F is for Funnelator

December 29, 2009


One of the best gifts this holiday season came from my brother in Washington State. When Uncle Rik visited here last fall, Ursula begged him to tell her stories from his childhood, especially what she calls “mischievous stories” — tales of pranks and pratfalls.

So he told her a story about a funnelator, a contraption involving a large plastic funnel, two lengths of surgical tubing, and launchable objects. His story also involved a water balloon, the football field across the street from our family home when we were younger, a warm summer evening with a group of friends — and a perfect but ill-fated trajectory into a convertible with the top down.

Ursula loved that story. Uncle Rik clearly remembered. The package we opened on Christmas morning held a funnelator, handmade by Uncle Rik, and three neon yellow tennis balls. The frozen pond across the road provided a practice area the length of a football field. No wind, no worries — and no soaked young man in a convertible.

I should say that the package contained more than the funnelator, but for that I need to tell another story. When my brother’s three children were around the age that our two are now, Jim and I sent them a book we thought they’d like, called Backyard Ballistics. The book’s author was an engineer whose own childhood had included The Boy Mechanic, published in 1913, which directed boys how to build such wonders as “the gunpowder-driven ‘Fourth-of-July Catapult’” that flung “a full-sized mannequin a hundred feet into the sky,” and who wanted to keep alive the spirit of experimentation and amateur science (along with a few good explosions). Backyard Ballistics explained how to build a rocket, which my brother, niece, and nephews did and subsequently launched all around Bellingham, Washington, to the pleasure of every child of a certain age (and to some worried, behind-the-scenes phone-calling and safety-checking by parents). That home-made rocket, along with its launching pad and directions, was also in the box that my brother sent.

I knew that the gift was a signal to me and Jim to enjoy this time with our children, to go outside and play with them, and to enjoy launching every tennis ball and water balloon, every rocket, and even every harmless prank with them while we can. Rik’s oldest child is now in college, with the other two soon to follow. Our children, he was reminding us, will be launching into their own lives soon enough.

Learn more
Make your own funnelator. Great for snowballs, too!
Check out Backyard Ballistics and other amateur science projects on the book’s website.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

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Kristen Laine

In 2013, Kristen Laine won an EXCEL gold award for outstanding feature writing for her work in AMC Outdoors.