From a Chinese Village to a Montana Lake

By Beacon Staff

Forty miles from the nearest town in rural China, Jack Cross found fireworks. Lots of them. A poor family, spanning three generations, busily focused on their work at hand: making the most beautiful fireworks that Cross, a long-time pyrotechnician, had ever seen.

Cross was in his second year of traveling to China to select and inspect fireworks for his shows and stands back in Montana. He already had a firm grasp on the politics of fireworks: the half-dozen or more middle men involved to get fireworks from Chinese villages to roadside U.S. stands; the tricks installed along the way to make the fireworks heavier and bigger, schemes designed to make more money.

So Cross cut out the middle men.

The Chinese family’s “Black Raptor” fireworks will be on display in Whitefish on July 4 – direct from a village in rural China to a barge on Whitefish Lake, with a stop at Cross’s Polson warehouse.

This is Cross’s first year orchestrating the Whitefish show. He has done Polson’s the last five years, exhibiting the “Black Raptors” and many other hand-selected fireworks. He said he’s excited about this year’s event, especially the good job done by Whitefish Shines, an organization that raised money for the show.

“This year will be the biggest show Whitefish has put on,” said Jim Trout, co-chairman of Whitefish Shines.

Cross owns Wholesale Firework Stores in Polson. He has 30 stands from Billings to Eureka and 225 employees. Each year, he attends two pyrotechnic conventions with the top pyrotechnicians in the world. He knows how to light up the sky.

His fascination with color will be on display in Whitefish, he said.

“I don’t know if it’s the biggest show in the state in terms of expense,” he said. “But it will definitely be the most colorful show in the state.”

Cross said 80 percent of the world’s fireworks come from within a 20-mile radius around Lin yaung, China. He goes there every year and examines fireworks, purchasing some and making suggestions on others. He returns to see if he wants the ones that have been altered.

Most stands sell fireworks that are far bulkier and heavier than necessary, Cross said. Middle men put extra tubing and material in the fireworks to give the impression of getting more bang for your buck. Ultimately, Cross said, it’s wasteful and inefficient because no powder can be added due to regulations.

His fireworks, such as the “Black Raptors,” look like the creators intended them to.

Cross said the Chinese family, which speaks an ancient dialect, has passed along its family firework secrets for 400 years. Two grandfathers, three fathers and four children currently carry on the tradition.

“They know nothing more than fireworks,” he said.

Whitefish’s firework show begins at dark, or about 10:30 p.m., on the Fourth of July, Cross said. Cross and volunteers will sit in boats 100 feet away and electronically shoot off fireworks set up on an anchored-down barge. It is an intricate process, because they deal with Class B fireworks, Cross said. Class C is commercial and Class A is dynamite.

“It’s very dangerous,” he said. “You make a mistake and somebody dies.”

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