I remember being in a wood shop class that year. The classroom was down some stairs into a large room under the cafeteria. I have no memories of being skilled in wood shop, but I do remember being instructed to go down to an even lower level to get wood supplies for projects. The supplies were stored in an open area. The remainder of the level was fenced off and contained the heating ducts and water and sewer lines. We students payed little attention to anything beyond the fence.
I remember being down there one day with a couple of my classmates to get some wood planks. All of a sudden a custodian landed on the floor just on the other side of the fence. He was busy and didn’t seem to pay any attention to us. We were startled by his instant appearance. After looking closer we noticed that he had been up and inside one of the ducts.
There was even a large door that swung open to allow entry. That seemed interesting to some of us. This area was off limits to students. There was a small gate that allowed human entry, and it was equipped with a small chain and padlock. Only selected school staff had keys.
A couple of weeks later when we were down there, a student pointed out that the gate wasn’t often locked during school. One day we stepped into the restricted area to check out how to open the trap door to the duct. I remember sitting down later with this same group of guys and forming a plan. We checked out how to open the door, and one of us peeked inside to get a good idea of what we had to work with.
As our plan came together we decided that it needed to be placed on hold until near the end of the school year. We felt it would be warmer then and the heating system would be shut down. At that time there was no air conditioning in the school. When we were ready one of the guys put together what we needed to accomplish our mission.
He took a candle and attached it to a firm candle holder. He then cut out a small section of the wax. Leaving the wick in place, he attached it to a small string of firecrackers. This was then tested a couple of times to see how long it would take from first lighting the candle to setting off the firecrackers. Once all was tested and adjustments were made, it was taken to school and placed in a locker. We then watched each morning to see when it might be a good time to put this plan in motion.
A few days later it looked like our plan was ready. One of our guys opened the trap door, and we boosted another one of the guys up into the duct. He taped the candle holder to the bottom of the duct and lit it. He then jumped out, and we closed the door and headed to class. A couple of hours later during our third period class, the sound of firecrackers echoed through the building.
Within seconds an administrator came onto the public address system telling teachers and staff to step out of their classrooms and detain all students in the hallways. They were to be brought to the office. To my knowledge, all of the guys involved were seated at their desks in their proper classes. As Col. John
“Hannibal” Smith often used to say, “I love it when a plan comes together.” That gate was almost never left unlocked after that. None of us were ever questioned about the incident.
Shonk is a 1960 graduate of Southport High School, a ’63 grad of Indiana Central College (now the University of Indianapolis) and a retired bus driver from Beech Grove Schools