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Urban Legends

The Vengeful Barrel

The Legend

Found on the Internet in July 1988

The following is the response to a request for additional information sent to an insurance company:

I am writing to respond to your request for additional information regarding my claim for coverage of my accident on August 25, 1928. On the form, I indicated that the cause of the accident was "poor planning" and you said in your letter that I should explain more fully. I trust that the following information will be sufficient.

I own a large parcel of land in Plano, and although I use it largely for cattle, I have of late begun to speculate that there might be significant oil available on it as well. As such I have been constructing an oil drilling derrick in my spare time, and when completed it was some 80 feet tall. When I was finished building it, I found that I had over the course of trips up and down the tower left some 300 pounds of tools and scrap that needed to be brought down. Not wanting to make multiple trips or to drop the items for fear that they would be broken or break something, I decided to lower them down in a barrel using a rope and pulley. I raised the barrel and secured the rope to the base of the derrick, then climbed the tower and loaded the tools and such into the barrel. Then I climbed back down the derrick and untied the rope, holding it so that the 300 pound barrel would not come down too quickly.

You will note in the attached medical record that I weight 155 pounds. Due to my surprise at being jerked off the ground, I neglected to let go of the rope until I was so high off the ground that I feared injury if I fell. I was pulled up the side of the derrick at a great rate of speed, and a little before half way through my journey I met the bottom of the barrel that was coming down. The result was the fractured skull and broken collarbone noted on my medical record.

The impact slowed me only momentarily, and I did not stop moving until my hand was jammed to the second knuckle in the pulley. This explains the broken finger and abrasions. I was able to hold on to the rope despite the pain I was in, but this did me little good because at approximately the same time I was jamming my fingers into the pulley, the barrel struck the ground and its bottom split wide open, dropping my tools &c. Without the weight of the tools, the barrel barely weighed 20 pounds, giving me an edge of some 135 pounds.

Still clutching the rope to no avail, I began to fall back down the side of the derrick. My descent was slowed somewhat when I met the barrel coming up, the result of which was my fractured ankles and lacerations to my lower body, as well as significant abrasions as my jeans caught on the hook holding the barrel and were ripped off. I landed on the pile of tools, which explains the three cracked vertebrae and the unfortunate lodging of the hammer, as described in medical record.

Unfortunately, my pain was such at this point that I let go of the rope without thinking, and was left lying on the pile of tools looking up at the barrel as it began its fall toward me from 80 feet up the tower. The impact of the barrel this third time caused the four broken ribs and upper body contusions. It also set a piece of scrap lumber flying, which struck the base of the derrick with enough force to start the drill mechanism. A few moments later, to my short-term delight an enormous gusher of oil burst from the ground. Somehow during this entire series of events I had managed to keep my lit cigar clenched between my teeth. When the oil met the cigar with obvious displeasure, I received the stated third-degree burns over 90% of my body.


Behind the Legend

Since the tragic multiple battering and burning of Colonel Ashley Colt in August of 1928, the story of a man receiving multiple injuries due to his misadventure with a barrel of tools has circulated in various forms. It has appeared in Reader's Digest and the Saturday Evening Post, and is retold at gatherings in a lighthearted manner (despite the seriousness of the accident), often with President Gerald Ford as the subject.


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