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 Texas : Features : Columns : Spunky Flat and Beyond :

THE UPSHUR COUNTY INCIDENT

by George Lester
George Lester
There was a bridge just a few hundred yards from our house in Upshur County. It crossed a little creek than ran through the oil lease my father managed. It was so polluted nothing survived in it for very long. In those days there were no regulatory agencies such as the EPA so the oil companies dumped what ever they pleased into the nearest stream.

One day I sneaked a cigarette from my fatherís pack and left the house to smoke it without fear being caught. I was walking across the bridge when I lit up and casually tossed the match into the water. What I didnít know was that floating down below was ďlive oilĒ, meaning it was highly volatile because it contained a large amount of natural gas. The whole area exploded and the bridge soon burst into flames. I jumped down to the ground below and started splashing water on it to try to put it out. I soon realized I was fighting a losing battle. Luckily, about that time a county road worker who had seen the smoke came driving up. With our combined effort we were able to extinguish the fire after a long, laborious battle. When it was over and we where catching our breath he asked me how it caught on fire. Maybe honesty is the best policy in most cases, but I knew the truth would get me in a lot of trouble under the present circumstances. I just said that I had no idea and that I had just seen it burning and tried to put it out. About that time my mother arrived on the scene to see what was going on. I really felt guilty when he told her what a fine young man I was for seeing my civic duty and taking quick action like that. The bridge was still passable, but due to the damage, it had to be rebuilt later. Each day when the school bus passed over it and the other kids commented about the scorched bridge and wondered how it happened I offered no comment.

I lived with the fear of being exposed in my deceit for years after that and I didnít even tell my closest friends about what had taken place that day. Eventually, I entered the military service in World War Two, served out the duration and was discharged after the conflict was over. When I returned home my family had moved to another area during the war so I was far away from Upshur County but the fear still lingered in the back of my mind. No doubt the county commissioner had long since forgotten that burned bridge. However, I didnít want to take any chances so I remained silent about the incident. I tell it now only because it has been over 60 years and Iím sure the statute of limitations has run out by now.
© George Lester
Spunky Flat and Beyond - A Memoir
- February 1, 2006 column

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This page last modified: February 1, 2006