Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
The next several weeks were busy, busier than Randy had come to expect in the winter. As spring approached, things around Clark Construction began to speed up with construction season approaching. There were bids to prepare, materials to order, and literally hundreds of details that had to be ironed out, some big, some tiny.
For example, after a couple of weeks Carlos came back with a recommendation that they plan on replacing the Galion grader, but not be in any big hurry about it. He was of the opinion that buying at that time of the year would mean paying the high dollar, and that it wouldnít hurt to wait for fall, and perhaps consider a lightly-used piece of equipment if shopping around turned up something that fit their needs. "Works for me," Randy told him. "Letís get that one on the back burner until fall and get the use out of the Galion this summer."
For the first few weeks after Crystal and Preach left, Randy spent half of each work day and sometimes more over in the temporary office at Clark Plywood, working on his recommendation for the location of the new pellet mill. This proved to be a lot more complicated than he had expected, and several areas he wasnít terribly familiar with had to be explored. Aware that time was passing, he put a lot of hours into it. Once or twice a week his father asked how he was coming on the project, and the best he could say was "Along."
Finally, almost a month after the chore got dropped in his lap, he was able to head into his fatherís office and say that heíd reached a recommendation, and handed across a report several pages thick documenting his reasoning. "I think we should keep it here," he said. "When you look at it on the surface it almost looks like an either/or, but when you dig into it things become clearer."
"I can read the report later," Ryan said. "Give me a thumbnail of your reasoning."
"Well, there are several points," Randy told him. "The big one is that weíre talking either a new building here, or utilizing the old Jerusalem Paper plant in Rochester. There are several problems with the existing plant. Itís old, not in the best of shape, and something of a firetrap. Itís really too big for anything in the foreseeable future, and Iím not convinced that the wood pellet business is going to grow enough any time soon to fill the space, anyway. It would be hard to subdivide to keep the heating costs down. Itís going to need a lot of work, and while Iím not trying to think of it from the viewpoint of Clark Construction, itís probably more cost effective to build a new steel-on-slab building here. It would be easier to do in a number of ways."
"Right," Ryan said. "I looked at that one as a tossup. What else?"
"Well, weíve dragged ass around on this so long that with the amount of work to be done thereís no way weíre going to be able to get production under way over there this year. The building needs too much work, and we donít own it, anyway. It could take three to six months to get clear title on it so we could get started on the project. On the proposed site here, we can break ground as soon as the frost is out, since we already own the property, and will most likely be in production this fall, early winter at the latest."
"Thatís a plus issue for here. Any other thoughts?"
"Well, itís almost fifty miles over there, so that means that thereíd be a lot of running back and forth, and that adds up after a while, especially during the construction phase and getting production running. That effectively adds up to cost that can be avoided."
"How about work force?"
"Thatís a little tricky. Granted, thereís a lot of work force available there, more so than here. But our people in the pilot plant know what theyíre doing, and we might as well make use of them. Probably some would be willing to drive or relocate to Rochester, but weíd be starting further behind in terms of experience. More important on the distance issue, if weíre going to be using wood from Clark lands for the plant, that means a lot of trucking that we wouldnít have to do if the plant is here. I know youíre interested in better wood utilization, and it would be harder to do it from Clark lands."
"Right," Ryan said. "Iíve been of the opinion that we leave too much slash behind from the pulp operations. It just lays there in piles and rots, so it isnít even of much use in soil renewal. Iíve kicked around the idea of hiring independent contractors to turn some of those slash piles into wood chips that could be used in either the plywood plant or the pellet mill."
"I knew that," Randy agreed. "And itís not a bad idea. There would be more work force to do it in Rochester, but our lands are around here, and if weíre going to do that we pretty well have to do it on our lands unless weíre willing to spend more time dealing with the DNR than we want to. There are some minor issues, like rail service. I donít know how much weíre going to want to ship by rail and itís hard to guess. However, if we keep it here we at least have that option open to us. Thereís no way of telling whether the D&O is going to abandon that line or not, but I suspect that if we do build in Rochester weíre not going to have enough car loadings to change their mind if they are thinking abandonment. It all comes down to several good reasons to build here, and not many good ones to do it there."
