Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
"So, thatís the general idea," Randy summed up to Nicole over lunch a couple of hours later. "I donít have to do it and we still could ask Ruth to go. But Dad wants to keep Mom from getting too involved, at least just yet, and he doesnít think that Ruth would keep what she learned from Mom. Besides, itíll give me a good chance to look at graders, talk to the reps and see whatís happening."
"As long as youíre planning on going pretty soon, it seems like a reasonable idea," Nicole said. "Thereís something fishy going on there, and you might pick up a lead or two. My due date isnít for a month yet, so thereís not a big risk. Everybody tells me that first babies tend to come a little late, anyway."
"Yeah, but you know I donít like to leave you behind, and thatís especially true this time," Randy told her. "Iím guessing Iíd be gone maybe four days, and part of that will be to look at graders. Really, that shouldnít take more than a day, but Iíll lose parts of a couple of days in the air. The show is this coming weekend, so if Iím going to do it Iím going to have to make up my mind pretty quick."
"Oh, why donít you just go ahead and do it? I know you and your father are worried about this, and from the way Jared acted when they were here in January I think there might be some reason for it. I can get along without you for four days now if I have to, but I wouldnít want to try it a month from now."
"All right," he sighed. "Iíll figure on getting out of here Thursday if I can get on a plane. Thatíll give me Thursday afternoon and Friday to poke around Rachel and Joel, Saturday to hit the show and Sunday to fly back. I might be able to cut a day out of it if I had to, depending on how things go with Rachel and Joel."
"Take your time," she counseled. "You might learn something. I donít know if youíll find out what youíre hoping to find out, but . . . " she broke off as the phone rang. Since she was sitting next to the phone, she picked it up. "Clarkís," she said, and listened for a moment. "Itís for you," she said.
Randy got up and walked over to the phone. The call proved to be from Binky, who lived across Hanneganís Cove from them. "Randy, are you busy?" she asked. "I tried to call you at your office but they said you were home for lunch. I might have a job for you."
"Not terribly busy," he told her, "and Iím always ready to talk about a job."
"Great, if itís no trouble we can be over there in ten minutes. The people I have here want to see your house, anyway."
Randy glanced around; the house seemed in its normal neat condition. He put his hand over the mouthpiece and asked Nicole if they would be ready for visitors in ten minutes, and she indicated there would be no problem. He told Binky to bring the people over, and Nicole went into a fury of picking up things that Randy didnít necessarily see as being a mess.
Sure enough, in ten minutes Binky and the visitors were at his door. Binky was a middle-aged Vietnamese woman who had barely escaped a communist Vietnam thirty years before on a leaky fishing boat; only she and one other person had survived the journey. After marrying Steve, sheíd gotten a job as a receptionist in a real estate agency; she now owned the agency, and had been considered to hold the hot hand in real estate for years.
She brought with her a couple who Randy estimated to be in their fifties or early sixties, showing hair with flecks of gray; it only took Randy one look to guess that they had money. Binky introduced them as David and Stacy Newton. As first-time visitors to Randy and Nicoleís house often did, Stacy spoke up and said, "This is quite a house."
"Itís a little overstated in my opinion," Randy said. "But among other things we wanted something thatís a sample of the work Clark Construction can do. Itís a little over four years old now, and weíre starting to get used to it."
"Iíll be honest," David said. "Binky tells us that Clark Construction is the best construction company in the area and the most likely to be able to give us what weíre looking for, which is a little on the off-the-wall side, I have to admit."
"We donít mind doing something different once in a while," Randy said. "It keeps life interesting. I suppose this house is a little off the wall, but we like it."
"Just from a quick look, it looks like great workmanship, and thatís one of the things weíre looking for," Dave told him. "What we have in mind is a little more extreme, so weíre really concerned that a contractor is going to balk at it and want to do something a little more conventional."
"Well, weíre open to unconventional, within the restrictions that it has to meet code in every respect," Randy said. "But really, thatís detail stuff. I mean, if you want to build a tree house, thatís fine with me, but Iíd want to make sure that the electrical service, for example, is up to what a building inspector would insist on. There are places around that donít have local building codes, but we feel in the long run building to BOCA code is the best way to avoid problems. We are a little conservative that way, and itís with good reason."
