Wilbur Charbonneau’s fireworks business has grown from the bait stand he purchased from Cruce Brown in 1962 just west of the city limits on Hwy. 54 to the 5,000 or 6,000 people packed into his yard at Dederick on Tuesday, June 19, not counting those in cars up and down Hwy. 54, Hwy. AA and Hwy. K and in cars parked in other places.
Someone from out of the area just happened to drive through Dederick that evening and asked the Sun later what was going on. They described it as cars parked along Hwy. 54 for two or three miles.
Wilbur said that for his 50th anniversary in the business, this was the biggest crowd ever. He said, “They just flocked in here.”
Wilbur was also impressed by the conduct of the crowd. “Not a bit of problem. They acted like people should act.”
The aerial fireworks show started at 9 p.m. and 20 minutes later, the some 500 shells had wowed the crowd and the show was over.
Wilbur said, “It blew my mind (surely no pun intended) how fast people dispersed. There was not a problem. They were all gone by 9:30 or 9:45.”
The cool evening gets some credit for the large turnout, but the “big stuff” brought them out.
Two plain clothes detectives from the Vernon County Sheriff’s department and one in uniform were there just in case, as was a Vernon County Ambulance crew.
For the first time, the grand finale was totally ignited electronically. That included four fireworks “cakes 16 ft. x 16 ft. x 4 ft., another one 16 x 16 x 8, one 16 x 16 x 12 and the really big one 18 x 24 x 6.
While the big show looked easy and spontaneous, it required lots of hard work behind the scenes.
On Monday, the Sun spoke with Margaret Charbonneau, Wilbur’s wife.
Wilbur and Margaret started with “lawn displays” and in 1992 Linda Brewer Smith started singing for the event. They moved on up to the aerial shows in the late 1990’s.
Asked about the set up time on the aerial show, she said, “By the time they go pick it up, bring it here and sort it, I’d say three or four hours.”
“He does now. I can remember the time when he didn’t. He has an official shooter now, because you have to have a license. After 35 years of shooting the shows himself, he had to come up with a license because the ATF has taken over the fireworks business.”
“This year, they wouldn’t even let Wilbur go pick them up. It had to be the official shooter who is Roger Hensley. They are really getting tight.”
“We shot one that was eight inches. It looked like a melon.
“Wilbur told me that if anything had happened that prevented that show from being shot that night, Roger would have had to take them all back to where he got them and do it another time because we can’t keep them on the premises any more.”
Q. When did Wilbur go all electric ignition?
“We have never gone all electric. This year, we had the electric finale. He shot the 8 inch shell electronically so nobody would have to get close to it. That thing shakes the ground. Well, they all shake the ground. That thing has concussion and if it doesn’t go up and do it’s thing right, there are serious consequences.”
Q. What did it do?
“It went so high, I didn’t think it was as impressive as some of the 6-inch shells, if you know what I mean. It was all gold and sparkly. I thought we had others that were more impressive. We had one when it burst open it had a heart in the middle of it. We had one that looked like sheet of wheat. We had one that made a square box.”
Q. How do they do that?
“I’ve thought about that. How do those Chinese pack that powder in there to make the shells do that?”
Q. Do you have any estimate of how much it costs to put on the aerial display?
“Let me put it this way: Wilbur told me I didn’t want to know.”
“So, it’s quite an expensive endeavor, truly expensive. But, we’ve always counted it worth the cost.”
“There are no fireworks sales that night. We keep it open for a little while if people want to walk through. We have somebody sitting here to watch over things. We don’t sell anything ever on that night.”
Q. What is the reason for that?
“The primary purpose of the show is not for selling. It’s for community and fun. Sometimes the show happens before we can officially sell. The license runs from June 20 to July 10. So, if the show happens before the 20th, we can’t sell anyway. We can sell to people from out-of-state anytime, but we can only sell to Missouri people within our license limits. If somebody from California rolled in here in April, we could sell to them.”
So, Wilbur’s Fireworks, in just 50 years, is the little bait shop business that exploded, so to speak.