- Brian M Winningham
Lucky Hates Trucks
For all the pipeliners I know. To all the wonderful folks in Eureka Springs, thanks for the memories.
This story is 100% true; at least as true as a single perspective can be. I haven’t talked to any of the people associated with this story except my dad in almost forty years. I’m certain they saw it differently.
In the early months of 1983, my family and I moved to a campground near Eureka Springs, Arkansas. We were there in the area for just over a year. Eureka Springs in 1983 was a wonderful place to live. It was a tourist town in the summer and a very small regular town in the winter. I think the population back then was around 2000 year-round residents, and the town got something like 3-3.5 million visitors over the summer months.
I was homeschooling at night and pipelining with my dad during the day until I finished up that spring with school. Then it became work and more work. Pipelining is a construction operation where we install the pipe and pathways that carry sewer, water, gas, or any other liquid or gas compound used in business and society. It is how we take things like natural gas from the well in the ground to the hook-up for your home. It typically includes work like digging, pipe joining and installation, testing and backfilling.
Pipelining is how we ended up in Eureka Springs. We were working for a really small pipeline company. Most weeks we were working so many hours that I was bringing home about $500 a week while I was only making $5 an hour. About 80-90 hours a week. No days off unless it rained us out. I did a little bit everything for that pipeline company. I operated heavy equipment; I ran pipe. I spent a lot of time with no shirt on and using a shovel. I was eighteen, had a killer six-pack, and was making what was considered at the time a lot of money. That didn’t hurt my prospects in town much.
The pipeline company I worked for was owned by two brothers and their best friend who all went to high school together in Oklahoma. The three of them had worked on the Alaska Pipeline together and made a good bit of money that they used to buy equipment and start their company. On this project in Eureka Springs, they ended up hiring this other guy from their high school named Lucky. Lucky came by his name the same way a one-armed man used to be called Lefty. It was the lack of luck that gave him the moniker.
Lucky was a failed country-and-western singer among many other things. Last I heard, he was on wife number six. Lucky had boxes of 45 records he had paid to have his songs recorded on. He carried those boxes around with him everywhere he went. Wherever his favorite honky-tonk was, Lucky would talk them into putting his 45s in the jukebox. I wasn’t old enough to go into the bars very many times and get away with it, but one of the very few times I went, Lucky put about $10 in the jukebox. He started off with every Waylon song on the box. Then for the rest of the $10, he played the five or six songs on his 45s…on repeat. It was kind of funny, but after that I made a point of not going to the bar when I knew Lucky would be there. He was a good singer, but his songs were terrible!
He, like most “real” cowboys from the early ’80s, had a getup he wore all the time. Cowboy boots, of course, that were in desperate need of a reheel and had the obligatory holes in the soles. There was a straw cowboy hat that might have been a Stetson at one time, but it was now just stained and greasy. Wrangler jeans, even back then. A pearl button shirt, unbuttoned down to his potbelly to show off his hairy chest and enough gold chains and rings to make Mr. T jealous. Lucky was one of a kind!
While he was a natural entertainer and good comic relief—the guy was pretty funny—Lucky was a terrible boss and a mostly terrible employee. Every crew he got put with found a way to get rid of him. He tried to boss everyone around, but he didn’t have a clue how to do the work. He also drank a lot and drove his company vehicle home from the bar drunk. Often. Lucky had previously wrecked three brand-new trucks driving drunk. Now he was driving the worst beater on the project. It smoked pretty bad, the air conditioner and the heater didn’t work. It was beat-up and missing paint in a few places. However, it still didn’t deserve what Lucky did to it.
Since this project was in the Ozarks, we had to dynamite almost every single inch of ditch that we dug. And because of the mountainous terrain, some of the ditch for our pipe was over thirty feet deep. To prepare the ditch line for digging, a pattern of holes were drilled into the earth, then each hole was packed with explosives. For a little extra punch, we added lots of ammonium nitrate—fertilizer—in with the dynamite. On top of that, we tamped in a layer of crushed limestone every eight inches all the way back to ground level. We didn’t use an electric ignition system although we could have. We used fuse and blasting caps along with detonation cord to set it all off at the end of every day.
On one particular day, my crew and I worked an important corner at the bottom of the hill all day. We got it ready to blow just a little while before dark. It was important because we had additional lines tying in here. This meant we needed to be very precise with how things blew out so we didn’t destabilize other pipe near where we were blasting. Lucky had never gotten to light off any dynamite and really wanted to. So, I thought, “Why the hell not.” I got the fuse and blasting cap all cut and prepared for him. I went through the instructions on how to light it, and I told him that if he even began to pick up the fuse before my crew was at the top of the hill, I would kick his ass.
After I yelled at Lucky about three times to get away from the fuse, my crew and I made it to the top of the hill about 100-150 yards away. Lucky backed his old beater truck up to the ditch where he was going to light the fuse. He left the door open and the truck running to make a fast getaway. He picked up the fuse and struck his BIC lighter to it. Now, the fuse is a little strange to get started. You know it is going when it starts spitting a little. It can be quite surprising.
Lucky was definitely surprised when it lit. So surprised he lost his wits. He flinched and hurled the fuse to the ground. He ran to his truck, slammed the door, threw the truck in reverse, and backed off straight into the ditch on top of the already lit dynamite. His eyes got HUGE! So huge I could see them from 150 yards away. He gunned the engine, trying to rock the truck out of the ditch. Back and forth he went, but it wouldn’t budge. Lucky looked over his shoulder and glanced at the fuel tank in the bed of his truck. At that point, he finally gave up and made a run for it. He started up the hill to where my crew was now literally rolling on the ground they were laughing so hard. I’ll never forget the sight of Lucky’s cowboy hat blowing off his head and all those gold chains swinging as he ran. I might have been laughing louder than anyone else.
The dynamite exploded and Lucky somehow managed to not get hit by any flying debris. His unlucky truck #4 got its rear axle completely blown off, but the fuel tank didn’t blow. His hearing wasn’t too good for a few days afterward, and he ended up with a chauffeur until he eventually got fired. They didn’t give him any more trucks. Maybe that was a relief because Lucky hated trucks. He must’ve.
Lucky wasn’t very lucky, was he?