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 Texas : Features : Columns : Spunky Flat and Beyond :
JUST MISSING ELVIS
by George Lester
George Lester
I had not seen such a thick fog before. In fact, I havenít seen one like it in all the years since. For some reason I cannot recall, I was home with only my friend, Jesse, keeping me company while my parents and my brother were 80 miles away on a fishing trip in Louisiana.

It was early evening and we were drinking coffee and playing cards to break the monotony of staring at the wall. After too many hands of draw poker to remember and a couple pots of coffee we heard a car drive up. Our house was at the end of a narrow road hidden way back in the woods so we knew it had to be someone who didnít arrive there by accident. When we went outside to investigate neither of us recognized the car. Two men got out and introduced themselves. They represented an oil exploration company and wanted to see my father. We had no telephone so this was the only way they could get in touch with us. After telling them where he was we invited them in to have a cup of coffee and to rest after driving in that pea soup fog. One of the men explained that his company wanted to build an old ďstandardĒ drilling rig near Tupelo, Mississippi and as far as they knew my father, J.P. Lester, Sr, was the only man in this part of the country who knew how to do it. Dad had built hundreds of them when he was a rig-building contractor in the west Texas oil fields more than a decade earlier. To explain, a standard rig is the kind you would see in the history books with a long shed extending from the side of the derrick. It was all made of wood and nails long before the advent of prefabricated steel rigs. Thus, the craft of building standard drilling rigs had died in the name of progress.

Iím still not sure why they wanted a standard drilling rig built but the best I can remember is that it had something to do with the ready supply of pine timber on the lease that could be milled for the project. I tried to give them directions but it soon became obvious that they would never find the fishing camp. I told them I had been there many times because my Uncle owned the place and I would be happy to ride along and show them the way. They were delighted at my offer because their boss was not the type to accept excuses for a delay in getting the ball rolling.

Jesse and I were glad to get out of the house and enjoy a little adventure. I saw fog roll in off the ocean in San Diego that was so thick I got lost in the middle of the parade ground and it took me an hour to find my barracks. The fog that night in east Texas was thicker. We thought that any minute we would get through it but it stayed with us the entire 80-mile trip to the fishing camp. When we finally pulled up to the cabin it was in the wee small hours and everyone was fast asleep. My father was his usual cheerful self and cordially greeted the two visitors in spite of their untimely arrival. He was thrilled to have the chance to build one more standard rig.

We didnít get the chance to go visit him while he was in Tupelo but he kept us informed through his letters about how things were going. I believe those few weeks building that standard rig were the happiest days of his life. Upon returning home he kept us enthralled with stories of how he supervised the cutting of the trees, sending them to the sawmill, using the lumber to build the derrick and then setting up the machinery to run the whole thing. Iím pretty sure the year was 1939. Later, I found out that Elvis Presleyís family was living in Tupelo at that time. He was about four years old. Dad didnít live long enough to experience the Elvis phenomenon but if he had Iím sure he would have been sorry he missed him.
© George Lester
Spunky Flat and Beyond - A Memoir

November 1, 2004
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