Monday, September 5, 2011

Working the Seam

As a kid, a glimpse from the car window of a horse-head pump nodding up and down in the middle of an open field sparked stories that rolled along with the miles. It seemed to me then, as now, a starkly lonely sight. They endured the battering of the elements – whether a functioning pump, laboring on unnoticed or a defunct, still one, frozen where it stopped, abandoned to rust and the reaching weeds. Even the sound – often the only thing to keep company with these machines – is lonely; an echoing clank of metal against metal, a sigh as the pipe slides down into the earth and back out.

Today three of these pumps share company with us on our ranch. There were four, but a couple of years ago a huge pit was dug and one was uprooted, its seeming miles of pipe pulled and pulled and pulled from deep in the ground and carted off to a graveyard of muddy and rusty oil field equipment. A Land of Misfit Parts. There is no evidence on our field now even of its existence. The other three are mostly silent now, but as far as we know, there is still oil below them to be reaped. We don’t own the pumps and we don’t own what’s beneath them.

The view up close is less romantic than the one from the car window. Up close one sees the sludgy pools of oil, the rust that has stained the ground, workers’ footprints set like fossils into the clay, busted gears, chunks of cracked and discarded metal, chips of plastic, oil-soaked rags and gloves. Gifts from the oilmen.

The power of these metal beasts is frightening with their gears and thick loops of belts, grumbling motors and hammering heads. The pumps, when in motion, are relentless. They won’t stop for a man's arm or his skull. They pump on in the rain and under the bleach of the sun. They are alive that way, myopic, determined, alone. Working the seam.


  1. They are evocative "beasts", I must say. We used to see them as we drove around the environs of Edmonton, Alberta when we lived in Canada, and we've sometimes seen the odd one here in the UK, where some hopeful prospector believed a fortune could be made in pumping up the "black gold". Trouble is, as you say, once up, it's very difficult (and costly!) to get rid of them! C'est la vie, as they say!

  2. I remember when I lived in Texas, the sight of these just amazed me. but how come you have some on your field, but you don't own them or the oil? (I love the way you write)


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