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Mountain Home Magazine

Pyrotechnic Art

by Beth Williams

Perched high on a hill with a breathtaking view of Cowanesque Lake and the valley below is a barn that houses two very different businesses. Jim Farr of Lawrenceville is the proprietor of both—a butchering operation for farm animals and a fireworks/pyrotechnics assembly lab.

“I’ve been doing fireworks legally for twenty-two years,” Jim says. “And illegally for many more years than that, which was more fun!” There are plenty of rules and regulations that go along with doing fireworks legally. Jim gets his insurance for shows through Lloyds of London and has to be certified as a display fireworks technician every three years. Every show he does is fully insured.

And then there are the regular visits from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents. Jim has an explosives storage magazine onsite that he says “holds all the high octane” fireworks material. His magazine is surrounded by chain-link fencing and electric wire fencing with a stern “No Trespassing” sign that warns: “Violators will be shot. Survivors will be prosecuted.” And, in fine print, “If you can read this sign you are trespassing.”

“Two or three times a year, and you never know when, ATF agents will show up to make sure everything is properly secured and legal,” Jim says. “If there are weeds or an empty box in the magazine they’ll give you a warning notice for bad housekeeping.”

Jim attributes his immersion and interest in fireworks to Bob Blake. Blake owned Northeast Fireworks in Tioga, Pennsylvania, until his death last March. The duo put on many fireworks shows together at Ives Run at Tioga-Hammond Lakes and at Cowanesque Lake. Jim and his six assistants are still putting on those displays, as well as shows at other area venues and events, including the Arnot Sportsmen’s Club, the Blossburg Coal Festival, Woodhull Raceway, and the Morris Rattlesnake Roundup. In fact, at the Morris a few years back, Jim got a great reminder about how, well, explosive fireworks can be.

“Fireworks are dangerous, don’t ever forget that,” he recalls. “I was telling my assistants what to do and what not to do when I did one of those ‘what not to dos’ and ended up losing my thumb.” Luckily for him, doctors were able to surgically reattach it.

And while Farr didn’t have any run-ins with rattlesnakes in Morris, he has had an encounter or two with rattlers while setting up and setting off fireworks at Ives Run.

“I was setting up the show at the edge of the lake and I heard this rattling sound, not the kind of sound you want to hear!” he remembers. Jim and the snake maintained an uneasy peace, and the show went on with no rattlesnake bites.

So with all the inherent dangers of the fireworks themselves, and the unknown dangers like rattlesnakes, why does Jim Farr spend so much of his time and money on pyrotechnics?

It’s a joy thing. “I like to hear the response from the spectators when it is done. I always give people more than they pay for. I enjoy it and I want them happy,” Jim says simply. And it appears people are very happy. Friends call him up all the time wanting him to do shows for various events.

“I pick up the phone and they say ‘Hey, Farrzarelli’s, can you do a show?’ I have no idea where Farrzarelli’s came from, but that’s what they call me,” Jim says. “Word of mouth will either make you or break you.”

In addition to the annual events for which Jim creates sky magic, he also does things like weddings, graduations, and birthdays, even pre-birthdays. “One time I was doing a show for a couple that were going to have a baby, and no one knew what the sex was. But they wanted fireworks, and so the doctor told me so I knew what color powder to use in the fireworks,” he says.

While Jim purchases many of his fireworks from Northeast Fireworks, he also makes them himself, which requires him to have a manufacturer’s license as well as the storage magazine.

“I work mostly with 1.3G fireworks (high octane display fireworks),” Jim says, bringing out a sixteen-inch diameter fireworks shell that he made, and a commercial four-inch diameter shell for comparison. “Most shells used in displays are this size, so this sixteen-inch one is a whole other thing. It weighs over forty-three pounds when it is full of powder and stars.”

The diameter of the shell is directly proportional to the diameter of the firework burst in the sky when the shell is launched. The general principle is that there is a forty-five-foot diameter burst for every inch of shell diameter. So that means Jim’s sixteen-inch-diameter shell will create a display with a whopping 720-foot diameter when launched.

“Grand finales can have 500 shells strung together with one fuse,” Jim notes. “I always put tails on my shells so you can track the firework as it goes up into the sky.”

Jim sums it all up succinctly. “I love God, guns, and fireworks. I am an artist. The sky is my canvas. The fireworks are my paint.” There will be plenty of opportunities to see this particular artist’s works this summer. Jim’s fireworks will be at Ives Run at Tioga-Hammond Lakes on July 5, and on July 6 you can watch the skies over the Arnot Sportsmen’s Club in Arnot. On August 30, Jim’s pyrotechnics will paint the canvas at Cowanesque Lake for the Friends of Tioga-Hammond and Cowanesque Lakes.

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