"Well, Iíd pretty well reached that conclusion myself," Ryan admitted. "But I wanted to see if you came up with anything I hadnít considered. Iíll have to study your report, but I suspect youíve come up with an angle or two I hadnít looked at in quite that way. How soon can you break ground?"
Randy was aware of the shift of tone of the conversation. Now he was the construction guy again, and this was business for Clark Construction. "I donít want to say as soon as the frost goes out," he said, "but pretty close. There are a couple smaller jobs the steel crew needs to get on as soon as they can, but there wonít be the site preparation that the new plant will require. Weíd need to iron down the site plan but thereís time to do that. Weíre talking a pretty standard steel building with only a few modifications, so Iíd guess the steel crew will be ready to go to work on it as soon as the site is ready and the slab is poured. Iím guessing the first part of May, depending on spring breakup, of course."
"Sounds reasonable to me," Ryan agreed. "Are you going to have everything ready to go by then?"
"Should be," Randy told him. "Iíve seen the building specs, weíd have to get stuff ordered and get the site plan ready."
"All right then, letís do it," his father said. "Get rolling on it, and get the contracts and stuff drawn up."
* * *
Randy was feeling pretty good at home that evening. "Itís going to be the biggest project weíve done for the plant for a while," Randy told Nicole, who was sitting nude with him in their hot tub. She was now well into her seventh month and her pregnancy was showing a lot more than it had when Crystal and Preach had visited a month before Ė and her not having any clothes on only exaggerated it. "And that should do a pretty good job of filling up the summer. Weíre not going to be able to take on any more big projects. Maybe a house or two if that came up, but weíre already a little late to be getting started on this big of a project."
"At least itís not going to be a school project," Nicole sighed.
"Yeah, no fooling," Randy agreed. School projects, while they could be lucrative, were also a pain in the neck, mostly because of all the extra inspections involved. They hadnít done a school project in a while and didnít have one scheduled for this summer. "We were going to be about as busy as we wanted to be with the job over at Three Pines, but we should be able to work this one in all right."
"I suppose that means that youíre not going to be able to get away to go somewhere this summer," Nicole sighed.
"Well, probably not much," Randy nodded, getting her meaning. "I donít see any reason why we shouldnít be able to get away for a long weekend or something sometime, but a major trip is out of the question. Iíd pretty well figured that it was going to be out of the question anyway, because of the baby."
"Maybe not," Nicole told him. "Sure, weíre not going to want to be away from the baby for two or three weeks, not at that stage, but a long weekend is possible if we can leave the baby with one of our mothers. There might be something we could do and take him or her along."
"It would be nice, but I donít see how we can plan anything at this point," he agreed. "Really, from my viewpoint, itís going to be like any other summer, which is to say donít make any plans since something is sure to come up. It usually does when weíre that tightly scheduled."
"I know," she shook her head. "And with a kid involved, or possibly kids in future years, itís going to get harder, not easier. I sure wish we could have managed a little more in the way of major trips together the last few years. The Grand Canyon a couple years ago, and then Patagonia back over the holidays is about all weíve been able to manage. Iíd be tempted to try getting away as soon as I start my maternity leave, but that strikes me as a little risky. I think Iíd better stay around home as much as I can."
"Well, I think so too," he agreed. "But the way things are shaping up, I probably wonít be able to get away much by about the time that starts. Weíre running late enough on this pellet plant project that weíre going to have to do a lot of catch-up. To top it off, Dad is going to have me looking at a couple other issues at the plant when I get the time."
"Oh, cripe," she shook her head. "Something else to keep you busy."
"Well, yeah," he said. "But I plan on keeping it under control. I need to be learning about stuff around the plant, Nicole. I mean, I donít need to do it in a rush, but I learned a lot in doing this pellet mill location project for Dad. I need to at least have an idea of what questions to ask when the time comes."
