Flash in the Pan
A Quarterly Posting at Tiny Lights
by Ken Rodgers
We beat the one-hundred degree heat by starting the converted school bus and heading south before five in the morning. Thirty-five miles across burning Sonoran Desert, the Papago Reservation, then right towards the Vekol Mountains and over three wide arms of the Santa Rosa wash to the drill sites. Sometimes, in that summer of 1966, one, two or all the washes were up with flood water from the rampant summer monsoon. Sometimes we had to ford the washes with our pants legs rolled up, our boots full of cold water. Diamondbacks slithered among the round stones that lined the arroyo bottoms.
One-armed Slim wore his straw cowboy hat with the brim rolled tight. He tiptoed across the steams of cold water, afraid a snake or Gila monster might bite him. Slim drilled core wells. Looked for signs of copper, the war metal, good for wiring tanks and ships and planes—it was the good old days, the high times of the Vietnam War. Copper, good, too, for ammunition brass.
Later when the day's heat got up, we toiled beneath canvas tarps to keep from dying of heat stroke. Slim and others ran core-drilling rigs. The rest of us delivered water to the mud pits, or kept the rigs supplied with special grease and oils, or worst of all, we rough-necked up in the crow's nest of the drill rig towers. Breaking pipe or setting pipe, whether pulling out or going back in, deep, two thousand feet, or deeper, the slow grind of the drill bits as they filled the drill stem with amalgamed eons of sediment, sand, basalt, hard rock. Once I dropped a red pipe wrench and hit Slim on top of the head. Good thing he had his hard hat on or we'd have had a real war.
Ken Rodgers lives and writes and teaches on-line writing classes in Boise, Idaho where his wife, Betty, and he are making a documentary film based on Ken's experiences in the Vietnam War. Semper Fi.
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