It’s been over thirty years since the thousand-gallon oil tank was buried in the lawn, and we figured it was only a matter of time before it rusted through. This would be an environmental catastrophe, since it sits right above the stream, near the head of the hollow. We were planning to replace the old guest house furnace with a new, more efficient model anyway, so it seemed like a good time to put in an above-ground, fiberglass-lined tank, as well.
Thus, Saturday morning found us – my dad, my brother Steve and I – helping to free an aging, submersible craft from a shallow sea of soil. I say “helping,” because in fact the diesel-powered farm tractor did most of the work. The backhoe arm had no trouble moving earth that had been broken up by the original excavation in 1973, but as soon as it tried to bite into virgin ground, it ran a cropper of the bedrock, which is little over 18 inches down in some spots. Dad sat at the controls while Steve and I leaned on our shovels, or climbed up behind him for a better view. From the front porch, looking straight down as dirt and boulders tumbled onto a growing pile, I really did begin to feel as if I were watching a kind of semi liquid, like the stuff that spills out of a field-dressed deer. But when the hole got below four feet in depth, we saw water for real: even in this drought, the bottom of the tank sat a foot below the water table.
Of course, the air itself was saturated with moisture. The thermometer was climbing past 90 and we were sweating buckets just standing still. But Dad was afraid of undermining the guest house front porch, which he and I had spent considerable time and effort shoring up a few summers back, so Steve and I did have to jump down into the hole at one point and do a bit of digging around that side. Standing on top of the emerging tank, Steve discovered a metal ring or handle poking up. Without that discovery, we might’ve spent all day trying to get a chain under and around the tank.
Using the tractor’s front loader, Dad was able to lift and carry the tank up to the barnyard. I had already gone up to the main house to begin preparing that evening’s supper – we eat almost nothing but cold dishes in this kind of weather, so I have to work well ahead. But Steve buzzed me on the intercom so I wouldn’t miss it, and I ran back down and joined Karylee and Elanor on the porch. As the tank lurched free of the earth, it swung dangerously close to the nearest porch column, and we all moved down to the far end.
Once in the barnyard, we lowered the tank onto concrete blocks, stacked so it would sit an angle. I pulled over the steel drip pan from underneath the bulldozer, and Dad and Steve proceeded to cut a small hole in the bottom with a sawzall in order to drain out the last of the oil. When it was finished draining, Dad gave the end of the tank a kick and discovered that it had amazing acoustic properties: a booming bass that went on and on almost as long as a Japanese temple bell. After supper, on my way back down to the guest house, I grabbed a sledgehammer from the barn and tried it out, striking the end as hard as I could. From a foot away, I could hear all kinds of overtones. Dad joined me in the barnyard after dumping the kitchen scraps in the compost pit. “Bet they can hear that all the way from Tyrone,” he said. I tried an accelerating rhythm: BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOMBOOMBOOM, like the world’s largest ruffed grouse. My dad’s never been to a rock concert. “You can feel the sound right in your chest,” he marveled.