Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
It was too noisy to talk much in the cab of the GP-9, so after a while, the conversation died off. Josh slumped in the firemanís seat and stared out the window, thinking about the offer Bud had made him.
The question of college had been coming up all summer, and Josh had been kicking it around. Amy was a factor, of course; Josh had known from the first that sheíd planned to go to Athens University, and it had helped him focus his thinking a little. But, did he really want to go to college, or was that just running with the herd?
Heíd known for some time that it was not going to be easy for his parents to send him to college. Johnny, now, that was a different story. He had been an all-A student, clearly headed for big things. Josh had mostly gotten Bís and Cís, and school wasnít all that thrilling to him, especially given six more years of it if he went to college instead of just two if he didnít.
Even when heíd been little, Josh had enjoyed it when his father had taken him out in one of the engines. "I want to grow up to be a railroad engineer, like my dad," Josh had said in grade school, and Walt had never really encouraged it or opposed it. "Whatever you want to do," heíd said.
But this summer had been different. Really working on the railroad had been a lot of fun. Heíd learned a lot and had learned enough to see that there was much more that he needed to learn if he really wanted to make a life of being a railroader. After getting a little older, it was something heíd not held out much hope for, since heíd found out that with railroads shrinking, there were limited job openings. But, this would be different; the C&SL had a solid traffic base that would probably be good for many years. It was expanding, not shrinking.
Besides, Josh thought, to get right down to it, he did like living in Spearfish Lake. Even if he did go to college, there werenít many job opportunities that would keep him in town. The odds were that heíd have to move to a city somewhere, and he didnít really like the idea of living in the city. Living in Camden might be all right for Amy and Marsha; they grew up there. But, he liked the woods and the fields and the clear blue skies. Ever since heíd started working with Mark and Mike and their dog teams, heíd been sort of hoping that there would be some way he could have a dog team of his own some day, and there was no way he could do that if he lived in a city.
And, if he stayed in Spearfish Lake, he could join the fire department, maybe become an EMT. Ed Sloatís rescue had been one of the most satisfying incidents of an eventful summer; it would be something else he couldnít do if he moved to a city. In his mindís eye, he could see Amy giving Mr. Sloat rescue breathing while he gave the chest compressions that, together, saved his life.
Would Amy like being the wife of a railroader?
Josh sat up with a start. "What the hell are you doing, thinking about that?" he said to himself, but so quietly that Bud couldnít have heard him across the cab of the GP-9.
No, he thought, it was a legitimate question, of a sort. If Amy was going to college, then it would be probably six years before they could get married, and there was plenty of time to think about whether he wanted to marry Amy or not. Six years was a long time, no matter how you cut it. Amy had been a lot of fun to be with this summer, but now that he had actually confronted the question, he wasnít so sure he liked the answer. While Amy and Marsha and Danny had gone out of their way, time and time again this summer, to keep him from feeling like an outsider, he still was on the outside. He would have liked to have been able to go out to the club this weekend, to cheer them on in the tournament, but it was out of the question. There was Josh, on the outside, again. If he didnít go to college, and Amy and Marsha and Danny did Ė well, the net result would be that he would still be on the outside, looking in.
Six years was a heck of a long time; things could change a lot in six years. Things hadnít been going as well with Amy as they had before the night they went parking out at West Turtle Lake; while she was still sweet and nice to him, he could feel the change. What change would this winter bring, much less six years?
Realistically, the thing to do with Amy was to have what fun he could get with her in what little was left of the summer, and call it good enough. If it picked up again the next summer, the summer after that, then maybe it was time to reopen the question. Now was much too early to even be considering it.
That was a heck of a thing to say, but heíd better be saying it, he realized. There were only a couple of weeks of summer left, and then sheíd be gone. They might see each other now and then over the winter, but there was no need to tear his heart out over it.
After all, it wasnít like he had to give Bud an answer today. He had a year, maybe a year and a half. A lot could happen in that time, but even from here, in the firemanís seat of the chopnose GP-9, he could see that Amy probably wouldnít figure in his decision much.
Jeez, what would it be like to be running a set of GP-38s up these tracks? One GP-38 could just about handle this train by itself; with two units, that would be a heck of a lot of power! Josh could see himself in the engineerís seat of one of them. Boy, would those babies ever shake the leaves when they were working a load with the throttle set to Run-8! It was quite a vision.
