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Episode 53: Exploding Trousers, Great Gas Conspiracy

  • Exploding trousers: herbicides were responsible for indicidents of explosing pants in New Zealand in 1931 confirmed
  • Great gas conspiracy: there are devices that you can buy on the Internet that will greatly improve your fuel efficiency: mythbusted

Exploding Trousers

Myth: In 1931 in New Zealand, there was a sudden epidemic of farmers' pants exploding. The explosions were caused by a new chemical they were using.

They tested four possible explosive candidates on 100% cotton overalls:

  1. Gunpowder (mixed with water so that it could be applied as a paste)
  2. 1930 Herbicide
  3. 1930 Fertilizer
  4. 1930 Acid (nitrocellulose/Guncotton). The batch that Kari made started to spew off smoke and dissolve the trousers.

As always, FBI Special Agent (retired) Frank Doyle was on hand to help out.

Small-scale testing

100% cotton overalls cut into 3"x3" squares for small-scale testing.

In the small-scale testing, they tested four different types of ignition -- flame, radiant heat, friction, and impact -- with the idea being that the chemical that was most explosive under all four types of ignition would be scaled up for the Buster test.

  • *Flame *: they first tried using a cigarette, but soon switched to match ignition because the cigarette wasn't igiting anything. The herbicide and the black powder were the only samples to ignite, with the herbicide getting a much better flame than the black powder.
  • *Radiant Heat *: Black powder provided some flash, but the herbicide was by far the flashiest.
  • *Friction *: Used a reciprocating saw to rub the trouser samples back and forth. No explosion with any of the chemicals.
  • *Impact *: Grant rigged up a big mechanical hammer to slam the trouser samples. There was no explosion until the herbicide, which blew up all over everything and had the build team jumping around.

Based on the results of the small-scale test, they decided to go with the herbicide for the large-scale testing. The results they got matched well with what they knew about the myth. In the 1930s, used of herbicide skyrocketed due to problems with ragwort.The increased use of herbicide corresponds with the sudden increase in explosions.

Buster large-scale test

They used Tory's herbicide as well as some other explosives supplied by Frank Doyle. The remote trigger that the FBI supplied for the test was closest to the impact ignitor they used in the small scale tests.

  • Herbicide test 1: The pants burned off hot and fast, so fast that Buster's straw hat didn't even catch on fire. Buster was awash in bright red flames, but there was no explosion.
  • Herbicide test 2: They loaded another pair of trousers with even more herbicide and ignited it again. There was a lot more flame but still no explosion.

In the opinion of the paramedics, Buster would have lived with some scarring.

They next tested using 'magic silver.' The mystery explosive has a much faster detonating velocity (21,000 ft/s) than anything they have previously used on a MythBusters episode.

After a couple of false starts, they got the magic silver to detonate.

Tory: "Buster's not there anymore"

The magic silver blew Buster to smithereens, with many parts landing far away. However, having recently seen Buster, they did manage to collect all the major pieces, with the exception of the hands, which have been replaced.


Here are some pictures I took of the residual damage to Buster's thighs as well as his new hands. These photos were taken long after the actual shooting of the myth.

Buster Thigh Damage-1 Buster's New Hands-1 Buster Thigh-1

Great Gas Conspiracy

Myth: Automakers and fuel suppliers are in collusion to keep us dependent on expensive gasoline and inefficient cars. There are many devices that one can use to cut your fuel consumption.

They got a carbureted car and a fuel-injected car to test several types of devices. The cars were placed on a dynamometer, which allows the car to drive without moving anywhere.

Test devices and additives:

  • Fuel line magnets: working on the "principles of hydrodynamics," they are supposed to align the molecules for more efficient consumption.
  • Acetone additive: supposed to make gasoline burn more efficiently
  • 300mpg 'super' carburetor
  • Hydrogen fuel cell generator: flammable hydrogen gas produced by electrolysis. Adam labeled it "Gasbuster: Stickin' it to the Man"

They tested each car on the dynamometer at 35mph and 55mph with each 'device.'

Carburetor car:

  • Baseline: 17mpg at 35mph and 25mpg at 55mph
  • Magnets: exactly the same as baseline busted
  • Acetone: 16.7mpg at 35mph and 24mpg at 55mph busted
  • Super carb: much worse than baseline, 12mpg at 35mph and 17.7mpg at 55mph busted

Fuel-injected car

  • Baseline: 19mpg at 35mph and 27mpg at 55mph
  • Magnets: 18mpg at 35mph and 26mpg at 55mph busted
  • Acetone: 18mpg at 35mph and 26mpg at 55mph busted

Hydrogen fuel cell generator

Hydrogen fuel cell generator: the car started, but it turned out it was due to leftover fuel. They tried again with the residual fuel gone and the car wouldn't even start.

Adam: "My God! It doesn't work! I can't believe it doesn't work. I found it on the Internet, man!"

Jamie rolled a tank of hydrogen gas over and squirted the gas directly into the carburetor. The car started up with the gas, much to the excitement of Jamie and Adam. It was so much fun they tried it again, only to get caught off guard as the gas exploded inside of the carb, ending that particular test.

Cooking oil

Adam picked up some used cooking oil from a restaurant and filtered it to turn it into fuel. They got a diesel Mercedes and drove it around a 2.9 mile course at Alameda designed for constant 35mph driving. With the diesel baseline test they were able to go 8.8 miles on 1 liter (33.3mpg). They then switched to the used cooking oil and ended up getting 30mpg, only 10% less efficient.

They made no modifications to the diesel car and all they did to the cooking oil was filter it.

Mythbusted:none of the devices they tested made the car more fuel efficient. The EPA has tested 104 of these devices, and only 7 showed improvement in fuel efficiency. However, none of these improved efficiency over 6%.


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