Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Susan was in a very good mood when she got home late that afternoon. Perhaps it was because of the fact that she knew she was now a college student and had for the most part put Spearfish Lake High School and whatever Gingrich thought he was pulling behind her. But, whatever it was, it seemed like a new freedom.
Although the sun was getting down a little too far, she hung up the clothes she had been wearing and headed out onto the deck again, just to enjoy what she could of it. The season where she could lay out on the deck in the nude was fast coming to an end, and she wanted to soak up what she could of what was left, since gray skies and flying snow was all too soon in the future. Although the family used the hot tub outside in all but the bitterest cold weather, it just wasn’t the same thing.
She hadn’t been out on the deck long when her parents got home, a little early, if anything, and in much better moods than they had been the day before. Her mother was so impressed by Susan’s example that she stripped off her clothes and joined her on a lounge chair while her father leafed through the mail. “So, how was your day?” her mother asked as she settled in.
“Alles ist in Ordnung,” Susan told her. “I think all of the hoops have been jumped through, so I’m a college student now.”
“Well, at least we get a year before we go back to being empty nesters,” her mother sighed. “I had a year of it when you were in Germany, and it got a little lonely around here. Although I’m sorry that this next year isn’t going to be quite the way we intended it, I suppose it’s going to work out for the best.”
Her father came out onto the deck, still dressed. “Nothing but junk again, as usual,” he snorted. “I can’t remember the last time I got an honest-to-God letter. I mean, not an ad, not a bill, but personal communication.”
“That’s what e-mail is for, Dad,” Susan laughed. “How many letters did I send you from Germany?”
“Not enough,” he shook his head. “You were pretty good about sending e-mails, but I’m old fashioned enough that I still appreciate a real letter. But Susan, I need to talk to you about something else. I’ve got something I need you to do for us tomorrow morning. Well, not for us, for the paper.”
“Sure, Dad,” she smiled. “What is it?”
“Long story,” he told her. “I had a call from Randy Clark a little while ago. They’re building a big house on an island in Chandler Lake. You know where that is?”
“Sure, out in Amboy Township near the county line.”
“That’s the place,” he replied. “Because it’s on an island, they can’t get a crane out there and they have some pieces to lift up high, so this morning they used a hot air balloon to lift some of them. It strikes me that it ought to make a hell of a photo.”
“That’s different,” Susan shook her head. “I wonder who thought that up.”
“Randy said that it was the people he’s building the house for, and it’s their hot air balloon. They’re going to try to get the rest of the stuff up tomorrow morning, and that’s one picture I don’t think we want to miss. Unfortunately I have a meeting tomorrow morning I can’t miss, either, so I’m wondering if you’d like to go out and get the photo.”
“Sure, Dad. It sounds interesting.”
“It may not sound quite as interesting when you hear the rest of the story,” Mike shook his head. “Because it’s a hot air balloon, they have to do everything when it’s a dead calm, which is why they didn’t get everything up today – the wind came up before they got finished. You’ll have to meet Randy at four in the morning at Clark Construction. He’ll lead you out there and you can get a ride out to the island. It may be a while before you get back. It’ll have to wait until someone has to head back to the mainland.”
“Oh,” Susan replied, now somewhat less enthusiastic. Four in the morning was awful early, especially since she still didn’t have her body clock all the way back to Spearfish Lake time yet. On the other hand, it did sound interesting, and maybe she could consider a nap when she got back, or something. Besides, she owed her parents a lot, especially for their support the last few days. “You just want a photo, or a story, too?”
“I really want to have the photo,” Mike said. “From what Randy said it was pretty spectacular. He had a camera there, but said he got so wrapped up in watching that he forgot to get any. On top of that, I suspect a story would be nice too. From what Randy said this is going to be a really interesting and different house, so I suppose it could be made into a nice feature. Like I said, I’d be pretty tempted to do it myself, but if I did, I’d be running the risk of being stuck out there on the island for hours when I should be doing something else.”
“Alles ist in Ordnung, I can do it,” Susan told him. “You’d just better set an alarm.”
“Don’t you have one?” her mother asked. “I thought I saw one in your room.”
“I mean, someone is going to have to wake me up after I shut off the one I have.”
Being in at least a few respects a typical teenager, Susan thought that three in the morning was a much better time to be going to bed than it was to be getting up.
