9.  Tales of Destruction...Friction Can Be Hell, Too

Good men must die, but death cannot kill their names.--Proverb

McLaurin relates the following story about Dr. Fowler's last day:  "Dr. Fowler, the seventh victim, met his doom at Franklin Pennsylvania in 1869.  He had erected a magazine on the hill above the Allegheny Valley depot, in which large quantities of explosives were stored.  With his brother Charles, the Doctor started to the storehouse one forenoon.  At the river-bridge a friend detained Charles for a few moments in conversation, the Doctor proceeding alone.  What happened prior to the shock will not be revealed until all secrets are laid bare, but before Charles reached the magazine a tremendous explosion launched his brother into eternity.  A spectator first noticed the boards of the building flying through space, followed in a moment by a report that made the earth quiver.  The nearest properties were wrecked and the jar was felt miles away. Careful search for the remains of the poor Doctor resulted in a small lot of broken bones and pieces of flesh, which were buried in the Franklin cemetery.  It was supposed that the catastrophe originated from the Doctor's boots coming in contact with some glycerine that may have leaked upon the floor.  This is as plausible a reason as can be assigned for a tragedy that brought grief to many loving hearts.  The Doctor was a genial, kindly gentleman and his cruel fate was universally deplored."

It should be noted that nitroglycerin is more sensitive to impact than even mercury fulminate as measured by the Picatinny impact test.  This great sensitivity has become the stuff of legends, as attested to by these tales of destruction.  Nitro is also very sensitive to friction as measured by the pendulum friction test, with increasing temperature greatly amplifying the effect.  In the friction test, nitroglycerin will detonate 100% of the time whereas black powder fails to ignite; PETN and RDX are detonated only 5% and 20% of the time, respectively.  These two properties of extreme sensitivity, impact and friction, will be further exemplified in the stories that follow.

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