Monday, September 8, 2008

Lighter Than Air - A My Town Monday Post

Okay, I'm kind of ticked right now. The New York Times did a piece about Amarillo on September 4th, and they failed to mention me, or My Town Mondays even once. The nerve!

To top it off the author, Jim Atkinson (A New Yorker I presume) described the city and area far more articulately than I ever could. He even trumped me by mentioning my subject matter for this week's post. Seriously, if you get the chance read the article, and check out the accompanying slide show of pictures as both are more interesting than my post this week. My only disagreement would be with Mr. Atkinson's choice of Mexican restaurant and the snubbing of my expertise on the Amarillo and the Panhandle region. Okay, so I'm just some writer/blogging hack nobody but y'all have ever heard of, but that's beside the point.


Now to this week's post.

It's colorless. Odorless. Tasteless. And non-toxic. (No, I'm not talking about my cooking.)

It's atomic number is 2. It's boiling and melting point are among the lowest of all elements. It is nearly always a gas. It is the king of the so-called noble gases.

It has served admirably in war time.

It has the power to change your voice.

It is helium and 95% of the world's supply is found within a 250 mile radius of Amarillo earning the city the nickname of "Helium Capital of the World."

Helium was discovered in 1868 and in 1903 it was learned that huge amounts of the element were present in the natural gas fields around Amarillo.

In 1925, the U.S. government established the National Helium Reserve at Amarillo with the goal of supplying the military in times of war, and commercial airships in times of peace. Due to an embargo against Germany that restricted helium supplies, the Hindenburg was forced to use hydrogen as the lift gas. Helium has a far greater stability so history could have been changed without the embargo.

Throughout the 1940’s the Amarillo Helium plant’s produced 24 million cubic feet annually, though President Franklin D. Roosevelt wanted to up production to 150 million cubic feet for the construction of 200 lighter-than-air aircraft for the Navy. In response, Congress approved nearly $17 million to expand the federal helium operations. In order to satisfy the 150 mmcf annual production quota, the federal workforce increased from 36 employees at the Amarillo Plant, to more than 400 men and women working at five separate plants.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management still operates north of Amarillo, and about 40 percent of U.S. helium production - and almost 35 percent of the world's helium production comes from the Amarillo operations, but in 2006 the General Services Administration declared the old Amarillo Helium Plant on the west side of town as surplus government property because of "excessive deterioration." It was auctioned off and is now in the hands of private owner, but the building stand as a ghostly reminder of a bygone time.

So think of Amarillo the next time you're at a birthday party and somebody huffs a bit of helium and does their best Alvin and the Chipmunks impersonation.

The city has a National Helium Monument, but I did not make it out for a picture, but I plan to include it in a future post anyway.

Links to other MY TOWN MONDAYERS

Lana Gramlich --A look at Abita Springs, Louisiana's visit from Gustav.
Linda McLaughlin -- Digs up some dormant memories about the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area.
Debra -- Go on a stroll with her through Peninsula, Ohio
Britta Coleman -- Basks in the glow of that silver star in Fort Worth, Texas.
Terrie Farley Moran -- Wants him buried in the Bronx, New York.
Lyzzydee -- Takes us on vacation with her to Kinderdijk, Holland.
Barbara Martin -- Uncovers history and heroes in Toronto, Canada
Joshua -- Spices up Columbia, Illinois.
Barrie Summy -- Feeds us in the Little India, section of Toronto, Canada
Patti Abbott -- The ugly side of politics in Detroit, Michigan.
Mary Nix -- Working on the railroad in Olmsted Falls, Ohio
Clair Dickson -- Goes looking for the trains of yesteryear in Livingston County, Michigan
David Cranmer -- Introduces us to the Kom people of Cameroon in West Africa.
J.L. Krueger -- Gives us more insight into the people and culture of Kabul, Afghanistan.


Charles Gramlich said...

I refuse to read the article because I simply cannot acknowledge that this "fellow" is better than you at My Town Monday's. It simply isn't done.

Terrie Farley Moran said...


Charles has a great response, but I am inherently nosey, so I read the article and saw the slides. There isn't much this guy has to say that you haven't already told us. And besides, you're more fun.

I am, in fact, going to my youngest grand-daughter's second birthday party later on today and of course I will bring some helium filled balloons, so I say: Thank You Amarillo.

MY MTM post on Women of Mystery will be up at 6:11 Monday morning.


preTzel said...

