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Firing Number 5 | Blowing Up the Wine Tank

Rumor has it that there were several more. But to the best of my memory, my mom only hired me eight times. And just in case you’re one that has heard we Southerners are prone to exaggeration, this means my dad and/or my granddad has literally fired me SEVEN times! But, number FIVE, now that was an epic ‘Uh-Oh’! I can still hear his words today as he walked through the winery, “Boys, do not forget to vent the tanks. Remember, we have to vent the tanks before pumping.” And again he emphasized, “Vent, Vent, Vent!” Dad never shied away from persistently and doggedly reminding us to, “Vent!”

Well on this spring morning, I forgot. After hooking the wine pump up to one of the two best wine tanks my dad had ever purchased, I hit the pump’s start button and walked away. About 20 or so steps later, it hit me, “Oh no, I forgot to VENT!” As fast as I could run, I made my way around the corner to meet the sounds of a $43,000.00 beautiful stainless steel, double-walled, 3,786-gallon tank crumbling! And the sight of this beautiful, expensive, and half way collapsed tank made me hit my knees and instantly pray, “Oh God, please help me. He’s going to kill me!”

Oh Lord what am I going to do when he gets back from Raleigh? Maybe I should leave town, but there’s no way Angie is going to run with me. I had to figure out some way of fixing this, and fixing this quickly because he’s due back tomorrow. Now I went to East Carolina University for five years for a four-year degree. But somehow in school, I learned that there is 14lbs per square inch keeping us on earth, its gravity. I figured that if I could just fill this 3,786-gallon tank up with air to 15lbs per square inch, it just might pop out and be as good as new, or at least close enough that he’d never know. Sharing my plans with the other boys in the plant produced a lot of blank faces. But they couldn’t come up with any better solutions, so I went out and rented a huge industrial air compressor, capable of making a lot of air. Plus I removed the air gauge off the winery’s small air compressor and managed to secure it to the middle valve of the collapsed tank.

Now here we were with seven walkie-talkies, a large industrial air compressor trailered outside the winery with a long hose running inside, attached to the bottom tank valve of this collapsed wine tank. Somebody’s got to man the air compressor outside, and somebody’s got to watch the air gauge inside. And out of the seven of us, six agreed that they should man the air compressor and I should watch the air gauge. Luckily or unluckily, Felipe decided he’d stay with me as the other five walked outside the back of the winery, towards the air compressor. With the stage set, all the walkie-talkies sounded off ready to roll, and I gave the OK to start sending me air. It takes a while to produce 3,786 gallons of air and while waiting, Felipe and I agreed that the other five were just too plain chicken to be in here with us. Slowly, the air gauge needle began to rise. At about 11lbs per sq.in, I heard a little rumble and quickly alerted Rob to stop the air flow. Minutes passed with nothing, nothing at all happening, so I got back on my radio and asked Rob to very carefully and slowly begin air flow again. Felipe and I sat watching and listening as the gauge reached a touch above 14lbs. Per SQ. in., our preplanned stopping point. On my radio, I ordered the stoppage of air flow, and we sat and waited for minutes. Nothing for a while, but then, from the inside of the double wall tank we heard rumbling, then clicking, and some cracking as this favorite tank of my dad started rising and expanding. It was a beautiful site, and I jumped back on the radio, excitedly shouting, “It is working!”

If I could go back in time for a moment, I promise it would not be the moment after I excitedly shouted into my walkie-talkie, “It is working!” Have you ever let the air out of a balloon while pulling the end tight? You know, it squeals. Well, the rumbling and clicking were replaced with that, a slight squeal. I quickly checked by radio that the air flow was stopped and as those chickens outside responded yes, the squeal grew. Multiple that balloon squeal a million times, and that’s what Felipe and I heard as we began running behind and beneath the nearby tank! KABOOMMMMM!!!!!!! The ground shook and the air filled with dust as Felipe pulled me on top of him behind and under this neighboring tank. Dazed, we slowly watched the dust begin to settle. I remember thinking, man its dark in here. With the ringing in my ears, I couldn’t make out the words coming from my radio as we emerged from behind the tank that saved us. As the dust continued slowly settling, it got brighter and brighter. Oh no, I could see and feel the sun from inside the winery! I had not only blown up the $43,000.00 tank, but I had also blown out the back end of the building and part of the roof! As I looked at the five guys standing by the air compressor, with only the winery’s wall lying in the grass between us, they stood immobile, yet slightly shaken. I asked if they were alright and they each slowly nodded yes. We all stood silent for a moment before I whispered, “Dad’s really going to kill me now.”

Mom got Dad to agree to hire me back after a few weeks but at half the pay. He calculated that I cost the winery $86,000.00, and it took me about 5 or 6 years to pay him back. Today, there are still faded foot prints on the concrete where that tank once stood. I used to wish they would fade away, but not so much anymore. They’re part of our story.

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