Summer dunking

The NALREC picnics of the early days featured games, rides and dunkings in the dunk tank. Photo: Fermilab

The NALREC picnics of the early days featured games, rides and dunkings in the dunk tank. Photo: Fermilab

In the 1980s I’d joined the NAL Recreation Committee, or NALREC. It was a lot of fun. We’d host steak fries, sometimes charging people for food based on their seniority at the lab. We’d also host picnics in the Village. Everybody volunteered, and it was wonderfully family-oriented. We had kids, kids’ games, bands, DJs, horses, Ferris wheels. We also had a beer truck come in.

We’d bring out the dunk tank at the picnic. The tank wasn’t the best in the world, so I did some negotiating with different division and sections and managed to beg, borrow and find materials to make a new one. I picked up an old trailer from Roads and Grounds and persuaded the weld shop into welding the trailer, steel and unistrut together. Then I had some summer students help paint it.  The tank had two stalls, and it came out pretty well. I and a number of helpers ran the dunk tank for several years as part of the NALREC contributions.

For those unfamiliar with a dunk tank: It’s a mechanism for good-humored humiliation. A volunteer (the humiliatee) steps inside the tank, which is partially filled with water. He sits on a small platform situated a short distance above the water and attached to a lever that, when pushed, releases the platform, causing the poor volunteer to fall into the water.

The typical method for pushing the lever is for a second volunteer — perhaps someone with a bone to pick — to throw a ball at it.

We managed to talk one particular gentleman to get into the dunk tank. He was a favorite to dunk. When people saw that he was the dunkee, we got a line 200 feet long queuing up to throw that ball. The end of the lever had a paddle about four or five inches around, but for this individual, I made a bigger one, clamped to the end. It was about a foot around. He got mad at me. But it went well.

Other VIPs got in the dunk tank, too.

You can have a look at the rebuilt dunk tank that George Davidson helped construct in a 1991 article from FermiNews (see page 4). For pictures of the earlier dunk tank and Fermilab picnics (including one of Leon Lederman in the tank), see page 2 of this 1980 issue and page 4 of this 1984 issue of FermiNews.

George Davidson is the head of transportation services at Fermilab.