Exploding Petrol Bowser


It was cold. One of those Southern Highlands Autumn mornings when even two pairs of gloves and heated grips isn’t enough to keep the bite of the cold from your fingertips.

Cold and clear, the Eastern sky was starting to colour. Soon the sun would break free of the horizon and start to warm the landscape, and hopefully me.

I was heading North on the freeway, just another day on the training range. Just another day? How wrong could I be?

The fuel light had just flicked on, no problem, 4 litres until I’m out of fuel. There is a service station on the freeway, should I stop there, or push on and fill up when I get to work? I always enjoy the thrill of trying to push as far as possible before filling up. It raises the stakes just a little bit, gets the adrenalin running. Aries and I have never run out of fuel, although we’ve often pushed it very close to the limits, once rolling into a Bathurst service station with just over half a litre of fuel still in the tank. This morning I decide not to push it. The 1km marker sign flashes by and I prepared to exit.

My favourite bowser was free, and I smiled to myself as I rolled to a stop and switched off. The Universe looking out for me as always. As I took off my helmet and gloves I scanned around the service station. Force of habit. Pretty usual mix of cars and trucks. The employees cars were in the usual spots, lots of trucks lined up in the truck park, a few cars at other bowsers. The delivery truck was here again, unloading more doughnuts for the marauding masses that ply this highway endlessly.

I’d given up looking at petrol prices years ago, no price would be too much to pay for the joy and freedom I get from riding, and besides, Aries only holds 18 litres, so why stress about the cost. I didn’t even look at the bowser as I lifted the nozzle out and placed it in the tank, still scanning my surrounds. I pulled the handle and waited for the familiar whir of the bowser pump as it starts feeding fuel into the tank. It always takes a second, or two. No whir! I released the handle, then pressed again, and waited.

Still no whir. I spun around and stared at the display on the bowser. Completely blank! Was I in the middle of a power failure? I looked around the service station, lights were still on, people were still inside being served, so evidently not. I placed the nozzle back in the bowser, no change, then pulled it out again. Still no change. This was getting weird.

I looked back at the bowser display, 30..29..28..27. Why would the bowser be counting down from 30? I looked back around me, nothing seemed to have changed, people went on with their morning routine. Paying for fuel, getting coffee and doughnuts, buying the morning paper.


Then it hit me. 22..21. This wasn’t a bowser malfunction, this was a bomb! The bowser was counting down until the device secreted inside it would cause it to detonate, quickly followed by the fireball that would ensue as the other bowsers and fuel storage exploded, engulfing the service station and everyone in and around it.

20..19. My past had caught up on me. All those years with ASIO and then the CIA, how could I have been stupid enough to think I could leave them behind. Enemies too numerous to count made among foreign governments and organised crime cartels. Those people had long memories, and it was now obvious that one of them remembered me, and had gone to great lengths to find me and learn the routines of my new life. And that new life, the quite life of a motorcycle instructor was about to end, abruptly and spectacularly!

18..17..16. I tried to picture the layout of the service station, my only chance was to try to find cover, but where? A ditch, there is a ditch over where the lawn ends and the bush begins. Could I make it? No time to think anymore, I just had to try.

15..14..13. Sorry Aries but it looks like this is where our partnership ends. I started to sprint. “Bomb” I yelled, “get out”, but those who heard me just looked at me with the look of pity you give someone who had obviously lost their mind. I ran through the forecourt past the delivery truck, the delivery driver didn’t even look up, his attention was held by the boxes in front of him and the music playing through his headphones.

12..11..10. I ran past the toilets and crossed the carpark. A few more people were starting to take notice of me, and wondering what was going on, but I had given up trying to warn them, my only aim was to reach that ditch before that counter reached zero.

9..8..7. I had cleared the carpark and was running on the grass, it was still slippery from the early morning dew, and my motorcycle boots were not designed for track and field activities.

6..5..4. The picnic tables flashed past me and I could see the ditch, but would I make it? Surely my time was almost up!

3..2..1. I sensed the moment of ignition, the ditch was right there in front of me. I leapt and the shock wave from the explosion collected me and propelled me into the ditch with a momentum that I had formerly only felt when on two wheels. The ditch had 6 inches of water in it from the recent rains, and I was grateful for that for it meant that the ground was soft, and the fact that I was wearing my motorcycle jacket and pants meant that I didn’t break any bones when I hit, but I certainly left a substantial person shaped depression in the bank.

I rolled in to the deepest part of the ditch and covered my head, the water provided welcome relief from the waves of flame and searing heat washing over me. Then the secondary explosions began, and the debris started to rain down on me, small pieces at first, then getting larger. Pieces of masonry and twisted metal were embedding themselves in the soft earth around me. Would I survive the explosion only to be flattened by debris?

And then it happened…………………………………………………………………………………

Click, whir, the bowser pump finally started working. That was strange, man my mind really wanders off on some obscure tangents sometimes. Maybe I need to watch less spy movies!

“You timed things well this morning” the attendant said as I walked in to pay. “Sorry” I said with a quizzical look on my face. “The fuel price, I just dropped the price as you pulled up, that’s why the bowser wasn’t working, it takes 30 seconds for them to recalibrate and reset themselves”.

“Oh, right” I said, “I thought it was counting to explode”!

She gave me a strange look as she handed me my receipt. “Have a nice day”, and she gave me a half smile.

“You too, just another day on the training range for me”.

The Perpetual Motorcyclist

© Observations of a Perpetual Motorcyclist, 2012 – 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Observations of a Perpetual Motorcyclist with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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8 responses to “Exploding Petrol Bowser

  1. Funny you should post this…..

    My wife has only just returned to work after receiving an electric shock from a bowser at the local servo to her work..8 weeks!!
    The shock made it as far as her elbow, from where she made contact with her hand to the nozzle grip, causing her hand to grip tighter to the handle and throw her elbow back hitting the work car she was filling….had it made it to earth through her, I think Id be writing this as a newly single father.
    A bit of research and the fuel coursing through the hose will generate a static charge itself, but the lack of burn and the muscle spam causing damage suggests a bit more than shuffling on carpet and touching the cat..possibly a current looking for an earth and running through her to the bowser and tripping a circuit breaker or RCD(residual current device)
    Of course they ‘tested’ for faults on the following dry days, unlike the wetted ground it was the day of the incident….
    Just happy she’s at work and not under the ground

    Tip..if you’re worried about getting a zap off anything tap the back of your hand to it, it will spasm you hand and arm away if its live

    • Wow, that must have been quite a shock. Sorry to hear your wife was injured, but glad there was no permanent damage. Certainly sounds to me that it was much more than static electricity, and would probably produce a large enough spark to ignite petrol vapour. Good advice about using the back of your hand, one of the first things I learnt when I strted my training as a television technician.

  2. This was interesting: I was initially intrigued by what a bowser might be, though it became obvious quickly. I guess I’d get a lot of blank looks in Australia when trying to find a gasoline pump…

  3. and I never thought filling your bike up could be exciting. Never heard of the count down thing before. But I have had interesting times filling up at Wilcannia :)

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