The Thomas Long oil lease was a vast playground but it was filled with dangers for kids that no one seemed to notice or tell us to avoid. The community water well from which several families drew their water sat a couple of hundred yards from our back door. It was powered by the same mechanism that powered the oil wells and it pumped 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The lever that pumped the water was a heavy iron beam that raised about eight inches off the ground on every upstroke, hesitated briefly, then fell heavily onto the ground on every down stroke. Slowly up; crashing down; hour after hour, day after day. Over the years it had pounded a bowl like depression into the ground where it struck the ground and water puddles accumulated in that depression. It was a natural watering hole for small animals but many who came to drink stayed to die when the heavy beam slammed down, crushing them between it and the ground. It would have just as impartially have crushed a kid, had one in some childish quest got beneath that iron beamr. That never happened but it wasn’t because anyone warned us to stay away from it.
Another danger lurked in our neighbor’s back yard. This one I found. To simplify describing what happened; try to picture a steel rod. Imagine lots of those rods joined together, extending hundreds of yards running out from a central location. Oil workers called them "rod lines." They were held about a yard off the ground by a post with a "U" shaped "saddle" on top. Picture these rods moving two feet forward, then two feet back, all day, all night, day in and day out. That back and forth motion was what made the oil wells pump. At points where these rods had to bend to follow the contour of the ground they were supported by a steel wheel a little bigger than the wheels on a railroad car. The “rim” of this wheel was concave so the rod couldn’t slip off the wheel.
A rod line ran diagonally across our neighbor’s back yard and at the back of their yard it ran over one of those large wheels. The neighbor kid and I played together quite a bit running around in his yard that was divided in two by that rod line. To cross his back yard I had to grab the rod line and swing my legs over it. I had done it dozens of times without giving any thought to what I was doing. One day I started to cross it a little too close to the big wheel. I grabbed the rod with my right hand and began swinging my leg over, not thinking about the fact that the rod was moving into the wheel's concave surface, taking my right hand with it. The first inkling I had of trouble was the terrible crushing pressure I felt as the fingers on my right hand were flattened by the tons of pressure that held the rod onto the wheel. I jerked away reflexively but my hand was trapped. The rod line kept moving deeper into the groove of the wheel. My pulling and screaming didn’t change its slow progress a bit. It took my hand slowly and fully into the wheel, held it there briefly and then slowly gave it back to me.
When I could withdraw it, the finger tips of my right hand were a bloody, greasy, mass of crushed tissue and I was feeling pain like I had never felt before. I ran towards home, shrieking in pain and terror. I cleared the low fence between our two back yards with the ease of a low hurdle runner. Mother heard my screaming and met me in the yard. When she saw my hand she quickly got a kitchen towel and wrapped my hand in it. Fortunately Dad was home. They bundled me into the back seat and Mother got in beside me. It was a long three mile ride to the doctor's office in Drumright. In the midst of my crying and moaning, I asked Mother, "Am I going to die?" I was sure that anything causing that much pain had to be a prelude to death.
The doctor, an American Indian who probably did graduate from medical school somewhere, although his method of treating me didn’t reflect it, laid me on his examining table. He told his nurse to pin down my left shoulder and put Dad on my right. He then grabbed my hand and roughly cleaned the pulpy mass with a wad of alcohol soaked gauze. Bare bone was showing where the tip of my longest finger had once been. Doc solved that problem by taking what looked like a pair of tin snips and cutting the protruding bone off my finger. That left a gnarled mish-mash of tissue which he sort of gathered up and stapled together. Having exhausted his surgical skills, he poured iodine all over it, wrapped it with gauze and sent me home. Anesthetic had been neither mentioned nor used throughout the entire proceeding.
I’ve always been able to feel tremendous empathy when I watch Civil War movies depicting battlefield amputations.
I hope to meet that old doctor somewhere in the afterlife. If the Good Lord would allow me I'd love to repay his "compassion and kindness."
Well written and painful to read ... I could almost feel it with your description. I'm sure one can never forget such an awful moment.