The Farm Chronicles: Of guns and gasoline

In addition to being a farmer, and a cattle and horse breeder, Dad also had a gas and oil business. They called them “Jobbers.” Across the yard, was a bulk plant of three above ground tanks that held about 50,000 gallons of fuel and three below ground tanks that held about 2,500 gallons. There was a fueling platform, a series of pipes and valves for refueling the tanks, and three gas-station pumps—one with kerosene, one with regular gasoline and one with high test (high octane) gasoline. While Dad’s main business was supplying the local farmers with gasoline in the summer and much of the community with fuel oil in cold weather, the pumps allowed locals to fill their cars and trucks. This presented problems.

Neighbors, who wanted to fill up their cars, would come in from time to time and honk their horn. Then one of us would go out and unlock the appropriate pump and fill them up. They would pay in cash and go on their way. Sometimes they didn’t have any money, so we kept a tally sheet of how much they owed, and once in a while they would stop by and pay up. It was all based on trust. There were some neighbors who were close enough friends that they could stop in any time, fill up their car or truck on their own. They would see Dad somewhere—like at the Friday Ruritan fish fry or a football game—and pay up. Pump prices were around 30 cents a gallon back then and cars could hold about 25 gallons. Fill up for $7.50.

Inevitably, local hoodlums in the wee hours of the morning, would break the lock on a pump and fill up their cars. Well, this was quite an affront to the honor system Dad had set up. So he would try to put a stop to these thefts. He tried blocking the driveway, but they would go around through the yard. He tried putting boards with spikes across the entrance, but after a few flat tires they got smart to that. He parked an old delivery truck to the side that he used for parts. And he would camp out in the truck to see if he could catch them. Night after night, nothing. Then one night while dozing in the old truck, they came. About six of them pulled up, broke the lock and began fueling their cars. Dad jumped out of the old truck, pistol in hand, ambushed the ring-leader, sticking the barrel of his revolver in the thief’s mouth.

Dad yelled to my mother, which the bedroom window as only about 35 yards away, telling her to call the sheriff. Well, the sheriff’s department was notoriously slow in responding. Mom yelled back that the deputies would be there in a half an hour. Dad, a member of the Sheriff’s Mounted Patrol, shoved the gun further down the hood’s mouth, and shouted, “Tell them if they ain’t here in five minutes, I’m gonna shoot this SOB.” Well, in a few minutes there were about six cruisers lighting up the night sky. The officers said they had been trying to catch this 20-year-old for months because he headed up an organized crime ring in the area. Ephesians 4:28 says, “Let him that stole, steal no more.” Evidenced by a change of clothes, the kid had learned how guns, gasoline and Dad didn’t mix. And there were no more robberies at the pumps.

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Bill Wilson