By JOHN MATUSZAK
For The Herald-Argus
THREE OAKS, Michigan — Matt Veine of St. Joseph, Michigan, almost ended up with a very unusual hood ornament on his Chevrolet Silverado on Saturday.
He had come out to a muddy soy bean field near Three Oaks to cheer on co-worker Larry Kingman, whose Thrusting the Throne rocketry group was going to launch a porta-potty 2,000 feet into the sky.
"I like odd rockets," said Kingman, the project coordinator who has been involved in the hobby for about six years. "It's a thrill. It's a challenge. Every rocket's different. And you never know where they're going to come down."
Veine found that out. After making a beautiful arc, the wind caught the two skydiving parachutes attached to the contraption and carried it toward the sizeable crowd of spectators standing 2,000 feet from the launch pad.
It came within inches of landing on top of Veine's truck. He saw it heading for his vehicle and others nearby, and then it dropped straight down.
"It got the heart going a little bit," said Veine, who works with Kingman at Linear Electric.
"We wanted you to get a close look at it," Kingman joked.
Other than barely missing his buddy's truck, Kingman and the other rocketry enthusiasts were pleased with the results of two and a half years of work that led to the launch.
They took on the project to find out if they could meet the engineering challenges of getting the portable rest room - donated by Joy's Johns - off the ground. About 30 people worked on the rocket, from engineers and electricians to machinists and sales people who secured sponsorships.
"This was not barnyard engineering. This was done carefully," said Bob Bycraft, a salesman and a member of the Throne Thrusters, an offshoot of the Michiana Rocketry Club.
They worked with scale models until they arrived at the desired design.
"You want it to be stable. You want it to fly straight," Kingman said.
The craft was basically an aluminum frame rocket with a porta-potty frame bolted to it, with Plexiglas fins, Bycraft said.
Getting it off the ground is the easy part, he said. The hard part is having it land and be in one piece.
When completed, the 10-foot tall rocket and its seven motors weighed 450 pounds, and was lifted with 2,865 pounds of thrust.
The launch, which took place at a family farm on Avery Road, was delayed for two weeks due to weather conditions.
The club wanted to launch in the summer, but farmers need their fields that time of year, Bycraft said.
Saturday's 1 p.m. scheduled take-off was delayed for about an hour and 40 minutes while the rocketeers made last-minute adjustments. Hobbyists busied themselves setting off smaller rockets and steering drones.
Even before reaching the launch pad, the crew members were making changes and using good old-fashioned field expediency, like something out of "Apollo 13."
To reach a component inside a narrow opening, they employed someone's cane wrapped with duct tape.
And what did they extract from within the porta-potty rocket's inner works?
What else? Rolls of toilet paper Kingman said were part of a safety component.
Several sponsors helped finance the project. One contributed $2,600 worth of fuel needed for six seconds of thrust, Kingman said.
He gave a special shout-out to Joy's Johns.
"It proves how durable their unit is," Kingman said.