What does it feel like: Manning a barge during Thunder Over Louisville [Thunder Over Louisville]

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This article appears in the March 2011 issue of LouisvilleMagazine. To subscribe, please visit loumag.com.

As told by 63-year-old Dave Evans . . .

We drop each firework shell individually into a pipe. Then you hook an electronic igniter to it. We’re talking more than 10,000 shells on six barges. We leave a four-foot-wide area on each barge that you can actually walk through. Other than that, it’s pipes filled with shells. 

Once the show starts, barge workers head into a container — like a transport container you’d see on a train — and close the doors. They never actually see the show. All you hear is thumping. It sounds like a war zone. Debris is raining from the sky, pinging off the top and sides of the container. The sulfur smells like burnt matches or gunpowder. That percussion, you can feel it in your chest. Even though you’re wearing plugs, there’s still this pressure that builds in your ears.

Other guys watch from the tugboat. There’s lots and lots of smoke. When you see the fireworks, you don’t get the normal perspective; you don’t see the roundness of the shell when it breaks. You’re looking up and it looks like the underside of an umbrella. 

The better view is from the shore.

— As told to Josh Moss

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