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Hood’s Winks – ‘The Great Flambeau Wars of the 1950s’

By Ralph Hood

The flambeau is a thing of the past. It was a little round, black pot with a flaming wick at the top. It looked for all the world like one of those little bombs Wily Coyote uses in the Roadrunner cartoons. When filled with kerosene, it would burn almost forever. In the 1950s, flambeaus were placed around road construction sites. Today they use battery-operated lights for that.

Windsor Park was—still is—a round circle of a park with a street around it in my hometown, Brunswick, GA. At one point—right in front of the Altman’s house if I remember correctly—the street was unusually narrow. The combination of that narrow street and readily available flambeaus was more than we teenage boys could resist.

First we would gather (I much prefer the word “gather” to the word “steal”) a few flambeaus. It was impossible to blow them out. You had to put them out with sand or an old towel. They were sooty as the inside of a chimney and reeked of kerosene. It was hard to gather them without messing up car and hands and that proved to be important. By the way—let it be noted that we did have principles. We never stole all of the flambeaus from any construction site. We always left enough to adequately warn any approaching motorist.

Once the flambeaus were gathered, off we flew to that narrow street at Windsor Park where the flambeaus were placed across the street and relit. We thought it fascinating that nobody would pass or drive around those flambeaus. They would stop, back up and drive all the way around Windsor Park. We must have been easily entertained because we found that hilarious.

Well, an interesting thing happened. The city police got a little tired of removing those flambeaus, and they set out to catch us. Thus started the Great Flambeau Wars of the 1950s.

We were vulnerable because the police could catch us gathering flambeaus, transporting them or setting them out. Even if they caught us afterwards, in those days before kids had rights, the mere presence of kerosene odor or soot on our hands was sufficient evidence.

Looking back on it, it is absolutely amazing the extent to which the police tried to catch us, and we tried to set out the flambeaus. One night they parked in the Altman’s driveway, lights out, awaiting our dirty deed. One carload of us drove into the driveway then backed out and left. The police car followed and pulled us over, only to find us clean as a whistle. While they were inspecting our hands and car, our cohorts set out the flambeaus from another car.

As I remember it, they never did catch us, but they did end the game. They simply called us into the police station where the chief looked us over carefully and said, “Boys, we’re getting kinda tired of this.” Then he used his biggest weapon. He asked that dreaded question. “Y’all ready to quit this? Or you reckon I ought to talk to your fathers?”

And thus was ended the Great Flambeau Wars of the 1950s.

Names have been omitted to protect the writer.