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Adamson lights the sky

Friday, July 18, 2003

If you attended the Gala Fireworks Show at Forest Park on the Fourth of July, you got an eyeful of brilliant, shimmering and glittering colors. What you didn't see, however, was the technology involved in putting on a show of that magniude.

Mark Adamson, 46, has been putting on such shows for more than thirty years.

"It's always exciting," he said about working with explosives. And the popularity of the displays have surpassed the July holiday and are gaining popularity for other occasions, such as at Christmas time, ball games, homecomings and weddings.

He stores equipment used in his firework displays at his home on US 40 year-round and at his Brazil business, Aerial Arts Party Explosion, 640 W. National Ave. Having possession of so many explosives calls for about $5 million in additional insurance coverage per year.

Things have changed since the days when fireworks professionals like Adamson had to light fuses to create the magic thousands flock to see at each event. Now, things are a little more technological, with the use of an electrical match inside the fuse. There is no handlighting involved anymore, Adamson said pointing to a firing panel he uses to flip switches to set off the spectacular display of color high in the night sky. There are 10 circuits including 75 buttons each. That equals about a half-hour's entertainment.

"Each shell has to be attached to slats tied to a panel, using speaker cable wires tied to a main cable," he explained.

The work before the show can take five or six hours with as many men needed to set up.

"It's a wiring nightmare, but you have a more customized show this way."

According to Marshall Brain, founder of the How Stuff Works Web site (http://people.howstuffworks.com/fireworks.html), the shell is launched from a mortar -- or a short, steel pipe with a lifting charge of black powder that explodes in the pipe to launch the shell. When the lifting charge fires, it lights the shell's fuse. The shell's fuse burns while the shell rises to its correct altitude, and then ignites the bursting charge so it explodes.

"Simple shells consist of a paper tube filled with stars and black powder. Stars come in all shapes and sizes, but you can imagine a simple star as something like sparkler compound formed into a ball the size of a pea or a dime. The stars are poured into the tube and then surrounded by black powder. When the fuse burns into the shell, it ignites the bursting charge, causing the shell to explode. The explosion ignites the outside of the stars, which begin to burn with bright showers of sparks. Since the explosion throws the stars in all directions, you get the huge sphere of sparkling light that is so familiar at fireworks displays," explains Brain.

Depending on the type of display his customers ask for, Adamson can do just about any type of color scheme, any noise level and any design they can think up. The shells range in size from three inches to 10 inches.

"Size doesn't really matter," he said about the shells. "It's the style."

The variety of shells he works with can create designs with smiley faces, flowers, hearts, dollar signs, willows and much more. Some cover the sky while others have a softer, flittering effect. Whatever colors or special effects his customers seek, he can give them a show for as little as $500. The more elaborate displays saught are more costly.

"The less they spend, the less time it'll last," he cautions.

With federal permits and certification by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Adamson has regularly put on shows throughout Indiana at Forest Park; Van Bibber Lake near Greencastle; Montezuma; Kingman; the country club, Elk's Club and at Fairbanks park, all in Terre Haute; Sullivan; Roanoake; and at Dietz Lake near Center Point.

"It takes a while to set up, but you have a safer system," Adamson said.

Call Adamson to set up for your next big event at 443-2264 or 448-1018.

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