Guest Post by Kimberly Fish
Inspiration for the historical fiction, The Big Inch
(and wasn’t there some other title the book could be named?)
It all started with a question mark. As a freelance writer, I’ve spent hours in various locations researching information for clients and any time I had to go back a few eras for a perspective on East Texas oil companies, chambers, city plans, or former leaders I’d bump against this massive pipeline project called The Big Inch. (It was a 1,400-mile, over-land pipeline assembled in 1942 to get Texas crude oil to New Jersey and on to the troops. It was nicknamed, The Big Inch, for its inch-wide steel shell and 24-inch circumference. The largest pipeline to that date.) There was also a corollary pipeline piggy-backed to the Big Inch, called the Little Big Inch and it pumped refined products to northeastern United States too.
Inevitably, I’d turn to ask someone more information about The Big Inch and I’d get a blank stare. Or a question in response, along the lines of, what is the big inch? I’d mention that there’s a Texas historical marker at Martin Luther King drive and Lilly streets in Longview, and still get a blank.
The more I discovered about this phenomenal, federal project—thrown together to combat the Nazis sinking our oil tankers leaving the Houston shipping channels—the more I felt like it was a story my generation needed to know. As someone who is not from Longview, Texas (my husband brought our family here 18-years ago) I was fascinated by the significance of a massive World War II effort initiated a few streets away from where I lived. Who wouldn’t want to tell this story to other Texans when they say . . . Longview? What’s special about that city?
This was that special story.
To get the details right, I had to read a lot of microfiche at the Longview Public Library—news was flying so fast in 1940s, so much that not many people took the time to document every detail of every war project in Texas (and just to be clear, no other state in the nation did as much for the World War II effort at Texas. I’m not bragging. It’s true. Soldiers. Camps. Hospitals, Manufacturing plants, etc. Texans gave a significant contribution in a variety of venues.) The newspaper reporters were far more interested in battles in Europe than reporting about pipeline construction, because in East Texas, that was not scintillating news. This is pipeline country.
I also bought every memoir, non-fiction, and biography I could find that would give me insight. I asked questions of politicians (because I kept coming back to . . .why Longview as the starting point.) If you writer, the answer won’t surprise you. I was over thinking things. The reason for this pipeline being headquartered in Longview, Texas was simple. This is where the oil was (the head of the famed East Texas oil field) and there were massive pipelines already streaming into this area for refineries from all over, there was a railroad network here that could move any product anywhere in the United States, and we had leaders who were willing to do anything to make a good project happen. When President Roosevelt decided, the time was right to build the pipeline, people put aside the objections and personal gains, and went about to build it.
For the troops.
This pipeline project was not without controversy. Though I didn’t go into in the novel, the interests of major oil companies, independent oilmen, state governments, unions, military generals and admirals who needed steel, not to mention the fickle nature of Mother Nature, almost detailed the project. But, key players persevered against all odds and made this crazy, big idea of an overland pipeline a construction miracle. It took about 18-months to build a 1,400-mile pipeline across multiple states, rivers, mountain chains, and personal property. Can you imagine that happening today?
Those in the oil industry could write a much better book about the Big Inch pipeline, but what I felt was compelling for fiction was the human element; the people affected by the project. Plus, I loved the idea of recreating what I thought Longview was like during one of its golden ages.
For those that have a connection to the oil industry, I’m sure they’re going to research this pipeline project and get the nitty gritty details. For those that love heroic efforts, I hope you’ll find that people involved with the Big Inch were some of the bravest our country knew. Not only were they the ones who had stay home because of age, infirmity, or family obligation, but in their own way, they found an avenue to do their part for the war effort, and tried to create the tools the troops needed to win the war.
Though I’m not sure who to attribute this quote to, I do think it has merit for the Americans who couldn’t fight in Europe, Africa, Asia, or the Pacific but were still engaged in the war effort. “Some gave their all for war, but all gave some.”
Thank you to those brave Texans.
Books used in Kimberly’s research (images used with permission):
The Last Boom by James A. Clark and Michel T. Halbouty
Kimberly Fish started writing professionally with the birth of her second child and the purchase of a home computer. Having found this dubious outlet, she then entered and won a Texas manuscript contest which fed her on-going fascination with story crafting. She has since published in magazines, newspapers, and online formats, She lives with her family in East Texas.
One Winner wins a signed copy of The Big Inch
March 8 – 22, 2017