"A Spearfish Lake Story"
John figured that there were two good things about this trip to Decatur: the first was that it was going to be the last one, and the second was that he had Phil and Brandy with him to talk to.
It was a long drive, but it was interesting conversation all the way. Phil gave John a blow-by-blow account of his Iditarod run earlier in the spring, and for the first time John heard the details of Brandyís mad dash from Bolivia to Nome. The stories made the familiar miles slide by much more quickly than they had on all the solo trips heíd been making.
Heíd managed to make a fair dent on the amount of stuff to be moved by taking Josh and Tiffanyís pickup most weekends, but at least this time he was in the car, and it seemed almost strangely comfortable.
The three of them had taken off early Friday afternoon on a nice June day, and with the sunset getting later and later, there was still a touch of twilight in the sky when he pulled into the familiar driveway in Decatur.
Candice was waiting for them when they arrived and came out into the warm spring evening to greet them. "Iím so glad you could come and help us," she said to her new friends from Spearfish Lake. "Welcome to whatís left of our old house."
"We werenít doing anything," Phil said. "Itís sort of nice to get out of the house."
"Well, weíre pretty well ready," she said. "I sent the boys to sleep early. Itís going to be a long day, tomorrow. Theyíre in the basement in sleeping bags, so the two of you can have their room."
John walked into the house and was amazed. It had been two weeks since heíd been home, for Candice had come up the previous weekend to sign the papers on the new house. Now, he hardly recognized anything Ė the living room was piled with boxes, some stacked four and five high, but everything seemed pretty barren.
"Wow, it looks like a warehouse in here," Phil said.
"Weíve sort of been camping out here the last few days," Candice remarked. "Weíre down to just a handful of things that arenít packed. Thereís not even anything much in the refrigerator. The freezer on the porch is pretty full, but I figure we can take it loaded, and it ought to hold the cold pretty well. I left the long extension cord with it, so if we stop overnight tomorrow night, we maybe can plug it in overnight."
"Looks like youíve got everything under control," John commented. "We ought to be able to just load up and get out of here tomorrow."
"Thereís still a few things," she admitted. "But nothing we shouldnít be able to do pretty quickly tomorrow. You can pick the truck up at eight."
"Iím just going to be glad to have this weekend over with," John replied. "At least we got this place sold so we donít have to come back and deal with it." Theyíd gotten pretty close to their asking price, and on a quick sale, too. A nice couple with young kids. Hopefully the new couple would have better luck with the schools than theyíd had, but that didnít really concern him much anymore.
"Yeah, me too," she said. "Itíll be nice to have a home again. Iíve just been looking forward to getting out of here for the last month or more."
They all got up early Saturday morning and went to a nearby chain restaurant for breakfast, then Brandy and Candice went back to the house to start the final preparations for the move, while John, Phil and the boys went to pick up the big rental truck. Shortly after one they had the place cleared out. Everybody made one last pass through the house to look for things that might have been missed, checking cupboards and cabinets, and finally, they were ready to hit the road.
John and Candice lagged behind.
"Well, I guess this is goodbye to this place," Candice said. "And, good riddance, too."
"It was good while it lasted," John said. "But Iím not sorry to leave and move on."
"Itíll be nice to be together again. Weíve been apart too long."
The boys wanted to ride in the truck with John, of course, so Phil wound up driving Johnís car while Brandy went with Candice to keep her company.
"Iím really glad that you two could make it down here," Candice told Brandy as they pulled out of the driveway, with the sight of their old house in the rear view mirror one of the prettiest things sheíd ever seen. "I donít know what we would have done without you."
"Youíd have worked out something," Brandy replied. "Actually, itís kind of fun. Iíve never really had to move like this. When Phil and I moved into the house, we didnít have a carload of stuff between us. Weíd had a furnished apartment out in Boulder, and there just wasnít much to move."
"We didnít have this much stuff when we moved down here from Camden. Of course, we were living in a duplex there, and the boys were still small. I just donít know where we got all this stuff! We packed things that I know Iíll never use again, stuff like baby things, toys the boys have outgrown long since. I mean, Iíve been throwing away everything I could, but thereís still so much stuff in the truck I canít believe it."