After the alarm went off, she managed to drag herself to her feet and get dressed. Despite liking to dress nice, today she put on jeans, a T-shirt and a light jacket instead of something office-nice; this was going to be a construction site, after all. She was awake enough to remember to grab the Nikon that she’d taken to Germany, and drove the long way over to Clark Construction, stopping along the way to pick up a large foam cup of coffee from the Qwikee Stop, the only business in town that was open all night. She really wasn’t much of a coffee drinker, so it was about half cappuccino, so sweet that she couldn’t taste the coffee very much. That made it tolerable, and she was sipping at it in the Clark Construction parking lot when Randy Clark showed up in his pickup.
She didn’t know Mr. Clark very well, but she’d had his wife, Megan’s older sister, as a teacher in a couple classes back in Spearfish Lake High School days – she was already thinking of them in past tense. She knew he owned Clark Construction, the largest construction company in the area. She knew the company had been started by his grandfather; her father had told her that he also owned a piece of Clark Plywood, the largest employer in town. He was very community oriented, an Emergency Medical Technician for the Ambulance Department strictly as a community service hobby, and she recalled hearing that he was also a martial arts master. He was in his thirties, maybe, shorter than she was, with a natty beard. “Good morning, Susan,” he said cheerfully. “How did you like Germany?”
“I wish I was still there,” Susan sighed. “If I was, I’d normally be up by now.”
“It is a little early, isn’t it?” Mr. Clark laughed. “I’d usually be pounding the pillow at this hour myself, but we have to take advantage of the early morning calm, and with some weather moving in this could be our last chance for a few days. I don’t have anything to do here but to meet you, so why don’t we get out there so we don’t keep anyone waiting?”
She had to follow Mr. Clark’s pickup for several miles out to Chandler Lake. Susan knew in general how to find the place but not necessarily the exact spot, so she just trailed along behind in the Cavalier, sipping occasionally at her cappuccino in hopes of staying awake, and trying to keep an eye out for deer crossing the road. The last few miles were down gravel roads, and the last mile or so down a very narrow and rough track that was almost a two-rut.
There were already several cars and trucks parked at the landing, with some men standing around sipping at coffee, yawning and seeming to talk mostly about various aspects of the house. Mr. Clark greeted them and talked with some of them a little, then came back over to talk to Susan. “Did your father tell you very much about this house we’re building?” he asked, pointing out into the darkness over the lake.
“Not really, except that it was pretty unique,” she replied.
“It is, without a doubt, the wildest thing that Clark Construction has ever done,” Mr. Clark grinned. “The couple who owns it, the Newtons, are windmill freaks, so this is in essence a modern replica of an English windmill, which is sort of like the Dutch windmills you see on Heineken bottles.”
“Nope,” Randy grinned. “Fifty-foot-long blades on the windmill, although they call them sails, and we’re learning to call them that, too. We got two of the sails up yesterday, the other two and some odds and ends go up today.”
“I saw windmills in Holland when we took a trip there,” Susan said, “but I never got to go through one. How is an English windmill different from a Dutch windmill?”
“Not very, at least as far as I can tell,” he replied jovially. “According to the Newtons, the English windmills tend to be a little more technologically advanced than the Dutch ones. In other words, we’re talking 1850s technology instead of 1750s. There are some other subtle differences, but I had to go through some books, and the Newtons still had to point out the differences. I suspect people will call it a Dutch windmill no matter what.”
“Why on earth would they build something like that?”
“The simple answer is because they want to, and they can afford it,” Mr. Clark shrugged. “Beyond that, they’re trying to update the 1850s technology with modern technology without using computers and still maintain the advantages of the old design. Or, at least that’s what they tell me – I’m no expert on that, either. This thing is going to generate all the electrical power they’ll need for the house and then some. I actually think they overdid it a little; if their figures are right they could run a whole neighborhood with it. I wouldn’t want you to bother them with questions just now, since the hot air balloon is theirs. They’ll be busy with it and worried about the lifts, but if you get the chance talk to them afterward, they are really pretty cool people.”
“I sure will,” Susan shook her head. “This is going to make quite a story!” She was actually a little surprised that her father had sent her to cover it – it really wasn’t a junior reporter-type story, but she supposed he had his reasons. It wasn’t as if she hadn’t done stories for the Record-Herald before – she’d done them even before the series of articles and photos she’d sent from Regensburg – but this was going to be something really different. She couldn’t help but wonder if her father had intended to get more than just a story out of it.
