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Borderlines: Sketches from the Empty Quarter: All Tanked Up

By GK Harkness

February 15, 2023

Out here in the empty quarter it’s a long way to a filling station, so we buy most of our diesel fuel in bulk.

Bulk, as in a 16,000-gallon upright tank. Enough to hold two transport loads … although having that much on hand is a bit nerve wracking, so usually we order smaller amounts. A single load or half a load, determined by our immediate needs and/or the price.

Recently the transfer pump on the largest tank clattered and coughed indicating that it had reached the point of sucking air, not fuel.

Time to call the supplier.

I got a new voice on the line … never a good sign … inquired about the price and asked for half a load (approximately 3750 gallons). New Voice said that we could get it sooner if they brought it over on their bobtail delivery truck … 4500 gallons. Would that be ok?

Sure. Make it so. Tomorrow.

The next morning had been kind of non-productive anyway, so I opted for the rarity of a sit-down meal at home with my Heart’s Desire. Usually, lunch involves consuming a sandwich while being bounced around in a dusty cab of something or other. Lunch at home with her pleasant company is a bit of a luxury. No sooner had I taken one measly bite when the phone rang, and New Voice announced in an annoyed tone that his driver was parked at our tank and unable to offload the fuel because there was a blockage in the intake valve system.

I knew a sit-down dinner was too good to be true to begin with, so I sighed, pushed my plate away and drove the 3 ½ miles to the tank. In doing so I noticed the delivery truck was not at the shop as New Voice had stated, it was 2 blocks from our house and in the process of making a U-turn and heading back to the shop.


We arrived at the bulk tank at the same time and Delivery Guy kind of glared at our horizontal valve assembly and said it was jammed up.

Really? I asked him if the backflow valve was free. That elicited only a blank look from him. So, I grabbed a large nearby pipe wrench and pushed the handle into the opening. Yep, backflow valve was operating perfectly. How about the gate valve? He spun it open, and nothing came flooding out … meaning either the tank was empty as I already knew … or it was stuck. The pipe wrench wouldn’t reach far enough to test the opening, so I picked up a longer cheater pipe and pushed it gently into the valve assembly. No restriction. Delivery guy was looking a little uneasy at this point. Wait right here, I told him. I retrieved a 6-foot broom handle from the shop and pushed it all the way through both valves and deep inside the bulk tank. No restriction at all.

“Dude,” I said, “This is not a problem with my valve assembly. It’s your truck pump. But just to make sure, let’s test it by you attempting to pump fuel into the transfer tank on my service pickup.”

Instead, he spent the next 20 minutes in a fruitless attempt to breathe life into his system by tinkering with a dizzying array of switches, buttons, valves and gauges on his control panel.

No joy.

I had better things to do than watch the Mystery Mechanic scowl at his truck, so I tended to some errata on a semi and combine. When I returned, he was packing up to leave. “Taking it back to the shop?” I asked. A nod of the head was his only reply.

I went home and finished my interrupted meal, spent more pleasant time with Heart’s Desire and returned to the shop an hour or so later.

Delivery Guy was there and again getting ready to leave.

“Get it unloaded?” I asked.

“No,” he said. “Thought I knew a trick, but it didn’t work. I guess my pump is shot.”

I’m fairly sure he could read my unsaid thoughts. “You drove all those miles and back to try a ‘trick’ and didn’t test the pump while you were at your shop? Seriously?”

“So,” I said, “when do you think I can get my fuel?” New Voice will let you know was all he had to say.

Almost 100 miles of his driving for a non-delivery.

Maybe he was just having a bad day, but I suspected that as my dear departed Uncle, the Ol’ Sarge, used to say when referring to my less-than-brilliant moments, “that boy is as sharp as the backside of a meatball.”

Haven’t heard a thing from New Voice.

Bet it will be interesting conversation whenever I do.

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