"Yes, and I can understand your position," Dave agreed. "Itís the design of the house thatís a little different and the location thatís a little different, too. The paperwork hasnít been signed yet, but weíve been able to purchase a small island in Chandler Lake, to the west of here. Are you familiar with it?"
"A little," Randy said, realizing that these were the people who had agreed to fork over two and a half million for that little patch of rock. He figured that it might not be the worst idea in the world to keep his mouth shut about his involvement with the project from the Clark Plywood side. "I suppose it would be possible to build a pretty interesting house there, but it strikes me that there would be some complex problems in doing it."
"Weíre aware that there are going to be problems," Dave replied. "But a problem can be an opportunity, as well, especially an opportunity to do something different. Stacy and I have talked about this house for over thirty years, and now that weíre getting close to retiring weíd like to see how it turns out and what it would be like to live there. Weíre aware that what we have in mind is likely to be expensive, but we have the money and are able to do it."
"Youíre getting me more curious about what youíre planning," Randy said.
"Well, to give you a little background," Stacy spoke up, "both Dave and I have wanted to live on a small island away from everything ever since we were in college. We camped on an island much like the one in Chandler Lake for weeks one summer back when we were undergrads, and it may have been one of the most memorable experiences of our lives. Then, the following summer we visited Daveís grandfather in England. He used to be a miller, and when heíd been younger he worked for a while in the last operational wind-powered grist mill in the country. I mean, not a restoration or anything, an honest-to-Pete working windmill. We went through the place and got very interested in wind power."
"That might not be the dumbest idea I ever heard," Randy replied, getting ahead of them a little. "On that island, youíre going to be way off the grid, and it would cost a ton to get a line run in there. A fairly big wind generator and being a little conservative with power use would make a lot of sense and save a lot of money."
"We think so," Dave nodded. "I doubt youíre old enough to remember the energy crisis in the seventies, but at the time we got very interested in alternative power, and weíve stayed interested. We also have been interested for a long time in other green-friendly ways to have a house at an isolated location, and weíve put a lot of work into our plans. Weíve built models, weíve built a small scale operating prototype of the mechanical side, and have the key mechanical pieces for the house already under construction. Weíve just been looking for a small island to put it on."
"And now we have it, or at least we will when we have the paperwork signed," Stacy smiled, as she opened a briefcase and handed Randy a slim folder. "Hereís some renderings of the house," she told him. "The full prints are completed, and theyíre out in the car. Itís not a huge house, but youíll see that it has some unique features."
Randy glanced at the folder; it had "Robertson, Newton and Gilhouse, Civil Engineers and Architects" on the cover. "Youíre the Newton in this, right?" he asked.
"Yes," she said, "although I havenít done much of the work on this on the firmís time. Go ahead, take a look."
Randy opened the folder, and the first rendering cause his jaw to drop. The lowest part of the house was pretty conventional, even simple, a rectangular building perhaps fifty feet long by half that wide, with a single-peak roof, but that was where conventionality ended. Jutting up out of the center of the building was a tall conical tower with a widowís walk around the bottom, but on top . . . "Youíre asking me to build you a Dutch windmill?" he asked in disbelief when he could finally manage to say something.
"Not so much Dutch as English," Dave explained. "There are subtle differences but you have to be an expert to see them. Believe me, weíve looked at a lot of them in both England and Holland and tried to use the best ideas from both. English windmills, at least the later ones, are a little more automated than the Dutch ones, although not what we think of as automated today."
"Yeah, but . . . " Randy shook his head, reaching for words. "When we were talking about wind generators, I thought we were talking about modern ones. You know, something up on top of a pole."
