Skip Tucker: A Damn Yankee on the Slurry Line?

Skip Tucker: A Damn Yankee on the Slurry Line?

By SKIP TUCKER, Alabama Daily News Featured Columnist

Our old friend D.T, whose adventures in Old Pisgah Graveyard were twice told, had something of the wizardly about him.

It wasn’t magic or, if it were, it wasn’t occult (though he had crossed eerie paths). It had more to do with an ability to process and extrapolate information and turn it into to a plan (sometimes mischievous) in a nanosecond. He was gifted.

Mind the time he was driving home late one night from legal-alcohol Birmingham to dry Jasper and small town cops, ever alert for prey, pulled him over for little reason, if any.

Because they could.

Sobriety tests, before the Breathalyzer, were subjective. Suspects were given hand/eye coordination tests and were subject to whim and pomposity.

The cops told D.T. he was guilty of having too much fun and Took Him Away,  promising four hours detention and a fine of $61.50. He felt it a scurrilous injustice and, as they say in the pool room, that he’d been snookered and tooken. He resented it.

In detention, he demanded his phone call and a phone book. The jailer brought them, figuring he was calling a bail bondsman. D.T. found his number, plugged the phone into the wall jack, dialed.

He heard the phone ring in the front office, and heard the jailer say hello. D.T. could hear the jailer both through the phone and from the front.

He cradled it away from the jail’s ears, and said, “This is State Rep. Bobby Tom Crowe of Jasper. I understand you have one of my valued constituents in custody. He says he’s innocent and I believe him. I’d appreciate it if you’d release him to my recognizance, forthwith.” D.T. was out in three minutes, with abject apologies.

Quickness of wit often got D.T. into a pickle, and usually out unscathed. To say that his instincts were finely honed would be to call a sword a nail file.

So it was that DT later found himself working a good job for a coal surface mine company in Jasper. Master at many things, he became a troubleshooter and an expediter, likely to turn up anywhere in the field.

On a colorful autumn Monday of a Thanksgiving week, he turned up in front of a yankee engineer the company hired to set up a slurry line, which Wikipedia describes as a special sort of pipeline used to move coal over long distances. Slurry is a mixture of coal and water, pumped to its destination where the water is filtered out. Slurries are an alternative to railroad transportation when mines are located in remote, inaccessible areas. Such areas make up quite a bit of Walker County.

D.T. knew the area well and was duly appointed to help the engineer find a path for the slurry line. With Thanksgiving and autumn in the air, D.T and his assistant Flick led the engineer into the woods, hollows and rolling hills.

Things went South, so to speak, on a sudden. The engineer, while a bright man, might’ve been inordinately proud and, like many of the inordinately proud, was inordinately a ‘hole. He held slight regard for humans and also for Southerners.

With the kindness of careful condescension, he stated pompously that engineers could read topography like a map and furthermore that he did not suffer fools lightly. He was glad for the companionship, he assured, but asked in a kindly, measure tone that they not hamper him.

Shouldn’t have done that. D.T. resented it.

In a fell swoop, the engineer went in D.T.’s watchful estimation from merely being a yankee, to be pitied more than despised, to a Damn Yankee and that meant a new ballgame with fewer parameters. But it was company business and D.T. just smiled a snaky smile and shook the victim’s hand.

A half-hour later, deep into the backwoods, D.T.’s compass went wonky. This normally happens when magnets are applied to the compass back. Soon after, it was discovered that the water had disappeared, mysteriously, as D.T. nor Flick could remember who touched it last. Much of it, matter of fact, had disappeared down their throats just before setting out.

D.T. and Flick smiled up their sleeves, slyly winked at each other, and squared off. To the DY’s happy eye, it appeared likely they would come to blows. They shook their fingers in each the other’s face and shouted awful names, some of which the DY admitted later were unfamiliar to him.

But it was nothing like the way they postured and shouted at each when it was realized the lunch basket probably was wherever the water bottles were (their stomachs).

Once the brouhaha settled, they carried on, with neither food nor drink. Unfortunately, it was rather warm for Thanksgiving.

The exhausted DY, who had thought himself in excellent physical condition, wondered aloud a couple of times how his helpers felt neither hunger nor thirst.

He called breaks for rest oftener and oftener, mostly to call names at his two new friends, none new to D.T. and Flick.

Chagrined, our heroes guiltily bowed their heads, patted each other backs empathetically, and whispered that the poor bastard didn’t even know how to cuss.

Next Week: Behold, Is That A Pecan Tree I See Before Me?

Skip Tucker was editor of the Daily Mountain Eagle in Jasper, then communications secretary for gubernatorial folks like George McMillan, Charlie Graddick and Jim Folsom. He ran Alabama Voters Against Lawsuit Abuse for in Montgomery for 15 years. He has published one novel, Pale Blue Light, a spy thriller set in The Civil War. He’s now a regular contributor for the Alabama Daily News at www.ALDailyNews.com