"It does tend to accumulate," Brandy said. "Even as much as Phil and I have been out of town over the last ten years, the amount of sheer crap thatís built up is unbelievable. Sometimes I think it may drive us out of the house altogether."
Candice nodded. "At least weíre going to have a basement to store some of this stuff, but Iím still going to try and throw some more of it away." She looked at the truck up ahead, and at the strip malls and subdivisions on either side. "But at least Iím getting out of this place. Iíve never cared much for it. I never felt like we were part of the community here. In fact, I felt like they were trying to keep us from feeling part of the community, what with the school business and all. Weíre going to a place where we have friends, where maybe we can feel at home."
In the end, they made it clear to Spearfish Lake that evening, although arriving late. Theyíd called ahead to warn Johnís folks that they would be arriving after midnight, and it was good to pull into the driveway, get their stiff bodies out of the cars and the truck, plug the freezer in for the night and call it a night themselves. Phil had wound up driving the truck much of the way; he didnít mind it handling like a truck, he said, and actually it was pretty comfortable after the Alaska Highway. John drove Phil and Brandy home, and they agreed to meet at the new house in the morning.
Sunday morning, they were at their new house. Josh and Tiffany joined them along with Walt and Sarah and Mark and Jackie, and the unloading of the truck went fairly quickly, although most of it was just dumped into a pile in the living room and front porch for later sorting. With all the hands available and the big truck, it was no great trick to load up the stuff that had been dumped in Walt and Sarahís garage over the past month and add it to the collection at the new house. By mid-afternoon Sunday, the truck was unloaded for the final time. Somewhere in there, Brandy snuck off to order a couple of pizzas, and the first meal in their new house was taken in the living room, sitting on boxes and reachable furniture.
"Well, now the real work begins," John commented. "Finding a place for everything, and putting everything in its place. This could take a while. At least I can work on it some tomorrow."
"Iíll come over and help," Brandy offered.
"You donít have to do that," Candice protested.
"Hey, itís not like Iíve got anything better to do, and I can use the exercise." In fact, that was about all Brandy had been doing, although she hadnít mentioned it. Since her return from Colorado, sheíd been concentrating on getting back into something that resembled what she considered being in shape Ė which was well beyond what most anyone else would consider being in shape Ė so sheíd been spending her time running, working out and brushing up on how to use a basketball. It wasnít a perfect answer to the question of what she was going to do, but it would work for a while, she figured.
"Since you put it that way, the help would be welcome," Candice yawned. "I frankly am getting burned out. I think Iím just going to figure out places for everyone to sleep tonight and call it good enough for today."
"Give me a call and Iíll help where I can," Tiffany offered. "Itís going to have to be in the evenings, though, now that weíre on summer hours at the store."
"Well, in two or three days I think we can be through the worst of it," Candice said. "And Iíll have John to help tomorrow, too. But Iím sure that weíll still be opening boxes for months."
"I remember when we moved to where my folks are now," Tiffany recalled. "There was a box of canned goods that went missing. It turned up months later, in the bottom of Henryís closet, labeled ĎHenryís Toys.í Mom never did figure out how that happened."
"Iíve been careful," Candice said. "But if I only get one like that, I think Iíll be pretty happy."
"Itís a big job," Tiffany said. "But maybe later this year, you can come over and help us move. I donít think Iíll have to box stuff up as badly."
"Youíre moving?" John asked.
"Just a few yards," Josh explained. "We sorta worked out a deal with Randy Clark. Weíre going to put up a fairly decent-sized house just up the ridge from the trailer. We just decided we didnít want to put it off any longer."
"Yeah, the place is falling apart," Tiffany said. "It wasnít a new trailer to begin with, and Josh only figured on living in it for a couple years when he bought it. That was ten years ago."
"Are you going to get rid of the trailer?" Walt asked.
"Not just yet," Josh said. "Itíd make a good place for a dog handler if we ever get one. Not that weíve ever gotten one, and itís getting to be time to think about the race again. Phil, now isnít the time," he continued, "But weíve got to get together and talk sometime real soon. Iím still running nights, but maybe we can get together sometime before I head out."
"Sure, no problem. What do you have in mind?"
"Well, weíre getting to the point where we have to be thinking about entries for next year, and I need to know if youíre planning on running again."
"Yeah, we need to talk about that," Phil said. "Iím still of two minds about it. But, youíre right, nowís not the time. Maybe tomorrow night, say along about five."