It was still dark when Susan rode out to the island on a float that looked like it had been roughly knocked together out of oil drums and lumber. Mr. Clark explained that it was more substantial than it looked; they’d hauled machinery weighing close to ten tons out to the island on it. The float was propelled by an outboard motor on a rowboat lashed alongside, but as she rode along on the raft with Mr. Clark and some of the workers she first began to get a hint of the shape of the windmill house. It sure wasn’t something she would have expected to see anywhere near Spearfish Lake!
There was getting to be just a hint of light in the eastern sky when they landed on the island. In the half-light Susan could see someone starting to inflate the hot air balloon, which seemed to be a long and laborious process. When they fired up the propane burner to heat up the air, it lit up the balloon like an enormous multi-colored light bulb in the night sky. Though the light seemed to be too low for even her Nikon, Susan tried to get a picture of it.
It wasn’t long before the balloon was floating, but not freely – it was tethered to a backhoe, and there were other lines hanging from it for fine control. Although Mr. Clark owned the company, he wasn’t running this project, so he was just as much a spectator as Susan. She stayed close to him watching as the backhoe dragged the balloon over to a long, thin section lying on the ground, which was then hooked to it. Then, the engine on the backhoe was shut down, leaving almost dead silence as an electric winch allowed the balloon and the windmill blade to be lifted into the air. It was, Susan thought, one of the oddest sights she’d ever seen, and although the light was low, she kept snapping away with her camera.
With the air dead calm, it proved to not be much trouble to get the windmill blade where it had to go, although there was much fine maneuvering and some shouted commands to get everything exactly into place. It was perhaps half an hour before the job was completed; someone started the backhoe, dragged the balloon away from the building and winched it down to get the final blade.
This blade had to go to the top of the windmill, so it was picked up from the other end, and the balloon had to be allowed to rise much higher. The sun was up just enough now to give good light to the scene, and Susan still snapped pictures, getting some good ones, she thought, of the blade dangling from the balloon as it approached the tower with the other three blades already attached.
Before long, the final blade was in place, and the balloon was set up for the final lift, this time a cap that went over the top of the tower proper. As it was getting into place, Susan could feel a hint of a breeze coming up; apparently everyone else could feel it too, since there was more yelling and bustle before the fiberglass cap had been put into place and released from the balloon. Almost immediately the backhoe hauled the balloon free of the tower and pulled it down, and as soon as it was on the ground someone pulled a rip panel to deflate it.
“Well,” Mr. Clark said. “I guess it was just as well that we got started early, because I don’t think they’d want to try another lift today.”
“Yeah, but that was really something,” Susan marveled. “Mr. Clark, thanks for asking my dad to come out here today. He’s going to be sorry he missed this. I think I got some pretty good photos, and this is something to remember.”
“I think so,” he said. “In fact, if you got a good one I’d like to have a digital copy so I can have a poster made for my office, and I would be surprised if the Newtons wouldn’t want one, too.”
“I’m sure we can manage that,” she smiled. “I shot everything on high-res so it ought to make a pretty good poster.”
Once the balloon was down, the job superintendent called for a break, and most of the workers gathered around an urn of coffee that had been produced from somewhere, and a box of doughnuts also appeared. This time, Susan didn’t mind the bitter taste of the black coffee; it went well with the moment. Everyone was in a pretty good mood, and for good reason: the balloon lifts had been about the trickiest – and admittedly, the most spectacular part – of the whole job.
While they were standing around, Mr. Clark introduced Susan to Dave and Stacy Newton, the owners of the house; it turned out that it had been Mrs. Newton at the controls of the balloon. They seemed like they had been a little stressed out, and with good reason, Susan thought, but the relief of having this done without troubles was evident. “You seem pretty young for a reporter,” Mrs. Newton commented. “You look like a high school student.”
“I’m a college student,” Susan replied with just a hint of pride. “But I’ve been doing stories for the Record-Herald since I was a little girl. It runs in the family.”
After that slightly bumpy start, Susan got a pretty good interview out of the Newtons, learning a lot about why they wanted to have a working windmill and the background of this one. It turned out that Mrs. Newton’s grandfather had run one of the last working windmills in England, and they’d been hooked on the subject for years. She was an architect, and he was a communications engineer, and over the years they’d worked out the design of this one to make it modern but still maintain the traditional flavor.
