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The Shot
Introduction and Rick Tallini
Uncle Gus
Augustus Pease
The Professional
Robert's First Shot
Composition of Roberts' Torpedo
The Suits and The War
The Accomplishment
Otto Cupler
Concluding Remarks and Erastus T. Robert

Uncle Gus (by Sam Pees)

A few years ago a gentleman came into my office with the air of someone who knew me. I didn’t recognize him, but his words caught my attention. "When they looked for the remains", he said, "they didn’t find enough to fill a cigar box!" He went on to describe a long ago explosion in which, he claimed, my Uncle Gus was supposedly blown to bits. This happened somewhere down in the oilfields in the days of black powder and nitroglycerin when sluggish wells were shot to bring in the flow. It was ancient news, and what possessed the man to bring up his version was beyond me.

Nitroglycerin is very tricky stuff, a falling pine needle could set it off, but there are times in the winter when an accidental drop to the frozen ground wouldn't cause it to blow. In those days many men who worked around nitro never completed their trip to the well. Some shooters were killed on the roads, some in the mixing plants, others in the magazines where it was stored.

Uncle Gus was written up in the newspapers as "one of the best known shooters" in the eastern fields. It was a terrible business to be in. Once when Gus was carrying some cans of nitro to a well on Bully Hill, the kingpin broke and the wagon lurched over the side where it exploded. Uncle Gus had jumped into a ditch thereby saving himself. All that was seen after the explosion was a smoking hole. The horses had vaporized. There was another blast that nearly got him at his work bench. His body and face were full of splinters, even his right eyeball had splinters in it, and his ear drums were broken.

There was a lot of talk in Franklin about Gus selling his company. It was the main subject down at the bar. Some old timers claimed for sure that Gus wouldn't stay around for the so-called "one more shot" or "one-for-the-road".

A visiting investor who had just bought Gus's company decided that he might as well look over the equipment and handle the job that just came in. A little later a horrific explosion occurred on an uneven road leading to a well, and some people said that they had recognized Gus's wagon as it went by. Others said they had seen Gus leave with his family, heading west, but they weren't sure.

That's the story and as far as I'm concerned: Uncle Gus didn't blow up at all, and The story of the explosion had actually surfaced through the years in a variety of forms. But one source got it right, at least that is what I like to believe. there is somebody else in that cigar box!

(read at a poetry session in 2003 in Erie, PA)

Augustus (Gus) Pease driving his nitro wagon to a well on Bully Hill, Franklin, c.1900. Torpedo shells are clearly visible on the wagon, especially the shell on Pease’s left. Photo courtesy Drake Well Museum.

© 2004, Samuel T. Pees
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