Happy Sunday, everyone. It’s time for another helping of the weekly guest column from our friend Paul Curran. From Canada, why don’t you help yourself to a cup?
Your Barista – Paul
Welcome to the weekly coffee and tea garden. My name is Paul, I’ll be your barista today and I’m happy to be here at Mark Bialczak’s Little Bitty in Syracuse, New York. Please come in and go through to the living room. Mark, his wife Karen and their pooch Ellie B, have prepared a nice, warm, comfy place for us so I can tend to your needs for a cuppa, and sweets. The weather this morning is cloudy and cool with a high just over 50 F. As usual, I’d be pleased to bring a pot of whatever beverage you prefer – we have a wide range of teas and coffees to satisfy our worldwide readership and adult beverages for those who wish something stronger to warm up. We can relax with a cuppa while we discuss the affairs of the week both personal and/or worldwide. Ellie likes to be patted, so please indulge her when she greets you. How has your week been? Have a sweet – electronic sweets are all calorie free!
It’s been a relatively slow news week so I figured that I’d recount a few of the more amusing stories from my fuel hauling days. We had delivery plans with a diagram and all the gas station details for every site we delivered to and our drivers were well-trained with a lot of resources to consult if need be. No question was too stupid and no one was ever chastised for asking any question at any time of day. It was far simpler to answer a question at 2am than it was to deal with a spill or mix (gas in diesel was the most common). All that said circumstances often occurred that were unfamiliar.
The first one is titled “Tom Learns French”. Ha! We had a very experienced driver called Tom. He was the youngest driver (fuel drivers are rarely younger than 35 because it requires a “think first”, mature attitude) at about 34 and he was a proud and smart man. He exercised daily and was tall and muscular. When he entered a room, his chest came in first. All that said, Tom had an awesome sense of humor and laughed at himself regularly. We often loaded from Petro-Canada in Montreal and normally entered through our own entrance. They were doing construction one summer and we had to enter through the main gate of the refinery, from whence we received an escort to the loading racks.
Tom came back from loading in Montreal one day and he told us the following story. He had entered the refinery and was standing beside his truck waiting for his escort when there was an explosion – never a good thing in a refinery. As he turned to see what was happening a construction crew of French workmen came running towards him hollering “Feu!, Feu!” Not knowing any French Tom looked closer and realized that one of the huge 10 story steel gas cracking towers had sprung a leak and flames were shooting up the sides. Alarms were going off and Tom, without thought joined the workers running out the refinery gate. He said he got about the middle of Sherbrooke St. (a major 6 lane artery) when he realized that if the refinery blew up he would never outrun the devastation so he stopped and walked back inside the gates. There were automatic fire suppression systems on the cracking tower and the fire was soon out with minimal damage. When Tom was done with his story, he said the only thing he couldn’t figure out was what the workmen were shouting – “Feu!, Feu!” One of our dispatchers explained that was French for Fire. From then on we made a habit of asking Tom if he had learned any more French lately. Not long after that we all chipped in and bought Tom a T-shirt that had a picture of a gas tanker on the front with the words: ‘I’m a Fuel Hauler …’ And on the back read ‘ … so if you see me running do your best to keep up.'” Ha!
Underground Tank with Vents to Far Right
Here’s an odd story that drives home something I have often been told but never paid any attention to. We had a driver unloading in a rural service station one evening when suddenly the vent pipes from the tanks that allowed fumes to exit and air to enter caught fire. They are long pipes that typically are at the edge of the property wherever gas tanks are underground. They run underground and attach to the very top of the tank to reduce any pressure changes in the tank when filling or as customers are served. In this case, the owner had been cheap and had run the vents up the side of his building, extending well clear of the roof. Some years later a second floor was added to the building and living quarters were built there. It turned out, after investigation, that the owner had installed a clothes dryer inside and had vented it right beside the gas tank vents, which were not moved or extended but rather tucked under the rafters – a very dangerous place for a vent. So the lint built up in the dryer vent and then one day as the driver was delivering gas and the dryer was on at the same time, the gas fumes mixed with the lint and burst into flames. The driver immediately shut down the flow of gas which should have put out the fire but it had caught the rafters on fire and continued to burn. They called the fire department and the fire was extinguished quickly. The moral of the story is always use and check your lint traps, especially if you own a gas station. Ha!
