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From The Childhood Files: Growing Powder Trees

When I was a kid, we lived in a nice ranch house in a nice neighborhood. Directly behind our house was a bridge that crossed a double set of railroad tracks that came and went as far as I could see. Often the open cars would be carrying coal stuffed to the brim, and every jostle would litter blocks of it onto the ground.

My main playground in the days before abduction was a concern, were those tracks. I'd climb through a hole in the fence to the left of my back yard and slide down the steep embankment, skidding in my Keds. Occasionally grabbing on to the hand hewn beams supporting the bridge to steady myself, my fingers might get sticky from the tar on the wood, but it made it easier to collect the coal. I brought them back and my mother would put the coal in a saucer, mix up some solution with amonia and food coloring and we'd pour it over. Before long there'd be a fantasy garden of pastel colored powder that had grown on the coal. Did you ever do this?

CLICK HERE to find a recipe for it.

And it calls for bluing... if you don't know what it is, it's an old time concoction used for whitening fabrics. There is a company called Mrs. Stewart's that still put it out and you should find it's little blue bottle with the red and white label amid laundry detergent -- in a mom and pop store or an old five and dime. CLICK HERE to read more and maybe through their site you can order it. There you will also find mention of pre-made kits for a similar project using salt. Apparently there are all kinds of uses for the bluing... who knew.

I know that some Science Museum shops and creative toy cataloges sell kits, so if you need to you can do that. I just find it's extra fun to do it the old fashioned way...
Thanks to Mrs. Stewart's link for the graphic.

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