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

Winter Layoff
a novel by
Wes Boyd
2011, 2013

Chapter 12

Back at the site after lunch, they took a look around with Ken’s input in mind. “We probably ought to clear back a ways so we have room to work,” Bob suggested.

“Not a bad idea,” Jim agreed. “It’s going to be a bear to bust up that concrete without a jackhammer.”

“Oh, we can probably do it with the backhoe, but it’s going to take a little time,” Bob said. “All we need to do is to get it in chunks small enough to handle if we can get a chain on them.”

They worked at clearing the debris back from the pad for most of the afternoon, and managed to get a couple smallish pieces of concrete up as well. By then it was getting late, and they called it a day. They decided to drop it off at the collection point, and then go get dinner, making sure they were done well before the church service started.

Dumping the load didn’t take long, although this was a mixed load that they told the guy at the gate of the collection point would have to be sorted. As soon as they had it dumped, they drove over to the food tent. “You know,” Jim said as he got out of the dump truck, “If I was at home looking at that sky I’d say there was some weather on the way, but I don’t know what it means down here.”

“Probably it means that some weather is moving in,” Bob shrugged. “I don’t know, I haven’t seen a weather report in days. Maybe we can ask around and see if anyone’s heard anything.”

Over dinner a guy said there was indeed some weather moving in – a big low was going to pass just to the north, and it would probably bring rain, some wind, and colder weather. “Well,” Jim said, “we ought to know what cold is. We’re just going to have to deal with it.”

Whoever the guy was, he was dead right. It was spitting rain the next morning when they started in on seriously busting up the concrete pad, and it got worse as the morning went on, to the point where both of them were getting soaked. While there was a roof over the seat of the backhoe, it didn’t provide much protection from rain coming in sideways. They managed to get the dump truck partly loaded that morning, and as it approached noon they’d had about all of the weather they wanted. “What would you say if we said fuck it, and took the afternoon off?” Jim suggested. “Maybe this shit will blow through by morning.”

“I’d say it was a hell of a good idea,” Bob agreed. “Let’s get some dry clothes on before we head over to the food tent.”

The tent was crowded that afternoon. Apparently they weren’t the only ones to call it a day in the weather. By the time they were finished eating and had had a second cup of coffee, the rain was sopping down steadily, with enough wind behind it to make going back to work even less inviting.

“You know,” Jim said finally, “we probably shouldn’t sit around here all afternoon so there’d be room for someone else. Besides, with it raining, it’s probably a pretty good time to go and see what the utility situation is.”

“Yeah, good point,” Bob agreed. “You have any idea of where to start?”

“When we first got here, that Beach Boulevard guy told us the place to start was just down the street from where we talked to him, so we might as well start there.”

Even with the light rain jackets Jim and Bob brought with them they got rather damp by the time they made it over to the modular building that the guy had referred them to. There were a number of people there and they were all busy, so they had to wait in line, and, as it turned out, several lines before the afternoon was over with. They got a few answers before they left, not all they’d eventually need, but enough to get started.

It was still raining the next day, so they headed back to work on the utility and building permit issues some more. By noon, they had it pretty well worked out. As far as the guy from the city utility department knew there were no real problems with the sewer lines in the area, but no one would know for sure until they were actually tried out. They’d had a lot of problems with big equipment breaking water and sewer lines during the course of the cleanup, but there hadn’t yet been any other heavy equipment between their work site and a major trunk line.

The guy wasn’t quite as hopeful about the water – broken mains were a problem. The city had a lot of them and was trying to deal with them on a priority basis, and since there had been no rebuilding in their area, it was not a high priority. “You get started on a house, and we’ll see what we can do,” he told them, giving them the impression that what they could do might not be very much. Jim offered the use of the backhoe to help with repairing any lines in the area, and the guy said he might just take them up on that – there was a heck of a lot to do and not enough to do it with.

