Doc Ch. 16


The next morning we had breakfast with Grandpa. Just as we were almost finished, I asked him, "So what are the plans for today? I was figuring on working on the two new wagons to get them ready to use for my next rounds of all the nearby towns. Staying in hotels and eating in restaurants is getting too expensive."

Grandpa became grim as he spoke, "I thought I would work with you most of this morning. Then this afternoon I'm going to ride into Hill City for a little talk with Miller -- he'll think twice about renting out our cabins after I'm finished with him. He maybe didn't understand last time, but it will be crystal clear to him after today, that when I say 'no', it means 'HELL, NO!'!"

I had been thinking on my own actions, and reaching into my pocket, I drew out the cash I had collected from Miller. I handed it to a surprised Grandpa.

"Uncle Henry, I want you to give Judge Mitchell this money that I got from Miller. I think it would be best used if it was put into a fund for civic projects. If I kept it I would feel corrupt and there's enough of that going around already. I know Miller deserved what he got, but somehow, knowing the underhanded way he made the money makes me feel just as underhanded taking and keeping it."

Grandpa accepted the money hesitantly and asked, "I suppose we could do that. Are you sure you don't want to keep part of it at least, seeing as it was our cabins he was renting?"

Even just handing the money to Grandpa had made me feel 'cleaner'. I declared, "I'm sure! With the gold we found yesterday, and our normal sources of income, between us we don't need this money. However, I am sure that there are, and will always be, things the town needs extra money for. This can be used to set up a fund to help the people of the town -- like when someone gets hurt or sick and unable to work. These funds could help get them by until they're on their feet again."

Grandpa looked thoughtful, then smiled as he warmed to the idea. His enthusiasm grew as he expanded on the idea. It was always a treat to see Grandpa do that -- I, or someone else, would start with an idea or notion, then Grandpa would flesh it out into something even bigger and more worthwhile.

He did it with my original idea to change this timeline. He did it with my idea on how the Sioux could capitalize on being landlords. He did it with my idea of the gold, and now he was doing it with my idea of a -- for lack of a better term -- 'Community Chest'.

"I think you're right. I may just add a little of my own to go with it, and I'm sure once word gets around, everyone else will, too."

Grandpa actually rubbed his hands together in glee as he contemplated being able to help his fellow citizens. "The more I think about it, Clay, the better I like your idea! We've always helped our neighbors in time of trouble, but this lets the whole community get involved, and will keep us prepared to deal with people's emergencies without the delay of waiting while we pass the hat. We can help our friends without straining anyone's pocket, especially if it's at a time when the whole community is stressed. We'll be able help more than one family or person at a time, too! People can and will still help the old way, like they always have, but this will give us a head start."

Like I said, give Grandpa an idea or an outline, and he'd run with it. He'd give it form and substance as he made it bigger, better, smoother. Then he'd turn to the person with the original vague notion, and give them all the credit for a complete concept that he did all the actual brain and often the leg work for! I might have brought my 21st Century idealism and my romantic notions of what I'd like to see here in the 19th Century back with me, but he -- Great Grandpa Henry Thomas -- he made them real and, more importantly, workable!

Grandpa and I talked a bit more about what we would be doing that day. The conversation gradually wound down into plain ol' small talk as we finished our breakfast and morning coffees. When we were done, we headed out to the new wagons with my notes and sketches from the other day to decide what part of the job to get started on first.

All the boys were already outside waiting for us. They wanted to help. We didn't want to hurt their feelings or wreck their genuine enthusiasm to help, but at this point, we didn't need four rambunctious youngsters under foot, either. We solved that dilemma temporarily by telling them that the best way for them to help right now was for them to do their chores. We would work out more for them to do when they were done that.

They were a little disappointed at first, but with the assurance that we would have lots for them to do later, they ran off to get started on their regular morning chores. As the boys ran off to do our bidding, Grandpa and I entered the shed where we had hidden my truck. It was time to decide which parts we could use to make the new wagons better.

