The Fireworks Superstore on Exit 141 in Tennessee: a pillar of freedom

On a trip that had the main computer system of our mini-van go crazy on us while visiting a ghost town in Florida, had an accident with a crazy woman from England when she backed into the front of us at a stop light in Cape Canaveral, blew a tire in Georgia, and had the ABS system fail completely just north of Atlanta we had our share of transportation problems on our most recent trip through the south.  And all day long while driving back to reality my son-in-law wanted nothing more than to stop and get fireworks from a dealer for a Fourth of July, 2011 celebration at our home when we got back.  Because of all the trouble with the car I wanted to set a goal for the last really big place on our way home on I-75, a place I had taken my kids when they were very young, and it stuck in my mind as embracing everything that reminded me of just how great America is.  It’s the Fireworks Superstore at exit 141 in Tennessee, a palace of patriotism! 

Predictably, the place was wonderfully cheesy and had been kept up in the same manner as I had enjoyed some 20 years before.  A quick glance around the store revealed many names that are rooted in rebellion and danger, because in many ways that’s that fireworks represent.  And before buying fireworks, you need a general understanding these days of what they do. 


Open circuit

An incomplete electrical circuit

Orange book

The United Nations publication for classification and testing of dangerous goods


The component of an explosive that supplies oxygen for the reaction of the product

Palm burst

A color break with palm tree core

Parallel circuit

An electrical circuit in which the current is divided between several igniters. Less easy to test for breaks.


Commonly used to cover shells to enhance their burst

Pattern shell

A shell of fewer stars that creates a pattern rather than a sphere


See Star

Peony shell

A shell whose stars do not leave any trails


Plastic Igniter cord


A specialized type of firework which travels to and fro along a horizontal rope

Piped match

Raw match enclosed in a paper or plastic tube


The central core of a shell. Often a complimentary or contrasting colour to the main burst


See Bung


A thin walled tube filled with slow burning composition used to light other fireworks


Composition used to produce force e.g. A rocket motor



Slow burning lighter for small fireworks


Generic term for any item which react in a self sustaining chemical reaction and generally produces a light effect. Pyrotechnic articles are different to fireworks and generally are used for stage and theatrical uses


Raw match enclosed in a paper or plastic tube


Apparatus for firing rockets or mortar tubes


Shells containing long burning stars that fall all the way to the ground.

Raw match

Black powder coated thread used for linking fireworks

Repeater shell

Usually a cylinder shell with timed bursts at regular intervals

Ring shell

An aerial shell that produces symmetrical rings of stars often have a rope tail to control orientation of the break

Rising effect

Often a tail effect on a shell but can be external attachments to a shell that break off during the rise to create special effects


Aerial effect propelled by a motor

Rocket cone

A device for firing flight rockets

Rocket motor

The power unit behind a rocket. Typically made by pressing black powder into a choked tube

Roman candle

A cardboard tube with a stack of timed comets or bombette units

Round shell

A shell in the form of a sphere usually containing colored stars

Safety area

The area around a fireworks display site between the spectators and fireworks. Not including a fall out zone


Report or loud bang

Saturn shell

A chrysanthemum break with an outer ring of a contrasting color


A bar with centre pivot with drivers at either one or two ends which make the bar spin on a central point.


A whistle unit with a hole through the centre. This increases the burn speed and therefore the sound


The pattern in which fireworks are detonated in a display


Series circuit

A circuit arranged so the current runs through each igniter in turn. This enables and breaks to be detected


A spinning tube used in candles and shells. Usually with a report unit

Set piece

A ground firework. Generally static


The most spectacular of fireworks propelled with a lifting charge from a mortar and a bursting charge that charge to a star composition in the air after a predetermined delay

Shell delay

See Delay fuse

Shell of shells

An aerial shell that contains smaller shells ignited when the main shell bursts and subsequently produces small secondary bursts

Short circuit

The accidental completion of a circuit which causes the current to not flow through the igniter


The single functioning of a roman candle or cake


Air suspension of particles from incomplete combustion of a composition

Smokeless powder

A powder containing nitro-cellulose and nitro-glycerine as it does not produce much smoke


Typical effect caused by incandescent particles ejected form the surface of a burning composition


Wire coated with pyrotechnic composition that gives off small sparks

Spider shell

A shell containing a small number of large stars producing a symmetrical burst. Sometimes called octopus shells

Splitting comet

A comet with an internal charge of flash powder which when ignited splits the comet into several pieces.


