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Tue Feb 2, 2021, 05:31 PM

The Mystery of the Phantom Tanker Truck

One dry, cloudless day early in the 2009 fire season, I spotted a huge plume of dust, moving on the FS-22 road, about ten miles east of the fire lookout. Whatever was kicking up the dust was not quite visible from my 6400-foot perch on East Butte, so I scanned the area with the big binoculars. There, occasionally visible through the Pondorosa pines, was an 18-wheeler tanker truck. WTH? What's being tankered INTO (or out of) this desolate, high desert corner of the national forest?

A few days later, I was driving a stretch of the FS-22 road in my pickup truck, and suddenly a ratty old 18-wheel tanker truck topped a hill, coming at me in a huge cloud of red dust at about 50 mph. Since this mystery 18-wheeler was in my area of fire detection responsibility, and since it could be carrying a flammable liquid .. although that made no sense .. I turned around and followed him.

The tanker truck took a spur road to the south, and I followed as the road got narrower and narrower. Then the truck took a spur off the spur .. a dusty two-track road now. We were still in an ever thinning Pondo pine forest, with more and more Juniper, sage, and bitter brush. And more dust.

There were increasingly larger lava beds, which suggested that we were nearing the south boundry of the national forest and the Deschutes/Lake county line. The tanker truck now moved at walking speed or slower, still kicking up dust. Then the 18-wheeler broke out into a large clear area ahead of me, and there it was. Several very large stock tanks, and two more tanker trucks.

Eureka! Of course. The cattle on leased grazing land in the southeast corner of the forest had to have water. Pondorosa pines need a minimum of 12" of rainfall a year to survive, and this is where the Pondos stop because the rainfall tapers to less than 12" per year. Cattle in the high desert must have water hauled in to them.

I later found out that there were many stock tanks in that corner of the national forest, some big .. some (like the tank in the photo) not so big. They all required water to be trucked in by tankers.

Later that fire season, with a rapidly-growing lightning fire in the area, fire crews had to "borrow" water from stock tanks. The Forest Service replaced the water within 24 hours. In fact, the rancher was so happy to have the firefighters working the fire threatening the herd, that the next day she brought a pickup truck load of ice-cold watermelons to the fire crews.

So another mystery: ice-cold watermelons in the high desert wilderness of central Oregon? I never figured that one out.

Deschutes National Forest
Oregon High Desert

13 replies, 1178 views

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Always highlight: 10 newest replies | Replies posted after I mark a forum
Replies to this discussion thread
Arrow 13 replies Author Time Post
Reply The Mystery of the Phantom Tanker Truck (Original post)
DemoTex Feb 2 OP
Ferrets are Cool Feb 2 #1
ProfessorGAC Feb 2 #2
DemoTex Feb 2 #6
ProfessorGAC Feb 2 #8
Hortensis Feb 2 #9
randr Feb 2 #3
Nevilledog Feb 2 #4
liberaltrucker Feb 2 #5
whopis01 Feb 2 #7
Hortensis Feb 2 #10
ThoughtCriminal Feb 2 #11
DemoTex Feb 2 #13
panader0 Feb 2 #12

Response to DemoTex (Original post)

Tue Feb 2, 2021, 05:39 PM

1. Great story

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Response to DemoTex (Original post)

Tue Feb 2, 2021, 05:55 PM

2. K&R!

Good driving. My dad drove a semi. Driving backward through the skinny road behind a supermarket is bad enough.
That big rig with trail roads? Tough!!!
Tanker trivia: which DUer actually went inside a tank truck to sample a sediment said DUer believed was causing unwanted side reactions?
There are ways to have more fun!

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Response to ProfessorGAC (Reply #2)

Tue Feb 2, 2021, 06:24 PM

6. You? Sounds dangerous, especially if the sediment was of unknown chemical makeup.

I have friends who cleaned the inside of aircraft fuel tanks. They wore full-body hazmat gear with pressure oxygen.

And I had to go inside a milk tanker every few weeks to clean, but nothing toxic there.

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Response to DemoTex (Reply #6)

Tue Feb 2, 2021, 06:49 PM

8. I Had Fed Air

Purified air, positive pressure. Plastic bunny suit, booties and all. Butyl rubber boots & gives.
It was at our Canadian sites, and all those folks were afraid to go in. Union rules prevented the mechanics (trained in confined space entry) weren't allowed to do sampling.
It was sticky, so we couldn't get enough for NMR and GC/MS without going in.
This was about 10 at night. We called in the site manager to act as a hole monitor.
On the bright side, I was right. The feedstock was contaminated with a substituted biphenyl compound. The mechanism of that unwanted reaction would cause exactly the problems we were seeing.
On the brighter side, I got to go to Montreal to yell at the supplier! They took me to some VERY fancy restaurants to make me less angry!

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Response to ProfessorGAC (Reply #8)

Tue Feb 2, 2021, 07:07 PM

9. Heroism happens so many everyday ways. Thanks, ProfessorGAC.

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Response to DemoTex (Original post)

Tue Feb 2, 2021, 05:57 PM

3. I thought your story was headed for a different conclusion

Several decades ago there was an issue with the disposal of hazzardous liquids. Millions of gallons are generated constantly and are always in need of proper disposal. The costs are enormous and the process has always been open to corruption. It was not uncommon for outfits to be busted dumping wastes illegally on private and public lands. I recall one entity busted for unloading on Interstate Highways during heavy rain storms to cover their tracks.
Back in the 70s and 80s any semi seen in remote areas was suspect, the profits were huge.
Funny thing is, when fracting started up these practices disappeared. We knew millions of gallons of "proprietary" solutions were being pumped underground but we're unable to ever identify what they consisted of.
I have always suspected the two issues are tied together.

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Response to DemoTex (Original post)

Tue Feb 2, 2021, 06:05 PM

4. But what can you tell us about Jewish Space Lasers?

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Response to Nevilledog (Reply #4)

Tue Feb 2, 2021, 06:15 PM

5. This one?



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Response to liberaltrucker (Reply #5)

Tue Feb 2, 2021, 06:33 PM

7. Or these guys


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Response to DemoTex (Original post)

Tue Feb 2, 2021, 07:08 PM

10. Thanks, DemoTex for this view into your part of the world. Much enjoyed! :)

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Response to DemoTex (Original post)

Tue Feb 2, 2021, 10:02 PM

11. Was it the truck from "Duel"?

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Response to DemoTex (Original post)

Tue Feb 2, 2021, 10:12 PM

12. When I lived on the Warm Springs reservation I got a few Forest Service contracts

to thin areas near Mt. Hood. I'd be driving up one of those small FS roads and
suddenly see a loaded logging truck hauling ass toward me. Pull off in a hurry.
Those drivers don't mess around.

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