"Randy, that could be years."
"I hope it is," he said. "It took me most of ten years to learn what I know about running the construction company, and hardly a day goes by that I donít wish I could ask Brent about something or other."
"But youíre not going to be managing the plant. This is different."
"Right," he agreed. "But I have to know enough about it to be able to make responsible decisions. Itís a lot of money to be responsible for, Nicole, and I donít want to be half assed about it. I need to know enough about it to recognize if someone else is heading off in a wrong direction. The only way I can manage that is to learn what I can about it now."
"I suppose youíre right," she sighed. "Itís just that Iím worried about your having an all-work-and-no-play summer like youíve had so many of in the past. Worse, an all-work-and-no-time-for-the-family summer. I havenít minded that as much in the past, but that was then, and the baby is going to change things there, too."
"I realize that," he replied defensively, seeing the point she was leading up to but not wanting to concede it. "Thatís why Iím trying to do this stuff when things are slow, like they are now. When construction season gets going, Iím not going to have time to screw around over at the plant."
"No, Iím just concerned youíre not going to have time for anything but construction," she shook her head. "Randy, youíre going to have to learn how to take some time off and relax, especially during the summer. Tell me, have you done any thinking about what Nellie and Crystal were talking about back when they were here that night?"
"Not really," he shrugged, not recognizing what she was talking about but not willing to admit it, either.
"I havenít thought about it a lot," she replied, knowing he didnít understand. "But theyíre right. It seems silly to have all this lakefront and never have a boat larger than a sea kayak sitting in front of it."
That was enough to jog his memory, and he hoped he was making a seamless reply. "Yeah, I know," he said. "Probably having some kind of a motorboat would make more sense, but really, what can we do with one of those but run out to the far end of the lake and back again? I mean, I donít fish or anything, and Iíve done enough water skiing to know that I donít really care for it. I wouldnít mind learning a little more about sailing, since I really enjoyed that couple weeks down in the Bahamas with Scooter and the gang that time. I mean, I learned a lot about it but I donít think I learned enough about it for us to have a boat of our own. I certainly didnít learn enough about it to know enough to buy a sailboat."
"I still think we ought to ask Nellie about it," she said. "She got to know enough to at least teach us what questions to ask. Maybe we ought to have her over for dinner one night."
* * *
It was good to see Nellie again a couple nights later. Other than to call her up for the invitation, neither Randy nor Nicole had talked to her since the night theyíd enjoyed with Crystal and Preach and the gang the month before, although Randy had made a point of clearing her driveway out with the Bobcat after each snowstorm. After dinner Ė and a few more stories of her adventures Ė they moved to the chairs in front of the fireplace, where they got down to business.
"Weíve been thinking about what you said about getting a sailboat," Nicole told her. "On the surface, it seems like a good idea, but we donít know enough about sailing or sailboats to make any competent decisions."
"Well, at least you have the good sense to ask," Nellie told them. "When Harold and I bought that old salmon boat back up in Seattle that time you could have wrapped everything knew about boats in a handkerchief. We learned an awful lot the hard way with that experience. We were in a little better shape when we bought the Daytime; that was the H-28 we spent so much time with the next couple years, but we still didnít know much about sailing when we bought it. Iím afraid we again learned a lot the hard way."
"You must have learned a lot to jump into it with both feet like that," Randy commented.
"Mostly we learned that we had a lot to learn," she laughed. "But Iíll tell you what, messing around with a small boat on a place like this is a good way to learn what you need to know when you go looking to do something more adventurous."
"I donít think weíre talking about sailing around the world or anything like that," Nicole smiled. "But it would be nice to be able to know enough to do something like that Bahamas trip that Randy did a few years ago."
"I think I learned something from that," Randy said. "You didnít meet Scooter, she was Crystalís best buddy before they both got married, but Scooter is one of those people whoís automatically awful good with anything in the outdoors. It didnít hurt that she spent summers for years oystering on her uncleís Skipjack in Chesapeake Bay."
