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  Texas : Features : Columns : N. Ray Maxie :

A Midnight Gasoline Credit Card

by N. Ray Maxie
N. Ray Maxie
The Rambo Oil Lease was my home in the Rodessa oil field for many years. It was in Deep Northeast Texas, about four miles west of McLeod and a mile off the main road. My dad was a pumper and a gauger in charge of operations for a small oil company there on the lease. That entire area was named after the African-American Rambo family. Most of my earliest childhood memories are right there. Many were fun and exciting experiences. Like the old song says, "I wouldn't have missed it for the world."

For example:
1. The old pickup truck my dad and my uncle worked on all week to drive it to town on Saturday. -- My uncle was a "jack of all trades", known as a pretty good "shade tree" mechanic. That meant he would work mostly under the shade of a big tree and use a chain attached to a tree limb and a hoist, to lift the old pickup off the ground if necessary. That system was also used to pull the engine out of a vehicle, among other things.

2. The small pony my dad bought for me. We called him "paint". -- I used him a great deal for riding and pulling a ground sled. Paint was real gentle and easy for a kid to handle, whether riding on the ground sled, riding him with a friend bare back or with a saddle. He was a great little all-a-round pony and I was very disappointed the day we were forced to sell him. But, dad told me he seemed to be getting a lame leg and we certainly couldn't afford a vet bill.

3. Walking with my sisters the entire mile to and from our school bus stop. -- Rain or shine we walked with our arms full of notebooks, schoolbooks, a lunch box, etc. The handkerchief stuck deep within my back pocket contained two dimes tied in the corner. The coins were to purchase milk during school lunch break and were tied to the handkerchief so I wouldn't likely lose them. Thus, came an early lesson on the safe preservation of capitol.

Gasoline was a rationed item during World War ll, along with other things like coal oil, tires, sugar, flour, and corn meal, to name a few. People needed ration coupons to purchase all those things. Being allowed only a limited amount of coupons, when they were gone, you did with out. Or, in the case of gasoline, if you did as some people did, you would steal it from the oil leases. That gasoline was raw unrefined casing-head gas with low octane. Not the best, but a liquid condensate coming from natural gas production, that would burn without much problem in most vehicles. Plus, it was free, if people could steal it and get away with it.

The oil lease camp was just down the road a piece on a dead-end, about a mile off the main road. Three storage tanks (a tank battery) stood atop a slight ridge and their shinny aluminum color glowed brightly in the moonlight. Our little camp house was the one closest to the tank battery. This particular time, the hour was about midnight. Dad, being a light sleeper, heard a noise up at the tank battery, like the rattling of metal bail-buckets and the rattle of the tank hatch. He knew what that meant; "GASOLINE THIEVES." He jumped out of bed and disturbed the entire family. Rapidly pulling his clothes on and grabbing his 12-gauge pump shotgun from behind the bedroom door, he eased out the front door and began to walk up the ridge and slowly approach the gasoline storage tank. In the moonlight he could see two guys up the ladder on top of the tank with the hatch open and bail-buckets tied to long wires. They were bailing gasoline from the tank, filling several large cans they had brought along. Their car was parked nearby and they obviously had approached the tanks without using their car lights. The moon was bright and no car lights were necessary. For that reason, many of these things happened during a full moon.

For Dad the fun soon began and he loved it. He got within a few yards of the storage tank and with the thieves busily at work, he quickly racked the slide action on the pump shotgun. The steel shell chamber, the magazine and barrel of the gun rattled loudly in the cool night air. Believe me, that is an awful, blood chilling sound when taken by surprise. He never fired a shot and never intended to. Just the loud ratchet sound was extremely frightening, especially when someone is stealing gasoline. The guys, as fast as they could, jumped from atop the tank to the ground, about fifteen feet below. Never mind using the ladder they went up on. They dropped their bail-buckets down in the tank and knocked their cans over. One quickly jumped in the car and split fast as greased lightening. He left behind everything, including his partner in crime, as he headed for the main road. The other guy never took the time or even tried to get into the car. He, fast as his legs would carry him, took off running across the pasture to the woods. About a hundred yards away was a barbed wire fence. Unable to see it in the dark woods, the guy ran full speed into the fence. My dad later said that he could hear barbed wire squeaking up and down that fence for half a mile. The guy quickly got up and crawled under the fence, took off again and hasn't been seen since. Dad returned home soon, pulled up the warm covers again and we all tried to get back to sleep. Never did any of us ever go back to sleep until dad had safely returned.

Theft was a common occurrence in the oil patch during those days. Especially the theft of gasoline. People were hurting badly. Many in that area had never recovered from the Great Depression only a short twelve to fourteen years earlier. Others were unemployed. Times were hard. Money, food and most all other things were in short supply during wartime. Folks ate squirrels, deer, raccoon, wild ducks and geese. Some even had to eat possum and maybe an armadillo now and then. All in all, I think my family had it not so bad, since my dad always had a job.
N. Ray Maxie
"Ramblin' Ray" August 1, 2005
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