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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Our four lads, Jack, Chase, Harry and The Goose, along with their new pal Pat Hanahan, experience the drama and finality of life in the raw on the searing plains of North Dakota.

Submitted: September 16, 2016

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Submitted: September 16, 2016





A Short Story

Nicholas Cochran



Following a searing heat on the prairie from eight until eight, now, at almost nine in the evening, the cooler air provided a balmy setting for the declining sun. The flaring ball was edging down the horizon.

Jackie Hatcher was leading the column of giant side booms along the right of way of the North Dakota forty-eight inch pipeline in the day’s-end procession to the waiting worker vans.

These mammoth machines took on the look of wide monsters with one giant antenna that rumbled over the occasional hill where, at the top, they were silhouetted against the falling ball of fire, its rays filtered through the dusty haze kicked up by the dozen side booms.

This created the perspective of a solar conflagration that threatened to set the entire horizon ablaze with flames of deep reddish-orange.

In both sound and sight, the booms were the perfect realization of King’s Langoliers.

Their frightening rumbling cleaved the air while their giant treads gathered every loose grain of desiccated soil and whirled it all about the drivers and passengers of these motorized behemoths.


Pat Hanahan raked his right hand through thick sandy-colored hair while his left hand scratched the back of his neck to relieve the itch from a recent mosquito bite.

Roaring from the motor of the huge CAT 594 H diesel side boom, weighing over one hundred and twenty-two thousand pounds, was like a mighty wind that was carrying both him and the driver, Jackie ‘King’ Hatcher, along on yet another mad dash from their work to their long rides and their short evenings.

For a few moments, Pat felt as though a thick magic carpet was floating beneath the monster machine or that he and Jackie were being borne along on the wings of some immense prehistoric bird.

The King had the throttle full out as they approached a rare rise in the otherwise level boredom of the North Dakota plains.

The dry and almost acrid smell of prairie dust mixed with the heavy odors of diesel fuel, grease, and oil.

Black smoke was shooting out of the vertical exhaust pipe; an airborne banner that heralded the King of the Line and his trusty steed.


Jackie Hatcher was known by everyone in the pipelining community as King Bolt.

He was considered the fastest and most proficient side boom operator anywhere in the world.

He drove his giant machine flat out every chance he had.

Although many thought of Jackie as a hot dog, they all appreciated the fact that they knew him, and that he was their good friend.

Over the past five years, Jackie had juiced up his boom, a ‘possession’ that he took everywhere with him along with his clothes and his shaving kit.

He had reworked parts of the engine area, which now allowed space to house four superchargers; and a nitro kit.

Results of his juicing up the huge side boom had resulted in a top speed that caused jaws to drop and Supers to scream at him to slow down.

Although Jackie was thirty-six, married and had five kids, he drove like a maniac along the pipeline right of ways and at damn near the same speed on either side of the ditch.

Jackie was around five seven with muscled shoulders and large hands.

He had a constant smile of perfectly even teeth and a perpetual tan.

Although all the other side boom cowboys wore various caps for 'boomers’, Jackie welcomed the sun and loved the wind blowing through his long blonde hair.

He never seemed to mind all the dust kicked up by his monster machine.

The deep arid soil would become deeper as the sun rose higher and remained longer.

Around two pm, the flaming orb appeared to be casting off solar storms, which provided an otherworldly spectacular as its nuclear explosions showered this hellish section of the long pipeline with a brutal baking quality.


Patrick Hanahan was not of overpowering size, maybe five-ten, but he had been become used to hard labor from age five, when his daddy had given him a toy axe for Christmas.

After Christmas dinner, his dad, Ian, had taken Pat by the hand out into the snow of Edson, Alberta to cut down a tree. Of course, his father had a real axe to use while he instructed his son on the finer points of safely toppling a tall cedar.

That toy axe and a pair of CCM skates had been the best presents he could ever remember receiving.

All through grade school he continued to grow a naturally muscled frame that took on pounds with only a minimum of fat.

On the rink, he was super fast and played center and wing for many of the WHL Junior A hockey teams across the west.

He was also an outstanding wrestler, boxer, and track star.

His father, Regis, had urged him to get some life experience in the summer.

Regis managed to wangle a spot for Pat on a pipeline crew in southern Manitoba.

After working the past two summers across the Canadian prairies, this year, Patrick had managed to get a job in North Dakota.

His favorite uncle, Uncle Orville, who lived in Pierre, South Dakota, waxed on about Pat’s pipeline experience and managed to secure a four-month work permit for his nephew.

This prized document allowed Pat to work the long scorching months of summer eating dust across the stark bleak plains of N.D.

Patrick went by Pat to most; Paddy, to his Irish friends, and Speedo to all his other friends. Patrick was just plain fast; at everything he did, except sex—so he was told; which was good.