“What you might want to think about,” the guy said, “is to drive a temporary well. As close to the ocean as we are it’s surprising that there’s fairly fresh water not very deep. It’s kind of brackish in spots, and I’d be reluctant to use it for drinking and cooking, since there’s all kinds of shit that’s gotten into the water table, but for flushing toilets or something like that, fine. We’ve got the same problem with the water mains, anyway, and it’s going to take a while to get cleared up.”

Electric power was another issue, and they had to go to the electric company’s temporary office the second day of the rainstorm to find out what they could. “There’s no power in that neighborhood right now,” a man there said. “There are still some poles and lines, and we still have some volunteer help from some electric companies up north. You get a home ready to live in, and we’ll get power to it. Just give us what notice you can.”

That was about all the good news, though. The natural gas service in the neighborhood was a mess, and there was no telling when it would be restored. Again, Jim offered the use of a backhoe if it would speed things, and the guy at the gas company said it might be needed, but there was no way of telling. It was pretty similar with the phone company. A woman at their office said that the underground lines were pretty much all right but that the junction and feeder boxes on the surface were a mess, and would take a lot of repairing. There was no way of telling when that would get done, but she wasn’t hopeful. When Jim tried to press her for a little better information, she just didn’t have it to give. Finally, she looked around to make sure no one was overhearing, and said in a low voice, “If you want my advice, get a cell phone. The towers are all working as far as I know.”

They headed back over to the food tent for lunch. It was still raining steadily, although the word was that this was supposed to be the last day of it. Jim took the opportunity to call Ken up in Spearfish Lake to give him the news about the utilities and permits. “All in all, it could be a lot worse,” he summed up. “At least I don’t think there’s anything that says we can’t still get what we need, if we can get started building the house.”

“Good,” Ken told him. “That’s a relief, and at least there are work-arounds for the things that are up in the air. Things are coming along on this end. So, how’s it going down there?”

“Slow,” Jim told him. “But the rain is supposed to let up tomorrow, and then we can get back to work.”

It was still cold and windy the next day, but at least the rain had let up. It took them all that day to finish breaking the pad into pieces small enough to be loaded onto the dump truck since they didn’t have the tools that would have made a quick job out of it. It only added up to a couple of truckloads, but they were heavy loads.

With that, the worst of the problem was over. The rest of cleaning up consisted of just getting rid of the rest of the tree, which still involved more chainsaw work, and clearing up smaller piles of debris. Some of them weren’t all that small. There were a couple of house sections that had to be cut up and busted up to load, and that took use of the chainsaw, too, as did clearing the street coming up to the place, but they felt like they were making progress.

Mostly they worked alone; they rarely saw any people in the area. The guy in the white pickup they’d met the first day dropped by a couple times, mostly to try to get them to come over and help out with the vague project on Beach Boulevard. Jim tried to make out like they’d be willing to help out some if they had enough time when they got done with what they were doing. But he knew that as soon as they were done he was going to have to be heading back to Spearfish Lake to start working on getting stuff together to build the house.

They did get to know a few of the regulars at the food tent. There were volunteers who had been there for weeks, even months, although the nice, but rather religious, woman who ran the place said that the numbers had been thinning out in recent weeks. “We had a lot of people in to help over the holidays,” she told them, “but people have had to go back to work.”

The next day they got a nasty surprise. Usually only one of them drove the dump truck to the collection point except if they were taking a break to go to the food tent – they had yet to eat anything from the collection of cans they’d brought from Spearfish Lake. They were on the way to lunch this time, so both of them were in the truck when Bob went to raise the box to dump the load. It usually was no big deal, but this time it got partway up and stopped, then slowly sagged back downward. The problem seemed to be hydraulic, and when they got under the hood of the truck they found the hydraulic pump had blown a seal. There was hydraulic fluid all over the place.

Emptying the box was no big problem – they got the guy who ran a backhoe around the place to come over and rake the stuff out of the box, but it was clear that they were out of business until they got the pump fixed. After some asking around, it appeared that the nearest place the repairs could be accomplished was Baton Rouge, Louisiana, about 125 miles away – and not until the next day, since this was a Sunday afternoon.