Electric igniter


A pressed unit of composition usually spheres or cylinders used in shells, mines, rockets and roman candles


The holding of fireworks prior to their use. Premises must be licensed for amounts above a certain quantity


A pulsing on off star effect fired from candles and shells and ground based effects

Tail effect

A comet star secured to the outside of a shell to give a tail to the rising shell

Tiger tail shell

A shell made up of a solid ball of composition to produce a substantial tail effect. Sometimes with a small shell break


A silver metal used in the production of maroons and grebes

Top fused

A shell where the shell delay is lit separately from the lifting charge. Often found in large Maltese shells


See Serpent


The process of consigning a load of fireworks. Subject to heavy legislative control

TREM card

Documentation required when transporting fireworks of any quantity. Transport emergency card. Provide information for emergency services


A large tail unit often used on palm and willow shells


UN classification

The assignment of a packaged firework into the UN classes for fireworks

UN compatibility group

The G or S of 1.3G or 1.4S. The compatibility group indicated what a particular item may and not be transported with

UN Hazard code

See UN number

UN Mark

A complicated mark assigned to a particular packing box for dangerous goods

UN Number

A four-digit number assigned to hazardous goods. Explosives always start with a 0 e.g. 1.4G fireworks are UN 0336. Used to identify a dangerous item in the event of an emergency


A mass firing of rockets or shells

Water firework

Aquatic fireworks e.g. shells or water gerb

Water gerb

A floating gerb with a weight and cork float.

Water shell

See Aquatic shell


A curtain of coloured or silver sparks that falls vertically. Composition is made from an aluminum alloy

Weeping willow

See Willow shell


A rotating piece attached to a post in the form of a saxon bar or wheel with driver units


A tube containing composition of potassium benzoate and potassium silicate. On burning the composition creates oscillation in the tube and creates a whistle effect which is amplified in the tube


See Hummer

Willow shell

A shell containing charcoal based stars with a long burn time which often fall to the ground

Fireworks and participating in controlled destruction is important to the celebration of any July 4th ceremony.  And cheesy fireworks stores only enhance the celebration.  As I walked through the store I contemplated why that was, why one of my favorite towns of Gatlinburg, which is far from the sophisticated wine county of the Bay Area, has so much appeal to me.  So much so that I feature the town in my new book, Tail of the Dragon so prominently, and the reason is, that such cheesiness is uniquely American.  Shops like the fireworks store with all their contents are loud proclamations of businesses that are not subjected to state control by the government.  They, like the stores in Gatlinburg Tennessee with the multitude of t-shirt shops, the large amount of Ripley’s Believe it or Not’s that line the street, are ideas in someone’s head that have been translated into reality and they are unique in the world. 

There are places in the world like Niagara Falls, Canada, and areas in Hong Kong among a few others that have attempted to take a page out of the American handbook in their tourist spots to capitalize as we have, and I always find it refreshing to see.  Because in such places, capitalism is trying to pop its head out and grow.

But in the United States, we take it for granted that our nation’s highways are filled with these types of things, and while the progressive high brow, European lover may frown down on this activity, it is because they fundamentally embrace socialism, and they know such places are a threat to their attempt to manipulate the United States into a country of their vision.  For me, such places as the Fireworks Superstore on exit 141 are the epitome of freedom and the polar opposite of progressive  vision, so they are like temples of independance. 

John Stossel understands this too, and did a wonderful segment recently exploring this topic. 

Gaudy flashing lights are wonderful and I enjoy them wherever they exist.  I may not enjoy the moral position behind them, but I do enjoy the freedom of the entrepreneur to have the opportunity to come up with and implement an idea, no matter how ridiculous it is. 

That is what we celebrate on the Fourth of July, freedom to come up with an idea no matter how gaudy, and the freedom to explode stuff and pay homage to our past rebellion which allowed us to form the greatest country on Earth, the United States of America.  So when you pass a fireworks stand on the highways of America, salute them for the freedom they represent.  They are an important reminder of just what America is and what it can be, and are a part of that thin line that exists between tyranny and freedom.

Rich Hoffman!/overmanwarrior

10 thoughts on “The Fireworks Superstore on Exit 141 in Tennessee: a pillar of freedom

  1. It’s gone now. I drove by there yesterday on the way to Big South Fork. I took photos of the ruins if you’d like to see them .


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