I love helium. I love that fact that Mr. can inhale helium and it doesn't change his voice at all. I love the funny little voices. I don't let my kids inhale helium. I should but I kinda think it is a bad thing to do because it could lead to other things and then when they run for public office it might come to light that their mama let them inhale helium and I would rather that not happen. :D

I'm going to be unable to do a MTM post this week and the reason behind that will be up on my blog shortly.

Lana Gramlich said...

The NYT's a hack outfit, anyway. As I said in a different comment yesterday; f*ck 'em. ;)
Interesting about the helium. You'd think Amarillo'd be a little higher than all of the surrounding areas, all things considered. I'd be interested in seeing the monument...I picture it as a huge, bronze balloon.
Maybe you can use my Gustav journal as a "My Town Monday" post? After all, Gustav hit last Monday...let me know & I'll put up a reciprocal link for you.

Terrie Farley Moran said...


Forgot to mention, the genesis of my MTM post tomorrow sprung from a NY Times article I read on Saturday.

Do you think the Old Grey Lady (as she is known in these parts) is trying to take over My Town Monday? ;)


lyzzydee said...

I'm not reading the pretender either. I had no idea that helium was a product of Amarillo. BUT did you know DebbieLou is a baloon Artiste??, (of the helium variety!!!)
My entry will be up at midnight UK time.

Linda McLaughlin said...

Well, the nerve of that reporter. I'd be miffed, too. ;) Very interesting about the helium in the Amarillo area. Good post, Travis.

I've done a My Town Monday post about memories of the town I grew up in, Dormont Borough outside Pittsburgh, PA.


debra said...

My post is up, Travis. I've just returned from being away for the weekend, so I'll be back later to read :-)

Vodka Mom said...

okay, so that was some worthless shit. However, the funny thing is- I LIKED IT.

(psssst. I am an information junkie. just don't tell anyone...)

ChrisEldin said...

Jim is the hack, not you!!!
I'm with Charles-I refuse to read the article.
Go figure about the helium! THat's quite a neat tidbit.

Joshua said...

i did not know that about the helium....and now I know...cause knowledge is power!

texlahoma said...

If the wind was just right and there was a huge leak at the helium plant, the whole town could wake up talking like chipmunks!

Britta Coleman said...

This is Kern's favorite trivia point about Amarillo. In fact, when we lived there and had family or friends in town we often drove them to the awe-inspiring Helium Monument.

Maybe that's why we didn't have so many visitors.

Britta Coleman said...

I forgot...My Town Monday is up. Go Cowboys!

pattinase (abbott) said...

Mine too although it's pretty much borrowed as I have jury duty tomorrow and a bookfest all weekend. I'll do better next week.

Barbara Martin said...

Travis, my post for My Town Monday is up.

I really like that barbed wire on top of the fence surrounding the Amarillo Hellium Plant.

Joshua said...

got my edition of mTm up :)

Robyn said...

Hey Travis!

Great piece! I have posted anything about my town...but wanted to say hello to you friend!

Barrie said...

I hope this means you'll remember the little people when you're writing for the NY Times!

My post is up. Or it will be in a few minutes. I'm trying that scheduling option. I wrote on Little India, Toronto. Can you see I'm homesick?!

Clair Dickson said...

You don't need the NYT, Travis, you have your own peanut gallery.

My MTM post is up.

Not as much of a gas as yours, though.

Mary said...

How cool! I had never even thought of where helium came from!

I always prefer local food, local stores and I prefer MTM from local folks as well!

Thanks! My small MTM post is up today.

pattinase (abbott) said...


Robin said...

I am hanging my head in shame...I grew up 65 miles from Amarillo, used to live there for crying out loud...and had no idea! How did I not know that? My ostrich impersonation or the inability to see past my own nose?!
Thanks for the post...I learn something new every other Monday!
I swear I'm going to get into this MTM thing...after harvest, we're crazy right now! Hmmm, could actually be an MTM post...

Frank Baron said...

Interesting stuff Travis, but I have to confess to pondering a city full of folks with high, squeaky voices. I mean, if there was an accident at the helium plant, dogs all over Amarillo would perk up their ears but nobody else would hear the squeaks for help.

Oh the humanity!

Sorry. I'll go now....

angel, jr. said...

Helium is the fun gas.
Anyway, I am not going to read the article because I learn enough about Amarillo from you and if I want any information about YOUR town, then I will go to you.
Besides, I think you do the town justice in your Monday prose.

DrillerAA said...

Does everyone in Amarillo talk with a high pitched voice?

Josephine Damian said...

God damn those NY elitists!

Travis, looks like Ike is headed your way. Are you ready for trouble? (OK, know you're always ready for trouble - I mean hurricane trouble)

Stacy said...

I'm never reading the New York Times again. Most rude of them!