The New Era - All about Sweet Home since 1929

Creator of local fireworks extravaganzas prefers to keep splash in sky


July 11, 2017

WES STRUBHAR, left, and Mitch Carter help Ron Carter, center, place shells in mortars and set up wiring for the Star Spangled fireworks show at Cheadle Park in Lebanon.

For The New Era

Ron Carter finds fulfillment in creating perfect matchbook cabinets, vacuuming fish poop, and blowing things up.

You might find him in his cabinet shop off Highway 20, underwater at the Oregon Coast Aquarium, or behind the fuse of a firework.

Carter, of Sweet Home, has found ways to serve his community for more than 30 years. He just prefers to do it in the background.

“Personally, I just like being quiet and behind the scenes,” he said.

“Quiet” might describe his moments diving offshore for rock scallops, but setting off fireworks is anything but that.

“They sound neat from a distance, but they’re quite a bit louder when you’re right there by them,” Carter said.

He sort of stumbled into being a pyro technician after he volunteered into the Sweet Home Fire Department in the early 1980s. Since the fireworks show for the Sportsman’s Holiday is put on the Sweet Home Volunteer Firefighters Association, he found a natural opportunity to get involved.

At the time, the fire department shot the fireworks off small floating docks on Foster Lake, Carter said. Eventually they moved the launch to the dam because the floats were so small, they had no place to go except in the water if something were to happen. With full fire gear on, that posed quite a risk to the personnel.

“If we jump in the water with those, we’re basically an anchor,” Carter said.

After several years, he stepped away from fireworks because more young men were joining the department and wanting to get involved, he said. However, when those numbers waned, Carter once again found himself setting off fireworks for the town.

His son Mitch also joined the ranks, and has now been working firework shows with his dad for nine years.

In addition to working the Sweet Home show, the two became employees of Western Display Fireworks, a family-run operation out of Canby. They deliver and set off fireworks all over the valley.

Carter said the downside to shooting a fireworks show is that you can’t see it very well because it’s meant to be viewed from several hundred feet away, not directly below. But working the show still has its perks.

“Yes, it’s fun to be the one to light it and hear the boom, essentially blowing things up,” he said.

While it’s a paid gig, working the fireworks shows is basically a volunteer position, Carter said. They receive a percentage of the profit from the show, but the time involved can be tedious.

Creators of shows spend hours setting up the mortars, guarding the fireworks, performing the show, and then cleaning up.

Born in Lebanon, Carter mostly was raised in Sweet Home, outside of brief stints living elsewhere. He remembers enjoying the Sportsman’s Holiday and the carnivals they used to have.

He also recalls growing up on River Road, where he would fish in the river and hike up the nearby mountains.

His brother and two neighbor kids would join him for a bike ride up to Foster Lake where they would plop down on sleeping bags and stay all night.

“We wouldn’t ever let our kids do it in today’s society, but back then it was no big deal,” he said.

After serving in the Army, Carter tried to settle in Bend, but found himself missing the greenery in Sweet Home, so he moved home and began a family.

While working at Willamette Industry’s Foster Mill, he met his wife, Darla, the daughter of a coworker. They’ve been married for nearly 32 years, and raised their daughter, Katie, and son Mitch.

“She has allowed me to do almost anything I want, as far as volunteering and extra work,” he quipped.

In fact, it’s partly because of Darla that he has been a volunteer diver at the Oregon Coast Aquarium for 17 years. After she jokingly showed him an ad seeking divers at the aquarium, her mouth dropped when he announced he was going to do it.

Carter vacuums fish poop and scrubs the walls for the Passages of the Deep exhibit, and he does the occasional dive presentation as well.

“We’re basically underwater janitors,” he said.

Scuba diving is probably Carter’s favorite hobby. He says it’s his “solitude.”

“We get to see a part of this world that, if you’re not a diver, you don’t get to see it unless you see it on TV,” he said.

But even with great television technology, you still don’t get to feel the water around you, he added.

He’s spent many years just sightseeing underwater, but now he prefers fishing during his dives. He goes after fish in Newport and crabs in Florence, but he really likes to go offshore for rock scallops.

“It’s harder to get, so that’s why I want to get them,” he said. “The only way you can get them is diving.”

RON CARTER, right, sets up pre-loaded, boxed fireworks with his son, Mitch for the Star Spangled Celebration in Lebanon.

Carter also uses his diving experience to assist in water rescues. While many people on the fire department may be certified divers, Carter says it’s not for everybody, and that’s OK.

“[Some] don’t like the idea of pulling the body up out of the water, finding the body underwater,” he said.

And, of course, Carter works with the fire department to help people when they need it the most.

“It’s their worst time, so just trying to make it better for them,” he said.


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