“Well, shit,” Bob said as they were eating their lunch in the food tent. “I guess that means we don’t get much more done today.”

“Looks like it,” Jim agreed. “The only thing I can think of to do drive the thing over to Baton Rouge tomorrow and see if we can get it fixed.”

“Sounds like it to me. But that’s not something we both need to do. You can do that by yourself and you have that Clark Foundation credit card. I’m thinking that guy keeps bugging us about working on that stupid Beach Boulevard project. Maybe I could stay here and go make an appearance while you get the truck fixed.”

“Might as well,” Jim nodded. “I have no idea what that project is all about, but we might as well get the guy off our backs a little. You go ahead and help until I get back, and see if you can find out what it is all about while you’re there. But tell you what. Just drive the backhoe over and tell the guy I’m gone for the day. That’ll give you an excuse to not go back if it turns out to be something stupid.”

That afternoon they went back over to the lot, broke out the rakes, and started raking smaller stuff that had escaped their picking up earlier and pulling it into piles. It was one of those things that needed to be done and they hadn’t gotten around to yet, so the time wasn’t wasted.

The next morning, Jim got in the dump truck and started for Baton Rouge. It took some work with a phone book to find a place that could handle the problem with the pump. Once he got to the place, he found them pretty busy. They could repair the pump, they said, but it would take a few days to tear down. Replacing it would be quicker, though more expensive. With little choice, Jim went ahead and told them to replace it with a new pump, which they had and could do in short order. He just hoped Randy wouldn’t be too mad when he got the bill, but the alternative was sitting around for several days doing nothing. Well after lunch he started back toward Pass Christian.

It was getting close to dark when he got back. He hadn’t much more than arrived at the lot when Bob came driving up with the backhoe. “Get it fixed?” Bob asked.

“Yeah, but I don’t want to think about what Randy is going to say when he sees the bill for a new hydraulic pump. So what was the deal with this Beach Boulevard project?”

“Well, they’re trying to get the commercial area cleaned up and construction going there so they can get some business activity going again,” Bob shrugged. “I think they’re getting the cart a little before the horse on that one, but it wasn’t my decision. I spent most of the day digging a ditch to put in a new water line. They’ve still got a lot of work to do, but I don’t think we need to be a part of it unless we get the time again.”

“Right,” Jim agreed. “When you get right down to it, we’re pretty close to done with what we came down here to do. Another few days ought to wrap it up.”

The next morning, they got back to work on the lot, just clearing things back farther. There was still work to be done, and they hauled several loads off, but Jim kept thinking that they were getting to the point where they were wasting time. There was a lot still to be done if there was any hope of getting the house built before he had to start work in Spearfish Lake in the spring, and none of it was happening while they were fiddling about here with small pieces. He could see that there was a lot to do, much of which was beyond his skills. Time was running out but maybe Randy would cut him a little slack.

Finally, one day late in the afternoon toward the end of the week, it seemed like they had done about all they needed to do, and then some. They’d not only cleaned off the lot, but most of the two adjoining ones on either side, and well back on the ones behind. They’d cleaned out the street quite a bit, too – it was a full two lanes wide, now and some chainsaw work had been needed to cut back downed limbs to make it that way.

Jim dumped a final loader bucket full of debris into the dump truck, and shut down the backhoe. “Well,” he said to Bob, “I’d say that’s about it for today.”

“Yeah, I’m ready for a break,” Bob agreed. “What do you say we haul this load over to the collection point, and then stop off at the food tent for dinner?”

“Sounds like a plan,” Jim agreed. “But then, when we get back, maybe we ought to dig the trailer out and load up the backhoe. I’ve been thinking about it all afternoon, and I think we’ve done about all we need to do here.”

“There’s more we could do,” Bob pointed out.

“Shit,” Jim snorted as he climbed down from the backhoe. “We could spend the rest of our winter layoff here and there’d still be more we could do. There’s still a house to build, and time is passing. If I’m going to get stuff organized to even get a start at it, I need to be back in Spearfish Lake. It’s been bugging me for a couple days now. I think I need to get back and get to work on seeing what can be done with that.”