“Stick around for a while,” Mr. Newton told her. “We’ve got a little more work to do, and then we’re going to release the brake and see if it really works. This is a moment that we’ve been looking forward to for decades.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t miss it,” Susan replied, thinking that until someone headed back to the mainland she was stuck on the island anyway.
It was a couple of hours before everything was ready. The breeze still wasn’t blowing very hard, but when the brake was released, the windmill started turning normally, in a manner that Susan could only call “stately.” It was quite a sight, something that had never been seen before anywhere around Spearfish Lake, and she felt privileged to see it. This, she thought, was going to be quite a story, and she could hardly wait to e-mail a copy of it to her friends in Germany, along with some photos. They’d never believe it, and she wasn’t exactly sure she believed it herself.
It was getting close to noon before Susan was able to get a ride back to the mainland in one of the rowboats. She managed to talk the guy running the boat into going out of the way a little so she could get a properly lit distant shot of the windmill, now at least mechanically complete although there was still plenty of work to do on the house. Just to show off that it worked, the crew members were running power tools off electricity from the windmill, rather than the generator that had been used up till then. Mr. Newton had told her that they were planning on having an open house when the place was complete, and that she’d be welcome to come to it. That was an invitation that Susan was not likely to refuse.
A little while later Susan walked into the Record-Herald office. “So,” her father said. “Did you get any good pictures?
“I think so,” Susan said, heading for the computer on the junior reporter’s desk so she could download the pictures from the Nikon. “That’s going to be quite a house, and it was really a sight to see it operating.”
It took a couple minutes to download the photos, but even on a quick look it was easy to see that she’d gotten some good ones. Her father came over to look over her shoulder as she flicked through them. The early ones were, as expected, pretty dark and it would take some Photoshopping to make something out of them, but the later ones, especially of the lift of the last sail had enough light to make them look very good indeed. One in particular caught both their eyes – one of the last sail, dangling from the balloon, hanging only inches away from the windmill’s hub as a worker reached for it to help guide it the last few inches. The other three blades were evident in the photo, making it very clear what was going on. “Good one,” her father said. “We’re going to have to remember to send that to the state press association contest when it rolls around. That’s an award winner if I ever saw one, and it’s for darn sure going to be the lead photo next week unless the courthouse burns down or something.”
“I like it too,” Susan admitted. “But there are some others I like, too. That’s going to be an interesting house, and the Newtons are pretty interesting people, too.”
“There’s a lot more here than just one photo,” her father shook his head. “Do you think you can write a feature article to go along with it? I’m thinking maybe full-page, on the back of the A section.”
“I don’t see how I can keep it down to that very easily,” she replied. “I got a ton of stuff from Mr. Clark and the Newtons. I took a lot of notes, but I think I want to try to write it while it’s still fresh in my mind.”
“That’s always the best way,” her father told her. “Have you had lunch yet?”
“No, I came straight here. I wanted to see how the photos came out.”
“I was just heading over to the sub shop,” her father said. “You can come along if you want to.”
“How about just bringing me something?” she suggested. “I’m really hot to get writing on this. Do you want me to just write it, or do the page layout, too?”
“Do the layout,” he said. “That’ll give you an idea of how much to write.”
Soon Susan was pounding away at the keyboard. She always had been a fast writer, and it had never intimidated her. The real problem was to make the story interesting and give some of the background without overdoing it, and that took some time. Somewhere in there her father came back with a small sub and a Diet Pepsi; she sipped at the drink, but mostly ignored the sandwich as she worked on the story.
After a while she heard her father comment, “You seem to really be going to town on that.”
“It’s fun,” she smiled. “It’s too bad you don’t get stories like this more often or I might be tempted to decide to do journalism anyway.”
“Yeah, that’s true,” her father agreed. “At one time, I had hoped that one of you kids would pick up journalism and be here to take over when your mother and I retire, which is still a few years off. I had a lot of hope for Henry doing it, but Cindy will never let him move back here, and I’ve known for years there wasn’t any hope of keeping you here.”
“Probably not,” she said. “At least, I don’t think it’s in my future. I’m still working on what I want to do and I suspect I’m still going to be working on it for a while. But thanks for sending me out there, Dad. I think this story might make me a little more serious about considering journalism of some kind for a career.”