"Nope," Dave grinned. "First off, you have to understand that we like traditional windmills. Thatís reason enough to want to do something like this. Weíve talked to people who grew up living in drainage mills in Holland, and they say itís quite a life. Most of them are pretty old now; they donít do it that way anymore. Weíve even stayed in one a few nights, and it was intensely interesting. In fact, that was when we decided to build one for ourselves, years ago. Moreover, we think there are some good reasons to try to update the old technology. Modern wind generators work best at a higher average wind speed than we can anticipate around here. The old mills work better at lower wind speeds, so we think there are some advantages there, along with the romantic aspects."
"Youíre right," Randy said, shaking off the surprise a little. "This is unique. Iíve never even heard of anyone building a working windmill, especially not a modern one."
"This is a little on the small side, but weíve tried to update the technology," Stacy explained. "Although it looks traditional, there are some interesting modernizations."
"Well, I can see how it would be romantic," Randy said. "But I suppose if thatís what you want thatís reason enough to do it. But this doesnít look very modern to me."
"Itís not supposed to look modern, except to the practiced eye," Dave smiled. "Look, you know that railroads quit building steam engines sixty, seventy years ago, right?"
"Sure," Randy said. "Theyíre interesting to look at, but I have a friend who runs the local railroad, and he says theyíre an extreme pain in the neck to run."
"That they are," Dave said. "Iíve looked into that technology, too. What happened there is that the technology pretty much stopped advancing sixty or seventy years ago. A lot has happened in that time. What do you think a steam railroad engine would be like if it were built with modern technology?"
"No idea," Randy shook his head. "I donít know enough about them to speculate."
"I know quite a bit about them and I really canít speculate, either. But they probably wouldnít look like what we think of as steam engines. This is an attempt to integrate modern technology with the traditional windmill, and make controlling it as automatic as possible without resorting to computers."
"Computers will crap out on you at the most inconvenient times," Stacy said. "But the old-timers had most of the automation worked out. They just didnít have the technology to pick up the last few pieces."
"Well," Randy shook his head, "I can build you the house and I can build you the tower, but I canít build you the windmill itself."
"You wonít have to," Dave said. "Parts of it are already built and the rest is under construction. Weíll probably have your people involved in the installation, but thatís a different ball of wax."
"OK, thatís a more manageable concept," Randy said. "But unless we do it in the dead of winter next year, weíre not going to be able to get a crane out there that will lift that high."
"Well, weíre hoping we wonít have to wait that long," Dave told them. "But the old-time millwrights didnít have cranes and they managed. Mostly they used a jib boom mounted at the top of the tower, but weíve thrown around the idea of using our hot air balloon instead. Under the right circumstances it will pick up seven hundred to a thousand pounds, depending. We could control it from the ground with lines so we could get everything where we want it."
"You have a hot air balloon?" Randy shook his head. "Thatís different."
Stacy spoke up, "Itís fun. We like our toys. The lake is big enough for us to fly our amphibian seaplane in here so we can come up here for a few days at a time. Weíre thinking maybe a helicopter after we retire and move up here full time."
"The helicopter, that makes sense," Randy said, still a little dazed at the whole idea. "Youíre going to get a period in the late fall when thereís ice on the lake but itís not safe to walk on, and another period like that in the spring. In fact, on a smaller lake like Chandler that time is pretty much here already, so getting materials and equipment over there will be tough."
"Weíd really like to get this pretty much done by fall," Dave shook his head. "Weíve waited long enough for this, we donít want to wait much longer."
"Well, let me think about it," Randy said. "Iím not saying it canít be done, Iím just saying it wonít be easy. Itís already getting pretty close to construction season for me to be adding on a project of this size, but maybe it can be done. Iíll have to consult with my staff and see what they think. As far as giving you a cost estimate, Iím going to need a few days to work with the prints, get an idea of materials, and consider a few more problems. Plus, Iíve got some business this week thatís going to take me a few days. I can probably give you a rough estimate by the middle of next week, but it probably wonít be final."
"Thereís a full bill of materials in the prints we have out in the car," Stacy pointed out. "Thatíll give you a running start. Donít skimp on materials. Get the good stuff. I think you know what I mean by that, and Iíll be checking you on it."
