Percy's Mission Foreward - Chapter 4


Enter subhead content here

Percy’s Mission



Think about the events in this story as you read it. You may agree or disagree on the premise, but think about what you would do if…

Chapter 1

“Percivale George Jackson,” said Percivale George Jackson. The look on his face brooked no attempt at humor based on his name.

The DMV clerk carefully input the information into the computer fighting to control his grin. Percivale was bad enough, but the vehicle being registered was called a Unimog. What the hell kind of truck was a Unimog? Sounded like a character in Lord of the Rings. Or four of them. Percivale was licensing four Unimog trucks.

Cutting his eyes up to the tall, skinny, middle-aged man, the clerk barely managed not to laugh, again, as he took in the sight of the worn felt hat partly covering the longish, mostly brown hair. The overalls Percivale wore were nearly new. And the green plaid shirt looked new, too. He managed to keep the comment a silent statement to himself. “Must be his Sunday-go-to-Meetin’ overalls.”

He came to the purchase price of the trucks and his eyes widened and he whistled under his breath. “Wait a minute,” he said then, picking up the purchase form in his hand and looking once more at Percivale. “Is this some kind of joke? This says the trucks are Mercedes-Benz trucks. The other papers say Unimog. There is no such thing as a Mercedes truck.”

“Mercedes-Benz does make trucks. Mercedes-Benz is the parent company that makes the Unimog line of vehicles. Is there a problem or something? It usually doesn’t take this long to register and license a vehicle.” Percy maintained his calm demeanor despite the smirk on the young man’s face. The smirk had appeared the moment Percy had stepped up to the counter.

“I suppose nothing is wrong. I just have to be careful. Registering a vehicle is an important procedure. It must be done correctly. This is a somewhat out of the ordinary vehicle. I’ve never even heard of one before.”

That was enough opening for Percy. He was proud of the versatile vehicle. It had taken him almost six months to get them, once he discovered they were available. Telling someone, especially this twerpy clerk about them would be a pleasure.

“Sort of a cross between a tractor and a giant jeep,” Percy said. He realized his mistake immediately. He stopped the explanation as quickly as he’d started it.

“Tractor?” asked the clerk. “We don’t license tractors.”

Percy groaned. “It’s not a tractor… I… ah… was just kidding.” It sounded lame to Percy.

The clerk got even snootier. “I’m afraid the DMV does not appreciate such jokes. This is a serious business.”

“Yes, sir. Sorry. Sometimes I get a bee in the ol’ bonnet. It won’t happen again.” Percy heard whispers behind him after he had spoken. He turned around and looked to see what was going on. Percy groaned again.

He touched the brim of his hat. “Mornin’ Mrs. Applegate. Lovely weather we’re having, isn’t it?”

“Percivale, the weather is atrocious and you know it. That sense of humor you just told that clerk you had is just as drab as it’s ever been. Please don’t waste his time, or mine. I’m in a hurry.”

“Yes’m,” Percy said softly, turning back to the counter. Mrs. Applegate had been his third grade teacher. She was in her eighties and still scared him.

She scared the clerk even more. He knew her as the wife of a state representative. Somebody important. He quickly finished the process for Percy and handed him the four sets of license plates. He was already apologizing to Mrs. Applegate for Percy having kept her waiting as Percy stepped out of the way.

Percy sighed and headed out to the Suburban. At least the task was done. It had been a rough morning. Bernard’s wife was sick and he had to stay home to take care of her. On top of that, two of his other hands that were due back the previous day were still in Minneapolis because of yet another terrorist attack security clampdown. It was going to be at least another three days before they could get back from visiting their mother.

“Oh, well,” Percy muttered to himself, “such is life. Time to go see if Hector wants that tractor.”

He’d sold the Case tractor that one of the Unimogs was replacing to his nearest neighbor for a fair price. Percy began to grin as he climbed into the customized Chevy Suburban. “Old Hector wants that John Deere bad. I bet he’ll come across. And I got to stop talking to myself. People think I’m crazy as it is.”

He touched the brim of his floppy felt hat as Mrs. Applegate walked past, her nose in the air. “Maybe I am. Maybe I am,” he muttered before falling silent. He started the Suburban and, just to show off a bit, grabbed the joystick mounted on the special console at his right hand and activated the crab steering on the six-wheel-drive, six-wheel-steer running gear of the truck.

There was plenty of space in front of him so he just edged the truck out, parallel to the curb until he was in the street. Percy straightened the wheels and flipped the switch to go back to normal front steering. As usual, passers-by had stopped to gawk at the event. Percy tipped his hat, grinned, and headed toward Hector’s place.

An hour and a half later Percy was talking to himself again. “Yep, Hector wanted that tractor bad.” Percy had two more stops after leaving Hector’s, before he headed back to the estate. He needed to stop and collect from McAlister for the two bob trucks he’d sold him, then go back into town and deposit the checks in the bank. “And probably should stop at Jimbo’s Emporium and pick up some gold and silver out of the accounts.”

It had taken Percy a long time to get Jimbo to agree to the arrangement. After Percy had kept track of the transactions he would have done if Jimbo would do them, and Jimbo saw what he would make by doing them, he agreed. With the way the precious metals markets had been for the last few years, Percy was able to withdraw significant amounts of the gold and silver in coin form on a regular basis and still maintain trading stocks to keep accumulating more.

Grouchy old McAlister reluctantly gave Percy the check he’d promised. “Things are going to cost me a fortune with the way gasoline prices are, you know,” McAlister complained as he handed over the check.

“I know what you mean, Hiram. Diesel is almost as bad.”

“Not telling me anything I don’t already know,” replied McAlister. “Fuel for my diesel equipment is over a third of my operating budget.”

Percy’s eyebrows rose slightly. He wouldn’t have thought that Hiram McAlister even knew what a budget was.

“According to Cynthia… she’s doing my books for me now… I’m going to have to go up on my harvesting prices.”

“That explains the budget,” Percy thought. “His daughter is doing it for him.”

McAlister frowned. “I’m not so sure I should have cut that deal with you on the trucks. Even short as I am on cash, giving you two forty acre harvests, plus what cash I am giving you, I’m beginning to think I should have just done all cash.”

“Well…if your prices are going up, Hiram, I guess it’s only fair to renegotiate.”

Before he could continue, McAlister interjected, “I ain’t got any more cash to spare, Percy.”

“I know,” replied Percy. “I was thinking I’d do the hauling for one of the fields. Would that make up the difference between the old price and new?”

“You’d do that? My pricing always includes haulage. That’s why I’m buying your two trucks. I need more hauling capacity.”

“You’re a good guy, Hiram. I want you to stay in business. We made the deal before you knew you had to go up. I’m okay with absorbing some of the difference.”

“Well, gee, Percy… Thanks.”

“Sure, Hiram. Tell Cynthia I said howdy.”

“Sure thing, Percy. Sure thing.”

There was a long line at the bank. Since the federal government had restricted cash withdrawals to no more than ten percent of available balances, people were hitting the bank as often as once a day. Even with additional tellers, the line was usually long. At both banks in town. Percy kept half the money he kept in banks in each one and alternated deposits and checks. When he deposited the two checks, he withheld the allowable ten percent in cash.

“Hey, Percy,” called Camden Dupree, the assistant manager of the bank. “I hear you have a real truck farm now.”

Percy smiled over as he continued toward the door. “You could say that, I suppose, Camden.”

Several people laughed. It had become common knowledge that Percy had sold the tractors, both the bob trucks, and three other smaller trucks and planned to replace all seven units with the four Unimogs. It was a running joke. No one seemed to think the Unimogs would be able to do the work.

“Little do they know,” muttered Percy as he went through the glass double doors.

“Hey, Mr. Jackson,” said Andy Buchanan. He was a delivery driver for Wilkins Oil. That was his full time job. Andy also did quite a bit of side work. “When you gonna let me bring out the semi and fill up that tank?” With a note of pride in his voice he said, “I’ve got my CDL now.”

Andy was a good kid. “Good for you. And one of these days, Andrew. One of these days. Just my regular load this week. Five hundred gallons diesel, hundred gasoline.”

“Sure thing, Mr. Jackson. Be there Thursday as usual. Any oils or anything?”

“As a matter of fact, I was going to call and request cold weather additive. I’m afraid it may be hard to get this winter. I want to get some now in case you can’t get treated or blended fuel.”

“How much you want? A drum?”

“Enough for... the whole tank, I think. In drums. Whatever it takes to treat ten thousand gallons for thirty below.”

“Thirty below? It hasn’t been even twenty below since I was a kid.”

Andy was twenty-five. Percy remembered the last time it was twenty below, when Andy was ten. Half the equipment in the area had stopped because the diesel fuel jelled. The weather seemed to be hitting extremes the last few years. “I know, Andy. But you know me. Be prepared.”

“That’s good, Mr. Jackson. I was a boy scout. It’s a good motto. I’ll let the boss know and bring it when I come Thursday. I guess you’ll put it in yourself. You don’t want the whole batch in with just a couple thousand gallons in the tank like you usually have.”

“Oh, I know. I don’t want to waste it. I’ll add it as needed.”

“Okay, Mr. Jackson. I’ll take care of it. Uh… Would you consider loaning me one of your Rokon bikes for hunting season? There’s a spot up on Six Point I can get to on foot, but it’s too far for me to pack out a deer unless I make four trips. I doubt I’d have time… Susie said the Rokon would handle it easy.”

With a stern look on his face, Percy said, “You know I’m not much of a loaner, Andrew.”

Andy hung his head. “Yes, sir. I know. I just… uh… never mind. Sorry.”

Percy grinned. “But I tell you what. You give me a shank of whatever you get, and a couple of mallards, if you get any, and you can use one of the Rokons.”

“Sure, Mr. Jackson! Sure! And… gee… I always get a few ducks during the season. Two is guaranteed. Thanks.”

With a wave of acknowledgement, Percy turned toward the Suburban.

“Oh. Uh… Mr. Jackson? Would you tell Susie I… uh… said hello?”

Another grin split Percy’s face. “Sure thing, Andrew. I’ll tell her.”

“Thanks again, Mr. Jackson.” Andy walked off with a jaunty step.

It didn’t take long at Jimbo’s place. He kept Percy’s precious metals holdings in plastic coin tubes. He always transferred enough for his commission to his own set of tubes when he made a transaction for Percy.

“I still can’t quite figure why this works,” Jimbo told Percy, as he handed him a tube of tenth ounce gold Eagles and a tube of pre-1964 silver quarters and two tubes of pre-1964 silver dimes after Percy had checked the accounts. Percy did his own tally every day when he checked the commodities markets on line. Jimbo’s numbers always matched his.

“I’m glad it does, though. I make a nice little commission off you. Plus, it’s allowed me to increase my gold and silver stocks quite a bit for the business. I’m selling the occasional bullion coin to other people besides just you. What do you do with yours, anyway?”

It was a very impolite question, but Jimbo was Jimbo. “I just like gold and silver. Do give a few away as presents on birthdays and Christmas.” It was the truth. Just not the whole truth. He had given a few away, but not very many. Most were in several different stashes and caches he had here and there.

To divert Jimbo, Percy asked, “What’s the future look like, Jimbo? Things going to drop or keep climbing?” It didn’t matter to Percy. His system was based on the differential in price between the metals, not the actual price. But Jimbo fancied himself as a gifted predictor of the metals market.

“Up, Purse, up. At least for some time. The way the world is now… well… you see the news just like me.”

“Yeah. Well, Jimbo, keep that trading stock stashed for me, if you will. Never know when I might need it to bail myself out. You know what they’re saying about me and my trucks.”

“Yeah. Well, I don’t care if you are crazy.”

“Uh… Thanks, Jimbo. I’ll see you later.”

“Okay, Purse.”

Percy shook his head on the way out to the truck, the gold and silver in his pocket. “Jimbo sure is Jimbo, no getting around it.”

It was just after three in the afternoon when Percy got back to his estate. He checked in with his housekeeper, Mattie.

“Nothin’ going on, Mr. Jackson. Smooth as silk all day. When’s the twins getting back? Need a little help with moving the furniture for spring cleaning.”

“Another three days. What are you planning for supper?”

“Meat loaf. That okay?”

“You know I love meatloaf. I need to go out and check with Randy. See how those equipment modifications are going.”

“Yes, sir. I’ll leave things ready for you. I need to leave at five. Susie has to get in to the city to do a little shopping.”

“Okay. I’ll see you in the morning.”

Percy walked out to the equipment barn. A one-ton truck set up as a welding truck was parked amidst what looked like a jumble of equipment. Percy knew the jumble was organized to Randy’s satisfaction, even if Percy couldn’t quite see the logic. Besides the four Unimogs, a whole array of agricultural equipment was there.

Seeing Percy come up, Randy stopped the motion to drop his welding hood into place and sat down on the piece of equipment he was working on.

“How’s it coming, Randy?”

“Fine, Mr. Jackson. I’ll be finished tomorrow evening. Most of this was easy. I checked every piece of three-point hitch equipment on all the trucks. Everything works perfectly. I’m almost finished with the adapter for the hoe. No reason it won’t attach and work just fine on the ‘Mogs, too, like it did on the Case and JD. They have plenty of hydraulic power for it. With the other stuff you bought for them, I’m surprised you didn’t just buy a backhoe made to fit ‘em.”

“Already had this one. No need to buy something I already have.”

Randy surveyed the equipment. “Yeah. Right.” He’d been very skeptical of using a truck as a farm implement for anything except as a tool to haul things around. But having worked with the Unimogs the past few days, he’d changed his mind. Once he’d installed the three point hitches on the trucks, which had been shipped separately, and tried some of the farm equipment, he became convinced that the combination would work. And work well.

There’d only been a few modifications to make on some of the equipment. Mostly for the PTO powered equipment. Some of them needed lengthened shafts or adapter shafts to hook up properly to the rear PTO on the trucks. Adding big mirrors to some of the implements to improve visibility of critical operations from the cab of the truck had been easy. Just a lot of in and out of the cab to make the angle adjustments after the mirrors had been installed.

Part of the reason everything had been so easy was the Unimog trucks themselves. With the set of attachments Percy had for them, like the front forks to lift things with, he’d never even rigged up the A-frame on his welding truck. And that didn’t even consider the contribution that Percy’s Utility/Service truck made to the operation.