"Letís make it six, then Tiffany can come along after she closes the store. She needs to be a part of this conversation."
"Well, why donít you meet us at our house?" Brandy offered. "Iíll see if I canít come up with something for dinner besides pizza."
"I donít know what the two of you would do without a pizza joint in this town," Josh smirked.
"Itíd make life a damn sight harder, thatís for sure," Brandy agreed. "It may not be fancy, but I think itíll beat frozen burritos warmed on a dog food cooker."
"I donít know. Right about now, that sounds pretty good to me," Josh said. "Itís just such a long time till next March, and thereís a lot thatís got to be done before then."
"Yeah, summer barely gets here, and then itís gone," Tiffany agreed.
"You think itís bad now, wait till you get to be my age," Walt snorted.
"John and Candice, why donít you come over for dinner tomorrow night?" Sarah offered, heading off a long story from her husband. "I know youíll be tired from trying to sort everything out all day."
"Actually, I was thinking of having you over," Candice said. "Iím sort of looking forward to having my first dinner in my new house."
"We canít do it tomorrow night," John protested. "Iíve got to take the boys to ball practice and get them started with that. Theyíre a week late for getting started with practice as it is. Besides, it might still be a bit soon. Thereís still a lot to be done, and weíll be tired. What we ought to do is to throw a housewarming, maybe next Saturday night. By then, we ought to have the place halfway presentable."
"Good idea," Candice said. "Thatíd take the heat off some."
"Can we bring anything?" Tiffany offered. "Iíve got a nice moose roast I need to be using up soon."
"Iíll bring some pies, and maybe a cake," Sarah chimed in.
"I can bring a salad or something," Brandy said. "At least I canít burn that."
"Fine by me," Candice said. "Saturday it is."
"You know, you ought to invite Jennifer and Blake," Brandy continued. "Theyíd probably have been here today if they were in town."
"We donít really know them that well," Candice replied. "Wouldnít it be a little forward?"
"No, theyíd appreciate it," Phil said. "They should be getting back sometime this week, and theyíll appreciate a social night back in town."
"Could you call them for us?" Candice asked. "I donít think the phone is going to be hooked up for a while yet."
"If that gets to be too big an issue, call me, and Iíll call Mark," Josh said. "He hasnít worked for the phone company for years, but he still knows whose arm to twist."
Josh slowly became aware of the phone ringing through his sound sleep. He woke up enough to will it to shut up, but it didnít work. Finally, he decided he had no choice but to get up and answer the stupid thing. He glanced over at the clock Ė four in the afternoon, heíd have to be getting up pretty soon anyway Ė and caved in. He threw back the sheet; it could get warm, sleeping in the trailer in the afternoon Ė and padded out to the living room in his bare feet, trying to make a mental note to have Randy install a phone line in the bedroom of the new house when he got around to building it. Whoever it was calling, he hoped it wouldnít take too long; his bladder was aching, but there wasnít time to go to the bathroom.
"Yeah?" he answered sleepily.
It proved to be Bud on the other end of the line. "Hope Iím not calling too early," he said, "But Gina said you were running nights this week."
"Yeah," he said, staving off a yawn. "The schedule got a little goofy." There was no point in going into detail unless Bud asked about it.
"Everything going OK up there?" Bud asked.
"Pretty much," Josh said, hoping again that this call wouldnít last long. Now that he was awake, he had to get to the bathroom to relieve the pain. "401 got a gut ache for a few days there, something with the injectors again, but we ran the Rock with it, and it did fine. Marty got the 401 motor back on line the first of the week, so weíre pretty much back to normal."
"Howís the track work down at Blair going?"
"Roger thought heíd be done with it by now, at least when he started, but now it looks like itís going to be another week or two. Itís no big deal, though. We havenít gotten behind schedule at all."
"Josh," Bud said, "I called up to see if there would be any problem with my staying away another week or two, but Gina said the schedule got goofed up and you and Chris were doing all the night runs."
Oh, hell, he was going to have to tell him, and he was hurting. He tried to ignore the need to hit the bathroom. "Yeah, Anson got pissy" Ė God, why did he have to use that word? Ė "about running nights two weeks out of three, so Chris and I got our heads together and decided to do the night runs ourselves until the track work got done and just let Anson run Beepit. We figured it was either that or have Anson tell us to shove it."
