Darien natives set world record: Largest firework
In one giant explosion, sounding just like a crack of thunder, a new world record was set Saturday night, Feb. 8, by two Darien natives.
Tim Borden and Jim Widmann, who both grew up in Darien, were part of a group of four men who set a Guinness World Record for the world’s largest firework.
The group set the record with their successful launch of a 62-inch, 2,797-pound firework nearly a mile into the air.
It took place at the conclusion of the Steamboat Spring’s 100-year-old Winter Carnival in Steamboat Springs, CO.
About 20,000 people watched it happen, according to admission tickets sold to the carnival, according to Borden. Many thousands more were able to view it from homes that were within five miles of the event.
The firework was shot from a seal mortar 26 feet long, weighing 7 tons and about 8 inches thick. It flew at a speed of 300 miles an hour and 3/4 of a mile into the air.
When the shell exploded, it sent fireworks one-half mile in either direction across the sky.
The team began working on the firework last summer, and continued through January. According to Borden, who was project manager, about 1,000 hours went into building it.
“It took about two months working every day, for about eight to twelve hours,” he said.
He paid for the project “out of my pocket. I’m the sole contributor.”
Widmann, who works as a pyrotechnist, designed and constructed the shell of the firework.
“It involved mixing chemicals, designing, assembling, and putting paper around the shell,” Widmann said.
Sixty miles of packing tape was used. “It makes a hard shell, so when the fuse explodes in the shell, it goes flying out across the sky,” Borden said.
In preparation for the event, Borden, who is a project manager of Steamboat Fireworks, worked with the area’s firefighters, police, emergency medical technicians and the Routt County Search & Rescue teams.
“We worked closely with these people to ensure that there were no toxic chemicals involved in these fireworks,” Borden said.
An adjudicator from the Guinness World Records organization was on site, witnessing the event. She certified it as a record holder right after it took place.
Darien connection, interest
While Borden and Widmann are both from Darien, they didn’t know each other until they met in Colorado.
“About seven years ago, I was looking around the country for the world’s experts on big fireworks, and found Jim,” said Borden, 72, who now resides in Steamboat Springs. “With Jimmy’s expertise, we had an edge on the competition.”
Widmann, 62, who is a carpenter, now lives in Newtown. He invented a machine called WASP (Widmann’s Automatic Shell Paster), which applies paper to aerial firework shells.
“That machine is taking me all around the world to many fireworks factories, selling and marketing it,” he said.
The WASP automates the process of applying paper to the shells. “To do it by hand, it would literally take years,” he said.
Growing up, Widmann said his favorite day was the fifth of July, where he would go out to where the older kids in his neighborhood had been shooting fireworks, and find ones that didn’t go off completely.
“I would cobble them together into a functioning firework,” he said, adding that that is what led to his interest in fireworks.
Borden, who is chairman of multiple banks in Colorado, Wyoming, and South Dakota, and chairman and managing director of A F Europe, said fireworks is a big hobby of his.
“I started this hobby 20 years ago when I was asked by Steamboat Springs to put on their local July 4 fireworks show,” said Borden, adding the show kept growing each year.
The prior record for the largest firework was set in Dec. 31, 2018, in the United Arab Emirates, with a 55-inch, 2,397 pound firework.
Borden’s team attempted to set the record last year, but was unsuccessful.
With last year’s attempt, “we put the explosive underneath the firework to send it out of the mortar, up into the air,” Borden said. “It exploded inside the mortar and it shot a bunch of flames and sparks, but it wasn’t high enough to be considered an area firework.”
Since the firework was inside the mortar, it doesn’t qualify for the Guinness record. “It has to explode outside of the mortar,” he said, adding “It was very disappointing.”
However, as soon as Borden found out it failed, “I said, ‘Well, I’m going to come back next year try again.’”
Borden said he wanted to set the record because of its challenge.
“Whenever you do any kind of a hobby and you have an opportunity to set yourself apart, it gives you personal pride,” he said.
He also wanted to bring recognition “to our little town of Steamboat Springs.”
He said he knew he had a good chance at succeeding this year.
“We made some adjustments from last year’s failure. We analyzed it. We looked at the data that we collected,” he said.
However, even up until the very last minute, he wasn’t entirely sure he would be successful.
“It’s always an experiment. You never know ‘till the last second,” Borden said.
“This is the culmination for me for this hobby,” he added.