It had an articulated, telescoping aerial man lift with a ladder back and material handling winch, in addition to all the other normal equipment. The lift could reach almost fifty feet at maximum extension. Not to mention the fact that with the articulation, it could reach below ground level. Randy wasn’t sure why Percy might need that feature, but it was inherent in the design of the lift.

For anything the material winch on the arm couldn’t lift, there was a fifteen-ton capacity hydraulic boom mounted on the right rear corner of the bed. The bed had significant open area, though that was reduced somewhat with the mounting for the aerial arm. There were plenty of toolboxes and room for the lube and fuel hose rack and barrels of lube. Randy wasn’t sure why the diesel and gasoline fueling tanks were so large. They were five times larger than normal for a combination mechanic’s and lube truck.

Of course, there was no doubt the truck could carry everything efficiently. It was a long Kenworth chassis with tandem steering axles and three rear axles. Unlike most similar trucks, which had only a single steering axle and, at most, two rear driven axles, this one had driven steering axles as well as having all three rear axles driven, which were also steering axles. Also unlike most similar trucks, that used duals on the real axles, Percy was using the same high flotation single tires on the three rear axles as were on the front axles.

As for power, the big Caterpillar engine developed five hundred horsepower. More than adequate for everything the truck was capable of doing. Even with a full load, Randy was convinced that the ground pressure would be half of normal and the truck still could run at highway speeds.

Percy had several trailers for use with the utility/service truck, in clouding a heavy-duty three-axle equipment trailer. It was equipped with the same tires as the truck. It was a tilt bed, and had a winch. It could be used to haul the Unimogs around, if one of them broke down. That didn’t seem very likely.

“Okay, Randy. Keep up the good work. And be thinking about that trade I was talking about.”

“I really need cash, Mr. Jackson. But I will think about it,” responded Randy. He flipped the welding hood down and struck an arc as Percy headed into the equipment barn.

Checking over one of the four Rokon two wheel drive motorbikes racked against one side of the barn, Percy selected one, pulled the starting rope and headed out of the barn. He entered the fenced pathway that connected the animal barn with the four pastures that Percy used in turn to feed and work the animals. He rolled up to the gate at the third pasture, opened it, went through, and then re-closed the gate. He could see Susie and the Bobcat 5600T Toolcat utility vehicle she was driving at the far side of the pasture. It looked like the entire pack of Airedales was with her. She must be letting the adults train the pups in stock handling. He noted as he went past that the salt and mineral blocks were in the rack near the pasture entrance to the animal barn.

Since he wasn’t wearing a helmet, Percy kept the speed down as he went to meet Susie. He swung wide and came around to approach Susie from the front, stopping next to the pipe fence several feet ahead of her.

Susie swung clear of him and stopped the Bobcat. “Hey, boss. What’s up?” The adult dogs and older pups flopped down to rest. The pups cavorted around the Rokon, seeking Percy’s attention.

Percy patted each in turn as he spoke. “Just passing on a message. Young Andrew Buchanan asked me to tell you he said hi. So hi from Andrew.”

A pretty blush covered Susie’s cheeks. “Thank you, Mr. Jackson. I’ll tell him you told me. The next time I see him.”

“Okey Dokey. Go ahead and knock off early if you want. Your mother said you needed to go into the city. Looks like all your major work is done, anyway.”

“Yeah. I was heading out to do some training with the dogs. I kind of wanted the pups to watch the adults do a little herding. The cattle and horses saw me coming and headed for the far end of the pasture. Ornery rascals seem to be able to read my mind.”

“I think that’s a two way street. You sure have a way with the animals. I appreciate you working for me. I know you could get a much better job in town.” Queenie got up and came over to him. He scratched the dam behind her ears just the way she liked it.

“Better is relative,” replied the young redheaded woman. “The money is actually very good. Thank you again for that, by the way. But this is giving me great hands-on experience with animals. It’s a big help in my studies for vet assistant. And since Doc lives next to you, and you let me go over every time he says he has something interesting that I might like to see, no matter what I’m doing, I’m quite happy here, thank you very much.”

Percy grinned. “Okay. Have it your way. I never argue with a woman. Well. Almost never. Just let the dogs move the animals to the barn end of the pasture and you and your Mom go do your shopping. I’m going out to dig the post holes for the surround for the irrigation pump.”

“You want the 5600 so you can take the poles with you?”

Percy grinned again. “No thanks. I’ll use the A300. I wouldn’t deprive you of the opportunity to learn how to put up a real fence tomorrow, since the boys aren’t back till this weekend.”

“You are so kind, boss.”

“Yeah. I know.”

Susie whistled for the dogs, to get them to follow her instead of Percy. The adults would have anyway. They knew they were out to herd the stock. The pups would follow the adults. Percy headed back to get the companion machine to the two Bobcat 5600T Utility vehicles he owned. It was a loader/utility vehicle made by Bobcat. Bobcat also made the utility vehicle Susie was using. Both were four-wheel drive, four-wheel steer units. The Bobcat A300 could also be used as a skid steer, though they seldom did.

Like the Unimogs, the Bobcat 5600T utility vehicle had a dump bed, rear attachment points, and front lift arms. The Unimogs didn’t have the lift arms as part of the permanent structure, though he had two sets for the trucks that could be quickly attached and detached when needed to carry part of the variety of attachments useable by the Unimogs. The 5600T was just a lot smaller than the trucks.

The Bobcat A300 was a bit shorter than the 5600T. It didn’t have a cargo bed. It could handle a wider variety of attachments than the utility vehicle, though. One of the attachments either could use was a hydraulic posthole digger, which is what Percy quickly hooked up to the A300 when he returned to the equipment barn. He waved at Randy as Randy coiled up his welding cables in preparation to going home.

It didn’t take long for Percy to get the holes dug. The weather was fine at the moment, so he hadn’t bothered bringing tarps to cover them. By the time he got back to the building complex and put away the Bobcat, then checked on the animals, it was somewhat past suppertime.

But no matter if he was a little late. There was no one there to scold him. He’d almost married once, but the potential wife had decided she didn’t want to be a conventional farmer’s wife. “I’m not really all that conventional, you know,” muttered Percy as he thought about what might have been. “Just ask anyone. Oh, well. Water under the bridge. Man, this looks and smells good.”

After his meal, Percy had one pipe of tobacco on the roof deck of the earth-sheltered dome that was his house. He enjoyed a snifter of cognac in the library/den as he watched the news. He turned in early, feeling a bit uneasy at the world situation. Terrorism might have replaced the cold war in most people’s minds as the big danger in their lives, but it sure looked like there were still some warlike leaders in a few nations. And the weather wasn’t looking too good, either. He wasn’t going to be able to wait until the twins got back to start ground preparation for spring planting.

Percy’s alarm went off at four-thirty the next morning. Knowing Mattie would be there by six he showered, dressed, and went out to check the animals. An hour later the four milk cows were contentedly finishing their feed after having their udders’ stocks of milk reduced.

The milk was in the chiller, ready for pick up by Brian Epstein on his way in to the city. So were the fresh eggs from the hens. Brian got a calf from Percy every year as payment for stopping to pick up Percy’s milk and eggs to take to town with his own. He made a daily trip to the local dairy and went right by Percy’s place on the way.

Percy had tilled forty acres with the one of the Unimogs before he stopped to have breakfast. There was a big grin on his face when he entered the kitchen of the house.

Susie cut him an impish grin. “Musta’ worked, huh, Boss?”

“Like a charm. And you knew it would, just as did I, Missy. Hand me the eggs.”

Mattie Simpson and Susie had their breakfast at the main house, with Percy, as was their usual custom. Percy had insisted, since they started so early. “There’s no reason to cook for two, then for just one. It’s easier to cook for three. I’ll supply the food as part of your wages. How’s that?” he’d asked the day Mattie started working for him so many years before. At the same wages as he’d intended, even without the food thrown in. She was a newly widowed single mother. He figured it was the least he could do. And it had worked well over the years.

The Simpsons lived in one of the three other houses that were part of the building complex of the estate. The twins lived in another and the third was vacant at the moment. Two of Percy’s other hands lived nearby so didn’t need the third house. Bernard lived in the bunkhouse when he was working. The housing was part of their pay. They took another part of their pay in estate-produced goods, in addition to cash. All the hands did, getting truck farm produce, items from the household garden that Mattie tended, and meat and dairy products from the cattle, pigs, and chickens that were part of the estate animal population.

Percy had fallen into bartering many years earlier, when he was a very young man trying to hang on to the family farm. He was a natural born horse trader, as the locals told him. He’d been quite successful in his barters and other endeavors, pulling the farm out of debt and turning it into the estate it now was.

About the only thing original from the old place was the ground itself. His mother had inherited three hundred twenty acres from her grandparents. He’d traded for and bought more.

Percy now owned a full section that was the estate. One square mile. Six hundred forty acres in one parcel. He had almost another thousand acres in forty and eighty acre plots around the county but he leased them to other farmers for the cash flow and some trading of stud services for his animals. He liked to maintain genetic diversity in his stock and outside stud services was one way to accomplish that. He also traded for products he didn’t produce himself.

All the buildings were earth-sheltered structures. Even the six big green houses were bermed up to where the polycarbonate panels started and they were connected to an earth-sheltered barn. His utility bills, except for liquid fuels, weren’t that much more than they’d been when he took over the operation after his parents’ deaths thirty years before.

Percy was thinking about early retirement now, at only fifty-one. He’d built the place to what he’d dreamed as a young man it could be. He had a good crew and the operation was turning a nice profit even after deducting the operating expenses and the principle and interest of the few loans still outstanding for the improvements he’d been making almost from day one. He also had a very nice nest egg.

His parents had not been into preparedness and self-sufficiency, being more the squandering type. They’d let the farm go to pot, after they’d inherited it. They preferred just collecting income from leasing the arable land. When they died in a car crash caused by his father’s drinking and driving when Percy was barely twenty, the bank account was empty.

Percy dropped out of college and came back to the farm with what little money he’d saved from working while he was at Iowa State. Not until he got the first monies from one of the local farms leasing the land was he able to start making the changes he wanted. This included farming the land himself, including cultivating some non-traditional crops for the area.

Percy began a truck farm on the few acres of land not under lease. Then, as the leases expired, he didn’t lease the acreage out again. Instead, he took over the farming himself, hiring one, then a second hand. By the time he bought and traded for the additional land he now owned, the estate was beginning to take on the look it now had.

Most in the area considered him totally eccentric. They couldn’t fathom how he’d been successful enough to gain some of what they considered his toys, as he’d heard many a time. Things like the customized Suburban. He’d had the axles replaced with heavier ones, and added a third, all steerable, to create the six-wheeled rig he privately referred to as Rufus.

Not that many had even seen the Kenworth truck based motor home he only used occasionally. The vehicle was similar to the mechanic’s utility/service truck as far as the chassis, running gear and power train were concerned. Where similar converted motor homes costing millions of dollars were equipped with queen sized beds, marble counters and tubs, fancy faucets and fixtures, Percy’s was a lot less luxurious and more utilitarian, therefore much less expensive and very maneuverable.

As one person who had seen his house and the motorhome put it, The Beast was like his home, only without the dirt walls. A bit austere, but very comfortable. And with the custom-built barge trailer The Beast pulled, it was amphibious. It took less than ten minutes to unfold and rig up, back it into the water, un-hook, then back aboard the barge, ready to go. The wheels of The Beast normally powered the barge, though it had a pair of Mercury outboard motors that would propel it empty at speeds of twenty miles and hour or more.

The Kenworth utility/service truck would also fit. Since The Beast could tow the trailers the utility/service truck usually pulled, at least for short distances, the trailers could be transported on the barge, too. So could the semi trailers used with the third Kenworth truck Percy had. He had dollies so the utility/service truck and The Beast could pull the semi trailers using their pintle hitches.

The semi tractor was set up the same way as the utility truck and The Beast, with five steerable axles with single high floatation tires rather than duals. It had a large sleeper suite and was equipped with an equipment winch, rolling tailboard, pintle hitch, and interchangeable fifth wheel and king pin plates so it could tow any type of large trailer.

Percy had a reefer trailer, tilt deck equipment trailer, flatbed trailer, a stock trailer, two convertible floor trailers that were useable as box trailers or grain trailers, a live floor canvas top box trailer primarily for silage, and a curtain wall trailer. All were three axle trailers with high flotation tires, except the equipment trailer, which had four axles. It too had the same tires the other trucks and large trailers used.

Knowing that the fuel situation was going to get worse, Percy had ordered two additional dollies and two seven thousand gallon tank semi trailers, set up the same as the other trailers. Both tank trailers were stainless steel, with multiple compartments. It wasn’t necessary for the fuel, but Percy intended to use one for water and it was easier to order identical trailers. He’d received a significant discount. Percy had already used his smaller three-axle pull behind water trailer to haul drinking water to both drought and flood victims in recent months.

Percy finished his breakfast and headed out to meet his other two hands while Susie helped her mother with a few chores before she headed to the animal barn. Randy was at work again, but didn’t need any of the Unimogs for a while, so Percy trained John Jacobson and Smitty Smith on the use of the Unimogs for tilling. They’d have all the ground they intended to put into cultivation that year ready by the next day, excluding the ten acres they were working with the animal teams this particular year.

Susie would have the ten acres plowed and disked in a few days working the four Clydesdale draft horses in teams of two on alternate days. They wanted to break the teams back in slowly after the light work they’d done over the winter. The plan had been for Jim and Bob Hansen to work the teams together, but the work required doing now, before the weather changed.

The way the weather was shaping up, the Hansen twins might be getting back in the middle of a late blizzard. Somehow, that didn’t seem that unusual any more.

Percy took care of the small chore work as the day progressed, lending Randy a hand from time to time, as well. As he’d promised, Randy had completed his work by the end of the day. Percy gave him a check, and the barter slip he printed up on the computer for the bartered items Randy had finally agreed to take in partial payment.

The slip had the value of the items listed for tax reasons. It was up to the people he bartered with to report the income or not on their taxes. He made it easy with the three part barter records. He gave one copy to the barter partner and kept two copies.

When whoever it was redeemed the item in question, Percy signed off one of his copies and gave it to the person for their tax records. He kept the third slip and the one they turned in to claim the barter, if they had it. He’d never reneged on a barter because they’d lost their original copy. That was the reason for the third slip. So he’d have one to keep for his records if they lost the first copy.