"Hey, Bud," he called across the cab. "Assuming I take you up on that offer, how soon would I be doing engine service?"
"Hard to say," Bud said. "I donít want to make promises, but thereís no way the insurance would let you do it before youíre eighteen. I had a bad enough time getting a rider so you could brake for us, but youíve been worth it. Some of the time, on the easier trips, it might not be long after that, though, at least when weíre busy in the summer."
"That soon?" Josh was amazed. His father had been in his thirties before heíd begun engine service, back with D&O.
"Like I said, hard to say. A lot depends on seniority, but Bill Lee figures into it, too. Itís damn hard to juggle Bruce and Diane between us and him now. One of these days, theyíre going to have to start putting most of their time into the Lordston Northern. Your dad is getting set to retire, one of these years, and I really put more time in the cab than I should be, now. On the other hand, with bigger engines, we might not need as many engineers. You figure it out; I canít give you an answer."
"I donít believe it," Josh said.
"Well, a lot depends on how much you learn, and how well you learn it, too," Bud replied. "Since weíre non-union, what it comes down to is that you donít start engine service until I think youíre ready. But, the downside to that is that for a few years, at least, youíre not going to be working a lot in the winter, at least on the road. Probably be a few unemployment checks along in there, but thatís a good time to take a vacation, anyway."
"Funny," Josh said. "Iíd never really believed I could even be a railroader."
"Well, like your dad says, sometimes itís not all fun," Bud said. "To realize that, you may have to try running a plow train through a snowstorm in the dark of night when youíre dead tired and have to press on anyway. You ainít lived till youíve walked a quarter-mile train in a driving snowstorm checking brake lines. Maybe Iíll have to give you a few calls this winter, just to show you the downside."
"Do that," Josh said. "Iíd like to try it."
"The women are going to kill us," Mark said.
Mike shook his head. "Blame it on me," he said. "After all, Iím the one with the soft head."
"I should have known that, after the last time we went to the pound."
"Blame it on me," Mike replied. "Thereís no point in you getting in trouble with Jackie over it. Weíll tell the women that itís the start of my team. I donít think Kirsten wants three fatherless children."
"If we get back, and Henry Toivoís shown up while weíve been gone, youíre a dead man," Mark teased.
Henry Toivo was not a subject to tease Mike about, and Mark knew that. As soon as heíd said it, he wished he hadnít, but Mike shrugged it off. "If he did, then thereís no problem with this, anyway."
"Well, letís keep íem down at my place for a while, at least until they get used to the situation," Mark offered.
"Iím willing," Mike agreed. "I just donít want to put you out."
They rode on in silence in Markís pickup truck for a long time. "Oh, well," Mark said finally. "This is going to make for a real team. At least, itís really going to look like a dog team."
As luck would have it, Jackie and Kirsten were having a cup of coffee in Jackieís kitchen when they drove up Markís driveway. Mark, Mike, and Cumulus were hardly out of the cab of the truck when the women came outside to see how bad the damage was.
"Is that four dogs I see in the back there?" Jackie asked. "I thought you were going for one, maybe two at the most."
"We got there," Mike admitted, having agreed to take the heat, "and there were these four. We just couldnít make up our minds which two to keep, and they were all going to be offed this afternoon, so I decided to take all four. If they work out, itíll be the start of our second team. If some donít work out, well, they blew their last chance."
It had actually been hard to make a decision. All four of the dogs seemed to have a lot of husky in them, and all got along with Cumulus. There had been two more that hadnít, or Mike and Mark could easily have brought six dogs home with them.
"But, four dogs," Jackie said, "you only built two new doghouses."
"Weíre going to have to build two more," Mark said with a shrug. "A couple of them can be tied out in the T-hanger until we get more houses built."
They unloaded the dogs from where theyíd been tied with necklines at each corner of the back of the pickup, and one by one tied each to a fence post behind the hanger. Three of the dogs were gray and black and white, in various patterns; the fourth was dingy brown, mixed with black. He was thin, and his fur was scraggly and matted, and he had a scar on his nose that made it look like heíd been in a fight some time before. "You could have left that one behind," Kirsten suggested.