"Well, look, I can come back right away if thereís a problem."
"No need for it," Josh said. "Thereís nothing we canít handle, so long as we can keep Anson happy for another two weeks or a month or so, and by then we should be back to day runs."
"Yeah, he can be a self-righteous pain in the butt, but we canít get along without him," Bud agreed.
"Give us another month or so, and we could tell Anson goodbye if we absolutely had to," Josh replied. "Stormy should be ready to brake Peddler by then if we had to use him."
"Stormy? Whoís he?"
"Steve Rumsey. Our new brakeman. Heís the kid who was born on Plow Extra One, back during the Warsaw fire. You remember that?"
"Has it been that long?" Josh could hear Bud frown. "Yeah, I guess it has. What brought this on?"
"The Rakestraw kid got himself banged up pretty good when he bashed a deer," Josh explained, "And heís probably not going to be able to work the rest of the summer. Besides, we need someone to brake in the fall anyway, so I hired on Stormy. Heís not a college kid, so Iíve had Dave teaching him to be a real brakeman. Well, we all have been. I even sent him down to work with John and Herm last week, just for the sake of training. I figured if Anson was to quit, I could put Dave to running one of the rock trains, and Chris or I could probably carry Stormy enough to work the way freight. Heís coming along pretty good, Dave says, and I think so, too."
"Sounds like a good plan," Bud said. "Iíd figured on bringing Dave along sooner or later. You think heís ready to solo?"
"He should be," Josh said, gritting his teeth to stave off the pain, which was getting incredible. "Chris and I have been braking for him when we run with him, just to work with Stormy ourselves and give Dave some time at the throttle. Daveís not going to be the bottleneck. This whole deal depends on how fast we can get Stormy over being green as grass, but for the moment, everythingís holding together."
"You donít need me back there, then?"
" Not really, just now," Josh said, wondering if the phone cord was long enough to reach the bathroom. He was sure it wasnít. "Iíd sort of like you to take a run or two with Dave before we turn him loose, but I wouldnít have any problems with it if we had to. Other than that, itís stuff that Gina would have for you, and I donít think thereís anything too serious there. Fred Linder up at Warsaw was a little uptight about the night switching, since he has to pay overtime for some guy, but I talked dogs with him for a while and explained that weíd be back to the normal schedule as soon as we got the track work done. So how are things with you?" Please donít tell me.
"Oh, Jane and I are having a good time," Bud said. "We went to a couple NASCAR races. You ought to get away and do that some time. The one at Talladega was real good, had an exciting finish."
"I know," Josh said, wishing he hadnít. This could take time, but he also wanted to be casual with Bud. "Tiffany and I were there. Jennifer invited us down. We saw the whole race from Bubba Winslowís pit."
"Jeez, and I thought I was going to have a story to tell when I got back," Bud said. "But I guess youíre the one with the stories to tell. Well, look, if you think you can get along without me, I guess maybe Iíll be a while yet. Iíll give a call in a week or so and see how youíre doing."
"Yeah, you might as well. Thereís no reason for you to rush back that I can see. Have a good time."
"Looks like youíve done well. Guess thereís no reason to worry. See you when I get back."
"Yeah, see ya too," Josh said, anticipating the relief not far off. "Take care."
He heard Bud hang up the phone, and didnít bother himself; he just dropped it in the chair and walked as quickly as he could for the bathroom; running was too painful.
"Well, that went pretty well, considering," Bud said to Jane as he hung up the phone. "It took him a little longer to figure it out than I expected it to, but at least he did figure it out."
Bud hadnít mentioned it to Josh, or to Gina, for that matter, but he and Jane werenít in Florida, anymore. The summer heat and humidity had finally driven them into the air conditioning of the motor home and on to cooler, more comfortable places. In fact, the phone call had been made from a convenience store on Cape Cod. They were in a nice park there, had been there for a few days, but were getting antsy to move on.
"Iím not sure I understand your thinking," Jane said as they headed out of the convenience store and back to the motor home.