Randy had decided to take nine tenths of the pay in cash and the other tenth in produce over the next few weeks. Food shipments were getting sporadic, with everything going on. There was plenty of food, just not necessarily what you might want, especially fresh produce. Most of the farms in the area were production farms, mostly corn, milo, oats, and rye. His was one of the few truck farms still left that sold all its products locally. His greenhouse produce was much in demand during the winter. It all went to the local grocery stores, a specialty store in the city, and the co-op outlet, as did much of his commercial truck farm produce.

Some of his other property was leased out on shares and grew commercial crops, using his equipment. Conventional farming equipment. Each place had a barn and the equipment needed to farm it, except for harvesting. That he contracted for those fields.

The next day, after he’d milked the cows and collected the eggs, Percy tilled the three acre plot that would be this year’s outside garden plot. He then prepped the next section of growing containers in the second green house. While things grew year round in the greenhouses, like the open fields of the estate, Percy insisted on rotating use of everything. Some areas lay fallow, others were pasture and hay fields. Other fields were planted with cash crops and estate use crops, mostly animal feed and bio-diesel oil crops.

Even the garden plot rotated on four sections of ground, a different three acres being used for the garden; while the other three lay fallow, grew ground cover, or was the recipient of estate produced compost, mulch, and animal waste, each plot in turn, just like the big fields.

It didn’t take long to till the three acres using the Bobcat A300 with the tiller attachment. He switched to the bucket and spread the winter’s accumulation of compost from one of the three compost bins. They’d start letting that bin accumulate again. The second bin had ready to use compost in it, too. They’d use it as needed. Prepping the greenhouse beds took even less time than tilling the outside garden.

It was barely noon when Percy was done with those particular chores. The rest of the day he spent transferring the animal waste from the barn storage bins to the fallow fields using one of the Unimogs to pull the manure spreader and honey wagon. He also had time to fire up the Kenworth utility/service truck and use the aerial bucket to prune the trees that needed it.

The nut trees needed a little work. Percy kept the fruit trees in good shape, so they needed only minor touch up pruning that spring. It would have been easier with another person to drive the truck after he let the bucket down, but he climbed out of the bucket and moved the truck every eight trees, working four trees on each side of the pathway as he went between two rows of trees.

John and Smitty cleaned up the trimmings afterwards and ran them through the chipper, adding the material to the mulch pile that was building. He distributed the garden goods to the four at the end of the day. Part of Mattie’s duties was preparing the bounty for distribution each day before everyone went to their respective homes.

Percy took the dogs up to the roof patio of the house with him for his evening smoke. The adults lay contentedly on the bedding that was set out there for them as Percy and Susie put the pups through their training. They were coming along nicely. The two older pups were essentially fully trained. The four younger ones from this year’s litter were weaned and taking to the training as well as their older siblings. Percy had already decided which two of the four he planned to keep, but wanted all of them trained to the best of his ability before he sent them to their new homes.

The Airedales he bred were known far and wide for their intelligence and physical attributes. He kept the best of each litter unless that particular year was an outside stud year. Often as not, he wound up keeping the best of the litter anyway, in his opinion.

The other breeders he cross-bred his dogs with often took a pup that he felt was second best. But they often chose on coloring and confirmation only, as they showed their dogs. His were working dogs. They hunted and worked the herds equally well, in addition to the companionship they provided for those living on the estate.

He’d had to put Eda down the previous year. She’d been a prize dam, throwing good pups. The two older pups were both females, out of Eda, from an outside stud dog. He’d breed one with Rip and the other with Lion when they were ready. That would keep the diversity he liked in his animals. With two females from Queenie, also by a different outside stud, he’d be able to produce several litters before he needed outside stud services for the Airedales again.

Lion, Queenie, and Rip had the run of the estate at night. They kept the pups kenneled at night. Susie took the pups with her to put in the kennel when Mattie called up that she was done and ready to go to their cottage.

Percy passed on the cognac that evening, concentrating on the news and weather channels on the satellite TV system. The world situation sure wasn’t any better, and the weather forecast for the Midwest was worse. Percy suddenly wasn’t sure the boys would make it back that weekend. On sudden impulse he checked the Internet for car dealerships in Minneapolis. It took only a few minutes to decide on a used Jeep nearly identical to the one the boys owned.

He called them and told them to go down to the particular dealership and pick up the Jeep and just drive back. Percy would pay for it with a credit card over the phone the next morning by the time their mother could drop them off at the dealership. “You should be able to get a refund on your tickets because of the mandated flight shut down,” he told them. “Pick up what you need with that money and I’ll reimburse you for your expenses on the way down, since I’m asking you to do this, and I’ll be keeping the Jeep.”

Percy went to bed feeling a littler easier about things. It’d be Sunday by the time they got home. At least he knew they would get back. Sunday would be the first day they could fly, and that wasn’t a sure thing.

The next morning Percy put on his best suit, the charcoal gray one, after getting the cows milked and the eggs collected. He gulped the juice Mattie handed him, but declined the rest of the breakfast. “Too nervous to eat,” he told the grinning Mattie and the giggling Suzie.

“You’re gonna do just fine, you old codger,” Mattie said, handing him his gray fedora. “This isn’t the first time you’ve spoken before the state Emergency Management Agency.

“Yeah,” Percy said dryly, “But this is the first time they might actually be listening. Always before they just thanked me and sent me packing. There’s meetings scheduled for after my presentation already.”

Suzie quit giggling. “Mr. Jackson, what you’ve been saying for years… it’s starting to make sense to a lot of people. I never think about that stuff very much, because I live here and grew up around you. Everything you do has an element of preparedness to it. I know people still make fun of you for some of your ways, but don’t let that stop you. People need to think about this stuff and start doing something. I had the news on when I was getting ready this morning and Pakistan and India are into it again over that border issue. It’s scary.”

Percy frowned. “I know. I watched several reports early this morning.” He forced a smile. “But don’t worry, Susie. You’re right. We are about as prepared as we can be here.” With a bit more of a sincere smile on his face he said, “If you want to talk to Andrew about having a place out here if something were to happen… even weather related, like last winter… feel free. He can stay here if you or your mother aren’t comfortable with him staying at your cottage.”

Susie blushed, “Oh, Mr. Jackson! I couldn’t!” She glanced over at her mother. “Could I?”

“You’re twenty-three, sweetie. Old enough to make up your mind about such things,” replied her mother.

Suddenly Percy was grinning mischievously. “If there’s anyone you want to talk to about staying out here in times of trouble, feel free, Mattie.”

Mattie didn’t and she wasn’t going to let Percy get away with the teasing. “Oh, no one really special. But I was thinking, since you brought it up, about talking to Sara McLain to see if she needs a safe place… just in case, you know.”

Again Susie giggled, due to Percy’s sudden look of panic and very red face. “I… uh… don’t think that would be such a good idea…”

“True,” Mattie said, quite matter-of-factly. “Probably should come from you. You being master of the estate and all.” She grinned.

“You just make sure you don’t annoy her in some way.”

Mattie continued to grin. “Of course not, Mr. Jackson. I would never do that.”

“Just see that you don’t,” Percy said, rather gruffly. “I don’t need any help with… anything.”

Both women were chuckling when Percy headed out the door.

“Are you okay, Boss?” Susie asked when Percy came in a little after noon. “You look a little funny.”

Percy did look a bit dazed, Mattie decided.

“Yeah. Yeah. I’m fine. It’s just… Well, they asked me to put together some more comprehensive recommendations for the Agency with some other people. They want it within two months. Shouldn’t take us that long.”

The two women saw a bit of red come to Percy’s cheeks.

“And… well… Sara’s office was closed because of the rolling blackout so she came to the meeting, too. She volunteered to be on the committee.”

“Won’t that be a conflict of interest since she’s Equalization Agent for this district?” asked Susie.

“Not since she is an official state member of the committee. There are a couple more state employees.” Percy sighed then. “A couple more local citizens. Jeb Canada and Abigail Landro.”

“Ooh,” responded Mattie.

Susie looked at her mother. “What?”

“Jeb’s the one that tried to foreclose on the farm right after Mr. and Mrs. Jackson died. And Abigail… just sort of… doesn’t like Mr. Jackson.”

“That’s enough, Mattie. That’s all in the past. We’re all just citizens, trying to do what’s best for the majority without hurting anyone. Now, I need to change and check the fields. It’s shaping up to rain.”

“Don’t you want some lunch?” Mattie asked, not bothered in the least by Percy’s minor admonishment.

“Sara and I grabbed a burger after the meeting.”

When Mattie and Susie grinned at him, he harrumphed and left the kitchen.

Rain it did, but no snow. Springtime storms, but a notch or two more extreme than what used to be considered normal. Percy was glad he had gone ahead and prepped the fields. Even with the severity of the weather at the moment, the rain was good. There was some runoff into the collection canal that ran along three sides of the property, with each field being graded to drainage ditches that emptied into the canal. There wasn’t much water in the irrigation holding pond the canal fed. The fields had soaked up the rain like sponges. It had been a very dry winter.

The severity of the drought had been worse the last few years, interspersed with some of these downpours. Percy didn’t waste water. That was the reason for the canal around the property. To capture excess rainwater and hold it in a pond. The irrigation wells were only to supplement rain during the driest times.

Of course, the canal served another purpose, which Percy didn’t talk about much. With the pipe fence around three sides of the estate that had blackberry brambles growing along it, just inside the canal, and the thick stand of trees that also bordered the estate inside the brambles, getting onto Percy’s property was very difficult. A gated drive on each of the sides and back of the estate cut the triple barrier.

The front of the estate, along the highway, also had a fence, but it was an earth berm, faced with a concrete block and brick wall. Two sets of gates served the expansive circle driveway and parking area. The road ditch substituted for the canal around the other three sides of the estate. The front also had a stand of trees, though no blackberries. Instead, the berm was terraced and planted with strawberries, another cash crop for Percy.

Each of the front entries had heavy rolling gates that closed the driveway. They were on automatic openers, but Percy kept them open most of the time anyway. It would take a concerted effort to enter the property by destroying a gate. To get through the barriers would take heavy equipment, such as a bulldozer, and quite a bit of time. And all it looked like was good farm management. The trees were windbreaks and source of firewood. The blackberries were a major cash crop. The canal conserved a precious resource. Water.

Percy smiled as he surveyed the pond. If they got much additional rain the next few weeks, the pond would be well on the way to being full. He checked the well and pump at the edge of the pond. If need be, he could fill the pond, and the entire canal, with extra water for irrigation if they had another drought year, as they’d had the year before.

By the time Percy had checked everything, spent some time with the horses and dogs, it was evening. He paid everyone, in cash, and let them off early. Two days after the rain stopped they’d start planting.

The Hansen twins made it home on Sunday, the same day the rain stopped. Percy trained them on the new equipment Monday and Tuesday, waiting for the fields to be right for planting. Percy had the first committee meeting Tuesday evening, in a meeting room in the civic center, in town. It did not go well. Even Sara was a bit aghast at the scope of things Percy had in mind.

She supported the idea, but being a state employee, was very budget conscious. A couple of the others simply wanted some pamphlets printed. It was going to take the full two months to work something out among the group, after all, Percy decided.

“You… uh… want to get some dinner?” Percy asked Sara as they gathered up the papers that Percy had worked so hard on preparing for the committee. He put them in his briefcase, closed it, and snapped the latches.

“I can’t, Percy,” Sara said, watching his face closely. “Jeb needs an appraisal on some property tomorrow. I need to get back to the city and get some sleep. Having dinner will put me too late.”

A tiny inner smile formed when Sara saw the quick frown cross Percy’s face. It was quickly gone, the usual bland look back, as Percy said, “I understand.” There was a moment’s hesitation before Percy spoke again.

“I know this is quite a jaunt for you. We will have some of the meetings in the city, instead here in town, you know. It’s a shame you need to drive back, especially since you have to come back out tomorrow.”

“Well, tomorrow is on the state, of course.”

“Isn’t this?” Percy asked.

“Committee work like this isn’t on the expense account. I use my own car and have to pay for my own meals and things. That’s the reason I’m not staying at the motel tonight. I can’t spare the money.”

The words were out of his mouth before he thought about it. “You should come out and stay at the house tonight. That way you’d only have to make the one drive back and you could get an early start, finish up with Canada quickly, and get back to the city early tomorrow. Mattie’s making pot roast tonight.” He suddenly looked chagrinned at what he’d suggested. “I mean… you know… but if you need to go back…”

Sara cut him off, quickly. “Why thank you, Percy. That’s sweet of you. I’ll be able to expense the trip back, since I’m working here tomorrow. That will save me half my fuel expense for this meeting.”

“Oh. Uh… Thanks. No problem. I’d… uh… better call Mattie and have her get a guest room and bath ready.”

“It’ll be nice to see Mattie again. It’s been a long time since we’ve talked. How is Susie?”

“Fine,” replied Percy as they headed for the front doors of the small civic center the town boasted. “She is marvelous with the animals. She keeps insisting her ambition is to be a vet assistant, but I think she’ll go ahead and go to vet school and get her license. I hate to loose her, either way, but with her natural talent and intelligence, she’d make a fine vet.

“I doubt she’d stay here. The Doc is well established and I don’t think the area could support two large animal vets. Susie wouldn’t be satisfied with just cats, dogs, and birds. Plus, I think she’s getting the urge to get married. She’s… uh… never mind.”

Sara just smiled. Percy didn’t like conversations about marriage. She didn’t either, for that matter. At least she hadn’t. That was changing a bit now. Her first marriage had not gone well, but that didn’t mean all marriages were bad. Not when you had the right partner. When she took Percy’s arm as they left the building he didn’t pull away or comment.

Percy handed Sara into her car after opening the door and then shut it after saying, “Just follow me out. They’re working on a couple of intersections on the way out. Be careful of the construction zones.”

“I will, Percy. I will.” Sara wasn’t going to let anything interfere with this opportunity.

He used his cell phone to let Mattie know they were having a guest. He heard Mattie chuckle as she was in the process of hanging up the phone. “Lord,” Percy said, looking up at the roof of the cab of the truck, “don’t let Mattie get started on middle age marriages. She doesn’t have any room to talk, anyway.”