"I thought about it," Mike said. "But I sort of had a feeling that he just looks bad now. He was apparently a family dog, and being in the pound might not have set too well with him. Whoís to say what heíll look like when heís had some good food and exercise? Besides, weíre learning how hard it is to get a good command leader, and, never know, he might prove to be one."
The dog looked at Kirsten, and wagged his tail. She tentatively stuck out a hand to pet him, and the tail went harder. "Heís the only one that comes with a name," Mike said. "You can see he likes people."
"Whatís his name?"
"Ringo," Mike said.
"Kind of an odd name for a dog," Jackie said. "But, I donít suppose it matters. What are you going to name the others?"
"I really hadnít thought about it," Mike said. "I kind of thought about Pat, but that nameís reserved for Irish Setters, as far as Iím concerned."
"Youíve already got a George and a Ringo," Jackie smiled. "How about John and Paul for two of the others?"
"Cute," Mark said. "I can see you never got over the Beatles breaking up. I can just see those four, singing at a full moon."
"I donít care," Mike said. "What about the other one?"
"That one, with a white face, you could call ĎWhitey,í" Mark suggested.
"I donít know. Somehow, that just doesnít get it," Mike said.
"Hey, you know," Jackie said, "there was a fifth Beatle. They dropped him when they picked up Ringo."
"Yeah," Mark said. "What the heck was his name?"
"Probably something nice and British, like Colin or Geoffrey or Winston," Mike said.
"I donít know," Kirsten said, furrowing her brow. "David sticks with me, for some reason or another. I donít know that itís right, but I suppose we could look it up."
"Now that you mention it, David does sort of ring a bell," Mike agreed. "I guess the one with the white face is David, and the one with the fur thatís more yellowish is John. You think we can keep that straight, Mark?"
"I think weíd better get name tags until weíre sure," Mark suggested. "Weíre sure going to have our work cut out for us, with four dogs to break in."
Mike looked at his watch. "Well, Iíd sure like to get started," he said, "but, I suppose thereís no point in it until it cools off this evening."
With four new dogs to train, it was back to the basics for Mark and Mike. It had been obvious that they didnít want to start right off with the four new dogs and four experienced dogs, so they did it by running one new dog at a time in wheel, the closest dogs to the ATV, until the new dog got the idea. They soon moved on to two new dogs in wheel, and amazingly, it worked out pretty well.
After several days, one evening when Josh was over they decided it was time to try it with all the new dogs at one time. Since none of the older dogs liked running in double lead with Cumulus, Mark and Mike hooked Cumulus in lead, Red and Midnight in swing, David and Paul in team and Ringo and John in wheel.
"I donít know about this," Mike said, getting onto the ATV.
"Well, weíve got to try it sooner or later," Mark philosophized.
"All right, dogs," Mike called. "Up! Up! Hike!"
Perhaps they should have trained the dogs a little more. The three dogs in front took off like they were supposed to, and so did Ringo and John, but David seemed a little confused, and Paul took his lead from David, just standing there while Ringo and John ran over the top of them. Then, the slack came out of the line from the lead dogs, and in an instant, there was what could only be categorized as a hell of a mess. "Whoa, dogs, whoa," Mike called, after only having moved about ten feet. Although all the dogs wanted to run by this time, Cumulus and Red decided to stop, and David, now finally moving, ran over the top of them.
"Jesus, what a mess," Josh said, shaking his head. Three dogs sat or lay in various positions, with half hitches having been thrown over their legs, noses, and anything else that stuck out. Here was a perfect granny knot, there a cunningly executed sheepshank. At the bottom of this knot of nylon and dogs was David, who had started it all.
"Maybe we should have run with five dogs some more," Mike commented dryly.
"We better get this mess straightened out," Mark said. Theyíd had some tangles before, but with only three or four dogs, none had been anything like this mess. After some struggle, they discovered that by unsnapping the dogs from both the tuglines and the necklines, they could make the job go faster.
When everybody but Mark and Mike and Josh was back on four paws again, they tried again. This time, they got twenty feet, and only three dogs were tangled.
"Well, itís improving," Mike said. "Letís move David and Paul back to wheel."
"Good idea," Mark agreed. "Davidís the one that screwed this mess up twice."
"Letís give it one more try, and if that doesnít work, weíll switch David for King," Mike suggested.
