TruckStruck: Adventures with Fuel
By: Lynn Bolster
In the scrap world, there are dangers but one of the most volatile is fuel. Flashpoints of various fuels differ and you have to be mighty careful junking items containing fuel. The flash point of gas is much higher than that of diesel. Gas ignites instantly compared to diesel which takes a longer time to catch. This is important to remember when junking fuel pumps at your house.
The truck stop in Baltimore was revamping the fuel islands and updating their pumps. The manager knew we were junkers and asked if we were interested in hauling away 20 pumps, some gas, some diesel. Why not, a buck is a buck and these we could dismantle at home, so we loaded the flatbed and up the road we went
I wasn’t a big fan of doing this so close to the house but Bill, Mr. Fearless, replied with his usual “you worry too much.” So for the next several days, we junked pumps. Once off-loaded they were lined up for disassembly. The front panels were pulled off and all visible metal cut out. Wiring was saved to burn off for copper. I was relieved that things were going so smoothly.
Our neighbor across the street barely worked so he would come over and watch the action. He would always bring his raunchy coffee cup with him. It was black inside from months of coffee stains that he insisted made the coffee taste better. It was so black inside that you couldn’t tell if there was coffee in it or not because dirt and coffee are the same color. He always wanted to help scrap, but he was a bit off-center and made Bill nervous so he became our daily spectator, not a helper.
After several days we were down to the last few pumps. It had been a long week of smelly gas clothing – I made Bill undress on the porch, and I kept his clothes outside rather than gas us out in the house. He couldn’t smell anything after years of smoking, painting vehicles and burning scrap so he thought I was over reacting. My headache told me otherwise. There was also the possibility that his clothing could spontaneously combust like a pile of gasoline soaked rags had done not long ago in the garage. He wore the same pants all week and then tossed them when we were done since that smell would be a bear to completely wash out.
Eager to finish the process, Bill decided to speed things up. The diesel pumps were done, and gas was next. Working under the big shade tree helped us stay cool in the summer heat. He decided he was being too conservative draining each line of any fuel residue before using the torch. Afterall, most fuel lines had barely any fuel or fumes left in them. Forgetting that he was now working on gas not diesel, he said, “we only have a few to go, I’m not going to bother draining the lines,” and fired up the torch. He inched close to cut and **WHOOSH** flames exploded like fireworks! Off-center neighbor’s eyes bugged out as did mine while watching the tree branches over the pump catch fire, feet from the house. Bill shut off the torch and just stared. Off-center and I raced down the hill to various junk vehicles and pulled fire extinguishers from under the seats hoping they were still in the green. We raced back to flames licking the limbs and leaves, pulled the pins and blasted the powder everywhere, high up, at the base of the pump, anywhere to save further spread. Luckily, everything was spared except our nerves that day!
One of the worst smells is old gas from a car that has been sitting for a while. When you junk a car most places make you drain the fluids, puncture a hole in the gas tank and roof and remove the tires or pay a fee for those left on the vehicle. Usually you pull the tank and put it on the back seat or in the trunk. Stale gas fumes just seem to hang in the air, and then you have to figure out what to do with it. We used it to feed the fire while burning off wire for copper.
Junking is smelly, dirty and often physically challenging but the payoff can be pretty lucrative, including the quick cash found under vehicle seats. The most labor intensive vehicles we junked were ambulances. Huge amounts of wiring to accommodate all the life-saving instruments on board and a lot of crouching to access those wires did a job on our knees! We enjoyed junking together over the years. Country singer Luke Bryan does a song called “Huntin’ ,Fishin’, and Lovin’ Every Day.” My life was more like Truckin’, Junkin’, and Lovin’ Every Day!
Lynn Bolster loves anything to do with trucks and has been active in the trucking industry since the 1980s. She drove over the road for 12 years with her now deceased partner of 22 years, Bill. She has her Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and a Master’s degree in Recreational and Leisure Studies Management with a focus on health and fitness. Her Master’s thesis was: “The Recreational Pursuits and Health Habits of Long Distance Truckers.” She has appeared in The Washington Post, USA Today and has written for various trucking industry publications. She was the sales manager covering three truck stops for several years. Lynn is on the Board of Directors for TFC Global.