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Fourth of July fireworks show a labor of love for Farmington ranch owner Tommy Bolack

This year's show will feature 90% American-made fireworks

FARMINGTON — Tommy Bolack rapped his knuckles against the big steel tube by his side, sizing it up.

"When this goes, off — ka-WHAM! — it sings," he said, grinning and allowing his eyes to slide up to the top of the 8-foot cylinder.

Bolack was showing off the dozens of mortar tubes that are an integral part of his annual fireworks show that will take place at dusk on the Fourth of July from his B-Square Ranch just south of Farmington.

Bolack will haul those mortar tubes and approximately 2,500 fireworks up to the bluffs on the south side of the San Juan River on the holiday, then set them off at nightfall to the delight of the thousands of people who gather along U.S. Highway 64 and on Crouch Mesa to watch.

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Bolack has been presenting the show for more than 30 years at his own considerable expense. When he started, it consisted of 250 shots. Now, it totals 10 times that number, lasts 30 to 35 minutes and serves as one of San Juan County's more beloved traditions.

Bolack takes enormous pride in presenting the show, as he explains repeatedly that the display is intended to evoke the image of the bombardment of Fort McHenry by the British in the War of 1812, which inspired Francis Scott Key to write "The Star-Spangled Banner." He insists that not once over the last three decades as he gotten bored with the show or been tempted not to do it.

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He is especially looking forward of this year's show, which he said will feature 90% American-made fireworks. Bolack contracted with manufacturer F & F All Seasons Inc. to produce most of the shots for his display this year, something he said cost him an additional $3,000.

"Viva la U.S.A.!" he said.

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The shots in the show range in size from 3 inches to 16 inches, and Bolack claims F & F officials told him he is the firm's first customer to order 3-, 4- or 6-inch shells. In the past, Bolack has built many of those smaller shots himself, but he said his being able to order them preassembled from F & F this year saved him a lot of work.

Bolack is a self-described "thump junkie" and says he enjoys feeling the concussion from the exploding shots as much as he does observing the visuals. He possesses a Class B license from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms that permits him to handle large fireworks.

"This is not something you can go to the fireworks tent and get," he said proudly.

The show is conducted from the bluffs on the B-Square Ranch, 400 feet above the San Juan River. Bolack goes up early in the day on the Fourth of the July and begins assembling his equipment, which consists of five 43-foot rows of mortar tubes of various lengths and diameters, along with the shots — 550 shells and approximately 2,000 "cakes."

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He said he typically remains on the bluff all day making sure everything is ready to go at nightfall. But this year, he'll be making appearances on two radio programs to promote the show, so he'll be shuttling back and forth between the ranch and Farmington throughout the day.

"It's going to be a busy day," he said.

Bolack insists the only thing that will stop his show from going off as planned on the holiday is rain.

"Water is a pyrotechnician's worst nightmare," he said. "That's the one day a year I don't want it to rain."

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or Support local journalism with a digital subscription.