the story… we were at the Nantahala Outdoor Center’s Spring Flea
Market, calmly trying to sell a couple of Crossfires, a Torrent, a
pair of Tevas, and a Werner paddle when it happened.

and I were sitting on the tailgate of his truck, which we had parked
by the railroad tracks, and we were chatting up a pair of nice ladies
who were interested in a yellow Crossfire we had laid out. Tom was
cooking pancakes around at the front of the truck, where he couldn’t
be seen by us. Suddenly I heard him yell “S__T!”, and he
came sprinting around the truck as fast as his feet would carry him.

he saw that we were in the process of making a sale, and he tried to
act nonchalant. Nope… nothing unusual here that might queer a
deal. But my curiosity was piqued. What could it be? Bears in the
pancake syrup? The Bee Gees? The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?

said, “Crossfires are really stable boats. You won’t get bored
with it… you can take it creeking or on big water and it’ll do just
great.” While one of the ladies asked him another question, Tom
wiggled his eyebrows towards me and then towards the front of the

continued his calm sales patter, and I moseyed around to the front of
the truck, took a look, and quickly moseyed back. Lord ‘a’ mercy, I
thought… did I really see that?

had been cooking pancakes over an MSR WhisperLite stove connected to
a quart-sized fuel bottle, and the whole thing had somehow caught
fire. Not your normal friendly blue gas flame in neat circles around
the burner, but a great greasy ball of yellow fire engulfing both the
stove and the fuel bottle. The fire was slowly melting and burning
the plastic stopper valve out of the fuel bottle. The pancake mix
box was smoldering and the plastic syrup bottle had relaxed stickily
in the heat.

much fuel is in that bottle?” I asked Tom coolly.

completely full,” he replied, and as be spoke he smiled at one
of the ladies. “That’s a nice boat,” he observed. “I
learned how to paddle in a Crossfire. One time I hit a perfect
pirouette at Hell Hole right in front of Team Dagger…” he
began, but as he went on with his story I was thinking quarts of fuel
and BOOM-BOOM, and I had trouble concentrating.

let Tom take over the sales pitch, and he went around front to
investigate the trouble for himself. He came back shortly wearing
only one sandal. While Tom was explaining how one of the Team Dagger
members had used his Crossfire to hit fifteen linked cartwheels, I
asked Scott how it was. “Well,” he stage-whispered, “I
tried to stomp it out and I caught one of my Birkenstocks on fire.
Then I tried pouring the pancake mix on the valve to smother it, but
the sugar in the mix caught fire and now the grass is burning. The
valve is mostly melted, and at any minute the fire’s going to get
inside the bottle.”

I used to be a fireman, and I know full well what happens when heat,
oxygen, and fuel get together inside a confined space. We in the
fire prevention business used to call that an explosion. And when
the explosion takes place in an aluminum cylinder, we call that a
pipe bomb — complete with shrapnel.

why don’t you check on the pancakes?” I said. Tom swallowed and

of the ladies asked, “Does breakfast come with the boat?”

Ma’am,” Scott replied cheerfully. “If you buy that
Crossfire, Tom will cook you all the pancakes you want. We’ve even
got blueberry syrup and real butter.” White lies don’t count, I
reminded myself.

returned in a very calm panic. I turned my back to the ladies and
listened to him. “I tried to pick the stove up and throw it
away from the front of the truck, but it scorched my fingers and I
screwed up the toss. It rolled under the truck.”

truck?” I asked.

under the engine block,” he answered. “I tried to reach it
but I couldn’t.”

shook my head. Exploding gas tanks. Scott said, “You know,
that boat is still under warranty. Dagger boats have three year
pro-rated warranties against any kind of hull damage.” The
ladies smiled. Right, I thought. How are you going to convince
Dagger that this melted and charred chunk of plastic used to be a

I thought, time to put some of that rookie school training to the
test. Tom and I left our prospective customers in Scott’s capable
hands and returned to the scene of the trouble. I grabbed a long
stick from the grass and used one end to fish the stove from under
the truck. A pinhole opened in the fuel line, and the leak spewed
fire for about a foot. Tom and I looked at each other and shrugged.
I used the stick like a one-wood to drive the stove as far away as I
could… about three feet. Some of the plastic on the stopper valve
was bubbling crazily, and the whole thing had melted into a strange
twisted J.

pinhole in the fuel line opened even wider, and Tom and I went back
to the tailgate to escape the jet of flame.

you take a check?” one of the ladies asked.

don’t know…” Scott began skeptically.

then, we heard a WHOOSH and all three of us turned in time to see a
basketball-sized ball of flame hurtle through the air away from the
truck and over the railroad tracks by which we had parked. Scott
quickly said, “Yes… yes… a check will be just fine,”
and by some miracle the women acted as if they’d missed the Biblical
pillar of fire leading away from the sale. Then a very
scared-looking fellow in dreadlocks joined our party, and Scott, Tom
and I simultaneously shot him evil looks before he could even open
his mouth.

ladies wrote Scott a check and picked the boat up. “We’ll pass
on the pancakes,” one of them said.

the boat,” Scott called after them.

as soon as they were out of earshot, Dreadlocks started babbling.
“Yourstovewasonfire” he gushed, and then he collected
himself. “I used one of your plates to scoop it up and I threw
it in the pond. Then I stomped out the grass.”

pond? Scott, Tom and I traded baffled looks. We walked to the front
of the trucks, climbed up and over the railroad tracks, and looked
down into a scummed green pool of water. No stove to be seen… just
a tranquil green pond with a light rainbow sheen of stove fuel.

it was only nine in the morning, the first beers of the day were
surprisingly smooth. Dreadlocks drank four bottles.

Ed Ditto

From newsgroup via “Messing About”,
newsletter of the Western Carolina Paddlers.

Reprinted in The
Eddy Line, October, 1996