"Those are really striking boats," Nellie said. "Harold and I saw some on the Chesapeake when we went up the Intracoastal that time. But Iíd have to think that a couple weeks in the Bahamas with a skipper like that would give you at least some of the basics, and I certainly wouldnít mind helping you out. Itís been too long since Iíve done very much sailing and I miss it. Iím afraid I canít scramble around like I used to but I can tell you how to do it."
"Well, obviously weíd be glad to have you," Nicole smiled. "But weíre still hung up on the question of getting a sailboat. We wouldnít know what to look for or where to look."
"I havenít kept a very close eye on that kind of thing the last few years," she said. "But some things never change. On a lake like this most people start with a small day sailer, something like a Lightning, or something in that class. Those are fairly easy to sail but harder to sail well, and theyíre big enough to take some friends with you. There are still some wood ones around, but I can tell you from experience that maintaining a wood boat is an endless process. Youíre better off with fiberglass, unless you really enjoy spending your time with a paintbrush in your hand."
"I donít enjoy spending time with a paintbrush in my hand, period," Randy snickered. "Thatís what I hire painters for. Really, one of my concerns is that in the summer I wonder if Iím even going to have much time to go sailing. Maintenance time is going to be even harder to come by. Now, that much said, I could probably take on a major project over in the shop at Clark Construction in the winter, but even then itís going to be getting to the point where I have other things to do, too."
"Well, yes, then youíre looking for something in fiberglass," she said. "You can probably find time for little projects on the boat in the winter, but you probably donít want to have to deal with big ones. Now, I take it you donít want to spend a lot of money on it?"
"We could if we had to," Nicole replied. "But this is kind of an experiment. We donít know how much weíre going to use it or how much weíre going to like it. And, to be honest, we donít know how much the baby is going to affect things. So, yes, weíd probably better not spend a lot of money on it."
"Thereís no reason you canít buy an older boat cheaply and sail it for a summer or two to find out," Nellie commented. "The right older boat is around, but you just have to find it."
"I havenít thought about it a lot," Randy said. "But I remember you talking about having a boat over in the North Channel. It seems like it would be fun to have a boat big enough to take a trip like that, big enough to sleep aboard."
"As far as that goes," Nicole said. "It strikes me as fun to have a boat we could sail out to the far end of the lake and sleep aboard for a night or two. With a little planning we could go out in the evening in the middle of the week, and come back the next morning. Randy might not even have to miss much work that way."
"Thatís a little more ambitious, but not impossible," Nellie told them. "Youíd want a lightweight boat, one you could easily trailer behind your pickup. Having a cabin on a boat, even a small one, would simplify taking the baby with you, too, if you wanted to. That almost definitely means a swing keel of some sort, and probably shoal draft, since youíre not going to be dealing with any really bad weather and waves on a lake this small. Do either of you know much about this lake?"
"Probably more than some," Randy said. "Not like some of the fishermen around, of course."
"I know itís an artificial lake," Nellie said. "And I know the level was raised a century or more ago. Do you know if they did a very good job in clearing the lake bottom before they put in the dam?"
"I know they clear cut it," Randy said. "But there are stumps everywhere. They sure havenít rotted away much in a hundred years."
"Right," Nicole agreed. "Theyíre not a problem in deep water, but in shallow water, say out toward the head of Goose Bay, theyíre barely below the surface. You can see them easily from a sea kayak, and sometimes itís hard to paddle without hitting your paddle blade on one. But mostly the lake is deep enough that theyíre several feet down."
"That means you definitely want shoal draft and a swing keel," Nellie said. "And there are places youíre going to want to have the keel up, the sails down and the motor running to poke your nose in there, and then you want to do it slowly and carefully. But there are some boats around that will fill that bill for you. Let me do a little research and see what might be available around here. If a boat is sitting outside, this probably isnít the time of year to go looking for one, but spring is coming."
"Sounds like a plan," Nicole said. "However, thereís also going to be a baby coming in a month and a little, so weíre probably going to have to put off serious looking until after that."