Heritage, Volume 7, Number 1, Winter 1989 Page: 23
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was offered free room and board at the
ranch, with all local expenses paid after
they got to Texas. Dyrenforth and his crew
managed to get to Midland by the 5th of
They couldn't have picked a better spot.
The air was dry. The ground was drier. In
his journal, Dyrenforth noted that "no local
disturbance under such conditions as here exist
could induce the presence of moisture ... this
doubt became a conviction as day after day of
the same kind continued."
Never say die. Dyrenforth had his
equipment set up in four days' time. Here
was the battle plan: they were going to hit
that bright, blue Midland sky with a barrage
of noise like it had never heard before.
They set up three lines of attack, all
around the ranch house. Up in the front
line, spread about 50 yards apart, they had
60 mortars made from well tubing. Along
that same line, they stuffed prairie dog
holes with dynamite and rack-a-rock, an
explosive reputed to be even more powerful
than dynamite when it came to coaxing
rain down from the sky. Along a second
line, they had themselves a whole battery
of kites, loaded with explosives; and, over
in the meadow behind the house, they set
The balloons didn't have any explosives.
They were filled with hydrogen, and
were supposed to explode by themselves
when they got into the thinner high-up air.
The evening of the 9th, they set off a test
explosion of the rack-a-rock. "There was a
great concussion. On the morning of the next
day, August 10th, a very heavy rain fell. The
rain continued for about two hours, causing
water to run into the draws, and the plains to
Well, they chewed this over for the next
three days, setting up the real experiment,
and, three days later, they had visitors. The
sightseers, come all the way from El Paso,
were Juan Hart, editor of the El Paso Times,
and Professor Carl Longuemare, editor of
the El Paso Bulletin and a mining engineer.
With them, they brought a letter from
Richard Caples, the mayor of El Paso, in
which he invited the government team to
come on out to his town at the bend of the
river and make the rain fall there.
"We can't say Yes or No," the expedition's
leader told the visitors, "but you stick
around and watch the test here, which is
coming up." They did. And it was a noisy
time. The next few days saw hundreds of
explosions going off and there was some
mild rain following, but not that much.
Helium balloons were used during the rainmaking experiments to explode at high altitudes thus ensuring
rain to fall. Courtesy Harpers Weekly, vol. XXXV, no. 1816, October 10, 1891.
"Not to worry," said Robert St. George
Dyrenforth. "We're saving the big guns for
August 25th, when the equipment is really
going to be put to the test." It dawned fair
and clear, that 25th of August. The hydrogen
balloons were all filled by 10 that
morning, and teams struggled at the ropes,
trying to hold them down in the high wind
that had come up.
Finally the ropes were all cast off and, as
the last balloon soared skyward, a dozen
charges of dynamite and rack-a-rock were
exploded. The party began to get a little
wilder at sundown, when the team set off
40 pounds of dynamite, 200 pounds of racka-rock
and 150 pounds of blasting powder.
Wait a minute, they weren't finished
yet. Another 50 pounds of dynamite were
set off, along with 100 pounds of rack-arock,
and the noise didn't die down till 11
o'clock that night, at which time the air
was as clear and dry as anyone could remember.
It didn't stay that way. By 3 in the
morning, there was thunder and lightning
as a heavy rainstorm marched across the
sky to the north. By 6 in the morning,
heavy rain was falling all over the north
section of the ranch and was approaching
the ranch house. When the clouds loomed
overhead, Dyrenforth set off a few more
charges of dynamite and, sure enough, the
rain started falling.
There was only one trouble with all this
-the air was so dry the rain never reached
the ground, except for a stray sprinkle or
two. No matter. If you're doing a government
experiment any result is fine, and
Dyrenforth made plans to hustle back to
Washington to prepare his official report.
At the same time, he wrote an article for
a magazine, the North American Review, in
which he may have stretched reality a bit:
"Late in the evening the writer drove to the
Midland station, a distance of 25 miles, and it
is safe to say that six or eight miles of the road
traversed was flooded under four to 40 inches
Needless to say, this part didn't appear
in the official report he made to Washington.
Dyrenforth had left Professor Ellis at
Midland, with orders to ship the equipment
to El Paso. An agreement had been
reached: The rainmaker would make a test
HERITAGE * WINTER 1989 23
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 7, Number 1, Winter 1989, periodical, Winter 1988; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45430/m1/23/: accessed August 17, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.