Saturday, June 9, 2012

Poppin' Johnny

For those that have read my previous writings about Burkburnett, my home town, you know that the sound that I most associate with Burk, the one that I miss most, is the sound of the one cylinder diesel engines and the rod lines of the oil pumps rubbing against their wooden supports. The oil derricks were gone by the time I came a long but the town and the surrounding country side was generously sprinkled with the pumps that were left behind. They ran twenty-four hours a day, hauling up the oil from under the town. The diesel engines were located in corrugated tin pump houses or pump stations. They turned a cam device that was attached to several solid metal rod lines which ran to a string of pumps that encircled the pump house. Each pump had its own rod line.

I just got back from Burk and a fifty-sixth high school class reunion. I had not planned on going to the reunion this year but one of our classmates passed away so I went up for the service and hung around a week for the reunion.

While I was there I discovered that in a small park on the outskirts of town they have placed a Poppin’ Johnny, the common term for the one cylinder engines. The one I remember was geared a little differently from the one shown. This one turns a narrow vertical wheel whereas the pump house I played in had a horizontal wheel. It had a belt, probably ten or twelve inches wide which turned a horizontal wheel which was possibly eight feet or so in diameter. As kids we played in the pump house while this was running—probable cause for Children’s Protective Agency to remove a child from such a home now days. Kids were a lot smarter back then so we never got hurt.

In the park, there are two examples of rod lines with supports. Actually, these are pretty fancy. The ones that I remember were mostly two by sixs or four by fours hammered into the ground with the rod lines laying on top. All day and all night the metal rod lines rubbed back and forth over these supports. These are dry but then they were greased regularly and probably replaced often.  You couldn’t hear the rod line where I lived, but I remember spending many nights with a friend, Donald McCullough, during a typical Burkburnett window open summer night and being lulled to sleep with the sound of the rod lines rubbing on the wooden supports. It was at his grandparents home on the other side of town where we played in the pump house.

Those sounds now are vague. I can’t really remember exactly how they sounded but I really wish I could because then the night was so filled with the sounds of the oil fields. But as hard as I try I can only remember that they were but I can no longer conjure up exactly how they were.

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