The Hog Wild Chronicles is a project following a family of pyrotechnicians based in Arkansas. Every year, for the 4th of July celebrations, Tonya Jerry and Jerry Martin), along with their children returning home, run fireworks shows in the Tulsa and North-West area of the state. The company was first established in 1999; their love for fireworks, however, all started in their friend’s backyard, 10 years earlier.
On their way to the traditional summer gathering, all guests were asked to stop at a fireworks tent before arrival. After dinner they would join hayrides (wooden trailers pulled by horses), get dropped in local surrounding fields and shoot the public shells at night fall. They loved it so much that after a few years of backyard and field fun, they went on to become industry professionals and licensed instructors. “I got tired of the small stuff” Tonya explained. She added that before the 9/11 attacks at the World Trade Center, licenses were not needed for existing companies to train and recruit. But in the aftermath and with increasing security measures, they had to acquire them from the Federal Government. After finalizing their training with local fire agents who taught them about the rules and regulations of the industry (NSPA 1123 NATIONAL FIRE PROTECTION ASSOCIATION), Hog Wild Pyrotechnics was born, a company which now owns branches in multiple regions of Arkansas.
July 2018. Jerry Martin (63) and Tonya Jerry (57) patiently wire arial shells to firing devices.
I first became aware of the Hog Wild team after meeting Lauren, one of Tonya’s daughters. She explained that for years, the same team used to gather together for the occasion and that it felt like a family reunion they all anticipated from the moment the celebrations were over. But with time passing, teenagers growing up and families evolving, the beloved group dispersed and new crew members now join every summer season. As appreciative as she is to get to meet new pyrotechnicians and students, whom she now also helps train, it was bitter sweet to talk about the subject. However, Lauren and her siblings’ ties to the tradition are still so strong that together with a few other members of the team, they always return; whether from Texas, California or elsewhere in the US.
While documenting the process in July 2018, I witnessed a lot of tenacity and a high range of emotions. From the back breaking labor of lifting and drilling in a humid environment averaging a 90F temperature; to the tedious wiring between shells for the perfect arrangements of colors and effect; to the “calm before the storm” in the late afternoon; the tension building at nightfall, finally followed by the adrenaline rush created by the impact of ear piercing explosions during hand and remote firing; Tonya and Jerry ran the show in an uplifting manor but remaining firm, making sure all were safe and focused on their jobs.
In the car ride back home after the shows where successfully completed, Tonya mentioned that when is not running a team to fill mortar racks, carefully fill them with arial shells ranging from 3/4 up to ten inches, and connect them to wires attached to Cobra Firing System devices, she runs a beauty salon. “I do nails. Finger Nails and Fireworks, quite the opposite jobs” she says with humor.
Following the extreme floods that occurred in central USA in the spring of 2019, three of their major dates had to be canceled, including their Yell Fest show in Dardanelle. Many “pyros” where equally affected, with shooting sites still unaccessible as of June, under three feet of water.