Mattie was the soul of discretion. Not one word was uttered about marriage of any kind during the meal. In fact, Mattie made herself scarce as soon as she served the meal. “Just leave the dishes. I’ll do them tomorrow. I… uh… need to do something at home. With Susie. Dessert’s in the freezer.”

“But…” That was all Percy had a chance to say. Mattie was out the door.

Sara smiled over at Percy and patted his hand where it lay on the table. “Don’t worry, Percy. You’re safe. I’m not the pushy type. You know that.”

“Yeah,” Percy said, visibly relaxing. “That’s true. You’re the nicest woman I know about stuff like that. About everything, actually.”

Percy was putting his napkin on his lap and didn’t see the huge grin that split Sara’s face. It was down to a smile when he looked up and over at her. “I could tell you were not comfortable with some of my ideas at the meeting, but you expressed your doubts in a very non-confrontational way.”

“Unlike Jeb and Abigail,” commented Sara, as she started to eat.

“They are just expressing their opinions, just like I was, I know. And I’m willing to discuss everything. I’m not trying to push my ideas on anyone. I just want to help.”

“I know, Percy. I know. Don’t worry. The committee will come to some type of decision. It’s just going to take some conversation and negotiation.”

“I’m not too good of a negotiator,” protested Percy.

“Don’t give me that,” Sara said. “You are a consummate negotiator. You have ten percent of the local population bartering, Percy, simply because you are so successful at it. You make good deals that benefit you and the other party as well. That’s what negotiation is all about. Both parties getting what they want.”

“But everyone basically wants much more than they wind up getting.”

“Perhaps, but they are very satisfied with what they get or they wouldn’t agree to the barter. Now hush and eat your roast. I want to watch the news. My cousin Cliff is going to Germany next week. He’s in an artillery battery. I want to see what the situation is over there now. I keep hearing some bad things are going on in Europe.”

“Don’t worry. I’m sure he’ll be fine. The German situation… well, it’s not good, but I doubt anything will happen any time soon.”

“I hope so. I’m very worried about what’s going on in the world. More so the effects of global warming and the weather. That’s why I wanted on the committee. People need to realize the possible dangers.

This time it was Percy who patted Sara’s hand. She took the opportunity to move it and grasp his for a quick squeeze. “Thanks, Percy. You always make me feel better about these things.”

Percy didn’t hesitate. “You know, if things were to get bad, you will always have a place here on the estate. We’re fairly well prepared for most situations that are likely to occur.” Realizing what he was saying, Percy quickly added. “There’s always the third cottage. It’s not being used at the moment.”

It was good enough for Sara, even with the slight back pedaling Percy had done. “Why, thank you, Percy. That means a lot to me. I will definitely keep it in mind.” Sara wasn’t particularly worried about needing to be here because of the situations Percy was referring to, but it was a start to having a place here for other reasons.

The news wasn’t particularly good when they watched first one, then another of the news channels. German politics were drifting more to the right. They were becoming much more nationalistic and showing much less enthusiasm for the European Union. France was being even more obtuse than usual about everything.

Sara stopped Percy as they left the study and gave him a quick bus on the cheek after she thanked him for letting her stay the night instead of going all the way back into the city, then coming back the next day.

When she’d gone into the bedroom, Percy sighed and went back into the den. He’d put on a good front, but he was worried about the world situation, both politically and weather wise. There’d been a short report on a new study of the salinity of the North Atlantic. Percy knew the dangers that posed. If the North Atlantic became fresher, the heavier saline waters of the Gulf Stream would sink and Europe and much of North America would lose the benefits of the warm waters it provided.

Percy was a bit distracted the next morning. Sara and Mattie exchanged a quick look when Percy bid them good morning and headed out the door. He made a point to fill Sara’s fuel tank with gasoline. She was down to a third of a tank in the Honda hybrid she drove. She would have needed to fuel up in town before she went back to the city. Fuel was nearly seventy cents higher in town than it was in the city. It wasn’t much, but he was saving her at least ten dollars. On her salary, every dollar counted.

When he’d finished with refueling Sara’s car, he walked back to the estate’s tank farm. It was time to pump methane from the number two methane generator to the storage tank. When the transfer was finished, Percy drained the liquid from the generator and added it to the honey wagon, then transferred the solid waste to the compost pile. He was well into the process when he saw the hands head to the fields, ready to start planting. Percy knew the process was in good hands and turned back to his work.

He was transferring the depleted mash from number one alcohol still to a stock feed holding tank when Susie stopped by to tell him she was going over to Doc’s to help with a foaling.

“Okay, Susie. Let Doc know two of the cows are coming into estrus soon. We’ll need his bull’s services in a few days.”

“Okay. I’ll see if he has any semen ready or will need to get a fresh batch.”

“Good. Good luck with the foaling. I know that mare. She’s a problem.”

“That’s what Doc said. It’ll be good experience for me.”

Percy added the accumulation of animal waste from the barn to the methane generator and lowered the cover into place. It was ready to start generating methane gas again. He checked the number one generator. It was operating nicely. The cover dome was about halfway up. It’d be a few more days before he needed to transfer the methane from it and reload it with fresh material.

He refilled number one still with fresh mash and started it. Like the methane operation, Percy checked the second still. It was producing well and the second stage supplied by the two primary stills was running just fine as well. The thousand-gallon double distilled alcohol storage tank was nearly full. The methane tank, also of a thousand gallon capacity was about half. With the increased waste production from newborn animals, it would be full by mid spring and the compost pit would be full, too.

It was time to make another pickup run to gather the manure and liquid wastes from the dozen farms with which Percy had arrangements. Percy took the accumulated waste from the farms for it, so the farms wouldn’t have to deal with it. His only expense was transportation, and he had the equipment, anyway, including trailers to haul the waste. He already had most of the trailers he would be pulling behind the Unimogs from time to time. He’d only bought two new trailers for use with the Unimogs when he bought them.

Both were multi-purpose trailers he designed himself and had a trailer repair shop custom build for him. The trailers he used with the group of trucks he’d had before he bought the Unimogs were numerous. The list included two honey wagons, two manure spreaders, a fifth wheel horse trailer and a fifth wheel stock trailer, fifth wheel tilt bed equipment trailer, one fifth wheel and two pull behind box trailers, a stake bed trailer, and four roadside stand trailers he used to sell some of the produce he raised to tourists.

Most of his products went to local merchants and commercial enterprises, but he still liked to sell from the roadside. He’d done that when he first took over the farm. It had been good for him, and lucrative. He kept all proceeds. There was no middleman between him and the consumer. Many of the locals bought directly from the roadside stands despite the fact that he supplied both the local grocery stores in town and an organically grown produce specialty store in the city, as well as the local co-op.

Percy smiled as he thought of Organically Grown Only, the store in the city, as he hooked up one of the honey wagons to a Unimog. People paid twenty percent more in that store than what the local markets charged, even though everything he produced he produced without chemically produced fertilizers or chemical pesticides or herbicides. His fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides were all produced naturally right on the estate, or were mechanical in nature.

By Sunday Percy had retrieved all the animal and vegetable waste from the other farms. The early crops were planted. Everyone took the day off except Percy. The animals had to have attention every day, no matter what. The milking and egging done, Percy spent some time with each of his animals. Except the barn cats. He was seriously allergic to them. They didn’t like him anyway. He was a dog person.

He thought they were pampered a bit too much by Susie. He hadn’t seen any sign of rats or mice, but still… feeding barn cats went against his grain. Percy smiled. He knew he was just prejudiced against cats due to his allergy. That hadn’t stopped him from suffering for three days to help nurse one of them through a difficult birth one time.

Percy was careful to step around one of the kittens that was following him around. The kitten made itself scarce when he got to the hog pen in the barn. Betty Joe, his best brood sow came up to the fence and nuzzled him through the bars for a scratch behind the ears.

“You’re a pest,” he said softly to the animal, then gave each one of the sows the same treatment when they sidled over to see what was going on. Clyde, the boar, just grunted and lay were he was. He’d just made a new wallow in the deep dirt that covered the floor of the inside pen. Clyde was comfortable where he was. Besides, the human would be over shortly to scratch him anyway.

Percy went through the gate, careful not to make any of the piglets squeal. Despite their chummy appearance, it didn’t pay to be around a sow if one of her piglets wasn’t happy. “You lazy pig,” Percy said, squatting down to rub the boar’s forehead, then scratched him behind the ears, too.

With a slap on the flank that brought a grunt from Clyde, Percy stood and headed for the outside gate for the hog pen. He opened the inner and outer doors and most of the sows and all of the piglets headed outside. The sows led the way through the fenced path and turned into the pasture in use at the moment. Clyde considered it, then climbed to his feet and lumbered out. A little sunshine would be good, especially in the wallow by the fence next to the gate. He’d just got it the way he liked it. They’d changed pastures a few days before and he couldn’t get to the wallow in that one.

Percy turned out the cattle, milk cows, and then the horses. The horses wanted to play in the bright morning sunshine and Percy indulged them, letting them stampede up to him, stop and nudge him softly with their noses before they turned and ran some more.

One of the saddle mares, Herman’s Best, tried playing with a piglet the same way, but the piglet squealed in alarm and the mother sow came charging over. Herman’s Best sidled away gracefully, and then put her head down. The sow, placid now, ambled over and the two touched noses for a moment. Both snorted and went off to do their own thing. Percy shook his head and headed for the kennel.

Lion, Rip, and Queenie were lying near the outside gate, knowing someone would be by soon to let out the pups. The dogs rubbed up against Percy’s legs, in no hurry to have the pups taking Percy’s attention away from them. Percy spent quite a bit of time with each of the adult dogs, individually, before he let the pups out of their kennel runs to do the same with them.

He got out one of the Rokon bikes and took the dogs for a run toward the front gates, turning along the tree line when he reached it. When the young pups began to get tired, he slowed and finished the journey around the four mile perimeter of the estate at a slow pace. Percy gave each of the dogs a treat. The pups took theirs and lay down to enjoy them. Rip went to find a good place to bury his for a while, going to open ground in the kennel runs to do so, having learned as a pup himself not to dig up the grounds except in designated areas.

Queenie and Lion began to chew theirs, but stayed with Percy as he put away the bike. When he told them he was going back to the house the two dogs went to join the pups to enjoy the rest of their chew treats. As he headed for the bee barn, Percy saw Rip out cavorting with the horses in the pasture. The horses seemed to be enjoying it as much as the Airedale.

In the facility they all referred to as the bee barn, Percy checked the status of the hives. Everything was in order. He pulled two supers and cut the combs free. It took him only a few moments to get them boxed and ready to take to market. He added them to the case of other comb honey boxes.

He got one of the Unimogs, attached a box trailer and loaded up the case of honey. He moved the trailer over by the green houses and loaded the boxes of produce that had been gathered and prepared for shipment the day before. The twins were working on their jeep. Percy let them know he was headed into town, then the city with a load. He had the produce delivered to both the stores in town in plenty of time for the after church crowd to be able to pick up fresh items for Sunday dinner.

It was a bit after four when Percy finished unloading at Organically Grown Only. He made a couple of stops to do a little shopping, then headed back to the estate. He was pleased with the performance of the Unimog with the trailer.


Chapter 2

Bernard was back in the bunkhouse early Monday morning. He told Percy his wife was okay for now and he’d start his regular routine of staying in the bunkhouse during the week. Bernard went to his home in the city on Fridays and returned mid-morning on Mondays.

The bunkhouse was used primarily for temporary workers Percy hired for some of the harvesting that required hand picking during the summer and fall. It could house up to twenty-four people in six dorm rooms.

Each dorm room had its own bathroom and there were two more off the common rooms. There was also a bedroom with its own bath for the person in charge of the dorm. Bernard used that room. Part of his duties on the estate was foreman for the temporary help when they were needed. That included being dorm boss.

In addition to the rooms already mentioned, there were two large living/gathering rooms, a kitchen suitable for preparing meals for forty people, and the dining room, which seated thirty at five tables. There was a large library and two entertainment rooms, each with a TV and music system. A game room contained a ping-pong table and a pool table, along with four game tables, and a dartboard. There was a fenced yard and large patio. The parking area for the temporary employees had a section set aside lined for a half court basketball court with a mobile hoop stand.

There was a second swimming pool that had originally served the cottages and the bunkhouse, but Percy had restricted its use to just the permanent residents of the estate. There’d been too many problems when the temporary employees had access to it. He’d hated the fact that the rest of the temps couldn’t use it, due to the problems caused by a few, but the risks were too great. The other pool was within the main house compound.

It took Bernard only a few minutes to settle in. All his regular gear was already in the bunkhouse since he’d moved in a few days before his wife had fallen ill and then gone home to take care of her. The Hansen twins, and Mattie and Susie, worked for him year round. Bernard, John, and Smitty worked only spring, summer, and fall. They all three took the winter off.

Bob, Jim, Susie, and Percy were adequate personnel to take care of the animals and do the work in the greenhouses through the winter. They still were able to rotate extra days off during the winter, since the operation was so efficient. Many of the process were automated. There were several generator sets on the property so the systems continued to work despite the regular rolling brown outs and blackouts caused by the overloaded power grid. That didn’t include the unintentional brown outs and blackouts caused by equipment failures and the weather.

Percy let the others train Bernard on the new equipment and hooked another trailer to one of the Unimogs. This was his multi compartment waste oil trailer. As he did with animal wastes with some of the area farms, he had arranged with several businesses that generated waste oil to recover it at no cost to either party. Quite a few restaurants that used significant quantities of cooking oil saved it for him.

More as a courtesy, since the small places produced only a few gallons at any given pickup, Percy did take the oils from many small operations so they wouldn’t have to pay to have it removed. They could no longer dispose of it in the old ways, due to EPA regulations. Percy could use it all. He produced biodiesel for his own use. He didn’t produce enough to run everything, but it was part of the reason he only carried approximately two thousand gallons of diesel fuel in the ten thousand gallon tank that Andy kept replenished for him.

Andy didn’t know about the other tank farm. It, like the one Andy knew about, contained a ten thousand gallon diesel tank, second diesel tank holding a thousand gallons, thousand-gallon gasoline tank, and thousand-gallon propane tank. He had a suppliers in the city that kept those tanks at similar levels to those that Andy kept in the one tank farm. Each of the tank farms had an earth-sheltered storage building for lubricants and other liquids, which he bought and stored in drums.

