Saturday, January 23, 2016


With all the hysterical talk on the Weather Channel about the impending snow storm, and no doubt it is going to be disruptive and dangerous, it made me remember an event from my teenage years. Certainly nobody was hysterical about storms like this when they hit the sparsely populated Great Plains...which they did with some regularity.

The temperature was in the 20-below range which prevents propane from vaporizing, or at least vaporizing properly. The cattle and horses could withstand low temperatures under these conditions: they were not wet, they were properly hydrated. They naturally migrated to places where they were out of the wind.

"Once it gets below zero, there's no difference how cold it is," said NO ONE who has experienced thirty below! It is different in so many ways beyond creature comfort--machines don't work or they break and the water tanks freeze over just as fast as you chop the ice out of them.

Only my brother and I were home, my guess is that I was 13 and he was 18, and we had been trying to round up the livestock and get them close to buildings and wind breaks, but there was snow and the terrible cold, and we only had one heated water tank. The propane burner would not stay lit as the flow was too weak.

The bulk propane tank held probably 1,000 gallons and was located near the main driveway to facilitate replenishment with a bob-tail since it would have been a mess for them to be required to go into the cattle lots with a truck. That meant the gas had to travel perhaps 75 yards to the burner.
Add that to the temperature and lack of vaporization, and we were looking at problems because there would be a subsequent result when the water pipes froze if the flow stopped.

The only solution we could come up with was to encourage a more rapid rate of vaporization, and that required the propane to get warmer. The only way we could figure out to heat up the propane tank was to light a fire under it. So we did. We took two (as I remember) "hog pans" that are round and maybe three inches deep, set them under the propane tank, dropped a 1" to 2" layer of diesel fuel and lit it off. Don't try this at home, boys and girls.

When our dad, Wallie, got home, one of his first questions was "How did the propane tank turn black?" I don't think he was pleased, but the fact that none of the livestock were lost was a good thing.

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