Monday, March 28, 2016

The Burning of Red Paul

Bleeder valve - Device on a liquid propane tank which releases gas vapor, allowing the tank to be filled.

He was called "Red Paul" because his hair was a fiery orange-red. Our friend Izear once said that if he would wear a white cap, he would look like a match.

It was a hot late August in the delta. A hot and dusty day in which we had been spraying weeds and disking the turnrows in preparation for the coming harvest.

The sun was several hours from setting as we parked the tractors under the large elm tree next to the butane (LP) tank.

Dad had pulled the pickup next to the 1000 gallon tank and was attaching the filler hose to the truck's fuel tank.

Vapor hissed from the bleeder valve. You could see the wrinkles in the air as the gas escaped toward the tailgate of the pickup.

The same tailgate to which Red Paul ambled up, arms resting on it, one foot propped upon the bumper.

Fumbling in his shirt pocket, he produced a pack of Camel non-filters, shook one out, and hung it on his lower lip.

Dad had turned away into the truck's cab. I had opened the door on the passenger's side, not noticing when Paul flicked his Bic lighter.


A streak of flame enveloped Red Paul and he jumped/fell several feet backward and to the ground, dropping the lighter. Fire extinguished.

Dad rushed to Red Paul, who sat dazed in the dirt. I grabbed a tow sack and started beating out the fire which had flared up in the bed of the truck among the grease and empty oil cans.

Red Paul, apparently not much the worse for wear, had become Pink Paul.

We loaded him into the truck and sped toward Helena Hospital, not more than six or eight miles away, stopping as we went to beat out the flames that were fanned into life in the truck bed as we sped along.

 The folks in the emergency room diagnosed first degree burns, gave the victim some salve for the more painful spots, and told him that his skin would peel and that his eyebrows would grow back.

I can say, without malice but simply stating fact, that Red Paul was not a pretty man to begin with. Having a pinkish, peeling face and no eyebrows did not improve this.

Warning: smoking cigarettes can be hazardous to your health.

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