He had two one thousand gallon biodiesel tanks, the thousand-gallon methane and thousand gallon alcohol tanks, plus appropriate raw material tanks to make the three products. Percy wasn’t to the point of being able to produce all his own fuel, but he did produce a significant proportion. He liked having options. Getting fuel when you really needed it was problematic nowadays.

Producing the biodiesel and the alcohol took significant energy, but it was worth the effort to be able to make the liquid fuels. The methane production didn’t take that much outside energy. Much of the methane was used to fire the stills and the biodiesel process and he still had enough to use elsewhere and keep the tank nearly full.

Scrap wood from several sources in town and the city made up the difference in energy use. He got all the odds and ends of lumber from both lumber yards in the city, and contracted with every tree trimming outfit he could find to take their wood and wood chips. He also had arrangements with several of the builders in the area. He took all the wood scrap they generated, for it, leaving them much less to have to take to the landfills and pay to dump.

There were three sources of wood pallets he relied on. Two of them did not reuse or recycle the wooden pallets they received. He got them all. The other place gave him those pallets that were beyond reusing. Between all the sources, he had more than enough wood to burn to make the biodiesel and alcohol, and not touch any of the wood from his wood lots.

It would take him all day to collect the oils, but he considered it time well spent. He would stop and pick up the chemicals he needed to produce the fuels. He’d been buying ten percent more than he needed for each batch and now had enough of the chemicals he couldn’t produce himself to make nearly a hundred thousand gallons of biodiesel.

Percy had done the same with nearly every product and item he didn’t produce. There were extra tires for every piece of equipment that used tires. Spare parts for all the equipment were on storage shelves in the equipment barn. Fabrication materials were stored, as well. There was a well-equipped shop in the huge equipment barn.

Much of Percy’s equipment was old, though kept in excellent shape. Percy preferred tractor mounted or pulled, or in his current case, Unimog compatible, equipment over self-powered specialty implements. He used mounted and towed implements, including hay balers, combines, corn pickers, and silage cutters. Since his was not a huge production farm the mounted and towed equipment worked just fine for the scale of any given crop he grew.

Unfortunately, that type of implement was no longer common. Over the years, Percy had taken great pains to acquire the best of the types of implements he needed. Like every other piece of equipment he owned, he had numerous repair parts in stock and the materials to make most of the rest he might need.

The equipment used on the leased land was more conventional. He didn’t expect others to take the time and trouble to farm production farms the old ways.

Percy was tired when he returned home. It had taken three hours longer to make the run than normal. There’d been a huge accident caused by a car running bald tires. He had been stuck in traffic for over an hour on the way in. It seemed like every place he normally picked up used oil had some kind of beef they just had to get off their chest.

Finally, on the way home, only a mile from the estate, the road was blocked for almost twenty minutes where the DOT was having an intersection redone. A semi had dropped a wheel off the pavement where they’d cut down the shoulder to redo it and flipped the rig, tying up the one lane available for traffic.

Waiting patiently for the workers to clear the road, Percy radioed the house and told Mattie to just put his supper in the warming oven. He would be getting home late. Percy knew that he could have taken the ditch with the Unimog and trailer and gone around, but there was no real need and the authorities would have stopped the attempt, anyway. It just grated a little not to be able to use the full capabilities of the Unimog.

Percy had to grin when the wrecker dispatched to the scene was unable to right the tractor and the State Trooper asked Percy if he thought the winch on the Unimog could. It was the work of only minutes to position the Unimog, hook up, and right the semi tractor. It didn’t even strain the Unimog.

“Okay if I take off now?” Percy asked, since he was now on the estate side of the blockage.

“Sure thing. And thanks. It would have taken us another hour to get a different tow truck.”

“No problem,” Percy replied, slipping the Unimog into gear and pulling away, a smile on his face. “Unimog to the rescue,” he said aloud, then laughed.

The rest of the week went normally for the estate, everyone working as they’d done for several years now. Susie took two of the cows to Doc’s to be serviced. The twins finished equipping the Jeep acquired in Minneapolis o Percy’s specifications, in addition to their normal work. It wasn’t until the following week that anything out of the ordinary happened.

The second committee meeting turned into a shouting match. Percy wasn’t involved, but his revised presentation triggered it. Both of the other state employees walked out. The county Civil Defense Director did, as well. Jeb and Abigail were glaring at Percy and Sara as they left.

“Well,” Percy said with a sigh. “That went well. At least no one hit anyone else.”

“That was a near thing with Jeb and Stanley. I still don’t understand why it all started. Your revised plan addressed every objection that was brought up at the first meeting.”

They were gathering up everything as they talked. “I thought so, anyway,” Percy said. “It’s only a tenth of what I think should be done. Do you think there’s any need to try to have another meeting?”

“There’s a need,” Sara said, taking his arm as they headed for the doors. “But when the planning commission gets all the versions of what happened, I suspect they’ll disband us. It’s a shame. I’m really getting worried something will happen and people won’t be prepared. It was bad enough last summer when the temperature was over a hundred for twelve straight days. People don’t know how to cope. I was out of power the last two days of the heat wave, then another day before they got the power back on.”

She smiled over at Percy. “I never did thank you properly for keeping me supplied with ice for my freezer. And to cool off with.” She leaned over and kissed his cheek. “Thank you, Percy. You are a dear man.”

“Uh… Well… Uh… Anyway, uh… do you have any business you need to do here in town tomorrow?”

“No,” Sara said with a tiny smile. She was pleased at Percy’s disappointed look.

“I’m off tomorrow. They shifted our blackout day to Thursdays. I hate loosing the money for these days off, but I was planning on taking it easy for the day.”

“You want to stay at the estate tonight? Sleep in? Mattie could make you a brunch and you could go riding, if you want.”

Sara kissed his cheek again before he could change his mind and said, “Why, thank you, Percy. That sounds wonderful. I was going to have to stop and get groceries. Knowing you is saving me bundles of money.”

She slid into her car and looked at Percy expectantly. “Actually,” Percy said, “I need to come to town tomorrow… You could just leave your car here. Ride out and back in with me. Save the gas. It went up another sixty cents this week.”

“You’re telling me,” Sara said, already out of the car. She pulled a small bag from behind the front seat, then closed and locked the door. When Percy looked at it, she said, “Some of us do listen to your ideas, Percy. Be Prepared is my new motto.” She didn’t really say what she was prepared for with the bag and Percy was afraid to ask.

When they’d finished supper and were in the den watching the news, Percy suddenly asked Sara, “Would you help me put together a proposal, like the first one, that I can send to Congressman Stevenson? I just have to give it one more try, Sara.”

“Why, Percy, of course I will. You’ve done all the work, anyway, but I’ll be glad to look it over again.”

“Thanks, Sara. I appreciate it. You are a good woman, you know. Putting up with the likes of me.”

Sara decided quiet was the best response to that. She turned her head back toward the TV and they watched a news report of the shelling of Indian positions by the Pakistanis in the disputed border area they had been quarreling over for years. Sara heard Percy mutter, “This could get serious.”

The next morning Percy kept himself busy, avoiding Sara the best he could. He talked to her a few minutes when she came out to the animal barn and she and Susie saddled up Herman’s Best for her to ride for a while. They settled on a time to go to town, and then Percy headed for the equipment barn to work on some equipment with the twins and Bernard. John and Smitty were helping Hector get his spring planning done. The arrangement was one of Percy’s barters.

Percy watched unobtrusively as Sara rode. Percy rode, but really wasn’t that good on a horse. He had a good hand with the teams, but let Suzie and the others do most of the horse-based farming since they enjoyed it so. He drew in a deep breath when he saw Best galloping toward the far side of the pasture, Sara’s long hair flying behind her.

The other horses were following along, as were the dogs. The adults and two older pups, anyway. The young pups gave up and flopped down to rest. Clarence, Percy’s stud bull, watched placidly, chewing his cud as the horse and rider went tearing by. He was calm now, but had been agitated the week before when two cows he’d been kept from for two days had disappeared, then returned, no longer ready for him. The memory had faded, so he was happy with his herd of cows again. He’d caught the first whiffs of another cow that would be ready soon, anyway.

His three hands pretty much ignored Percy and went about their job, since Percy was considerably more interested in the activities in the pasture than in the work being done on the hay bailer, replacing a set of bearings.

Percy didn’t think to say anything when the appointed time came near to head into town. He just walked out of the equipment barn, still watching Sara on Best. The three men exchanged smiles at the usually unflappable boss mooning just a little over a lady.

“How was your ride?” Percy asked.

Sara’s cheeks were bright and her eyes sparkled as she dismounted and said, “Wonderful, Percy! Wonderful.” She grabbed Percy in a hug. “Oh, thank you so much for bringing me out here! I haven’t had such a nice day in a long time.” After giving him a little kiss on the cheek, she stepped back. “I suppose I should head back, though.”

“I guess so,” replied Percy, smiling at Sara’s unbridled happiness. She wasn’t as old as he was, only forty-seven, and she was still trim and fit. The jeans she wore fit her like a glove, Percy noted as she turned to Best and helped Susie unsaddle her.

“I should stay and help Susie dress her down,” Sara said.

“That’s okay,” Percy said. “If we’re going to get lunch in town before you go back to the city we should probably go. You don’t mind, do you, Susie?”

“Of course not, Mr. Jackson,” replied Susie. She’d seen Percy’s eyes drop to Sara’s bottom and was grinning mischievously. “Mrs. McLain sure looks good on a horse, doesn’t she?”

Susie was amazed when Percy responded to her comment with one of his own. “She looks pretty good off a horse, too.”

“Why thank you… both,” Sara said, smiling at Percy. “I was going to change, but I suppose Rosie’s will let me in wearing jeans.”

“Of course she will,” Percy replied. “I go in there all the time in my overalls.”

Susie shook her head.

“Well, I am getting a bit hungry. I’ll grab my bag and tell Mattie good-bye while you get the truck ready.”

Not even seeing the grin on Susie’s face, Percy hurried to get the Suburban. He found himself having a nice time. They talked about the project a little on the drive in, then local events as they got a light lunch at Rosie’s Café. It was with a bit of reluctance that Percy said good-bye. He’d had to argue a bit with Sara about topping off her fuel tank from one of the cans in the rack on the back of the Suburban. He convinced her, filled the tank, and then told her good-bye through the open window.

He stepped back and Sara drove away, headed back to the city. With a sigh, Percy climbed into the Suburban and headed back to the estate. Before he got to the edge of town, Percy remembered the news report they’d watched the night before. He turned around, went to the local welding supply outlet, and tripled the quantities of welding gasses and other supplies he’d ordered the previous week for delivery this week.

Percy had two complete sets of extra tires for every vehicle he owned, including for the spares carried on each vehicle. He called the tire shop he used in the city and ordered a third set for everything. He also ordered several extra wheels of each type. Then he headed for Wilkins Oil. Percy caught Andy just as he was leaving and motioned him into the office.

“Time to stock up,” Percy told the manager of the bulk plant. Andy grinned. “Bring a full semi load of diesel today. Then bring a thousand of gasoline first chance. Three barrels each of every oil I use, and triple the order of greases.”

“You usually get taxed diesel, Mr. Jackson,” Andy interjected. “You want taxed or untaxed for this load? Big difference on seven thousand gallons.”

“Good thought, Andrew,” Percy replied with a smile. He’d been about to specify the untaxed fuel, which was legal for use on the farm. The trucks would require taxed fuel to run on the highways. He’d pump what clear fuel he had into the one thousand gallon tanks he had for that reason. It had been simpler getting taxed fuel for everything, considering the quantities. But there would be a significant savings getting seven thousand gallons of untaxed red diesel.

Andy walked out with him. “You didn’t do this just because I mentioned it the other day, did you, Mr. Jackson?”

“No, Andrew. Much as I like you, I wouldn’t spend money like that, just because you want to use that CDL.” Percy laughed, and then turned serious. “I’m worried fuel might get even scarcer than it is, with the world situation being what it is. By the way, did Susie mention it was all right for you to come out if there is an emergency? I know you care about Susie.” He added the last to give Andy a good reason to say yes.

“Well, she said something about it. I know you keep prepared, but I told her I have some supplies and stuff at my place. But thanks, Mr. Jackson. I really appreciate the thought.”

“Sure thing, Andrew. Just keep it in mind,” Percy replied, and then climbed into the Suburban. When he left Wilkins Oil, he got on his cell phone and put in an identical order to his other fuel supplier. The one that came out from the city on Tuesdays and filled the second set of tanks.

It was too late to go into the city now, but he made a mental note to call when he got home and make appointments to see both his medical doctor and his dentist. He needed minor dental work. Percy decided to go ahead and get it done as soon as possible. He’d get an extensive physical, too. Just in case. Percy was smiling when he headed out of town. Maybe he and Sara would have a chance to have lunch or maybe even dinner when he went to the city.

Things went well the next two weeks. Sara reviewed the material Percy wanted to send to Washington, D.C., to the Congressman he knew slightly. He incorporated a few wording changes and the suggestions Sara made to change the order of the presentation. Percy mailed it off and put it out of his mind. As Sara had suspected, the committee was disbanded.

The only negative event was the news from Germany. They wanted the United States troop contingent significantly cut. Only part of the sentiment was coming from the Neo-Nazi party that had gained one seat in the governing body. There were many other factions making the same demand. Percy shook his head when the report was finished and muttered, “Too many things in too many places…”

All the cows had been serviced that needed it. One of the milk cows to refresh her, and the heifers to produce beef for the market. Clyde would service the other three milk cows when they went dry and then went into estrus. The calves from the milk cows would also go to market. Percy usually kept a percentage of the meat the local butcher shop prepared for him. It went into his freezers or other storage. The rest of the meat sold through his regular local outlets, including the butcher shop that did the work.

He spaced the butchering out to have fresh meat available all year long. It was time to send in one of the two year olds steers to the butcher shop in fact. Susie hated to do it, so Percy sent the twins in with the steer. It would be a few days before the meat and hide were ready. Percy had learned to treat hides to make leather and would do that with this hide, too. There was a good saddle shop in the city that could turn the hides into just about anything he wanted.

Although he didn’t think of it in quite that way, Percy found himself looking for reasons to go into the city so he could see Sara. They’d had a pleasant dinner when he’d gone in for his checkup and dental work, and Percy wanted to do it again. He found an excuse, a very good one, when Mattie mentioned the gossip she’d picked up at the hair salon she visited from time to time. Pretty much monthly, actually.

