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Smoke School Stories

Chicken Shooter Cannon

Yet another smoke school story From the pen of George Whitlow of Whitlow Enterprises

A while back I was flying into Huntington West Virginia, when our jet got delayed and diverted into Ashland Kentucky. Seems like a pilot prior to our arrival at Huntington, just forgot to put down his landing gear upon landing. He forgot to let his wheels down. Now would you think that would be on the checklist?

We landed in Ashland Kentucky. I like Ashland. We have a smoke school there twice a year in Greenbo Lake State Park. Ashland is a small town in the foothills with a coke plant, that is coke as in coal and not coke as in Coca-Cola nor in cocaine. They also have a Marathon refinery there, which I just canít get to come to our smoke school. I like Ashland. It is a small town America -Movies, factories, Wal-Mart. The fishing is good on the lake and the lodge rooms in the State Park are fantastic. I like small town America- I grew up in a small town- Monroe in northeast Louisiana up in the cotton fields.

When I arrived at the Ashland International Airport, I asked the airline attendant if we could expect any delays in our departure flight. He smiled at me and said, "We only had one delay this week. A duck flew into the windshield of a Cessna."

"Did it break the window? I asked.

"Nope, did not even crack it." When he mentioned the word crack, he pulled up his trousers. He must a been a redneck. Good thing he wasnít a plumber. Got the biggest butt cracks I ever did see.

I pondered this thought as he went on talking.

He spit some Red Man tobacco juice into a coffee cup holding a wet paper towel, grinned and said, "We test each airplane windshield with a cannon and a chicken shooter. We back off about fifty yards and let her fly. That chicken hits the windshield at about 90 miles an hour. SPLAT.

Well, at Neville High School there in Monroe, Louisiana, we had career day. We had lawyers, judges and candle stick makers. If we had had chicken shooters there, we would have had a line of students. I would have taken that job.

Let me get this straight. You want me to put a chicken in a cannon and fire it at an airplane. Can I do something different? Can I put maybe a cat in the cannon and shoot it at a billboard.

Well, I decided to get some mileage out of this chicken shooter story. We are on the road almost constantly from New York City to Oregon. From sea to shining sea. We have to stop at a lot of gas stations and at nearly every stop, someone always has to ask what is that black trailer we are pulling down the road. I have been stopped by at least 15 curious state troopers and at least 2 armored car drivers. The smoke school machine does resemble a cannon. I get tired easily of trying to explain what a smoke machine is and explain about opacity, visible emissions, and smoke school. The vast majority if people have no idea what in the heck I am talking about. So it is much easier to make up a quick little story about what is on the black trailer.


I usually say it is a giant smoker and we are traveling around smoking hogs. Most people believe this story and they want to try a sample. I have told several people it was a cannon. On my first trip through Virginia, I told one lady it was a cannon and we worked for the circus shooting monkeys out across the circus tents into trampolines.

She told me that she was going to report us to the SPCA for cruelty to animals. I explained to her that the monkeys loved it and they stood in line at career day to get the job of being shot out of a cannon. She wanted to know where the monkeys were so she could inspect them for injuries. I told her that they were on an eighteen wheeler just down the road and we were waiting on them here at this truck stop. You are welcome to hang around, come inside and I will buy you a cup of hot coffee. She left.

An English teacher from Virginia honked the horn and pulled me over on the side of the road to report that I had spelled the name Visible Emissions wrong and it was driving her crazy. She demanded that I take out a magic marker and fix the spelling immediately.

Now, we rent state park pavilion picnic shelters to conduct smoke school across the country. Park officials write my name Whitlow with magic markers to indicate we have the pavilion rented for the day. We are in the money now, Boudreaux. My name is in magic markers. That makes me feel right proud.

We were doing a smoke school down in Ville Platte, Louisiana. I stopped at a Cajun meat market to order up some chicken sauce-pecan, gumbo and trimmings to cater to the smoke school crowd. A real Cajun with a thick French accent stopped by the smoke school trailer to ask what it was.

