Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

From the 50s and 60s to today . . .



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Daughter of Ishmael by Diane Stringam Tolley

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by Diane Stringam Tolley

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Just the Gas and a Touch of Diesel - Shaken, Not Stirred

My Victim
I had my driver's license.
I was queen of the world!
I have to admit, here, that most ranch and farm kids were driving from the time that they could reach the gas pedal in the tractor.
But not officially. Not on an actual . . . public road!
I was quivering with excitement. And to make things even better, I officially became my parents' 'errand boy'.
I could die now, quite happily. Life couldn't possibly offer anything more.
Okay, so I then proceeded to back my father's car into the tractor. (Another story.)
And run it into the garage. (Another another story.)
And into the ditch. (Another . . . oh, never mind.)
But I was still on top of the world.
With all of the driving I was doing, inevitably, I would run through the gas. (Though, at $.29 per gallon, one had to be a bit judicious . . .) And Dad had a gasoline rule. Whoever was driving when the gas gauge reached 1/4, was responsible for filling the tank.
I should point out here that, on the ranch, we had our own bank of gasoline tanks, carefully monitored and filled periodically. There was one tank containing purple gas (for farm vehicles), one for diesel (tractors and equipment) and one for regular (mine). Two of them were side-by-side on the same framework. The other a bit apart on its own stand.
Dad showed me how to 'fill 'er up'. First, you unlock the nozzle. Then you twist the valve. Then you put the nozzle into the tank and pull up on the lever.
Simplicity in itself.
As long as Dad was standing there.
He took me through the steps several times until he was satisfied that I could do it on my own. Then he left me.
I finished filling and locked everything up again. I was, once more, the master of my universe.
For several months, I enjoyed my new found freedom. No longer was the 20 miles into town such an insurmountable barrier.
But, during those first months, I never again had occasion to fill the tank. Whenever I got into the car, it had already been filled by the previous driver.
What a blissful existence. Driving around in a car that never, ever ran low on gas.
The best of all worlds.
Then, Mom asked me to drive into the city to do an errand.
The city.
70 miles away.
I was ecstatic. I hopped into the car and headed out.
The trip was uneventful, if one ignored the fact that I was DRIVING TO THE CITY! ON MY OWN!
Okay. It was an event.
But when I returned home, I noticed that the gas gauge was just kissing the 1/4 full line.
Oh-oh. Time for a fill up.
I pulled into the tanks.
Then stared up at them.
Which one had Dad used?
I couldn't remember.
Okay, so I know a lot of things. I just can't remember what they are . . .
Finally, after much wrinkle-browed concentration, I chose one and proceeded to run through the procedures in my head. Unlock. Twist. Insert. Fill.
I had it.
I did it.
But a little voice in my head, the one that tried, vainly, to keep me from my many terrible fates, told me to stop at 1/2 full.
For perhaps the first, and only, time in my life, I listened.
I capped the gas tank and locked up the nozzle. Then drove triumphantly into the driveway.
Where the car stopped.
Dead.
What was wrong?
I tried to start it.
It made the appropriate noises. Coughed a couple of times.
And died.
Again.
“George!”
Have I mentioned that my next older brother is a whizz with engines and anything mechanical?
He came running.
“What’s the matter?”
“I dunno. It just . . . stopped.”
“Let me have a look.”
All was well. George would figure it out . . .
“Ummm . . . did you just put gas in?”
“Yeah. Why?”
“Ummm . . . I think you filled it with diesel.”
“Is that bad?”
He pulled his head out from under the hood and gave me . . . the look.
Now, anyone who has been to a mechanic and asked a stupid question knows exactly what I am talking about.
The sun went out of my day.
“What's the matter?” My voice had suddenly gotten very tiny.
He sighed patiently. “Diane, this car runs on regular gasoline.”
“And?”
“You put in diesel.”
“And that's bad?”
“You might as well have filled the tank with . . . oh, I don't know . . . mud? Pancake batter?”
“Oh.”
“I think you might have wrecked the engine.”
Big oh.
“Let's talk to Dad.”
How about . . . you talk to Dad. I'll just go and join the Foreign Legion.
“Come on.”
Sigh.
As it turned out, that nagging little voice of reason in my head had given me good advice when it told me to only fill the tank half full.
Dad simply had us push the car . . . did I use the word 'simply'? . . . and fill it the rest of the way with normal gas.
Oh, the car gas is in the tank off by itself! How did I miss that?
Then, he told us . . . and I'm quoting here . . . to “go and burn it off”.
What? Really?
Never, in the history of the world, had punishment so closely resembled reward.
Happily, my brother and I headed into town. Tooled main. Hit the mean streets of Warner. Back to Milk River. More cruising main. Off to Coutts.
It was a glorious night.
Okay, so we smelled a bit like a bus and the engine ran a little rough, but it was worth it.
Of course, afterwards, I had to pay the piper, in the form of car lessons.
To quote George, “No sister of mine is going to drive without knowing how everything works.”
And he did mean everything.
In subsequent years, because of him, I could change a tire or belt and perform everything from an oil change to a major tune-up. Or I could pull into a shop and tell the mechanic exactly what I needed or what I thought was wrong.
In their language.
And all because of a few drops of diesel.
Amazing how life works.

2 comments:

  1. This is a very well written and brilliant story. Thank you for sharing this. I enjoyed it tremendously. =)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Lynda: Thank you so much! And my poor victim car thanks you as well . . .

    ReplyDelete

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Diane was born and raised on one of the last of the great old Southern Alberta ranches. A way of life that is fast disappearing now. Through her memories and stories, she keeps it alive. And even, at times, accurate . . .

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