On the third try, the dogs all started moving at more or less the same time, and wonder of wonders, without any tangled lines. By now, the dogs had gotten frustrated with all the tangling, and wanted to run, and the ATV took off like a shot. One thing was sure; seven dogs could pull a lot more than three or four. Mike let them run down the runway to work off some of the initial energy, then gave Cumulus a "Come gee," and amazingly, Cumulus managed to get the team headed back toward the house. By the time they were back near the hanger, the dogs had settled down to a good trail pace, and Mike headed them out onto the network of trails that spread through the field west of Markís house.
Mike had a broad grin on his face by now. With seven dogs up front, it seemed more like a dog team, and it was great to watch them snake around the bends in the trail and go up the little hills and around the field without slowing. After half an hour, everybody seemed to be working out pretty well on the trail, and Mike had Cumulus turn back to the house.
"Itís neat," he told Mark. "You got to take them out. Thereís so much more power there than before, itís really great."
Mark had been a little envious; it really seemed to be working well. "I canít wait till we get snow," he said, as Mike got off the ATV, and he got on.
Mark only had a few minutes to ride behind the seven dogs, before he noticed a strange car come up the road and turn into his driveway. Heíd been too busy paying attention to the dogs, but as he came down one of the little field trails, he saw Mike and Josh standing by the trail, with Jim Horton. "Whoa," he yelled. Since the dogs were getting a little tired, they followed the command quite promptly.
"Good looking team," Jim said. "I was driviní by, and I thought Iíd stop in and see how you boys was coming."
"Itís good to see you again," Mark said. "Glad you could stop by."
"Iím sorry I havenít been over here more often," Jim said, "but when Mike dropped the sled off to me, he said you guys were coming along pretty good. I didnít figure youíd get started until the weather got colder, but youíve got these dogs looking pretty good."
"Glad you think so," Mike said. "Weíve been working with them almost every day. The four in back are still pretty green, but theyíre starting to get the idea."
While he was there, Jim took the opportunity to closely inspect every dog. "I like the way your leader keeps the team stretched out when youíre stopped," he commented. "If they get some slack, they can get tangled real easy."
"Weíve learned that," Josh said.
Jim went on down the line of dogs, with comment after comment. "Good harnesses on these dogs . . . never had this nylon rope for ganglines, but it donít look like the dogs chew it much . . . watch out for sore feet on this one; comes winter, youíll almost always want to have booties on him . . . is this one as dumb as he looks?"
The last comment was about David. "Afraid so," Mike said. "Itís taking him a while to shape up."
"Give him time," Jim advised. "Either heíll get the idea, or he wonít."
"You want to take them around the patch?" Mark offered. "Theyíve been running pretty good tonight, so they ought to be settled down."
"Good Lord, boy, itís been twenty-five years since Iíve been behind dogs," Jim said. "Donít tempt me."
"Cumulus takes commands real good," Mike said.
"Oh, what the heck," Horton said. "I guess I ainít that old."
"You have to use the handbrakes on the ATV," Mark said. "It rolls real good when youíre going downhill. Donít be afraid to lock the wheels up if you have to slow them down. They can still drag it some with the wheels locked up, but they donít like to."
Mark swung out of the seat and held the brakes, while Jim got on. In a moment, he called, gently, "Up, boys. Hike!" The dogs took off at a gentle trot down the trail. After a moment or two, Mike and Mark and Josh could hear Jimís voice calling "Hike!" this time in a louder, more imperative tone, to speed the dogs up.
It only took a few minutes for the team to take a lap around the field. Jim came back by where the guys were standing, and they could see the broad grin on his face. There wasnít any sign of trying to stop; they could see that the old man was enjoying himself too much.
After a second lap, Jim did bring the dogs to a stop. "Good team you got there," he said. "Youíre right, that one in back is as dumb as a post, but running in wheel he canít get into much trouble. The only thing is, that black and brown one youíve got running in team?"
"Yeah, Ringo," Mike said.
"You want to try him up front. He acts like he wants to be a lead dog. Run him around in swing a little bit, then try him in double lead with Cumulus. It might take him a little while to be a confident leader, but I can smell heís got the knack."
"Letís hope so," Mike said. "Weíve got to turn up another leader, or weíre not going to be able to split this gang into two teams."
"He might be your dog," Jim said. "Give it a try."