I said we worked for the Devil and we made fire and brimstone. Now look, I love Cajun folks. They are the greatest. But there is a language barrier between folks from north Louisiana and south Louisiana. There ainít no doubt about it.

He asked, "Who you work wit?í

"The devil, you know- Lucifer- the red one with the pointed horns"


"the red one with the pointed horns- you know, in the Bible"

"What's dat you make?" he asked.

"Fire and brimstone."

"I get the fire part, but what is Brimstone?í"

I forgot that most Cajuns are Catholic and fire and brimstone is definitely a southern Baptist expression.

So anyway, back last week in Texarkana, Texas I needed a tire for the trailer. The wire was exposed. I pulled into a Goodyear looking for a tire. The poor man behind the counter was frustrated. It was about 9:30 AM and he had not had a single customer all day until I came in. When I can through the door about six other customers followed me in to the counter.

He gladly left the now busy counter and followed me outside to the smoke school trailer for some fresh air and a cigarette. He lit one up and then bent over to record the numbers off the worn out tire. Then he asked, What is this contraption?

I never cracked a smile when I replied, "A chicken shooter cannon."

"What in the hell do you use that for?"

I grinned and said, "We back off and shoot chickens at air plane windshields."

"What for?"

"We test then to see if they will break when a duck hits the windshield."

"How in the hell did you get that job?"

"Career day back in high school back in 1966 at Neville over there in Monroe, Louisiana. There was a long line for that job, but I got in. I hired on right after high school. I been a shooting chickens ever since. Love it. After a few years, I brought out the company and chickens have been very good to me."

"How do you get business?" he frowned.

"Contracts with Delta- you know American Airlines, what ever?"

"How do they know where to call you?" he asked.

"The Internet is an amazing tool," I said, grimacing. We got a web site www.chickenshooter.com. People click on it, call us, we travel wherever they want us to go. Delta has plenty of money to blow. We get by. Probably never strike it rich but we do get by."

"How many employees do you have?"

"Hum- a well 15 or 20 canít keep track we are on the road all the time. Got 5 cannons. We work 7 on and 7 off. Pay 20 bucks an hour plus expenses"

"How much do you charge Delta to test a windshield?"

"Flat rate, $5,000 per windshield."

"That is a lot of money."

"I know, it is a racket -a gadget- a gimmick- ever bodies got one. They donít mind paying- we are the best chicken shooters in the business. Best that ever was or ever will be. If we say a duck cant crack a windshield, then you can put that down on paper. We donít waste anything. After we splat the chicken at the windshield, we sell the chickens to Kentucky Fried Chicken. They buy all we can haul in there."

He thought this over, lit another cigarette and asked the inevitable, "Can I get a job?"

"Sure, just click on www.chickenshooters.com and email me a resume. If you got what it takes to shoot a chicken out of a cannon, we will hire you in a New York Minute."

"Let me get this straight, You want to give me a job. Give me a cannon and a chicken. Let me shoot it at a windshield on an airplane and you are going to pay me. Well sign me up right now."

"Send me a resume."

Update: This chicken shooter page has been on the internet just a few days and already I am receiving requests to conduct chicken shooter tests all across the globe. Dang, my ship may have just arrived. Look out Ethyl, Here I come. We are in the money now, Boudreaux.

The latest request is from Porsche


A few years ago, I was driving home from work. I was taking the Jefferson Highway exit off Interstate 12 there in Baton Rouge. I saw a homeless person with the sign, I will work for food. I needed to get my porch painted so I stopped and picked him up. We went to Wal-Mart to get some paint and a roller. I asked the homeless person to paint my porch while I went to the school to pick up Heather. When I got back to the house, the homeless person met me out in the front yard. He said he was finished and that it was not a Porsche, it was a Farari. Dagnabbit- good help is hard to find.

And that my friend-- is the way it is. Other smoke school stories and family stories

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