I told Grandpa about my ideas of possibly using the windows and skylights, tarred around the edges to seal them. Then I showed him some of the other features, in particular the electric lights. I told him I would like to be able to use them in the vans, especially the medical one because of the better quality light. He grasped that concept immediately, and was especially impressed with the brightness of the headlights. Grandpa instinctively understood the importance of good lighting and visibility for a doctor, especially when treating injuries.

When he asked how they worked, I explained how they ran off the two batteries. However, I also explained there was a major problem in that the batteries would eventually go dead because we had no way to recharge them.

"How do you charge them now?" Grandpa enquired.

I raised the hood of the truck and showed him the alternator. Then I explained how it worked with show-and-tell.

"When the engine's running, it spins the alternator -- this machine right here -- through these belts. They connect this pulley here on the alternator to the big one down there on the crankshaft. Turning that alternator produces the electricity that charges the batteries."

Grandpa seemed to think for a minute then he did it again -- took my half-baked idea and turned it into something real. "Why can't we use the windmill crank to turn a large pulley wheel to spin that alternator to recharge the batteries? That wouldn't be too hard, I don't think. These batteries need to charge all the time or just when they're getting low?"

I was beginning to wonder what was wrong with me -- I was a fair hand as a jackleg mechanic, but it seemed I couldn't quite think out of the box like Grandpa. Hell, I'd always done my own vehicle repairs, and could rewire a vehicle quite handily, but for some reason, I hadn't made the intuitive leap he just did to utilize the alternator any other way than where it sat. Now, with his latest stunner still rattling around in my head I remembered all the home-grown wind generators I had read about that did just exactly what he was describing.

Why couldn't I think of it? After all, I thought of electric lights using the batteries -- why then couldn't I follow the next logical step to power the alternator using sources of mechanical energy available to me now? I gave myself a mental kick and decided that with everything else going on, I probably just had too much on my mind to think of everything. Glad that at least someone had made the connection, I replied to Grandpa's query enthusiastically.

"That's a great idea, Uncle Henry! No, the batteries don't have to charge all the time. Normally, when the engine is running, there's a little gizmo called a 'regulator' that keeps them charged just right without letting them overcharge and wear out. Properly maintained batteries should last for many years.

"Without any load on them, the batteries will hold a charge for quite some time. A little of their charge leaks out over time and they have to be recharged, but in normal use, they should last almost indefinitely except they will run down the more they're used.

"We can mount one battery in each wagon with a couple lights and a switch to turn them on an off. By putting a battery in each wagon we will have light to use quickly if we need it. We'll still use the kerosene lamps normally, but the electric lights will be handy if we need light quickly or for just a few minutes where lighting the oil lamp would be just too much bother.

"The electric lights will be really useful when we need extra light for a patient. We'll have to be careful, though, because those headlights use a lot more electricity and will run their battery down much sooner. Mind you, in an emergency, we can always switch batteries if one gets down."

Grandpa indicated he understood. Now he just needed me to point him in the direction I wanted to go right now.

"OK! So where do we start?"

"Let's start by taking the cabinets out of the camper. Then we'll remove the windows from both the truck and camper. Before we do though, let's remove the camper from the back of the truck. That will make them both a lot easier to work on." I decided.

"That big thing looks too heavy for us to lift. How are we going to get it off the back of your truck without busting it and us?" Grandpa wanted to know.

"First, we undo these turnbuckles... yeah, like that. Then we swing down these leveling jacks and crank them up so the camper lifts off the truck... like so... Then all we have to do is pull the truck out from under it. When the truck is clear, we just crank the jacks down and lower the camper onto some blocks. Simple!" I explained with more show-and-tell.

Grandpa was his usual quick study, and soon we had the truck out from under the camper. Just as we finished setting the camper on blocks, Don and Ed showed up to see what we were doing. They wanted to know if they could help. When they saw the truck they stopped dead in their tracks, their mouths hanging open in surprise.

Don was the first to recover. "What the hell is that thing and where did you get it?" he gasped in wonder.

Ed recovered his wits almost as soon as Don. "It looks like some sort of strange wagon! Is it yours, Clay?" he observed.