"Letís move him up to swing right now," Mark said. In only a couple of minutes, Mark and Josh had swapped Midnight and Ringoís positions. "Letís see how that works," he said when he finished. "Mike, you want to take them again?"
"I could," he said. "But I know Josh here is aching to take them around the patch once. Why donít you take íem, Josh?"
Josh didnít need to be asked twice. In a few seconds, he was on the back of the ATV. "Bring íem up to the house when youíre ready to quit," Mark said.
As Josh took the team around the patch again, Mark and Mike and Jim walked back up to the house and sat on the porch with Jackie, watching Josh take the team around the field. "He handles them pretty good," Jim commented.
"That may be the sixth time weíve let him go alone, and never with more than four dogs," Mike said. "But, we could hook another seven dogs on the front of that thing, and it wouldnít bother him. I think heís going to make a musher."
"I can just imagine what Dadís going to say when Josh tells him heís going to raise a dog team in the back yard," Jackie said. "The next thing you know, weíll have Markís team and Mikeís team and Joshís team all out in back of the hanger."
"Yeah, itíd be beautiful music when they all got to howling at the moon," Jim said. Jackie couldnít tell whether he was joking or not.
"Well, Jim, all in all, what do you think?" Mark asked, trying to head Jackie off.
"They do look pretty good," Jim said. "Course, you been workiní at it. The only thing is, you gotta remember theyíll be a lot different when winter comes, and you got a sled behind the dogs, rather than that quadrunner. Brakes wonít be as good, and steering it is a lot tougher. That dog you got leading, Cumulus, makes a pretty good command leader in the summer, but how heíll work out when itís cold and you got a lot of wind, thatís maybe another story. If you have problems, donít be afraid to try another dog in the lead. Some dogs lead better in some situations than others, so you might want to be trying some of the other dogs in lead. Hell, in a lot of wind, sometimes it takes a dumb dog to lead the team, and that one you got in wheel might prove to be an ace in the hole. You just never know till you try."
"David seems to be taking to running wheel pretty well," Mike said. "But you might be right."
"You want to keep a real close watch on your dogsí feet," Jim added. "Donít matter in the summer as much, but in winter, thereíll be a lot of times youíll want to run booties on the dogs. Youíve got some good paws there, but I saw some thatíll collect ice fairly easy, and that ainít good. You go out in snow, make sure you got booties for all the dogs, and some spares."
They sat and talked for quite a while, while Josh ran the team around the field. Finally, they saw him heading toward the house, and the four got up to go help him with the dogs. "Letís not put them away yet," Mike suggested. "Iíd like to try moving Ringo up into a double lead, just to see what happens."
"Kingís been wanting to run," Mark said. "Letís harness him up, and you can try it with eight."
It was really too cool for swimming on this, the last Saturday of August, but going to the Spearfish Lake city beach seemed like the thing to do. Josh and Amy and Danny and Marsha had spent a lot of time at the beach over the course of the summer, and it seemed like the logical way to end it.
The water was cold, and they didnít stay in long. After they got out of the water, the girls sat in the sand curled up in towels with Josh and Danny on either side, mostly looking across the lake toward the dim, faint hazy line of the far shore, miles away.
"Well, weíre heading back tomorrow," Amy said sadly. "I canít believe school starts Monday. Itís going to seem so strange to have to get up and get dressed. Here it isnít even Labor Day yet, and schoolís starting. It isnít fair."
"Yeah," Danny said. "Marsha, maybe this time next year, you and Iíll be heading for Athens."
"Well, you ought to know by then whether thatís where youíll be going," Marsha said. "Have you heard anything more about the scholarship up at Michigan Tech?"
"Nothing," Danny said. "I wouldnít expect to hear anything until toward the end of football season, anyway."
"Have you thought any more about going to Athens?" Amy asked Josh.
Josh hadnít gotten around to telling her Ė or even his father Ė about Budís job and schooling offer made in the cab of the GP-9 a couple of weeks before. It still needed some contemplation, but even the reflection heíd done so far had made even the thought of college a lot more nebulous. But, even now, he didnít want to tell Amy that Ė not now, especially. "Not really," he said. "I thought maybe when school starts, I might write off for something about it, but between work, and football, and working with the dogs, and going out with you guys, I havenít had any time to spare."