Would anyone like another cuppa? There’s lots to go around. Perhaps a sweet with that? Our competition, Tudhope Trucking, had the contract to deliver all the Shell products in our area and they kept their fleet at the Shell terminal. It was a good deal for them as they had no empty miles to load and they had a building there that they could use as an office and garage. The building was big enough to put a whole tractor-trailer in while maintenance was being done. Approaching the terminal going west on Hunt Club Road, the road descended from an overpass and a full view of the yard and buildings was visible from above. When doing any maintenance involving welding or other heat-producing tools, it was necessary to purge the tanker with diesel beforehand. A typical gas tanker has 5 compartments (and baffles) – this allows partial unloading accurately and also prevents the serious sloshing of product when stopping or starting. Diesel is quite inert and can even be used to put out a normal flame. Gasoline, however, is extremely flammable and explosive, especially in an empty tanker where there is a mixture of air and gas fumes. Whenever repairs were to be done, the dispatch would make sure the tanker had a last load of diesel and then it was safe to work on hen empty. Each tanker is required by law to display a product identification number that shows what is in the tanker or if empty, the last contained product. The rule is that no matter what products are in the tank, the unit is placarded with the number of the most explosive product or last contained.
Tanker with Station Vents Behind
So, one bright sunny morning one of Tudhope’s tankers was inside their building to have some minor welding done. The dispatcher had given the last driver a load of diesel, and as the mechanic had expected, the tanker was placarded for diesel as last contained. The proper procedure was to use a sniffer – an electronic fume identifier – to check for any explosive fumes before welding, but the mechanic saw what he was expecting and did not check. What he did not know was that the last driver was new, and he had not loaded hence not purged one compartment (the load was small and instead of putting a bit in each compartment, he filled four of the five compartments and left one empty). That empty compartment was full of gas fumes from two loads previous, but again the new driver did not realize this (didn’t check the copy of the previous load that was required by law to be left in the truck) and he placarded the whole truck as diesel.
And so it came it be that a tanker showing purged with diesel, actually had gas fumes in one compartment and the mechanic did not double-check before starting work. I had a friend who was in the garage when the mechanic started welding on the top of the gas compartment. After a few minutes the heat transferred inside and the gas exploded. The tankers are designed to guide any explosions upwards where less damage will be done, and the entire section of the top of the tank shot upwards and hit the roof. It kept going — an 8-by-8-foot section of metal – through the roof and landed 100 feet away in the yard. Including the mechanic, there were 8 people in the building at the time and none sustained serious injuries. The mechanic was treated for minor burns, abrasions (when he was blown off the top to the floor), hearing loss, and shock. Needless to say a number of heads rolled, Tudhope lost their garage and were evicted from the property. For the rest of the summer as we came down Hunt Club Rd,. we could see the top of the garage ripped open just exactly as if a huge giant had reached down and grabbed it and pulled – pieces of roof sticking up randomly around a gaping hole where the pieces of tanker had exited. Shell demolished the building that fall.
One final funny to close. I was loading gas at the loading rack at Petro-Canada’s Ottawa distribution center one hot summer day when Grant, one of the employees, came walking by. Suddenly there was a loud beeping noise and I froze – unexpected sounds around pipes that are loading 3,000 liters a minute of explosive gasoline are always labeled dangerous by anyone who enjoys their life. Grant stopped and he turned all red. He was wearing a bright blue fire-proof Nomex coverall – the standard uniform for distribution center employees. I asked him what that noise was and he kind of stuttered, embarrassed and then he explained: “I have a sniffer (gas fume detector) in my pocket and I just farted.”
That’s about all we have room for this week folks, so it’s time to settle in with another cuppa and pat Ellie B. Sweets anyone? Please join me in thanking Mark, Karen and Ellie B for their invitation to tea. We are all honored that you dropped by today to visit. I hope you’ve enjoyed yourself and the conversation and please look around at Mark’s other posts while you’re here. Have a great week.