I look at Grandpa, he looked back at me and we seemed to reach silent agreement. Then with a straight face, Grandpa wove a tale that was part fiction and part fact. It was a masterpiece of disinformation.

"Yup, Clay brought it from back East. It's one of those newfangled inventions. He was bringing it home when the horses spooked and took off. In the runaway, he lost control and it rolled into a gorge. In the wreck it got halfway smashed to pieces. It's too hard to fix it up so we're going to use parts of it on the new wagons. Go on, check it out."

While Ed and Don looked over the camper and the Power Wagon, Grandpa took me off to the side. While I still had my head up my butt wondering how to cover it, Grandpa had already sized up the situation and come up with a game plan. Man! I wished I was as quick on my feet! Quietly, so as not to draw the men's attention, he explained how we would handle this new development.

"They're family, Son. We can't keep everything a secret from them. You knew sooner or later someone of them was going to stumble across your machine. How well can we hide something that big in a shed that everyone uses? So, we have to let them in on some of it. You know damn well they're going to tell the rest of the family, and don't you for a minute think you wives won't be curious about all the fancy gadgets you want to put in the wagons!

"So, rather than tell the whole truth, we only tell enough of it to just spin it in such a way as to make it believable. We're all the time hearing about the wonders from back East. I sometimes think it's somebody's imagination or right out of a penny dreadful. Whatever, for these boys, to hear you brought all this from back East is plausible, and that's ALL we need to tell them -- just enough to satisfy them.

"They're both good men -- they are my own sons after all -- so if we ask them to keep it a secret, they will. The women folk, both at the main house, and your own, will find out soon enough on their own, but we don't have to broadcast it either."

Ed and Don had satisfied their curiosity for the moment and came back over to us. Their faces showed their wonderment.

"Clay, these things are amazing! Too bad that they were damaged so badly." Don marveled.

"Yeah! That's a pretty amazing wagon you have there! Are you sure that the damage can't be fixed?" Ed exclaimed.

Despite my original thoughts of resurrecting the truck and camper as a horse-drawn conveyance, I was glad now I hadn't. I didn't need to draw any more attention than I already had. From my uncles' reaction, I realized I had dodged that bullet and lucked out when Charlie sold me those gypsy caravans. Thus, it was in my own best interests to make sure Ed and Don believed they were wrecked beyond repair.

"Naw, I'm sure it's too badly damaged to use. However, I do think many of the things on the camper and the power wagon could be used on the new wagons to make them much better for use.

"First thing we need to do is to remove the cabinets, counters, tables and benches from here."

I showed them the camper interior, pointing out the items I named.

"I want to use most of this stuff in the living-quarters wagon. With them, it will be a lot easier to live comfortably in the wagon and cook our own meals. Right now we have to live in hotels when they are available and eat in restaurants. That's becoming a major expense, especially with the gold rush causing prices to go up. I'm hoping that the wagons will help us remedy that." I explained.

"You're right about things being expensive! Ever since Custer discovered gold, all the prices around here have tripled several times over. Now you pay at least a dollar for a meal you could've got for a nickel before!" Grandpa opined.

Ed and Don nodded their agreement.

"That's what I thought! I can't remember what it cost for a meal before I left for school, but I was sure it was helluva lot cheaper than now! Anyway, not only will it be cheaper to do it like this, it should make it a lot more convenient, too. We'll have everything set up just the way we want it, ready to use, all the time.

"We can stock the doctor's wagon with supplies and have it on hand, no matter what towns we come to. That way I won't have to worry about supplies being more available in one town than another. I'll even be able to treat people out on the road or go to them, when they can't come to me. And, like I said, we can set up the other wagon to be comfortable enough to be a home away from home. However, it's going to take a lot of work to get things done just the way we want them."

As I told them what I wanted to do, I could see that Ed and Don liked what they were hearing.

"Sounds like a helluva plan to me! So where do you want us to start?" Don asked, his eyes gleaming with enthusiasm.

I went over to my toolbox and got out my tools. As I assigned them their tasks, I showed each of them what I wanted.