Sometimes speed kills.

When Speedo had been asked to be a ‘swamper’ for the side-boom cowboys along this eighty mile stretch of the forty-eight inch pipeline, Pat was both pleased and flattered.

Next to being a welder’s helper, he was a crown prince among saucy paupers.

He proudly wore the special side-boom operator’s cap that Jackie had given him after his first week on the job.

He had hidden his red and white polka dot welders’ helper cap form his two previous summers.

Jackie’s rapid-treading speed drove Dinger Jackson absolutely crazy when he would see Jackie steaming down the other side of the ditch from the welders, the dope and wrap crews, and the joined pipes to be lowered into the ditch before they were covered.

That opposite side was ‘junk land’ according to Dinger, whose real name was Clarence, but because he had never failed to ring the bell at a hammer challenge at any state fair from California to Maine—as well as across all the prairie provinces of Canada—he was just: Dinger.

Dinger was the man in charge of the dope machine that applied hot dope to the pipe before it was wrapped and laid in the ditch by the pipe layers—the side booms.

Harris Allman, the pipe-wrapping boss threatened to deck Jackie a number of times.

Long hours and strange temperature changes increased the tension between the crew chiefs along the line and Jackie.

However, nobody could remain angry with Jackie.

He sure as hell was a speed-demon fiend, but he was not only the fastest boom but also the most efficient and expertly handled boom along the line.


Now the rounded top of the blazing orb could be watched through the prairie haze and the spiraling whirls of dust.

A rare elevated section of the North Dakota Pipeline right of way supplied the locus for the unfolding mechanical ballet playing out in front of the collapsing sun almost obscured by clouds of parched dirt.

It was a rough mechanized scene of Dali-esque components that riveted the attention of the waiting crewmembers.

Patrick pulled down his goggles more firmly on his nose as Jackie cranked the extra horsepower out of his iron steed and thundered up, over, and down the slope toward  the long flat stretch and a road crossing where the worker’s vans waited for the last passengers, the twelve side boom operators and their five swampers.

This stunning spectacle was playing out in front of Jack, Chase,Harry, and The Goose who each had their own yellow and black giants to ride as swampers for the dozen side booms. They clung to any jutting part of their colossal CAT 594 H as it rushed flat out over the horizontal ground of the Dakota prairie.

The fast-approaching end of Patrick’s pipelining for the day, brought up expectations of a good meal at the boarding house where he and the four other swampers were staying.

However, tonight he had almost convinced himself to do everything necessary to ask Eileen, the eldest daughter of his hosts, to go to dinner with him.

He grimaced as he realized that a shower, shampoo, shave, and shine would be just the beginning ; then aftershave, brushing the teeth, fixing his hair. Despite his fashion 'labors of Hercules’, Pat had no hesitation. 

Eileen was extremely well-constructed on a chassis of elegance, topped by long dark hair. Her chin was solid beneath two juicy lips. 

Eyes of a shifting green were set apart by a strong but straight nose. Her laughter was both innocent and daring.

Something about her was allusive. Pat wanted to chase that quality and discover the charms and joys that lay at the final destination.


Jackie’s ride crossed the imaginary finish line where pipeline crewmembers cheered and waved their hats.

The King acknowledged their accolades with a pumped fist.

He immediately slowed to allow Pat to hop off and join the others.

Jackie continued past the vans and the fifteen guys and continued to the other side of the crossing to park his boom.

When Jackie looked over his shoulder directly into the declining sun, he could see only tons of dust being spiraled into the pinkish evening—and an outline of Pat and a bunch of the guys running toward him while frenziedly waving their arms.

Jackie acknowledged their acclaim with a hearty wave as he turned his charge in a tight circle for its final parking place.

Suddenly an arc from the high-tension wires struck the upright boom and the entire CAT 594 H was a white hulk while seven hundred and fifty thousand volts traveled down the boom through Jackie. The temperature in Jackie reached eighteen hundred degrees.

The Goose had jumped from the second finishing boom to run and tackle Pat as he ran to help his beloved driver.

The two men fell at about the fifteen-foot mark from the boom. 

Their bodies jumped and jerked as the high tension current went from the side boom in ripples stretching almost twenty feet from the doomed machine.

They both rolled onto their knees while the other men yelled encouragement and held out heir hands to pull them out of the electric pool.

They made it out, retching and numb, the results of their own electrical shock and the sickening shock of watching The King’s charred hulk fall off his iron horse.

The Goose spent a week in the hospital and lost three toes.

Pat Hanahan lost a foot and four fingers.

Pipelining lost a King.

© Copyright 2018 Nicholas Cochran. All rights reserved.

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