Old Timer Finds New Kind of Snake

By Norris Chambers

    I don’t remember when I first heard the word “oxygen” but I know I was very young. My brother owned a garage in a small town and his son, Clifton, and I spent many hours there. We watched automobiles and farm equipment being repaired and were well acquainted with the value of welding. The welding torch melted iron almost like a hot knife slips through butter and the cutting attachment burned through iron like scissors cuts paper. The torch fuel was a gas called acetylene and it was made with carbide and water. The carbide was dropped in the water tank and the gas formed instantly. Acetylene gas burned nicely but with the addition of oxygen it produced enough heat at the end of the torch to melt or cut metal. Oxygen came in large high pressure cylinders and had to be purchased from a dealer.
    Clifton and I carried a little carbide with us when we were hunting and used it to get our prey out of hollow trees. A little carbide and water placed inside usually brought the animal scrambling out for air. We were standing by to grab it when it emerged. At this stage of our youth we had no need for oxygen except for welding. We both learned to weld at a very early age.
    Years later, when I was employed as an aircraft electrician, I was introduced to oxygen again. In my work I had no direct contact with it but all stations in an air force plane were equipped with regulators and oxygen masks, and oxygen lines were visible in all areas. Lines in the aircraft were coded with bands of colored tape at frequent intervals for identification.
    About the only contact I had with oxygen was a school that all workers were required to attend. The instructor told many things about the gas but what impressed me most was the demonstration of its danger when not properly respected. He had a round container about eight inches in width and two feet in length with an open top. He took a medicine dropper and put a few drops of gasoline in the cylinder. He lit the gasoline and a small fire was visible. With a tube that was connected to a small drum of oxygen he stood as far away from the test as possible and released a puff of oxygen into the fire. A blaze from the test furnace shot out of the top to a height of three or four feet and to a similar width. The loud, explosive sound was not pleasant.
    This demonstration was to impress the student with the effects of oxygen on an ignited fuel. In other words, be very careful when working around oxygen lines and equipment and don’t subject any type of fuel to ignition. There was considerable talk about “spontaneous combustion” where some fuels were ignited by temperature, humidity or some unknown factor and how the presence of oxygen could cause a serious fire or explosion.
    Through the years I worked around oxygen lines and equipment and never had a problem with our relationship. But about a year ago a heart specialist told me I should breathe oxygen day and night. I immediately thought of the big steel bottles in which it was packaged and the masks used by aircraft personnel. This would not be a pleasant thing for a day and night activity.
    I was told that the bottled oxygen was not used and that a little machine worked day and night producing pure oxygen from the surrounding air. The machine was plugged into an electrical outlet and a small plastic tube fed the oxygen to a bridle-like network where two little jets fit into the patient’s nostrils and emitted a continuous stream of the precious gas. It was held in place by two sections of the small tube looped over the ears. My first impression of this arrangement was that it resembled the work bridle worn by work horses in the pursuit of their duties.
    The oxygen feed tube was fifty feet in length, enabling the generator to remain in a fixed location and the patient to drag the tube to any part of the house without interrupting the oxygen flow. There was a battery-operated version that would last a few hours and permit the patient to escape the long tube to attend to outside activities.
    The inside tube that followed the victim was continually coiling around a leg or hanging on anything in sight. For obvious reasons I immediately gave the tube the name of “Snake”.. It didn’t bite, but when it acted up the patient’s nose was jerked out of joint and the ears were almost separated from the head. When I asked the doctor how long I had to wear the snake he replied, “From now on! You will become accustomed to it and hardly notice it!”  For over a year this hasn’t happened and I detest that long snake!
    If Clifton were here the snake would offer him a lot to laugh about. He might influence me to grin a little bit!