How Fireworks Works

“Fireworks are a very important part of our tradition.” Was Bryan Beeban speaking as the assistant general manager for the Eugene Emeralds, or simply as an American? No matter.
Yes, these are hard times. But we’ve seen harder. Not you and I specifically, of course. But our nation has been through darker periods than this one. And if darkness is good for anything, it’s good for writing your name in the air with a sparkler, or oohing and aahing at a colorful burst exploding overhead.
The Emeralds have ended their early-July ball games with a bang every year since 1987 and this year will be no different, except for the fact that it will be.
Beeban again: “This year, the Eugene Active 20-30 Club will be doing their show from Alton Baker Park at the same time as we’ll be doing our show. Since they are only a quarter mile away from PK Park—”
Let me interrupt Beeban in the middle of his sentence to interject that anyone needing hard evidence that the center of Eugene is moving northward should consider the city’s fireworks displays. For decades, the best shows originated at Civic Stadium and the Lane County Fairgrounds. Now they’ve both hopped the river. OK, back to Beeban.
“—everybody will be getting two shows for the price of one.”
Or for the price of none. Call it the rooftop factor. Anyone for miles around whose neck works properly can watch “the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air” for free.
Fireworks displays are not inexpensive. The Ems’ show costs more than $12,000, but pyrotechnics — now the featured coda to every Friday night game — brings more fans through the gate. Other fireworks displays have a harder time meeting expenses.
The Eugene Active 20-30 Club’s display — their 64th in a row — costs roughly the same as the Ems’. They will distribute postcards to those watching the show from outside the gates of Arts and the Vineyard, directing them to a paypal link to donate for the show.
“People may not understand that our fireworks display is actually a fundraiser for the children’s charities our club supports,” Keith Engel told me. He’s the 20-30 Club’s Freedom Festival Sponsorship Chair. “We’ll have volunteers in the field making sure people stay out of the drop zone, so it shouldn’t be hard to give them these cards as well. I don’t think we have enough volunteers to ‘pass the boot’ and collect cash donations, the way the fire department does for its fundraisers.”
Funny he should mention the “pass the boot” technique. That’s just what you might see if you’re driving on Route 1 north of Reedsport late Sunday night. Gardiner’s leaders are seeking permission to do exactly that to pay for their show.
“Every year we manage to raise the money,” says part-time Gardiner resident Mike Quartararo. “Sometimes it’s a miracle, but it always happens. We tried donation jars by cash registers, but that didn’t bring in much. Rounding up $3,000 in a town of 283 people can be a challenge.”
Funny he should mention “can be,” because that’s where Oregon fireworks come from. Heather Gobet, Marketing Director for Western Display Fireworks, described her office in Canby, Oregon as “pretty crazy.” She then told me exactly how crazy. Their staff will stage 300 displays in four states this weekend.
Her great grandparents started the company 62 years ago. Her 16-year old son, David, is helping out in the shop this summer, marking five generations of putting the “works” in fireworks.
Gobet can tell you where all the sky shows are happening across the state. The biggest this weekend will be at the Waterfront Blues Festival in Portland and the Mill Casino in Coos Bay. Shows also have been purchased by Florence, Creswell, Brownsville, and Oakridge, just to name a few.
You may not care. If your plan for Sunday night is to tote lawn chairs on to your roof and exercise your neck, here’s the link for donations to the Eugene Active 20-30 Club: http://www.eugene2030.org/donation.html.
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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) grew up near Chicago, chasing lightning bugs. The Eugene Active 20-30 Club also welcomes donations mailed to P.O. Box 365, Eugene, OR 97440.