Mattie was telling Susie at breakfast one morning that the town council had been trying to get a clinic going, with the help of the hospital in the city, for some time. They finally had a husband and wife doctor team interested. Now they were working on a building.

“They know where they’ll put it?” Percy asked.

“No. That’s part of the deal. The couple wants to be out of town a ways… kind of a back to the earth thing. The council is checking with all the real estate agents in the area looking for a suitable place. But you know how land is here. If it can grow anything, it’s being used to do so. Someone is going into the city tomorrow evening to meet the couple and bring them to town to take a look around.”


“Abigail,” Mattie replied, curious about Percy’s interest. “She kind of got roped into it. She’s not too happy about it.”

“Oh,” Percy said thoughtfully. It was several moments before he spoke again. Mattie and Susie waited expectantly. “Can you call someone and tell them I’ll get the people. I have a piece of property that… I’m trying to… I have a piece of property that might be suitable. I might be willing to just donate to the clinic if the people like the spot and they build the clinic and a house to live right there by it.”

Susie interjected, “Do you mean that forty acres Donaldson was leasing? I didn’t know you wanted to get rid of it.”

“Uh… Well… I just decided recently…” He left it at that, not specifying that it was as recently as that morning, after the subject of the clinic came up.

Mattie and Susie suspected as much but didn’t say anything about it. Mattie did say, “I’ll call Tom and let him know. I think he’ll be pleased, about not only the land, but also about Abigail not being involved. Her idea of fixing the problem is to buy a bus and haul people to the city at the town’s expense.”

“Sounds like her,” Percy muttered, and then said aloud, “Get it set up and I’ll go in and talk to Tom. I’ll get the deed to that property out.”

When he left the table, leaving the last bit of his breakfast behind, Mattie and Susie exchanged a look. “You think he’ll really just donate that land? You know how he is about owning property.” Susie looked at her mother quizzically.

“I don’t know. He is pretty generous, when it comes right down to it. But this…” Mattie said, her eyes on the kitchen door Percy had gone through. “Sure sounds like it. I’d better call Tom before he leaves for work.” Tom was a distant cousin of Mattie’s and the town Mayor. Also the only insurance agent in the town.

Tom was pleased with the idea. He asked a question, similar to the one Susie had asked, about Percy really donating the land. Mattie gave Tom the same response she’d given Susie.

Percy did donate the land, with the condition that the clinic be built on the land, as well as the housing for the couple. It would be a few months before the clinic was complete, even if they started immediately. Percy also contributed money to get the building process started. He’d liked the couple right off the bat when he picked them up at the airport.

Sara had taken the day off and gone with him when Percy asked. She was amazed when he offered to let them stay at the estate for the two days they were going to be checking on things in the area. He even loaned them the use of the Jeep the twins had brought back from Minnesota.

She quickly agreed to come out, stay both days, and act as guide for Melissa and Jock Bluhm. Jock was a family practice MD, while his wife specialized in obstetrics, gynecology, and pediatrics. Sara had to agree with Percy that the couple would be a valuable addition to the town. She heard about a few protests that the clinic was going to be a mile out of town, but they were quickly silenced when it was learned that there would be a shuttle bus from town to the facility every day it was open.

Sara looked at Percy a little askance when she heard Percy tell Tom to let people know about the state of the art facility and the clinic’s shuttle bus. When they had a private moment Sara asked Percy, “And just how is the town going to afford the clinic and the bus and the subsidized low income treatments you mentioned, pray tell?”

“Oh. That. Well…” Percy was looking down at his boots, hands clenched behind his back.

“Well, what?” Sara prompted.

“Well… that is… you see…”

“You set it up yourself! Percy, you sweet man, you!” Sara leaned over and kissed him on the cheek.

Percy turned beet red when Sara kissed him, right there in public and all. “All I did was offer to set up a little trust for them to use the income from. You know the farm is doing okay, now that I have it the way I want it. It wasn’t all that much. And I’ll help them get another grant for some of it. The committee already has one small one. You know I got those three to do the experimental growing in conjunction with the high school VoAg club. It’s not that difficult.

“And a few more people will contribute, I’m sure. Hector and even old Precious Randolph will pitch in. Precious has been trying to get a clinic in here for years. She hates going into the city. Besides, the clinic will eventually be self-supporting and I’ll get the trust money back. I just lose the income from it for a few years.”

“I know,” Sara said, tucking her arm through his and pressing firmly against him. “I’ll not embarrass you again by kissing your cheek, but you are a very sweet man. That young couple will fit right in here.”

“I had nothing to do with bringing them here. That was all Tom and the city council and the clinic committee.”

“Yes, that’s true,” Sara said, “But when I was showing Melissa around, she told me that they had a similar clinic offer from a small town in Indiana. Not too far from her folks. The initial deal was much more attractive than what we’d offered. They came out as a courtesy, to let the council down easy, and give them a couple more contacts for doctors that might come out here. If you hadn’t done what you did, they would not be setting up shop here.”

“Oh. I didn’t know that,” Percy said. “Well, good, then. That’s even better. Means they really want to be here and won’t leave as soon as the contract is up, probably.”

“With that grove of trees and pond on the property and a place to put a small horse barn, I don’t think so. Jock loves horses and this is the perfect spot. You going to give him a horse, too?” Sara was joking.

Percy was serious when he replied. “Certainly not going to give him one, but with Herman’s Best ready to take to foal this year, I might just see if he’d trade some medical services for a colt or filly.”

“Oh, Percy! You are incorrigible!” The others were turning to talk to them again, so Sara fell silent.

Percy studiously avoided looking at Sara when he offered to rent a mobile home for the Bluhms so they could move to the area and supervise the construction of the house and clinic. They would be able to use the old clinic, such as it was, and the county hospital, to start up the practice until the new clinic was finished.

With the deal finalized, they went back to the estate to drop off the Jeep and eat before Percy took the Bluhms and Sara back to the city. The Bluhms were flying out that evening at ten. Percy said a little prayer of thanks that the situation had turned out the way it had when he saw the news that night. He might not retire early, with twenty percent of his retirement having gone into the trust for the clinic, but that was okay. They were going to have two good doctors close.

The way things were going with the climate, transportation situations, and world politics, that might be important. It was just nice, no matter what. They were a nice couple and the report Tom had on their previous practice, though they’d only been in private practice for a year, indicated that they were excellent doctors. Only a surplus of doctors in the area where they’d done their internships then set up a practice had prompted them to look for a family clinic in a small town. Their patients had not been at all happy they were leaving.

Even if the Bluhms did leave when the first contract was over, with the clinic already built, and with associated housing, finding other doctors to work there wouldn’t be a problem.

Percy had a two bedroom, two-bath mobile home delivered to the property the following week. It took only three days to have the utilities installed. The water district line went right by the property, as did power lines. A septic tank and disposal field was installed and would be used for the new house.

It would be several weeks before phone service was installed, but both Bluhms had cell phones and were not worried about landline service until construction started on the clinic and house. They would be transferring their satellite TV and internet service from their current provider. The Bluhms were in residence within two weeks after the mobile home set up was completed.

Chapter 3

“Are you sure you want to do this, honey?” Calvin asked his wife of three weeks.

“Yes, Calvin, I want to do this. I have to learn to drive this thing if I’m going to help out around here.”

“You don’t really have to, you know. I’ve got a good job. I know you don’t want to just sit around all day, but there are plenty of things you could do in town.”

“Calvin Stubblefield! We have already discussed this and you agreed that I could help with our side business. You even said you were looking forward to it.”

“I know, I know. And I am. Kinda. But I’ve been thinking… what if you get hurt or something.”

“You know I’ll be careful,” replied Nan. “And I agreed, just as you did, that we’d do the work together. All of it. So it would be safer. I’ve practiced at home, with you. You know I can do this.”

Calvin sighed. Nan wasn’t going to give in. They had discussed it thoroughly, and it had seemed like a good idea at the time. But now, with her standing there with the chainsaw in her hands, he was having second thoughts. Sure, she wore good boots and gloves, had on shin guards, a hard hat with face shield, goggles, and hearing protectors. Still, watching your wife getting ready to fell an old, twisted tree was unnerving.

She was right, he knew. Nan was just as capable as he was of handling the chainsaw. Calvin nodded. Nan pulled the starting cord of the chainsaw and it fired right up. A couple of test pulls on the trigger and the chain whizzed rapidly around the bar.

They’d checked the lean of the tree, and its weight distribution. The lay of the land, and the surrounding trees. Despite the deformity of the tree, it should fall well. Nan shifted the saw and stepped forward, after Calvin stepped back out of the way.

It took less than a minute to cut through the tree. Calvin had to admit, Nan had done both the front and back cuts as well as he could have done himself. The tree landed right where it was intended.

Nan looked over at him, a huge grin on her face. He smiled back and picked up the smaller chainsaw and started it. They began to trim the tree prior to cutting it up into logs. They worked for four hours, taking turns felling trees to thin the woodlot. They stopped often to drink from their water jug. It was hot work, despite the cool temperature, with the heavy clothes and safety equipment they wore for protection.

“That’s enough for today,” Calvin said. “Let’s clean this up and get things ready for loading.”

Nan smiled tiredly and agreed. Her arms, especially her wrists, ached from the vibration of the saw. It was a good saw, with some of the best vibration dampening available, but it still vibrated some. She helped Calvin load the chainsaws, fuel can, and axes into the trailer attached to the Rokon two-wheel drive motorbike parked close.

She climbed on behind him after he’d started the bike and seated himself. It was only a few minutes before they made it down to their truck, parked as close to where the trees needed thinning as they could get.

Nan unloaded the trailer and put the tools into the toolboxes of the service body mounted on their heavy duty, four-wheel drive, one-ton Dodge truck chassis. Calvin was setting down the log skid from the cargo box of the truck. Nan helped lift the Rokon trailer up into the truck after she’d unhitched it. As Calvin hooked up the log skid to the Rokon, Nan looped a pair of log chains over the rear seat of the Rokon.

They took a few moments to eat an energy bar apiece, and drink more water. When they were ready again, Calvin leaned over to pull the starter cord of the bike. Nan grinned at Calvin after he started the Rokon and she swung her leg over the seat. “I’ll drive,” she said. “It’s only fair. You drove us down.”

“Yes,” Calvin said, a wry grin curving his lips. “I did. Go ahead. I’ll walk.”

Nan laughed and began easing the Rokon up the same slight track they’d used to come down to the truck. It was the work of another two hours to skid the logs and all but the smallest of the trimmed branches down to the truck. The branches were bundled with the log chains before being moved with the skid. The very small stuff was piled in nearby small gullies and washes to provide cover for the wildlife in the area.

When the last load was added to the others at the truck, they loaded up the Rokon and skid into the truck. “Ready to go home?” Calvin asked Nan.

Wearily she nodded. “I’ll say.”

Calvin slid behind the wheel of the truck as Nan climbed in on the passenger side. “You did good today, sweetie. I knew you’d do fine, but you did better than fine.”

“Thanks, Cal. I have to admit it was more work than I was expecting. Handling the chainsaw and the log chains and such wasn’t that bad. It was all the moving over the rough ground.”

They were home in just a few minutes. Old man Peterson’s property abutted theirs, making the arrangement perfect for them. They were thinning his stand of trees for the wood, plus cash. Enough cash to pay their expenses plus a little. If Peterson was happy, they’d get a good recommendation from him. His opinion carried a lot of weight in the area.

When they got out of the truck both stopped for a moment to look at their house. Both were smiling hugely as they looked at the front. It had taken them three years to get it built, doing much of the work themselves.

Built back into the low bluff, only the front was exposed. And the front wall was a thick triple wall. An outer wall of reinforced natural rock and an interior wall of four-inch thick concrete were tied together with rebar. High R-factor board insulation faced the inside of the rock wall, with the rest of the area between the two walls filled with compacted earth. Two doors and three series of narrow vertical windows provided light and entry into the home. The doors and windows had heavy shutters to each side.

The front faced almost due south, and boasted a wide patio enclosed with a thick rock wall, four feet high. The second floor balcony deck acted as roof for the lower patio, and was, in turn, roofed by another concrete slab, it being covered with enough earth to act as garden area, as did the top of the bluff. The balcony and balcony roof slab were supported by rock faced concrete pillars.

A stairway cupola pierced the top of the bluff, opening onto a large patio centered over the earth-sheltered house. A weather instrument pack mounted on the top of the stairway cupola was hardwired to the weather monitor in the den.

Like the entry patio, the balcony and top patio sported four-foot high rock walls. The south facing walls of all three were covered with solar panels. Photovoltaic, solar hot water collectors, and solar space heating collectors.

A freestanding heavy-duty stepped antenna tower at one corner of the upper patio carried a large log periodic high frequency beam antenna and a VHF/UHF log periodic beam antenna on a side arm mount, both with rotors. A tall aluminum antenna mast with a variable base loading assembly was mounted above the HF beam. Three additional side mounts carried Public Service band vertical antennas The base of the tower also had a variable base loading assembly to turn the entire tower and antenna assembly into a large multi-frequency vertical antenna.

An identical antenna tower at the opposite corner of the upper patio carried a deep fringe TV antenna on a rotor. A side arm mount with rotor carried another VHF/UHF log periodic antenna, specifically for monitoring the Public Service Bands. There were a series of non-rotating beam antennas for specific TV channels and VHF/UHF repeater sites mounted on side arm mounts. As with the first tower, this one also had a loading box so the entire tower and antenna assembly would act as a tall vertical antenna.

A large C-band satellite antenna was mounted at the base of one antenna tower, and a dish satellite antenna with satellite internet capability was mounted near the bottom of the other antenna tower, along with a satellite radio antenna.

“You want to put the truck in the garage?” Nan asked Calvin after a moment of enjoying looking at their dream home.”

“I think so. We could get rain tonight.”

Nan grinned over at Calvin. “You just want to look at everything again.”

Calvin smiled back. “Well… maybe.”

They unloaded the Rokon, trailer, and log skid from the Dodge. Nan opened the garage door and Calvin backed the truck inside. He helped Nan bring in the bike, trailer, and skid.

