Wes Boyd's
Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online

The Homestanders
Book Four of the Bradford Exiles
Wes Boyd
2005, 2011

Chapter 16

Sunday, May 2, 1999

It seemed strange to Vicky to not have Jason around this weekend. They’d been together a lot in the last few months, working on knives and just hanging out, of course, but three different weekends they’d hauled some tables of knives to shows, and sales had gone very well. To make it even better, she’d gotten some nice compliments on some of the work she’d done – and Jason gave her a cut on the take.

So it had been a little hard to accept Jason and Duane taking off on a long trip – well, long in miles, but it would be a quick trip for Jason in terms of days. There was a part of her that knew she’d like to be going along – but she didn’t even raise the question. She could sense this trip was going to be as much for some final father-son bonding as it was going to be for dropping Duane off at the trailhead. She knew she didn’t want to get in the middle of that.

Still, it was a nice day, and that made it a little boring – but she had something to do on Saturday afternoon, and she did it – she went out to the garage, rolled out the Street Hawk, fired it up, and took off.

Not far; in the last couple weeks she’d finished up the motorcycle safety course at the community college up in Bolivar. It had involved at least a little bike riding, not on the Street Hawk, but some small 250-cc jobs. It had given her the basics. Over the last couple weeks, she’d been out with the Street Hawk several times, mostly just riding around town, getting used to riding it, starting from a dead stop without stalling, as well as turning and stopping. Sometimes Jason had ridden alongside her on the ’91 Harley Sportster he’d gotten back in the middle of the month, and sometimes Emily joined her too. It was building up confidence, and today she thought she’d build up a little more.

Before she got on the bike, she popped the gas cap; it looked low – it had been several days since she’d topped it off, but under the circumstances it seemed like a good time to take a run over to the Spee-D-Mart and top off. The Street Hawk started right up; though an older bike, it was in good shape, and Jason had a guy from a shop go through it from one end to the other to make sure it was all right. By now, she was getting good enough and confident enough in her riding to not even stall it once getting started and going through the two stop signs and one stop light on the way to the Spee-D-Mart.

Not to her surprise, Emily’s minivan wasn’t sitting outside the store – but her Sportster was. Ever since the weather had broken, the minivan had spent a lot of time sitting, and Emily had been riding the Sportster every chance she could. Vicky hadn’t quite gotten to the point where she felt she could ride the Street Hawk into the parking lot at Macy Controls, but she looked forward to that day coming just for the sake of hearing what some of the people around the office would say.

The gas tank didn’t take a lot of filling – it was easy on gas in a way a car never could be, and she hadn’t been doing much fast riding anyway, mostly just cruising around town,. It was so nice to be able to walk up to the register with the prospect of getting change out of a five-dollar bill after a fill-up that her eye was drawn to the rack of candy bars for an instant. No, better not, she thought. That’s a lot of points, and weigh-in this morning had been pretty good, although she still wasn’t losing like she wanted to.

“Going out riding, huh?” Emily asked from behind the register.

“I thought I’d head out in the country a little,” she replied. “Get used to going a little faster. Maybe ride over toward Amherst, or something.”

“Sure would be nice to get out today,” Emily sighed. “Janine called in sick, so guess who gets to fill in for her? But no, as soon as we knock off, we’re going over to Kevin’s folks for dinner. Maybe I can squeeze in riding home the long way.”

“Maybe we could go riding tomorrow,” Vicky suggested. “Maybe even go somewhere. I know two thousand miles in four days with a mountain climb thrown in isn’t going to be a total pleasure trip for Jason, but at least it’s somewhere outside Bradford.”

“You’re still not ready for a long trip,” Emily noted. “Oh, we could go someplace an hour or two away, I suppose. I know Kevin wants to curl up in front of the tube watching NASCAR tomorrow. I could probably stick him with the kids and we could go someplace, just the two of us.”

“Talked me into it,” Vicky smiled. “Any idea of where we could go?”

“Oh, there ought to be something. Maybe ride up US-12 a ways; that’s a nice trip on a bike, good road without being real busy until you get a ways east. We could probably find a restaurant somewhere. As far as that goes, maybe we could ride up to Kalamazoo, and see Shelly or something.”

“I’m not sure I’m quite ready for a city that big yet,” Vicky said dubiously. “But yeah, it would be nice to visit someone.”

“Want to show off that you’ve become a biker babe?” Emily grinned. “Well, me, too.” She thought for a moment, and continued, “OK, how about this? I could call up and see if we could drop in on Scott and Sonja or Aaron and Amber. That’s an hour and a half, maybe two hours on the side roads, and neither Okemos nor Mason is all that big. If you do real well and the traffic doesn’t look heavy, we might even want to try coming back on the four-lane.”

Thus it was that about ten on Sunday morning Vicky rode the Street Hawk over to Emily’s, to find her already in her leathers, sitting in the shade alongside the house, the Sportster all backed out and ready to go. She pulled in, shut the Honda down, and said, “Gorgeous day! Even better than yesterday! I’m glad we waited!”

“Yeah, me too,” Emily smiled, getting up from the lawn chair and heading over to her Harley as Kevin came outside, a little bleary-eyed and unshaven.

“Well, have a good time, you two,” he said. “Now I know how Emily used to feel when she had to watch me ride off with my biker buddies and leave her at home with the kids.”

“Serves you right,” Emily grinned as she pulled on her helmet. “I’ll be a while catching up, too.”

“You take it easy and have a good time,” he grinned. “Emily, make sure you give Vicky a chance to stop and chill out a little now and then, and don’t try to outrun her. Vicky, I know you’ve been told before, but it’s not like driving a car that distance, you have to pay more attention to what you’re doing.”

“I know,” she smiled. “This seems like such a big adventure.”

“You get some time on that thing and we may have to talk about some real trips,” Kevin smiled. “Maybe even the four of us sometime, now that Jason has a bike that’ll run more than ten miles without a hundred-dollar repair bill.”

“Looking forward to it,” she grinned. “Probably not this year for a big trip; I won’t be able to get the time off.”

“Maybe a weekend sometime,” he said as Emily swung onto her bike, threw some switches, then reared up to kick down on the starter. It took a couple strokes before the Sportster started up with its V-twin grumble; Vicky started the Street Hawk up and the two headed down the driveway onto the street.

It wasn’t the first time that Vicky had ridden with Emily, and she realized that the Sportster was a lot more bike, big enough to be a little challenging for her friend – but that was what she had wanted. They turned onto Maple Grove and rumbled out of town to Curtis Road, with the Harley doing most of the rumbling since the Honda had a pretty decent muffler. Once out in the country, Vicky speeded up a little to where she could ride alongside Emily as they sped down the pavement on this gorgeous spring day. While Vicky knew the Harley was a considerably more powerful bike and could out-accelerate her seven ways from Sunday, fifty-five was fifty-five and that was about as fast as either wanted to go on a nice day like this. After the training course, Vicky realized while the Street Hawk was not as powerful as the Harley, it was more than adequate to run alongside it just cruising; a smaller bike might not have been.

She was just getting settled in good when she noticed Emily slowing. Trouble? She wondered, and glanced in her direction, noticing her friend pointing across a field, and then motioning to follow. They slowed considerably, then turned off on a side road where they came to a stop. “This is gravel, so take it real easy,” Emily shouted over the grumble of the Harley. “But let’s go check this out; it looks like something I’ve wanted to see.”

Emily kept it real slow for half a mile or so down the gravel side road, while Vicky followed behind and to one side a little to stay out of the dust as much as she could. It was one of those roads that dead-ended at the freeway, and as they drew close, Vicky realized where Emily was taking her, especially when she saw the artillery piece with the sign, “Malvern Hill” hanging from it. She’d been full of that story she’d done for the Courier for a couple of weeks. Now, Emily rode into the farmyard and parked beside the barn, shutting the bike down. “I haven’t seen this thing in action, I’ve only seen pictures,” she said as she took off her helmet. “I don’t think Bert and Laura will mind if we check it out.”

Vicky shut down the Street Hawk and took off her own helmet, and together they walked around the barn, to where they found a handful of people clustered around a funny-looking steel structure. Thinking back to the story Emily had written, this had to be the trebuchet she’d been talking about. “Good morning, Bert, Laura,” Emily called as they got a little closer. “We saw you had Big John out and thought we’d check it out.”

“Emily!” Bert beamed. “I was wondering who would come rumbling up on a Harley, and I didn’t think it would be you! Or are you the Harley girl, Vicky?”

“I’m the civilized one,” Vicky grinned, remembering Bert from when he’d showed up one evening last winter and spent hours talking sabers and other stuff with Jason, finally leaving with an ornate presentation saber they’d dickered a $2500 price on. “I ride a Honda.”

“Folks,” Bert said, turning to the group gathered around Big John, “These are a couple of those neat locals I was telling you about. Emily wrote that story for the local paper. Vicky’s boyfriend made that presentation saber I got last winter, and Vicky did the engraving and scrimshaw on the ulu with the whale hunting scene Laura has.”

“That was your work?” a man said, obviously impressed. “That’s just plain gorgeous.”