"Itís not like I didnít know that we had a personnel problem," Bud said, climbing up into the front seat. "Anson has been a jerk since the day I met him, and that was twenty years ago. He does know his stuff, and I figured he could fill in for a few years while Dave was getting ready to take over as an engineer. The real problem was lack of a real brakeman. I was a little disappointed that Josh tried to paper over the problem by using Tiffany, but I figured since I was around, he was expecting me to take care of it. So, I didnít do anything."
"I still donít understand why you just didnít deal with it," Jane said. They really hadnít talked about the railroad much, the past couple weeks, especially, but Bud had figured that he needed to check in every once in a while.
"Thatís the point," Bud smiled as he started the engine. "I wanted Josh to deal with it. Itís an easy problem. I can almost always find a good worker who wants to work eight months a year and draw unemployment for four. Hell, in the same position, Iíd do it myself. In fact, thatís sort of what weíre doing now. The question I had was whether Josh was going to step up to the plate and take the responsibility to deal with it. I mean I gave him the authority, more or less, and stepped out of the way. As far as Iím concerned, he passed the test." He changed the subject. "If thereís nothing else we need to do in town here, letís head back to the park. You know, if we decide to do this again, we need to drag a small car along behind. This having to move the whole rig to get a quart of milk is a pain in the butt."
"I know," Jane said as Bud pulled out of the parking lot. "It always was, but we used to just go places where we didnít have to move for several days, or else we took a second vehicle, usually with you and Kate. We might as well head on back to the park, I guess. I still donít understand why you dropped it on Josh that way."
"Actually, itís fairly simple," Bud said, glancing over at Jane for a moment. The traffic was murder. "Letís face it. Iím fifty-nine, and going to be sixty before long. I donít think I want to retire just yet, but I do want to slow down. Someone has got to be in place to take over when I pull out, and the best thing I can think of is to train Josh to do it. Heís young enough that he can run it for quite a few years before heís faced with the same problem. Heís not thinking that far ahead, though, and I need him to start looking at the bigger picture. And, I need him to grab hold of it pretty quick, just in case something happens to me. I hope that doesnít happen, though. It would be nice for the two of us to have a few good years together."
"Is he going to be able to run it?" Jane liked Josh, although she didnít know him real well. But, he seemed a little young for that much responsibility.
"He can run it now, so long as everything is set up for him ahead of time. He can see what to do on the operational problems. I just need to get him to thinking in terms of the whole operation, not just his piece of it."
"But, is he going to be able to do it, taking off and running that race each winter? He doesnít have the time."
"I get the feeling thatís coming to an end," Bud said with a frown. It was the one fly in the ointment, but really, Josh was the best candidate for the job. "Maybe not this winter, but soon. When he skipped the Iditarod and ran the Quest this year, I could see that some of the old drive was going, and I thought maybe the time was right to push on ahead. Letís face it, thereís a lot of things that he doesnít know how to do, yet. He just has an inkling of what has to happen on the business side, for example, keeping customers, finding new ones when he can. And eventually, heís going to need to if the railroad is to survive."
"Youíre saying itís in trouble?"
"Not now, and I donít expect it to be soon," Bud explained. "But eventually something will happen, and weíll need Ė heíll need Ė to be ready for it. The rock traffic isnít going to be there forever, at least not at the levels weíve been used to. Carloadings are down from what we ran a few years ago, and we cut the season short last year since the pits had their orders cut back. Thereís still a lot of stone at Big Pit and at Kremmling. It would take decades to clean them out at the rate weíve been hauling it, but the steel industry has been weak for a long time, so I have to figure that sooner or later something is going to happen."
"It always does," Jane agreed. "Just because things are going good right now doesnít mean that theyíre going to stay that way.
"Right," Bud agreed "Weíre in pretty good shape now and we should stay that way for years, but yes, up the road, something could happen. So, I need to get him ready for the future. That works out well for us, since our being gone gives me the chance to shift it over to him." He glanced over at her and smiled. "And, I donít mind our finding an excuse for being gone someplace together. If heíd just give up the race, we might even be able to get away in the winter. I need to nudge him a little toward that, without seeming pushy about it. Having his brother taking over from Joe McGuinness, and having their store may help him get a little more business oriented."
"I havenít met his brother. Whatís he like?"
"All I know about him is from the café, but he seems like an accountant, if you know what I mean. Pretty business-like, pretty straight. Nice enough guy, I guess, but I guess all the enthusiasm went to his brother. He ought to do all right, though."