Nan watched Calvin for a moment, a smile on her lips as he lowered the garage door. Like the house itself, the garage was dug back into the bluff. It was impossible to tell, for, like the house, narrow windows provided light, as did the light tubes that came down from their exposed ends along the upper patio wall. With the white painted walls and ceiling, the garage was as well lit as any standard garage, and better than many.

Trailing his hand along the workbench top that was part of the well equipped home shop, Calvin joined Nan near the connecting door between the garage and house. “I’m going up to take a look around,” he said as Nan started to enter the house.

She nodded and said, “I’ll start supper.”

Calvin turned to the other inside door. He took the short hallway that connected the garage rear entrance to the stairway that went up to the top patio. When they’d helped design the house, both he and Nan had insisted on alternate means of egress in case of fire, despite the house and garage both having sprinkler systems installed.

That was why there were two entrances on the front, the stairwell to the surface at the back of the units, plus the ability to exit the second floor rooms onto the balcony and climb down. There were projecting rocks in the front wall extending out to create an adequate emergency stairway down from the balcony.

With more than a touch of pride, Calvin surveyed their property from the top patio. They owned twenty acres of old growth forested land. It had been only a tenth of the cost of adjoining properties due to the nature of the geography of the parcel. There were almost no level spots in the twenty acres. The only ones of any size were the one at the face of the bluff and the small area on top of the bluff. The hill that was the bluff fell off sharply to the north, though it wasn’t a bluff like the south side. The east and west side were more gradual, but still steep slopes. The rest of the property consisted of steep hillsides, valleys, and ridges, with many rocky outcroppings.

The surrounding areas were hilly, but nothing like their little piece. The real estate agent had been cooperative in the sale. The owner was making a mint on the other parcels of the three hundred or so acres he owned, so had been willing to let this parcel go cheap, since no one seemed to want to build anything on the up and down landscape.

It was at one corner of the large plot, bordering federal land on the back, the Peterson place on one side. The other two sides bordered the Calhoun property, with no easy way in. The only reason Calvin and Nan took it was the easement they got from the owner to get to it from the county road. They’d checked from the air, and used topographical maps to select the route in. It bordered the owner’s property line for most of the distance, then cut in toward Calvin’s and Nan’s place.

The Calhouns had not been too upset, since the easement for the track would service several more parcels, except for the last section, and it was on some more or less otherwise un-usable land. It was up to Calvin and Nan to turn the last section into a road. The section serving the rest of the lots the Calhouns paid a contractor to run a road-grader along the path to establish a minimal road. Additional work would be done as the properties were developed.

Calvin could see several sections of the road from his vantage point. He’d cleared specific trees during the construction of the house to enable the views he wanted. He turned around and looked down the steep slope that was the back side of the bluff. Quite a few trees and all the brush had been cleared around the house site, to minimized fire danger, though there were still plenty of trees around. Just none within fifty feet or so of the house.

They weren’t really concerned too much about actual fire damage, as they were lack of oxygen if there was a forest fire. There was a relatively large gulley that drained the flat area in front of the bluff. It was steep and long, mostly bare rock. It emptied into another wash that ran to the creek on Peterson’s property.

They were sure that it would act as a vent, bringing fresh air to almost the front door of the house in the event of a fire up where they were. Also during the construction phase much of the large rock excavated from the bluff to make room for the structure was used to create a series of step dams in the gulley to control the flow of runoff water and slow it as much as possible.

Though there was a good well that provided more than five gallons a minute fresh water flow, they had installed a solar powered pump with photovoltaic panel and battery at the largest of the containments. The pump was on a float switch and would pump accumulated water up to the large cistern under the front patio. The water went though a sand and gravel filter into the sump for the pump to keep the water as clean as possible. The water went though a high grade filter when it was pumped from the cistern.

Calvin walked over to the open garden plot. They’d plant their outside crop in a few more days. The seedlings were doing fine in the green house that bordered the garden plot. The big greenhouse beside the garage door was already providing salad vegetables and they had a good start on berries and melons, too. The greenhouse had been one of the first things finished during the construction.

Looking up, Calvin gave a little prayer of thanks. While they’d worked hard to achieve their dream, there’d been an element or two of luck, as well, and Calvin was appreciative. Finding the property when they were in the market had been sheer chance. They’d been scrimping and saving for five years, with both of them working, to be able to afford anything. Both their families had been willing to present highly unusual wedding gifts, after they announced that they would be married three weeks after the house was finished.

The wedding registry had been a list of wants, rather than a list of stores. While they received a few conventional gifts, the families had come through with many of the things with which they wanted to equip, furnish, and stock the house.

Calvin was still smiling when he went downstairs to the kitchen. Nan looked up, saw the smile on Calvin’s face and her own smile broadened. She quickly stepped over to him, threw her arms around his neck and kissed him.

“Hey,” he said, after the kiss ended, “what’s this all about?”

Stepping away, Nan replied, “Nothing special. I’m just happy. Being together the last few years was good, but being married is better. We have the house we want, in an area we love. You have a good job. We’ve got money in the bank. A little, anyway. And I just love you, is all.”

“I love you too, sweetie. You’re all a man could ask for in a wife.”

They kissed again, but Nan stopped them from going further. “Later,” she said with a laugh, removing his hands from her bottom. “We both need something to eat, and I want to go over the budget with you after that. Then we can get to the fun stuff.”

Calvin laughed, too. “Okay, baby. You’re right. I am ready for some supper.”

“You do the salad and I’ll do the entrée.”

“Sure thing. What’s it going to be tonight?”

The teakettle was whistling on the propane cook stove. “Turkey tetrazzini. It’s the last of the can.” Nan poured the boiling water over the freeze-dried entrée in the bowl on the counter.

“It’s a good one,” Calvin replied, taking out salad makings from the Servel propane/electric refrigerator.

“This finishes up the long term storage food that your Uncle Henry got us. The month supply lasted us a little over three weeks. We’ll need to increase the quantities when we reorder.”

“I know,” Calvin said. “I really didn’t think it would last us a month. Figured the way it is, for a sedentary person, the serving sizes just aren’t enough for active people. But the stuff is good.

“If we get that one-year supply the way we planned, and then add quite a few individual cases of specific items, we would be in good shape, long term. Then we could buy a four month supply… based on the same plan as the year supply… every month. We’ll use a fourth and store the other three-fourths and have a second full year supply in four months. We can keep doing that until we have the five-year supply we planned.

“With the supply we have now from the order we put in after we got married, that will give us a fifteen month LTS supply now, plus the that from the month ahead.”

“Good idea,” Nan said. She was setting the table as the meal absorbed the water. “I wish we could do it a little faster,” she continued, filling glasses with water from the fridge.

“We have to watch the budget. If I get that bonus for the Tashman job, we can put half of it into LTS food and the rest in savings.”

“We need to get our savings back up, but I think we should acquire gold and silver a bit more quickly.”

“That’s what we’re doing with the tree thinning service money.”

Nan dished out the turkey tetrazzini as Calvin set the filled salad bowls on the table. “I know, but with the world the way it is, I’d like to increase our holdings.”

They both sat down and Calvin reached for his fork. “I don’t know sweetie. We really knocked a hole in our savings when we built this place. I’d like to get our cash level back up to at least a one year salary equivalent.”

“Me, too. I was thinking more about what you said today. I like helping with the tree thinning. It won’t be long before we have a five-year supply of wood stocked up. You were right about me being able to get a job in town. I kind of miss working, actually.”

A dazzling smile lit her face as she added, “With the design of this house, it only takes a few minutes a day to take care of it, and you help with that and the greenhouses and garden.”

“You really want to go back to a job? We are doing okay.”

“I think so. Something that it won’t be too difficult to leave, once I’m four or five months pregnant.”

Calvin’s eyes widened. “You’re pregnant?”

“No, silly. Not now. We have to keep trying. But we are trying, and it will happen. But in the meantime, I want to keep busy. I hadn’t really thought about it before. I really thought I’d have plenty to do around here, but the place is so efficient it just doesn’t take very long.”

“Your craft work?”

“We have plenty of afghans. And enough baby things for five babies.”

“Well, that settles it. It would let us build up things even faster, if you want to go back to work.”

“I do, Cal. I really do. With us doing the woodlot thinning only together, that still leaves me a lot of time when you’re at work.” She smiled. “As long as it’s not too hard. I am supposed to be living a live of leisure now, you know.”

Calvin snorted. “Like you ever could. Well, go with me Monday and check around. You can make a day of it and I’ll pick you up on the way back from the city. You did want something in town, and not in the city, didn’t you?”

“Oh, yes,” Nan said adamantly. “I’m tired of the city, except for the monthly shopping runs.”

“I know. As soon as we can, we’ll start a business in town so we can both work it. Like the tree thinning operation. Just too tight to try that now.”

“True. But it won’t be long, I’m sure.” Nan grinned at her husband. “You still want to do the toy route?”

Blushing just slightly, Calvin harrumphed. “I never should have told you that.” Nan laughed delightedly.

“Come on, Calvin. You know I think it is a good idea. If Mr. Anderson retires, there won’t be anyone else to do small equipment work. What you have in mind should give you work year round. Work that people need. Especially as the other development around here takes place.”

“You don’t think it’s silly? I mean, I really do want to do that type of work because of the equipment. I loved construction toys when I was a kid. And I liked the construction work when I was in college.”

Rather softly, Nan replied. “Honey, I know they aren’t really toys, but tough, professional grade tools.”

“I know you do,” Calvin replied. “But they really are neat, as well as being extremely versatile. And they are expensive.”

“But you just said it. They are versatile. And you can start… well, not small… but with just the basics and add attachments as you go.”

“You really wouldn’t mind?”

“Of course not.” Nan grinned again. “And I have to admit, running the equipment does look like fun.”

Calvin grinned back. “Yeah. I’ll work up a serious proposal. See how good our credit is.”

“Good. The sooner you get out of the city, the better.”

They finished their meal in companionable silence. Nan had started some freeze-dried sliced strawberries soaking in fresh cream. They had those for desert as they watched television that evening.


Chapter 4

The next day, a Sunday, they slept in, as was their custom. As they were getting dressed, Nan asked Calvin, “How many trips you think it will take to move what we harvested yesterday?”

“I think four will do it.”

Over breakfast, which was granola with blueberries from their LTS food stocks, Nan again spoke up. “That truck. The Unimog. That would make the wood harvesting a lot easier, wouldn’t it?”

“Sure it would,” replied Calvin. “Especially with a material handling arm. That would be one of the attachments I’d eventually like to get.”

Nan nodded. “It would take a lot of money to get started, wouldn’t it?”

This time Calvin nodded. He paused his eating and looked over at Nan questioningly. “Where you going with this? You know I don’t have plans to do it right now. That plan I was talking about is one of the long-range plans we always try to do for big stuff. Like this house.”

“I know,” replied Nan. She smiled. “I’m not ragging on you. Actually it is the other way around. I’m thinking we should make it a shorter-range plan. Wouldn’t the equipment be collateral for the loan?”

“Sure it would. But like you said, it’s a lot of money. And doing the tree thinning for Mr. Peterson, and even the Calhouns’ property, wouldn’t be enough to make the payments.”

“What about working with Mr. Anderson? Getting some experience. You said once that his old backhoe was barely able to do the work here, it was so worn out. Maybe he’d welcome a silent partner with new equipment.”

“I…” Calvin started to speak, but closed his mouth and looked thoughtful for a moment. “I always figured that if I did it, I’d do it independently.”

“I know you have some experience from when you worked construction when you were going to college, but wouldn’t some hands on work with Mr. Anderson be an advantage? Plus, it would be getting your foot in the door of a lot of customers.”

“That’s true.” Again Calvin’s eyes lost focus as the thought about things. “And you could learn it just as easily as I. I could continue to work at the bank during the week and work with Mr. Anderson on… say… alternate Saturdays. We could continue to do the tree thinning on the alternate Saturdays and on Sundays.”

Calvin looked over at Nan. “That is, if you wanted to…”

“I definitely do want to learn. If I get just a part time job in town, that would leave me plenty of time to work with Mr. Anderson. Do you think he’d take me on?”

Calvin snorted. “He lets Jimmy Hollister work for him. I can’t see him not letting you, even with your lack of experience. He was impressed with the work you were doing here when we were building the house.”

“Okay,” Nan replied. “Then let’s think about this a bit more, and check with Mr. Anderson. You can do your proposal for the bank after that and see if we can get the equipment.”

“This is a big step, Nan,” said Calvin. “As big a step as the house was, and getting married.”

Very seriously Nan said, “If something happens in the near future, we’d never be able to do this. You saw the news last night. Wouldn’t that equipment be invaluable in the aftermath of a serious disaster?”

Calvin nodded. “That’s one of the reasons I wanted to get it. We’re in good shape here, now, but as things get worse there are going to be many, many people needing help to get prepared. We need to think about this some more.”

“I agree. Let’s finish up breakfast and get to work. We can both think about it some more and then discuss it some more. How does that sound?”

“Good. It sounds good.”

With the tandem wheel trailer behind the Dodge, they had all the timber and trimmings cut up and stacked along the lower patio west wall. They’d been keeping track of the firewood they were gathering. This load brought them up to forty cords total. They’d only used a few pieces to test out the fireplace and wood stoves after they’d been installed.

For the moment, they were using the propane appliances, but would use wood when they had more time to manage it. The wood-fired appliances did take somewhat more time to use and maintain. It had been expensive to get the wood-fired hot water heater and the dual fuel furnace in addition to the propane/solar hot water heater, wood/coal heating stove with a useable cooking surface, and the fireplace. They felt the security of having the multiple options was worth it.

So was the expense of three one-thousand gallon buried propane tanks and the twenty one-hundred pound propane tanks they had as back up. The earth-sheltered house required very little heat and no real cooling to be comfortable. The thousand-gallon propane tanks would suffice for at least three years of cooking and heating with propane, perhaps longer.

There was already enough wood to last two years at least. They’d have triple, at least, that amount of wood, by the end of the year with the thinning they were doing for Peterson. Also by the end of the month, they would have twenty tons of anthracite coal. They joined with a few others that had coal type stoves to order a semi-load from a rather distant mine. The shipping on the coal was costing more than the coal itself, but the group had wanted anthracite, rather than bituminous coal for their stoves.

