|By Jack Cawthon 2004|
Burvil stood alongside the road holding a gas can and a coil of plastic
tubing, the makings of what some wag has called a Clay County credit
card. With the price of gas soaring, there will no doubt be many folks
carrying such credit cards that haven’t been issued through the mail by
I stopped the truck and told him to get in before the evidence became
evident should Trooper Bludsoe pass by. The good trooper has been known
to wink at petty misdemeanors, content as long as the yearly body count
stays within normal range.
As Burvil set the container in the back of the truck, a bit of its
contents sloshed out. There arose the smell of earthy aromas that came
elsewhere than from Burvil. The contents of that can had never been
inside an OPEC tanker or the refinery of a major gas company. I knew in
an instance that it was what we in the hills called “drip gas.”
I grew up in the oil and gas territory of Gilmer County. My dad worked
part-time for the old McCall Drilling Company, which had drilled a
couple of wells on our place.
One of his duties was to tend to the “drips.” On the gas transmission
lines coming from the wells there was a joint of pipe leading off with a
capped end. The gas going through the line was “wet gas,” in that it
carried in suspension a good deal of moisture. The purpose of the drip
was to catch the liquids as they condensed while traveling through the
line. Every so often, he would open the end of the drip pipe and the
gas pressure would blow out the liquid.
Of course, back then we didn’t have environmentalists, handicapped, or
very many Republicans, so the blowout went onto the land and thence into
the crick, and by now we all should be dead from pollution. A good many
folks are dead, but most from old age. I’m still here either because of
a good immune system, or just not old or good enough.
The liquid in the drip was raw gasoline, which I guess today would be
called a hydrocarbon by product. To the gas companies back then it was
more a nuisance than a marketable product.
However, it would power a Model T or a Model A, or similar vehicles,
most of the time. During the war years when gasoline was rationed, my
dad would use it mixed with filling station gas, as it was known to
dirty up an engine and prove balky in cold weather. There was always
some water content, which didn’t add to octane strength. You could also
detect a car burning it a mile or two down the road, as it had its own
One of the gas companies had a big storage tank on the run where drip
gas was stored. As I’ve said, the companies had little use for it. But
many common, meaning poor, people did. On dark, moonless nights, cars
would line the road, many with license plates covered, as men with all
sorts of containers raided the tank. My dad thought this was a terrible
sin of stealing, but the gas company just seemed to wink a corporate eye
at the theft.
I loved the smell of the drip gas and the overall odor of the wells.
Even today when I detect drilling activity while driving I want to stop
and savor with deep breaths the fruit of the earth. Alas, my mate and
companion thinks it strange, although hardly stranger than some of my
other quirks. I tell her it carries with it the smell of money. And it
may well relate to another trait of my youth. I discovered at an early
age what today is known as “huffing.”
Kids get high on everything from kitchen cleaners to glue, and maybe
even Aunt Jemima pancake mix, by deeply inhaling the fumes. My dad kept
his gasoline mixture in our barn in an old Model A gas tank. I would
climb to the loft and take off the tank cap, stick my little nose into
those glorious spirits and “huff” until my undeveloped lungs became
filled and I was beginning to float with the tide.
I never told anyone of my little foibles. I seemed to suffer no damage,
except for the voices and the UFOs that often visited the holler.
Strangely, I was the only one who could see them.
I would hate to think what drip gas would do to today’s computer
regulated engines. I asked Burvil what he intended for his midnight
gas, and he said he hoped to power his four-wheeler over to Little
Wheeze and visit a girlfriend. Feeling a little compassion for the kid,
I told him I would hang close the phone should his engine develop a
knock louder than a ping.
Today, gas companies view nothing that comes from the ground as
worthless, and all liquid is caught in those hot water-looking-tanks
called separators. This increases the bottom line and pleases
environmentalists, if anything other than a complete suspension of
drilling activities can. I’ve found many of them don’t know their gas
from a hole in the ground.
I asked Burvil where he obtained his slosh, in a way preferring not to
know, but, hey, I took journalism and I'm supposed to be nosey. He said
he had found an old abandoned line that was still carrying gas from an
old well, and he just opened up the drip and let ‘er drip.
When I let him out, I insisted on lifting the can out of the truck.
That little rascal wrestled the can away from me after only five or ten
minutes, but that was long enough for me to hear the heavenly choir and
see some dude ascending to heaven in a golden chariot.