Remembering the Days of Farming with Dynamite

Sam Moore recalls the exciting days of using dynamite to remove unwanted tree stumps and large rocks.

The method of fusing a stick of dynamite. 

When I was a kid on the farm, Dad always had a few sticks of dynamite, some caps and a roll of fuse in the shed. I don’t recall that he used it very often, but occasionally there was a big stump or rock that needed to be removed.

It was exciting for us to watch, although we were kept well away from the proceedings. Although dynamite is still manufactured in this country, anyone buying, selling, transporting or using the stuff today, mostly construction and demolition contractors, must have a license from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.             

Back in the early 1900s, several companies, including E.I. du Pont de Nemours, Hercules Powder and Atlas Powder, manufactured dynamite and published booklets that touted the many uses of dynamite on the farm. DuPont even titled theirs Farming with Dynamite. In these were described the many ways dynamite could improve the farming operation. As a Hercules ad pointed out, “Much of the work done with a spade or an axe, a pick or a bar, can be done more quickly, cheaply and thoroughly with dynamite.”          

Stumps and large rocks were both great impediments to cultivation and were obvious targets for reduction by dynamite. However, as the books pointed out, “When you have a tree to fell, a ditch to be dug, land to be drained, logs to be split, a well, cistern, or cellar to be dug, or more important still, trees to be planted or land that needs subsoiling,” dynamite was the answer.

Effective, but deadly

Gunpowder had been around forever, having been invented by the Chinese, probably in the 9th century, and had long been used for blasting, although it wasn’t all that powerful. In 1847, Ascanio Sobrero discovered nitroglycerin, a powerful explosive that was very unstable and quite dangerous to use because it would explode with just a slight shock. Alfred Nobel began experimenting with nitroglycerin and invented a cap to explode it, but after his brother and others were killed by the stuff, he developed dynamite, a much safer product, which he patented in 1867.

3/12/2019 5:26:48 PM

Great article. I think I have a copy of one of the books the article speaks about. My great uncle Jessie in his younger days used to climb up in a big tree on the farm on the 4th of July, and secure a couple of sticks around the tree trunk, light it and run. They said when it went off it rained toothpick-sized pieces of wood everywhere. Years ago in my hometown a new highway was built which required drilling and blasting to cut through a hill of rock. So while there the contractor building the road consulted the blasters about moving a very large tree stump that a couple of simultaneous dozers couldn't move. They walked around it and told him they could move it, so the drilled and dug around it, planted several sticks of dynamite and they all got behind the dozers for safety when it was detonated. When the air had cleared of dirt, they walked-up to where the stump was and there was nothing but a large hole. They were all puzzled where the stump went until a guy pulled-up in a pick-up truck mad as an old wet hen. Apparently they had launched the stump airborne enough that it came down through the roof of a nearby shoe factory building. Luckily it was shut-down for 2 weeks for vacation.


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