“Yeah,” Bob agreed. “There is that. I just feel a little guilty about taking off with the truck and the backhoe when they could be used here, and I’ve still got time to kill. What would you say to my just staying here with the dump truck for a while? I’m sure that guy could use some more help on that Beach Boulevard project. That way, if you can get things going to do something this spring, even if it’s just putting in the pilings, I’d be here with the backhoe to work on it.”

“It has possibilities,” Jim agreed, glancing at his watch. “But where would you stay?”

“Oh, hell, they have that tent camp for volunteers over by the food tent,” Bob pointed out. “It can’t be much more uncomfortable than sleeping in your camper.”

“Well, if you want to, I guess it’s all right with me,” Jim said. “But we really ought to run it by Randy first, and it’s probably too late to call him now.”

“I think he’ll go for it,” Bob said. “But we can call him in the morning. If he says to bring the backhoe home, then we can load up and go. If he says I can stay here for a while, then you can load up and go. If you make it back here, the thing will still be pretty useful. If it works out you don’t make it back, I can still come back with the backhoe and the dump truck sometime later.”

“Up to you, I guess,” Jim sighed. He really wasn’t looking forward to heading back to Spearfish Lake and tying into the knotty problem of trying to come up with men and materials to build the house if it weren’t for that he would much rather have stayed right there. At least he understood running a backhoe and doing the things they had been doing. He didn’t have a clue about how to do any of the next steps to be done in Spearfish Lake, and about the only hope he had of managing those was to get Randy and Rachel and Ken to help him out on at least some of it. “Let’s get this load dumped and go get something to eat.”

Jim was just walking around to the far side of the dump truck when he heard the BLATT of an air horn not far up the street. He looked up and saw a big semi come easing toward them. “What the hell?” he said to Bob, who was still getting into the dump truck.

“Must be lost,” Bob shrugged. “There’s nothing around here that would call for a truck that size.”

“Beats the hell out of me,” Jim said. “I’m glad we got the street cleared out, but he’s going to find it real tough going if he tries to make it more than another block past here.”

They stood back and watched the semi get closer – there were several more blasts on the air horn as it came toward them. “Boy, he sure has a bug up his butt about something,” Bob said.

“Yeah,” Jim said, looking up the street at the truck. There was something that seemed familiar about it . . .

“Holy shit!” both of them said in unison.

There was something familiar about that black semi-tractor, all right – it was the one that Clark Construction used to haul heavy equipment on a lowboy! At least it was its twin – but no! As it got closer, they could see the words “Clark Construction” on the door. By now they could see the lettering on the semi-trailer: “Brine Brothers Trucking, Spearfish Lake, Michigan.”

“What the fuck?” Jim said.

“Yeah, no shit,” Bob agreed, after standing there slack jawed.

The semi pulled to a stop right in front of them, right in the middle of the street. Their eyes were so seriously on the truck that they didn’t notice that there was a box truck following it, a motor home pulling a large enclosed trailer, and several cars and pickups trailing behind.

The door of the semi opened, and they saw Randy Clark climb down from the driver’s seat. “Randy!” Jim yelled, just about totally unable to believe the sight in front of him. “What are you doing here?”

“Oh, we came down to give you a hand,” Randy grinned, waving back at the line of vehicles following behind.

“Yeah . . . but . . . yeah . . . ” Jim stammered as he saw Rachel come walking around the semi to join them. Other people were coming up the street as well – people they knew, people like Ken Halpern, Mike Shanahan, and Russ Compton, along with several other friends and co-workers.

“Jim,” Randy smiled, “when you were a kid, did you ever put together a model from a kit? Like a model airplane, or something?”

“Well, yeah,” Jim said, still dazed. What did that have to do with anything?

“Jim,” Randy said expansively, “what we have here is a genuine Clark Construction one-to-one scale single-family barrier-free model house kit.” He waved his arm back at the semi-trailer and added, “Complete in this box.”

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