"Well, it would sure be neat if you could go to Athens," Amy said. "It would be a lot of fun if we could all be there together the year after next. Maybe when I see you next summer, youíll have a better idea if youíre going."
Not likely, Josh thought sadly. It was nice to think about, but it was getting less likely every day. Realistically, Athens really was pretty much a dream, anyway. "Itís going to be strange, not having you two around," Josh said, trying to change the subject a little. "I sure have enjoyed spending time with you this summer. Itíd have been really dull if you hadnít been here."
"Well, thereís always next summer," Marsha said. "If it goes like it always does, weíll be up here right after schoolís out, and I guess weíre on pretty much the same schedule as yours."
"I sure hope itís not next summer before we see you again," Danny said.
"It sure would be nice if you could make it up for a football game," Josh said. "It would be a lot of fun to go out afterwards, for a pizza or something."
"I donít know," Marsha said. "We might, but I kind of like to go to our football games, too. Maybe we can get up here some time when weíre playing an away game."
"Make it up if you can, at least once," Danny said. "This is going to be the last year in the blue and gold for me, and Josh ought to be playing a bit."
"Well, you two know where Camden is," Amy said. "Thereís no reason you canít drive down there some time."
"I suppose," Josh said. "But then, Iím going to be pretty busy this fall, too. Mr. Ellsberg is going to have me working weekends as long as the rock traffic holds out, so I might not have much spare time for a while. But, maybe this winter Danny and I can make it down sometime."
"However you cut it," Marsha said, "weíre not going to be seeing as much of you guys as we have this summer."
"Well, weíre not going to be seeing as much of you, either," Danny smirked. "In the winter, you have to wear clothes."
Marsha picked up a handful of sand, and threw it playfully at Danny. "Thatís not what I meant, and you know it, Daniel Clark Evachevski."
It was strange, Josh thought. Now that the summer was drawing to a close, the old gang was getting a little closer again. Danny and Marsha were getting a lot closer, indeed. What had really happened in the back seat of his Chevette, a month ago? He didnít know for sure, but he knew how heíd bet if he had a chance: heíd bet that things had gone a lot further than anything he and Amy had done. All the way further, in fact. There was no way of telling for sure, but to look at the way Danny and Marsha teased each other, toyed with each other, it sure looked like the way to bet.
He leaned over to get a little closer to Amy, wrapped up in her damp towel, and Amy leaned over toward him. Not three months before, having a girl friend at all had seemed like a dream, much less a girl friend as pretty and sexy and fun to be with as Amy.
It was far too late to change things, but Josh still wondered if maybe they should have gone ahead when theyíd had the chance. If that was why Danny and Marsha seemed so much closer, then it apparently paid off. But what had happened, had happened, and what hadnít happened, hadnít, and for better or worse, heíd have to live with it. Perhaps it was for the best, but still, he could remember the cool of the night, the warmth of Amyís bare body pressed up against his bare body, and the sound of her voice.
"Oh, well, thereís always next year," he said, wrapping his arm around her.
She glanced at Marsha and Danny, who were by now sharing a hug and a kiss, then turned back to him. "Yeah," she said to him; Danny and Marsha obviously werenít paying any attention. "Thereíll be next summer. Maybe we can make up for what we didnít do this summer."
Could she be meaning what he thought? There was no good way to ask. "Yeah," he said slowly, "thereís a lot of things that we could have done but didnít get around to."
She smiled, and turned to kiss him. "Thereís always next year," she agreed. "Weíll just have to wait and see. Maybe my folks wonít be quite so tough on insisting on double dates."
"Thatíd be nice," he agreed. She had to be talking about what was on his mind, and Josh thought he detected a note of envy of Danny and Marsha from her Ė which only confirmed some suspicions. "Too late to do much about it this summer," he said, pulling her close to him so they could kiss. "Weíd have to wait, anyway."
Since they were out on the beach, in public, the kiss couldnít be too hot, or go on too long, but there was a lot of wistfulness in the kiss they did share.
Finally, they pulled apart, and she put her head on his shoulder, just staring out across the lake again. He kept his arm around her, his left hand close enough to her breast to know that it was there, but far enough away so no one could complain, and they just held each other for a long time. "Yeah," he said finally, "weíll have to wait. But, thereís always next summer."
"Yeah," she said wistfully, "next summer."