"Don, can you start removing the windows? I don't think it'll be all that hard -- just be gentle and try not to break them. Ed, will you start removing the interior cabinets and counters, please? While you fellers are busy at those jobs, Uncle Henry and I will start on the power wagon, unbolting the parts we need from it."

Both men were glad to help and like everyone else in the family, were quick studies. Once I got them equipped with tools and started on their individual tasks, Grandpa and I started on the truck. I explained to him that I wanted to take the back window and the four side windows.

I wanted to try mounting them on the roofs of the wagons to let sunlight in during the daylight hours. Normally we would have had to use the kerosene lamps in both wagons even during the day and in the medical van, use the electric lights for examining patients.

With good light from above, we would only have to rig up the headlights in the medical wagon for emergencies or in low light. This would allow us to save the demand on our batteries whenever possible. As there was only the pair of them, we had to ensure they lasted as long as possible between chargings.

We all worked at our various jobs for several hours until around lunchtime, when the women showed up bearing food. Naturally, when we took a break to eat, we had to show them around and explain what we were doing.

I was expecting my wives to ask embarrassing questions about the truck and camper, but they didn't, even though they were obviously awed by the almost magical equipment I showed them. They just seemed to take it all in stride -- almost as if they expected no less from me. It seemed all it really did was get them planning among themselves how they wanted everything to be in the wagon we would use as our living quarters.

In the camper I showed them how the main bed was built. I also showed them how the table would lay across the benches of the booth and how the cushions would then be laid on it to form another bed. They thought this was great, and started to tell me about a few of their ideas.

"Ok, My Loves, you have some wonderful ideas, and we'll try to use as many of them as we can as we go along. However, first we need to finish dismantling the power wagon and the camper. When we get everything we want out of them, then we'll start working on the wagons. That's when I'll want to hear your ideas. Now, let us get back to work. The sooner we're done here, the sooner we'll get at the wagons."

After we ate, the girls left us to our labors and Grandpa headed into town to confront Miller and set up the community fund with Judge Mitchell. Ed, Don and I, and the boys finished out the day stripping everything useful from the truck and camper.

The next day, Grandpa and I hunted in the morning with the boys. I hadn't seen Grandpa since he went to town yesterday. He didn't tell me how his meetings had gone, but he did look mighty pleased with himself. Ed and Don looked after the ranch chores the boys would normally have done so they could go hunting with Grandpa and me. Then in the afternoon we all worked on the wagons while the women tended to the meat and tanned the hides. When the ladies needed a break, they would come check on us and give us the benefit of their wisdom.

And, that's the way it went for the rest of the week -- hunt in the morning and work on the wagons in the afternoon and evening, just like we had originally planned. By Friday, I was pretty happy with the results of our joint efforts. The wagons were done, we had built up our larder, and the boys were becoming proficient hunters and decent marksmen. And I was content that Standing Bear and I had completed our bonding -- he was my son now.

We had extended the front decks of both wagons three feet and installed the seats from the power wagon. We had to be careful when we built them not to extend too far or we would interfere with the team when they were hitched to the wagon. Our intent was to use the extension as a porch on the living wagon and a waiting room on the medical wagon. We also extended the existing roof overhang with a small canvas awning for shade and rain protection.

In the medical van, the rear side and the back windows made excellent skylights, just as I had hoped. We also used two of the four skylight/vents rescued from the camper to let in more light and improve the ventilation, although with the top half of both Dutch doors open, the air flow was already excellent. We rigged the cot we bought in Deadwood as an examining/operating table, with the headlights from the truck suspended over it. I also mounted the dome and cargo lights above each door to provide auxiliary or emergency lighting.

Report Story

bykingkey© 6 comments/ 26092 views/ 6 favorites

Share the love

Report a Bug

2 Pages:12

Forgot your password?

Please wait

Change picture

Your current user avatar, all sizes:

Default size User Picture  Medium size User Picture  Small size User Picture  Tiny size User Picture

You have a new user avatar waiting for moderation.

Select new user avatar: