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 32

Thursday, June 22, 2000

The decision back around Christmas to visit Eve and John as part of the great bike trip eastward had done much to shape the overall trip. Emily and Vicky still had a lot of curiosity about their little blonde classmate. Though they hadn’t seen her since the 1998 Halloween party, Emily had frequently talked to her on the phone as had Vicky occasionally, so on top of the curiosity there was building a genuine warmth that had seemed to heal some of the scars of the past.

After some discussion and several phone calls it was decided to make the trip the last full week of June, which led into the July 4 holiday weekend. That would tack a couple extra days onto the end of the trip at the expense of having to deal with heavy holiday weekend traffic on the last leg. The only fly in the ointment at that time seemed to be Kevin’s getting off work – Macy Controls had a reputation for asking their people to work a lot of overtime, often at the expense of getting off for legitimate vacations. As a result, Kevin had a huge slug of vacation time coming that he rarely got to use, but the frustration was tempered by the extra money, which he and Emily were using to pay down their mortgage.

But July 4 was a Tuesday, and it seemed likely he’d be asked to work Monday. If he couldn’t manage to get the day off, it had been decided he’d break off from the trip a little early and ride home solo so he could work that day. Since Kevin had sat through Eve’s long telling of her story following the reunion, he was no less curious about her than anyone else, and really wanted to make that part of the trip. The July 4 weekend worked better for Eve; though she’d been trying to dial it down heavily in recent months, she still frequently had to travel for conferences and seminars, but that weekend was free. With that much worked out, it was decided to make the visit to Eve and John’s on the Saturday and Sunday before the Fourth, roughly at the end of the trip, rather than the beginning as had been previously considered. That would give Kevin at least some time at the McClellans if he had to ride back to Bradford early, and would give the rest of them an extra day and the chance to head back on back roads rather than the heavy traffic of the Pennsylvania and Ohio Turnpikes.

In the beginning, the plan had been to do the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive along with the messing around in Pennsylvania. A quick check of the map showed they were talking something well over two thousand miles to cover in only eleven days, which wasn’t impossible. Emily and Kevin had done a longer trip to the Black Hills the past summer in even less time, but they’d spent several long days with a lot of miles on the bikes. They reported that after a few hours it had become less than a total thrill.

When it was thought Duane would be running rafts in North Carolina in the summer, they had more or less planned to stop at NOC for a day so Emily and Kevin could do a raft trip on the Nantahala while Jason spent some time with his son. With Duane a couple thousand miles to the west, that became a somewhat lower priority. There was no good way to cut a corner on the trip. After some discussion it was decided to leave as early after work as possible on Friday and take advantage of the long evening to get some miles on, then push on hard the next day with the intention of at least riding through the Smokies on Saturday. That would allow them some time to do some side trips and check things out – and the whitewater rafting was still on the agenda as a possibility. With all that worked out, they could make motel and campground reservations where needed; the first night out they planned on stopping south of Dayton at a motel in order to not have to camp their first night out on the southbound leg of the trip.

There was plenty of other planning that had to be carried out. Kevin’s big Electra-Glide Classic was the only bike of the four that was a true touring bike, fitted with saddlebags, a full sissy bar and a luggage trunk. When he and Emily had made the trip to Sturgis the previous year he’d had to carry a much bigger share of the load, and that was going to be even more true on this trip. Motorcycles just don’t have a lot of luggage capacity, and it’s especially true for the smaller “sport” models like the Sportsters the other three rode. The only way they could alleviate this was to try to cut the luggage down to a bare minimum, something not easily done since they planned to camp at least part of the time. It was more fun, all of them thought, in spite of the need for the extra gear. So after a lot of agonizing and thinking it out they were loaded rather more like backpackers than campers.

Among other things, Kevin and Emily were again going to use Duane’s Appalachian Trail veteran tent and the ultralight down sleeping bag he’d carried. He hadn’t taken the gear west with him in the Jeep when he’d headed to Arizona back in March. After more thinking about it than should have been necessary, Jason rationalized that this wasn’t going to be the last time they were going to be making a trip like this, even the last time this summer. So he decided to order a slightly larger backpacking tent and another couple of the ultralight down sleeping bags; Kevin and Emily decided to order some at the same time for themselves. Several other pieces of Duane’s AT gear also got pressed into service, including the lightweight alcohol stove he’d used for much of the summer. It really wasn’t big enough to do all the cooking for the four of them, but they could have coffee, eat cold stuff, and stop along the way for food.

When they got together to finalize packing the bikes the night before the trip, they discovered that, by paring stuff to the minimum and loading more compact gear, the bikes were even less heavily loaded than Kevin and Emily had ridden to South Dakota. By the time they finished up, the summer sun was getting low in the sky, and all four bikes were ready for a fast getaway after work the next day. Kevin and Emily would ride theirs home, to be met there by Jason and Vicky the next day.

Finally, when there wasn’t much to do but to give in to the nervous urge to fiddle with things that had already been fiddled with fifteen times before, the four of them headed out to the lawn chairs in Jason’s back yard.

“So, Kevin,” Jason asked as they settled in with cold drinks in their hands, “did you manage to work out getting off a week from Monday?”

“Oh, yeah,” he said, “No problem. Just in the last few days they’ve totally changed direction. Probably not much overtime for a while, and they’re urging everyone to catch up on vacation time. I can’t figure it out.”

“I can,” Vicky sighed. “I mean, it’s not official, but that window-crank job is getting transferred to Alabama. At least, that’s what I overheard in the office.”

“Jeez, another job going out the door,” Kevin shook his head. “That’s not good news. We’ve had that one as long as I’ve worked there. When does this come down?”

“I’m not real sure,” Vicky shook her head. “In the next few days, I guess. There was talk of getting movers in, so I guess they’re talking machines and all.”

“Well, at least it’s Hackleburg and not freaking Mexico,” Kevin snorted. “Typical damn Macy mushroom management. Keep the employees in the dark and feed ’em shit. That’s the third major job we’ve lost since Ferriday took over. If those damn hillbillies down in Alabama would vote in a union, we wouldn’t be losing all the work to them.”

“I haven’t heard it said in so many words, but that’s what seems to be happening,” Vicky said. “They get away with paying less down there, so this bunch is going to save every nickel they can.”

“That is a bunch of shit,” Kevin shook his head. “We just about gave them the freaking ranch in the last contract to keep the work here, and you see how much their word is worth.”

“In the old days, Macy was a pretty good deal,” Emily nodded. “But this Ferriday crowd doesn’t have any interest in the community at all. Jack was saying down at the city office that he can’t even get an executive on the phone, and Lloyd has just given up on getting them to do any community service advertising. He can’t get anyone on the phone and they won’t return calls.”

“Well, shit,” Kevin shook his head. “We’d better be enjoying this vacation, because I’ll bet this is the last one I’ll dare take for a while. You too, Vicky. I see now why they want us to take vacation time; they don’t want any more than they have to riding on the books when they pull out.”

“Pull out?” Emily frowned. “You think they’re pulling out?”

“The handwriting is on the wall,” Kevin shook his head. “This just proves it. There’s a minimum staffing level written into the contract, and if we lose one more major job they ought to be able to lay off down to it. We’ve got a little more than two years to run on the current contract, but I’ll bet they don’t go a day beyond it. Oh, we won’t get an official announcement until a week ahead of time, if that. Jason, what do you think my chances are of getting on at General?”

“I don’t know,” he shrugged. “I really haven’t paid any attention. Let’s just say we don’t have as many summer-help kids as we’ve had in the past. That could mean exactly nothing, of course.”

“Or it could mean that the economy is soft, which we know it is,” Vicky said sadly. “Shit, I don’t want to have to go back to Walmart. At least we get some warning.”

“Yeah,” Kevin nodded. “If they cut back to the minimum staffing of the contract, I’m probably good till they pull out, but you’re pretty junior in the office, Vicky.”

“We might be OK for a while,” she said hopefully. “After all, we’re not union.”

“Which means they could clean you out without notice, too,” Kevin pointed out. “I mean, what’s to keep them from farming out the payroll functions to Alabama? They probably couldn’t get rid of everything, but they could cut it way the hell back.”

“They might just be clearing space away for some new job,” Vicky said hopefully.

“Shit,” Kevin said. “This crowd? I’ll believe it when I see it. I know a lot of people have said they bought the plant to get the jobs it has. I guess I might as well start looking for work before it turns into a rush. So much for nine years’ seniority.”

Jason looked off toward the dying light in the western sky and considered an idea he’d had in the back of his mind for a while. There were only pieces of it that were clear, but at least it could be thrown out for consideration. “It might be a blessing in disguise,” he said slowly. “I’ve been thinking about what happens when I retire, which could be in less than two years, now. I’ve always thought I’d get a little more serious about the knife making to cover the balance my pension won’t provide, you all know that.”

Kevin looked a little crosswise at him. “You’re saying you’d get even more serious?”

“The potential is there to do it, I think,” Jason said. “Especially if we get started planning now and get ready to make the move, rather than trying to do it all in a rush. Let’s face it, it’s been a hobby for me for years, although it’s been one I’ve made out on. I really haven’t worked that hard at it, and neither have you and Vicky. But we’ve missed a lot of opportunities to do sales because it’s a hobby, after all. We did two piddly little gun and knife shows over the winter, plus the stock for Maple Leaf coming up right after we get back, and some custom work. We’ve done lots of things the hard way because it’s the way to learn some of this stuff. Kevin, you have a talent with the forge and heavy shop work. You’d be a while getting to what some might call a master status, but you’re pretty close to a journeyman at that end of things.”

Kevin looked thoughtful for a moment. “You know, you might have something there,” he said finally. “Do you actually think there’d be enough money in it to cover what Vicky and I are going to lose when Macy pulls out, and when you retire?”

“I don’t know,” Jason said honestly. “We’re talking bigger here than I’d thought about in the past. I know I was comfortable with the idea of covering the difference on my pension, since it wouldn’t be any trick to ramp things up that much, and I’ve got some things to fall back on if sales don’t accelerate or slow down after we expand. My gut feeling is yes, there is, it’s just that we’d have to ramp up more than I’d planned. But if we did that, there’s some other things that could be done that we’re just too small to consider now. To begin with, more shows and renfaires and stuff. We do every knife on a custom, one-of-a-kind basis right now. How about limited runs of numbered collector editions, for example?”

“It has possibilities,” Vicky frowned thoughtfully. “How about a showroom, maybe out near the Interstate somewhere? Hell, sales on the web? It’d take ramping production up quite a bit, maybe more than the three of us could handle, what with having to do more sales on top of it. We might have to add on even more people. Things like that can balloon on you. We’d really have to sit down and run the numbers, but just as a gut feeling, it offers possibilities.”

“It’s nothing we have to make a decision on tonight,” Jason agreed. “But maybe we should spend a little time exploring the options. I’m sure there have to be flies in the ointment, but we don’t know what they are.”

“I can point out one, right quick,” Emily said dubiously. “Up to this point you’ve been running it as a home shop hobby. Granted, you’ve slipped Kevin and Vicky some cash for their work on an informal basis, but you’re going to have to start talking salaries and taxes and all that government horse manure. When you get to that point, it’s no longer a home shop hobby, it’s a real business, and you’re going to start having zoning difficulties. You could get away with it for a while, but sooner or later someone is going to pitch a bitch to the city, and they’d have a valid complaint. In the long run, you’re going to have to move to some place that’s at a minimum zoned light industrial, and with the forge work I wouldn’t be surprised if it would have to be heavy industrial. I’ve read the zoning code, but I don’t remember enough of the details.”

“You’ve got a point,” Jason agreed. “It doesn’t have to be a show stopper, but is something we’d have to consider. Hell, it’s a little inconvenient to do it at home now, because we do some work out back, some in the basement, some in the garage. It hasn’t been a problem since it’s been just us, but Vicky’s right; if we have to add more people it could get out of hand real quick.”

“It’s going to come down to having to at least rough in a business plan,” Vicky said. “We’re nowhere near being able to do it right now, it’s going to involve some educated guessing and plenty of other things we haven’t considered. And we’d need to have at least a rough business plan if we go to a bank, say to buy real estate or new machinery. That begs plenty of other questions by itself, like do you want to organize as a sole proprietorship, a partnership, maybe even a limited liability corporation? There’s lots of questions; hell, I was a business major and I don’t know all of them.”

“Like I said, there’s not much that can be decided tonight,” Jason smiled. “But we have the luxury of not having to decide anything tonight, either. Frankly, if it takes six months or a year, that’s how long it takes.”

“Right,” Kevin agreed. “Right up front it seems like it has potential, but we don’t know what all is there.”

“There is one thing that can be decided tonight,” Jason smiled. “In fact, it’s pretty obvious who’s going to have to take point on roughing in that business plan, and it’s not me.”

He turned and smiled at Vicky, who got the message. “I don’t really know that much about it,” she protested. “That’s not exactly what I studied. I mean, I got close to parts of it, but that wasn’t my main focus.”

“Maybe not,” Jason smiled. “But unless I’m sadly misinformed, you’re the only one present who majored in business in college, so you’ve got that much of a head start. Now, we’re all going to brainstorm this and we’re all going to help, but for the moment you’re the business manager.”

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