“Thanks,” Vicky grinned, genuinely pleased at the praise. “It really was intended more as a practice piece to pick up some new techniques, but I spent several pleasant hours doing it and thought it came out real well myself.” She’d never expected to have Jason sell it, let alone for $450, and he let her keep the money. Not a bad deal for a blade blank she’d rescued from his scrap bin.

“I don’t know how she does it,” Emily smiled. “I can hardly write my name.”

“With a pen, maybe,” Bert smiled. “You sure did a good job with that story. We were getting some static until that story came out, but it’s pretty well died out except for that Hershberger woman.”

“It’ll probably die out from her the next time one of the dairy farms has a manure spill,” she smiled. “That’ll give her something new to complain about. But anyway, I was a little surprised to see you had Big John out. I don’t know where you’d find pumpkins this time of year.”

“I wouldn’t know either,” Bert grinned. “I found a wad of cantaloupe at the store that were pretty crappy, so we thought we’d have a little fun before we get to work.”

“Work? What on?”

“I came across a Legion post that had a 155 Long Tom sitting out in front. Really sad shape, all rusted to hell, a real eyesore. It’s beyond real restoration, and some idiot welded the breech again anyway, but we think we can clean it up enough to make a fairly decent static showpiece, maybe even better than the 105.”

“Boy, you don’t quit, do you?” Emily laughed.

“No,” the tall man laughed. “Not really. I mean, what’s the point of being crazy if you can’t enjoy it? I suppose you want to see us launch a cantaloupe or two.”

“Sure, it’s got to be pretty wild,” Vicky smiled. “I can’t imagine what it would look like.”

It wasn’t quite as simple as it looked. The twin A’s were support for a long arm that stood straight up from a horizontal shaft at the top of the A-frames – it was quite a bit higher, maybe thirty feet in the air. The other end of the arm hung straight down, to a box that proved to be filled with heavy weights. “It’s all gravity powered,” Bert explained. “There’s about 1500 pounds of iron there.”

It took a while to get it cocked; a winch was needed to crank the long end of the arm down to where it was nearly horizontal. When it was there, a cantaloupe was placed in sort of a sling in the end. “You always stand well off to one side,” Bert explained. “With that much weight swinging you’re never totally sure what’s going to happen, although it’s never gotten away from us yet. Emily, would you like to fire it?”

“Sure,” she grinned. “What do I have to do?”

“Just yank this rope when I tell you to,” he replied, pointing to a rope that connected to the trigger mechanism. “It’ll be a minute before we get everyone back.” He looked around. “Clear the range!” he yelled, although it seemed like everyone was well back. “Ready on the left, ready on the right,” he continued. He dropped his voice and said, “OK, Emily, get set, let it go when I shout ‘fire in the hole,’” then more loudly he yelled, “Three, two, one, fire in the hole!”

A little unsure of what to expect, Emily yanked the rope. There was a metallic snap, not loud, when the trigger released. In a manner she could only call ‘stately’ the weight box dropped and the long arm swung around. As it neared the top of its arc the cantaloupe came out of the sling – she couldn’t quite see how – and arced high into the blue spring sky, a light brown dot that got smaller and smaller as it headed toward a gravel pit in the near distance. She’d almost lost sight of it when it gave a spectacular splat when it hit. She looked back, to see the long arm swinging back and forth letting the rest of its motion come to a stop, making the A-frames rock wildly. “Yeah!” she beamed. “That’s pretty cool!”

“It gets habit forming,” he laughed. “It’s hard to believe a contraption that would work at all, but it does. This one really is nothing – there’s a guy down in Texas who has a really big one, and he launches cars with it.”

“Now that,” Vicky laughed, “Would be cool!”

“Good God,” Emily shook her head. “I can just hear Lynnette Hershberger now!”

“I’ve thought about building a pretty big one myself,” Bert laughed. “Maybe not that big, maybe pianos or something. But that’s up the road a piece; you can’t do everything at once. Vicky, you like to try one?”

“Wild horses couldn’t drag me away,” she laughed.

They were an hour or more behind where they intended to be when they finally got out of Malvern Hill and back on the road, but they didn’t consider a minute of it wasted. Bert invited them to come out next Sunday afternoon and bring Jason and Kevin; Bert hoped to have the second Napoleon there, and if it checked out OK, they might try a little battery firing. “I’m not real sure how bad I want to do that,” Emily smiled. “Kevin’s over making knives with Jason and Vicky half the time now; I can see him spending the other half of his time out here sandblasting a cannon or something.”

“That’s how it’s done,” Bert laughed. “First you get them interested, then you rope them in.”

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