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Longview woman's novel shines light on history of Big Inch pipeline

By Jimmy Isaac
March 4, 2017 at 10:41 p.m.

Kimberly Fish holds her her new book, "The Big Inch," a fictional story surrounding real-life events in Longview during the 1940s.

When Kimberly Fish served on Longview's Comprehensive Plan committee three years ago, she was dismayed at the number of colleagues who didn't know the city's rich history, she said.

The civic leader and history buff turned dismay into accomplishment with the January publishing of her first book, "The Big Inch."

The novel uses fictional characters based on real people in Longview during the 1940s, when the federal government constructed the 1,254-mile Big Inch pipeline to carry crude oil from Longview to New Jersey, she said.

"It's always important to look back at the hallmarks of the past as we move forward. … I kept coming back to, 'Why Longview? With all of the things going on in the (World War II) years, how did it start in Longview?'"

"The Big Inch" is the first volume of a series that Fish plans to use to spotlight local history, she said.

Oil Horse Brewery on Tyler Street in downtown will host a book celebration after 5 p.m. March 17. The venue sells a brew also named for the historical pipeline.

On June 10, 1942, the federal War Production Board approved constructing the Big Inch pipeline, fearing that German submarines would disrupt tanker ship traffic from the Houston Ship Channel to East Coast refineries.

"Our troops that were fighting with the Allies had no oil. The Russians had no oil, the British had no oil," Fish said, "and they were staggering under the deficit."

According to the Texas State Historical Association, workers dug a 4-foot-deep ditch from Longview to Linden, New Jersey. It was completed March 2, 1944, and carried more than 350 million barrels of crude oil and refined products to the East Coast before the war in Europe ended in May 1945.

So why Longview? Fish said several factors were at play during the 1930s beside the famed East Texas Oilfield that led to the decision.

"The nation was recovering from a national depression," she said.

"We in Longview had a boon of resources thanks to the oil that was just flying fast and furious. We had recently endured a drought, which had decimated our agricultural component," Fish said, "and the people of the Northeast Texas chamber knew that if war were to happen, that we needed to have a place in it."

To retell these moments in history, Fish employed fictional characters not only to protect identities but also add suspense.

The novel's protagonist is Lane Mercer, part of a select group of women working undercover for the fledgling Office of Strategic Services, or what would later become the Central Intelligence Agency, Fish said.

Mercer is sent to Longview in July 1942 to protect the man carrying out President Franklin D. Roosevelt's initiative of building the nation's first overland pipeline.

Mercer becomes "a fish out of water" in Longview, witnessing the community's good, bad and ugly sides.

"It went hand and glove with needing security protection for this pipeline," Fish said, "and that allowed me the vehicle to introduce some invented characters that came alongside the actual historical characters in the pipeline project and what I think helped give some flesh to a story that could be a little dry if it wasn't for that."

Fish's novel is available at Barron's Books, Louis Morgan Drug Store, the Gregg County Historical Museum and Pack N' Mail. It's also available on amazon.com and on Kindle.

"Those who have read it have commented that it was just fun to go back to a time when — I'm not going to say it was a golden age for Longview. It was a fairly conflicted environment," she said. "We had not only racial issues, but gambling, organized crime, prostitution, all of that running hand in glove with a community that was desperately trying to civilize itself from back when it was formed in the late 1800s."

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