The History of PAT - This Article was published in the Dec. 2018 Bulletin of the Pyrotechnics Guild Internationl(PGI). Written by Ken Barton - PAT President Emeritus, and JJ.
The Pyrotechnic Artists of Texas(PAT) was formed at the PGI convention in Amana, Iowa in 1997. PGI members from Texas held a meeting at the convention to gauge interest in forming a club and there was enough interest to form the club. Ken Barton volunteered to be the first President, he had met with Florida and Northeast club members and gotten tips on what needed to be done. Larry Nemec, a policeman in the Houston, area volunteered to be the Vice President. He added much flavor to the club and of course he was a key person in understanding regulations. Larry also suggested we use the Texas Fireant as our mascot. That was a fantastic choice. Tom Buschbaum from the Austin area volunteered to be club Secretary. Rob Westfall of Dallas volunteered to be Treasurer and helped us secure an attorney for the club to achieve a corporate status.
Rob’s Wife, Linda Westfall did a fantastic job as newsletter editor and publisher. Linda had a vast knowledge of drawing with PowerPoint software and she created the original artwork for the fireant mascot. I must further mention that our club was the only club at that time to publish a full color newsletter….That was unheard of in 1997…… All these newsletters had to be printed on a color printer and “snail-mailed” out to members. This was at least two or three years before the Internet changed everything! Postage was much lower back then and the club could afford to do mail outs.
Last, but certainly not least, was Ken’s wonderful wife Peggy, with the unofficial title of “Presidential Assistant”, or “Fireant Firstlady”. Peggy spent many hours with Ken printing, stuffing, stamping, and mailing newsletters. Some newsletters were even hand carried to residents in areas like Caddo Mills where we had events that made many loud explosions so as not to surprise neighbors that had livestock near the shoot site. Many times Peggy worked at the registration table signing up new members and taking membership payments at events.
PAT mailed out an introductory newsletter to anyone who might have been interested in joining the club. We got a significant number of responses and at one point in the first 2-3 years we had 140 members signed up under either a literary or full membership. Memberships tapered off after the first couple of years as many realized that with Texas being so big, few could attend all the club’s meetings. Great distance continues to be a problem for a club in a state that can take up to 8 hours to cross to reach a destination. For this reason the majority of club members have been from the Dallas-Ft. Worth, Austin, and Houston areas. The primary considerations in forming our club were of course; safety, safety training, display training, having liability insurance, gaining or sustaining memberships, and obtaining & keeping shoot sites.
PAT was originally formed with the idea of having up to three events each year in different Texas locations. The first shoot site we chose to meet and do a club shoot was on a small farm near the small central Texas city of Milano. Even though we spooked two horses and set a small grass fire that was quickly extinguished by the local fire department, we all thought it was a great success. The locals said the show was unlike anything they had ever seen before but we were never invited back again. It was too loud for people and farm animals in such a quiet location. Later in the 1990’s we shot a club gathering next to a cemetery near a historical one room schoolhouse. This was shot the week of Halloween in a tiny town called Barclay, Texas. One of us had their firing systems behind cemetery headstones. We didn’t wake any of the dead but we did shake things up a bit.
Later in the 1998 - 2001 we shot three club events further down the road at a Czech dance hall festival building next to a large plowed field. This gave us much room to shoot larger shells up to eight inches. We shot a few wheels and comets and other effects there and we hoped to get support from the neighborhood people to help pay for our product, but that never happened, so we moved on. Three times we were invited to shoot on a large ranch in South Texas near the Brazos River. We named this event “Blast on the Brazos”. We had much more room to shoot and we even got to shoot 12” and even a 16” shell of shells.
One of our most memorable and useful shoot sites continues to be the Nelson’s Fireworks’ facility in Caddo Mills, Texas(near Dallas). Rex and Roy Nelson have been our generous hosts for almost 20 years, sharing their 250 acre site, warehouse, and storefront buildings with us for club storage and events. Unfortunately, as population in areas encroaches we now have increasing numbers of complaints about our salutes at this site. We became “the airport that moved in before the people moved next to it”!
The original leadership team did a great job starting the club and keeping it running for the first 10 years. Other leaders took over and continued performing the club’s mission, including Mark Miller(President & e-mail master), Ken Purcell(webmaster), Peggy Sullivan(Secretary), Gary Kovar(Safety), and Mike Strang(Vice President). Various issues continue to challenge the club: At one time the club shared an ATF registered Type 4 magazine, but it was lost due to water damage. Liability insurance has always been a challenge, it remains expensive. Texas distances and availability of shoot sites(and getting invited back) remain as issues. As well, establishing a permanent manufacturing facility in Texas involves meeting significant state requirements.
Over the last 7-8 years the club has produced two events per year(when not rained out or in Burn Ban…). Events have been held in mid-Texas near Austin, and North Texas at Caddo Mills, in order to provide geographic diversity. PAT Events offer a mix of activities: shell, mine, & rocket building, effect techniques (gas mines, creamora’s), licensing seminars, and 1.4G & 1.3G display building. We have a group display on Saturday night that highlight member’s efforts. Our membership has recently numbered from 50 to 75 members. Our activities are financed by membership fees and donations.
The Fireants have an excellent safety record and we have trained many to go on to do shows of their own in a Texas marketplace that once was dominated by only a few companies with a handful of licensed operators. We’ve helped generations of enthusiasts get their Texas and ATF licenses, learn how to build effects, and get good pricing on product with Group Buys. We have made a mark in fireworks here in Texas even though we are a small club. We celebrated our 20th anniversary this Oct. 12-14, 2018 in Caddo Mills, Texas. Many have walked in and out of our club gatherings in one piece, unscathed, and most had a smile on their faces when they left us. We invite you to join us.