course this also meant that trying to throw the feds off the trail by laying the crime on a Negro “mad bomber” would never work. The fed’s own profiling methods would quickly eliminated Negroes from any build-it-yourself crime.

Bill always enjoyed looking at an old mining magazine advertisement that he’d found in the mine:

A dramatic new change is now taking place … The old familiar dynamite stick is being replaced by a new explosive TOVEX.

Du Pont

There is a world of things we’re doing something about.

Bill had never seen such a mangling of the English language and figured these guys had just been sniffing too many nitroglycerin fumes.

Bill had actually read many of the old mining magazines and he had learned that more than 80% of all explosives used in the U.S. every year were made from ammonium nitrate. Ammonium nitrate water gels like Tovex had almost completely replaced dynamite.

Down in the mine he’d even discovered four boxes of navy blasting caps plus blasting wire and two electrical initiators. Some of the stuff must have come from military explosives magazines at the Naval Weapons Station in Fallbrook, California. It’s amazing what enlisted men will sell if they think they can get away with it. And the former owner of the property had been taking a significant risk by buying the stuff on the open market — the asshole who would sell government explosives to people on the street would betray anyone to anyone else in a heartbeat. It was best to stay clear of this scum.