"We realize weíre dropping this on you out of nowhere," Dave said. "But Binky says that thereís no one else in the area that can take on a project of this scope and make it work. Looking at this house makes me think that youíre going to be able to give us a quality job on our dream house."
"Like I said, Iíll see what I can do, and thatís going to involve scheduling in whatís already getting to be a pretty full summer. What do you say we plan on getting together toward the end of next week? Maybe Iíll be able to give you some rough numbers by then, and Iím sure everybody over at the office is going to have plenty of questions. I can think of a dozen at least right now."
"Well, maybe we can help you with some of them."
"OK," Randy said. "Just to start, what do you plan to do about a septic system? From what I understand the soil over there is a little too rocky for one. I suppose we can haul in enough sand to put one in place, but thatís a lot of sand."
"Composting toilet," she replied. "We already took a swing at that one. The early ones were kind of hippie things, but the technology has matured. If we decide we donít like it, I guess we can wait for the ice to be thick enough to truck in some sand."
"Donít know much about them," Randy said. "I guess Iíll have to learn. How about phone service? I really doubt you can get cell phone coverage out there and itíd be a long way to run a line."
"You canít get cell service out there now," Dave told him. "In two months, yes. The company I own was planning to put a tower out there this summer, anyway, and thatís how we came across what weíve come to call Windmill Island in Chandler Lake. Weíre also going to use the tower for a WiFi server, so weíll have high speed Internet out there, too."
"Youíre way ahead of me on all of this," Randy shook his head. "If this summer wasnít going to be interesting enough as it is."
* * *
It took close to another hour before Randy and the Newtons had talked themselves out, and Randyís head was buzzing, scarcely aware that after a while Nicole and Binky had gone to another part of the house and were discussing who knew what. Finally, the visitors left, leaving Randy with a huge roll of prints and his head spinning in their wake.
"That," Nicole commented, "is not what you expected when you came home for lunch."
"No fooling," he replied. "Thatís got to be close to a million dollar house if we built it on a conventional lot, and who knows what theyíre spending on the windmill stuff? Now, I wish I hadnít agreed to head out to San Jose and see whatís going on with Rachel. Thereís going to be a lot of work here, and believe me, I donít have all the answers. Like, how are we going to get materials and equipment over to the island in the first place?"
"A pontoon raft, maybe?" she offered. "Iím not worried, Randy. Youíll work something out."
"Oh, yeah, weíll come up with something," he said. "I donít know what yet, but maybe Iíd better head back over to the shop and get working on this."
"You never got your lunch," she pointed out. "Would you like to have something?"
"Well, yeah, a sandwich, I guess," he said. "The afternoon is getting on toward shot, so if you want to have a good dinner tonight thatíll hold me. I canít imagine what Carlos and Ken and some of the others are going to say when they see this."
"Theyíre going to be just about as flabbergasted as you were," she grinned. "Iíll have to admit, it sounds crazy as hell to me, but I guess thatís what they want."
"I donít mind living in a house thatís a little avant-garde," he said. "But a windmill? Thatís crazy! Rich fools, like I said, although nice and smart ones. Even with everything theyíve worked in there, theyíre going to be pretty isolated out there, especially during ice-in and ice-out, and theyíre going to have problems they havenít even thought of. And then, when they do decide to move on, theyíre going to have a hell of a time getting their money out of a house that odd and in a location that isolated, unless they come across some other rich fool."
"Well, itís their money, after all. If they want to spend it with you, that strikes me as fine."
"Iím not looking to screw them, or anything," Randy said. "But I want to make darn sure we donít lose money on the thing. This is the kind of thing I really wish I had Brent around for, just to bounce it off of him to see what he thinks."
"Heíd probably say to go ahead with it," she smiled. "After all, he was crazy enough to agree to his first job in the construction business be building a nudist camp."
"Yeah, youíre probably right at that," Randy shook his head. "I donít know what the numbers were, but he had to have made out pretty solidly on that, way back when. I guess that gives Clark Construction the reputation for doing the unconventional, but this has to be far and away the most unconventional project weíve ever taken on."