Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Remnant: Who does that guy think he is?

It took Brett 15 hours to drive to Huntington, a trip that normally would have taken 11 hours. The cities were congested messes. People were jumping into vehicles and trying to join up with family. Vehicles were running out of fuel and clogging up lanes.

Brett didn’t need to refuel. Injun Country rules meant that his buddy tanks were full and he was able to make the six-hundred mile trip with stops for coffee, both intake and exhaust.

The prelim meeting was the usual goat-festival of a few odds-and-ends of the crew in place, photographic images, specs on the line and timetables.

After the meeting an old man in a rumpled polyester suit that looked like it had come off the rack from JcPenney's thirty years ago approached Brett. “My name is Jim. Mikhail should have told you I wanted to talk to you.”

Brett looked down at the very, normal-sized man. “Big Jim?” Brett asked with a question in his voice.

“Yeah” the man said. “That's me.”

“Mikhail said that you buried the pipe up in Connecticut when you repaired it. I want you to do the same here” Big Jim said.

That was not in the specs.

Brett temporized “That takes special equipment. Based on the news I was hearing I don’t think there is any boring equipment available. A lot of other places are going to have dibs on that equipment.”

Big Jim gave Brett a glare that was a “I don’t want to hear your fucking excuses” kind of look.

“Equipment is not a problem. This is West Virginia. We got equipment that can shave a mountain down to ground level on Sunday morning and still have time to take a shower and make the twelve-noon church service. Don’t give me ‘we ain’t got equipment’ excuses.”

“Tell me what you need and I will get it.”

Brett was tired. Brett had pulled bleeding co-workers out of rubble. Brett had driven 500 miles without eating. Brett was just a little edgy himself.

“Well, if it is just that simple, then why don’t we just dig a trench across the river and lay the pipe in that...if you can stand the screaming of the eco-warriors” Brett snapped backi.

Big Jim glared back at Brett. Then his expression changed. “That is an excellent idea. The hydrahoes will be on-site before you will. I will take care of the eco-weenines” as he turned and stomped off.

“Just who does that that guy think he is?” Brett fumed.

Brett’s local contact smiled his first smile of the day. “I am not sure who he thinks he is but most folks around here call him “Governor”."

Brett grab a few hours of sleep and was at the first job-site two hours before sunrise.

True to his word, there was an enormous, track-mounted chainsaw on one side of the river. The toothed buckets of the saw were four feet wide.

Brett was no stranger to big equipment but this took it up an entirely new level.

“How deep of a trench can that dig?” Brett asked the operator.

“Depends on how many passes” the operator said after moving his chew to one cheek and spitting.

“I reckon given how deep the water is I can get you 12’ from the bottom of the tracks on the first pass.” the operator estimated.

"What if you hit rock?" Brett asked.

"It is all rock" the operator assured Brett. "But don't worry. It is only Pennsylvania Sandstone and this baby will go through it like a fat kid through a bag of potato chips."

Then, pointing at the teeth on the buckets "This baby has carbide inserts."

Brett asked "What can you give me in two passes?"

"'bout 20 feet" the operator said.

Downtime on big equipment is expensive. Brett didn't know how long he could hang onto this equipment.

There are times for three-decimal-place precision and there are times when it is more important to get-it-done. Brett didn't have surveyors or a CAD team or any of the usual support teams.

"Do you suppose you can eyeball a 10 degree approach and 20 through the bottom of the stream bed?" Brett asked. A ten degree ramp is about one foot of drop for every five-and-a-half feet of horizontal distance.

"I can do better than that" the operator chuckled. "This baby comes with GPS, encoders and levelers. If I start in the middle of the streambed I can program 20 feet down and 10 degree approaches."

"You do know, though, that a bunch of the burden I pull out of the trench will wash back in, right?" the operator asked.

"I can deal with that" Brett said.

The coal country operator wanted to impress the oilman. He took 90 minutes to excavate the trench. By then, Brett had his local contact pull together a "wide load convoy" to accompany the trencher to the next pipeline that had been bombed.

Brett's local contact said it wasn't strictly needed, given the emergency declaration."

Brett insisted. "I want half of the escort from the West Virginia side and half from the Kentucky side."

Brett's thinking was that he was leaving a hell-of-a-mess on the Kentucky side of the Big Sandy River and throwing a few dollars their way would lessen the sting.

The trencher had a road speed of 5 miles per hour and the 6-truck escort convoy was paid both by-the-mile and by-the-hour. The fee was a flea-bite in the overall scheme of things but it was much appreciated by the families of the volunteer firefighters.

Note from Management: A tip of the hat to John Wilder over at WilderWealthyWise blog for advising about the petroleum industry. Contrary to persistent rumors, Brett Stillwater is not closely modeled after Mr Wilder.



  1. Sigh, my dad would have loved something like that back in the day when he was doing pipelines. They either did it by hand, or hung the pipe over the river on stanchions.

  2. Ha! And it's not just that Brett has hair!


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