That Monday they took one of the two Jeeps they owned on the journey to town and the city. After a quick kiss, Calvin dropped Nan off at the post office. It would be some time before they would have rural mail delivery, even to the end of their road, where it met the county road. Calvin and Nan were inclined to just keep the post office box they originally rented rather than switching. It wasn’t that much more of a trip to go into town to get it than picking it up at the county road, when that service became available.

It was too early for the mail, of course, but Nan wanted to check the community bulletin board for potential jobs. When she saw the notice Mr. Anderson, or, more probably, his wife, had posted, she couldn’t keep the grin off her face. He was looking for some temporary office help.

She headed down the sidewalk jauntily, on the way to the small office space Mr. Anderson kept for his various business endeavors. Nan recognized Mrs. Anderson sitting behind the desk in the office. Mrs. Anderson had brought lunch out to Mr. Anderson several times when he was working out at Calvin’s and Nan’s. She had enjoyed the trips, and the highly unusual house being built.

“Hi, Mrs. Anderson,” Nan said cheerfully.

A smile brightened Mrs. Anderson’s face. “Hello, young lady. It is very nice to see you again. How do you like your new home, now that you’ve been in it for a few weeks?”

“Oh, we just love it! It is everything we expected, and more. It is so quiet out there, and cozy.”

“Ah, but such a road!” replied Mrs. Anderson.

“True. The road isn’t much, but the service truck and the Jeeps do just fine. Going to be a little harder this winter, I know, but I believe it will be worth the hassles.” It just occurred to Nan that the equipment she and Calvin were considering getting would allow them to keep the road in much better shape. A good point to bring up with Calvin. One of his biggest worries was her getting stuck or stranded on the road.

“Well, let’s hope so,” replied Mrs. Anderson. “And what brings you to the office today. Perhaps an invitation to a house warming party?”

It had not occurred to either herself or Calvin to have a house warming party, but Mrs. Anderson obviously wanted to see the completed house.

“Not exactly,” replied Nan. “I do want to invite you out to the house, but for a business meeting. Of course, we could do it here, but I thought you might like to see the house now that it is completed. Mr. Anderson was such a big help to us.”

“That would be wonderful, my dear! When, may I ask?”

“Why, at your earliest opportunity,” said Nan. “Tonight if you’re of a mind.”

“I’m sure Herbert and I can make it. What should we bring?”
“Not a thing,” admonished Nan. “We want to repay your kindness since we moved here.” Nan smiled brightly again. “We do kind of want something from you and Mr. Anderson.”

“Sit down, dearie, and tell me what this is all about.”

Nan took a seat across the desk from Mrs. Anderson. “Well, it’s really two things,” Nan said. “First, I’ve decided to go back to work, and I saw your notice at the post office and wanted to apply for the job. Now I know…”

Mrs. Anderson stopped her with a lifted hand. “You’ve got the job. What else is it?”

Nan wasn’t too surprised at the abruptness of the offer. Mr. and Mrs. Anderson were both rather abrupt types.

“Well, Calvin and I are thinking about starting our own business and we wanted your guidance and help. Mr. Anderson had told us he was retiring within a few years and we were thinking about doing some of the things he does.” Quickly she added, “But only when he’s quit doing them. We would never infringe on his work.”

“That’s good to hear,” replied Mrs. Anderson.

“Calvin has run some equipment before, when he was in college, but he needs more experience. We were hoping Mr. Anderson would let him work with him some, to learn what to do. Of course, we’d pay at least something for the training.”

Mrs. Anderson stopped Nan quickly again. “Don’t be ridiculous. Herbert would welcome someone to learn the business. He’s been worried about what the area will do when he retires.” Mrs. Anderson frowned. “No one wants to get their hands dirty anymore. That lay about Jimmy Hollister is about all the help Herbert can get, and he’s worse than useless, sometimes.”

Her next words echoed Calvin sentiment from that morning. “I suspect you could do the work better than Jimmy,” said Mrs. Anderson.

“Oh,” Nan said carefully, “I certainly wouldn’t mind learning that end of the business, too. Especially if I’m going to be working for the two of you. May I ask why you need the help. My understanding was that you took care of all the office work.”

“Of course, I do.” Mrs. Anderson sighed and lowered her voice slightly when she spoke again. “But I’m not as spry as I once was. I’m going to have to have both hip joints replaced pretty soon. I’m not going to be able to get around much for a time.”

“I’m so sorry to hear that, Mrs. Anderson,” Nan said sympathetically.

“Don’t you fret none, missy. I’ll be up and about better than ever when it’s over and done. I’m looking forward to it. Well, it being over, anyway.”

“That is a wonderful attitude, Mrs. Anderson. I admire you.”

“Just the way I’m built, dearie. Nothing special. Now, I’ll talk to Herbert about this. Let him know I’m hiring you for the office. He and your hubby will want to discuss it themselves, I’m sure. We’ll be out this evening. About six?”

“That would be fine, Mrs. Anderson. And don’t you dare bring a house warming gift.”

“Never tell an old woman what to do,” Mrs. Anderson said without malice. “It just makes things worse. Now. Come around the desk. We need to start your training. You know anything about computers?”

Nan spent most of the day with Beth Anderson, learning the ins and outs of Mr. Anderson’s various businesses. She went away somewhat awed at what the couple did in the area. She was waiting outside the grocery store when Calvin pulled up that afternoon.

“How’d it go?” he asked after kissing Nan and loading the few groceries she’d picked up for them.

“You will not believe,” she said. “Let’s get going. We have to prepare for company this evening.”

Knowing he would be thoroughly briefed, in time, Calvin nodded and climbed into the Jeep as Nan entered on the passenger side. They were well on their way back home before Nan excitedly told Calvin what had transpired that day.

“Wow,” he replied when Nan had finished. “You sure don’t let the grass grow under your feet. I don’t know what to say. At lunch time today I checked on all the equipment again and got updated prices and availability. I’ll be able to explain it all to Mr. Anderson, even without an official proposal.”

“I suspect they’d turn down an official proposal. Just talking it out will be better. What are the chances of getting the equipment soon?”

“The availability is there, except for some of the things I want for the Unimog. The Bobcats and their attachments are no problem. Just the money. I made a couple of calls to banks about business loans. They’re willing to discuss it. I’ll definitely do an official business proposal for them.”

As Nan had suspected from Mrs. Anderson’s words, Beth and Herbert had a house warming gift for them when they arrived. A nice Home Sweet Home embroidery.

“I’d rather not talk business till after we eat,” were Mr. Anderson’s first words, after “Howdy, folks.”

“That’s just fine,” Calvin told him, taking the coats to hang up in the entry way closet.

“It’ll be ready in just a few minutes,” Nan said, coming from the kitchen. “I hope meatloaf is okay.”

“Excellent. Excellent,” Mr. Anderson said. “I doubt it will be as good as Beth’s, but it’d take an expert cook to even come close.”

“I must admit I do make a prize winning meatloaf,” Mrs. Anderson said. “But I’m sure we’ll enjoy yours.” She took one of Nan’s hands in hers and patted it reassuringly.

Nan took it in stride, turning to sweep an arm toward the living room. “What do you think? Would you like a tour?”

As Mrs. Anderson was saying yes, Mr. Anderson told Calvin. “You can tell a lot about a man from the tools he owns. You got any tools, young man?”

“I do for a fact,” Calvin said, looking over at his wife and winking when Mrs. Anderson couldn’t see. They went their separate ways, Calvin showing Mr. Anderson the house starting in the garage, with Nan showing Mrs. Anderson the kitchen first.

Both the Andersons seemed somewhat impressed with the house, and the Stubblefields, too, when they gathered around the dining table. “It will just take a moment,” Nan said. “Calvin, could you lend a hand, please?”

It was a rather simple meal. Meatloaf, mashed potatoes, whole kernel corn, and rather than a salad, sliced tomato, cucumber, and onion in peppered vinegar. The Anderson’s seemed to enjoy it, Mr. Anderson going so far as saying, “Not as good as Beth’s, like I expected, but fine. Mighty fine. What’s dessert?”

“Now, Herbert. You know you aren’t supposed to eat much sweets.” She cut her eyes toward Nan. “But I would be curious as to what you might have prepared.”

“I made up a batch of black walnut brownies and a quart of ice cream.”

“You made the ice cream?” Mr. Anderson said, his face showing his surprise.

“Strawberry,” replied Calvin.

Mr. Anderson shot a pleading look at his wife. She looked thoughtful, but took little time in answering. “Well, I suppose a bit won’t hurt you all that much. I wouldn’t mind trying your brownies… maybe just a scoop of that ice cream, to see if I can tell which recipe you used.”

Mrs. Anderson never really said what recipes she thought Nan had used, but seemed to enjoy the dessert as much as Mr. Anderson did.”

“Mighty fine,” Mr. Anderson said, patting his stomach as Nan and Calvin cleared the table.

“Would you like to take your coffee to the living room where we can talk?”

“No more coffee,” said Mr. Anderson. “Might you have anything stronger?”

“Now Herbert,” admonished Mrs. Anderson.

“We have a small bar,” replied Calvin, when Mrs. Anderson didn’t insist on a no, and looked rather interested herself. Calvin went over to the built-in cabinets flanking the fireplace and opened one.

“We don’t drink much,” Calvin continued, but we like to keep a selection for guests. Is there anything in particular you would like?”

“I usually just drink sippin’ whiskey, but I’m a mind to try something new,” Mr. Anderson said, walking over to join Calvin and take a look at the offerings. “What’s that rounded bottle with the long neck. He squinted a bit. “Irish something.”

“Irish Mist,” replied Calvin. He opened the bottle an let Mr. Anderson take a sniff. “It’s very good,” Calvin said. “Would you like to try a snifter?”

“Yeah. That’ll do.”

Calvin poured a nice shot of the Irish Mist into a balloon snifter and handed it to Mr. Anderson. He turned to Mrs. Anderson. “Would you like one, as well?” he asked.

“Perhaps some sherry, or something like that,” she replied.

“How about an aperitif?” responded Calvin. “We have Galiano, Frangelica, Crème de Menthe…”

Mrs. Anderson interrupted him. “A Crème de Menthe,” she said. “That sounds nice.”

After pouring the drink he asked Nan, “Honey? What are you having?”

“I think the Frangelica,” she said.

He poured her drink and a snifter of Amaretto for himself. Though they hadn’t used it except to try it to make sure it worked properly, a fire was kept set in the fireplace. Calvin lit a match and started a piece of fatwood burning. He put it under the tinder and closed the screen.

By the time he took a seat on the sofa, Nan perching on the arm beside him, the fire was already catching.

“Dinner’s over,” said Mr. Anderson. “The drink here don’t count. What’s on your mind, sonny? Beth told me a little, but I need to hear it from you.”

“Yes, sir,” Calvin said. “Well, Nan and I have been thinking of starting a business, similar to some of the business you have. I was hoping you might give me a few pointers. Training, actually. On weekends.”

“Don’t work on the Sabbath. Ain’t right. At least not unless it’s a real emergency.”

“I meant on Saturday, Mr. Anderson,” Calvin replied.

“That would be okay. Don’t work many Saturdays, when I can help it. But have to some, because that’s the only time some people have to be home for me to do the work. And I bet, even though you haven’t got much experience, you’d be better’n Jimmy.

“You gotta understand,” Mr. Anderson continued, “my equipment is like me. Old and slow. I can teach you some things, sure enough, but it might not mean much in your own business. Unless you want to buy me out someday. I probably wouldn’t sell it to you. Wouldn’t be right. I can handle it okay. Wouldn’t expect no one else to make a living with that old hoe and the other equipment.”

“I appreciate that, Mr. Anderson.” Nan put her hand on Calvin’s shoulder in encouragement as he continued. “I’m working on a plan to go ahead and get my own equipment. If I can do that, you could train me on it. If you would.”

Mr. Anderson took a quick sip of the Irish Mist, thinking. Finally he asked. “Just what kind of equipment? It pays to buy good equipment, you know. My old hoe was a good one once. It was pretty hard used before I got it. Didn’t want to invest too much when I got it, ‘cause I didn’t know if I wanted to do that kind of work for good.”

“Actually,” Calvin said, “We…” he looked up at Nan for a moment before he continued. “We were thinking about getting a Unimog, and a couple of models of Bobcat equipment. Plus attachments.”

“I know Bobcats, but what in the world is a Unimog? And what’s this about attachments?” asked Mr. Anderson. “Those little Bobcat spinners got a bucket, don’t they?”

“Yes, sir, Mr. Anderson. But they can take a variety of attachments, such as a snow blower, tiller… roto-tiller, that is, back-hoes, trencher, rollers, tree transplanter…”

“Whoa, boy! Those little things can do all that?”

“With the right selection of attachments. I do have in mind one of the larger units. Two, actually. An A300. It can be used as a skid steer, but it can also use four wheel steer. Easier on lawns and such. The other one is the Toolcat 5600T utility vehicle. Kind of a small pickup truck with front lift arms to take a bucket or the other attachments.”

“Does sound interesting,” replied Mr. Anderson. He took another sip of the Irish Mist, and then asked, “New or used. I can take care of old equipment okay myself, but I wouldn’t want to deal with any more than I already got.”

“I plan to purchase new units, straight from the dealer.”

“That’s good. That’s right good. Now what’s this other thing you mention. Moogy something?”
“Unimog. U500 model. It’s a truck made by Mercedes-Benz. Where the Bobcat Toolcat is like a small four wheel drive pickup with front lift arms, the Unimog is like a giant four wheel drive pickup with, on the one I plan to get, front attachment points that can handle lift arms and other attachments. Can also mount or tow equipment on the rear, too. It has engine and transmission PTO shafts, as well as hydraulic connections front and rear.”

“Didn’t know Mercedes made trucks. Here in the US, anyways. Way back when I was in the service I saw some Mercedes trucks over in Germany. But nothing like a big pickup truck.”

“I’m not explaining it very well, I’m afraid,” Calvin said. “I’ve got some literature…”

“I’ll get it,” Nan said, getting up and heading for the den. She was back in moments with a handful of brochures and data sheets. “Here you go, Mr. Anderson.”

“That is an ugly sucker, isn’t it?” said Mr. Anderson, looking at the picture of the Unimog on the cover of the brochure. “Don’t really look like a pickup to me, though. Just a small flatbed…” He squinted a bit at the picture. “Not a flatbed, though, looks like a short sided bed.”

“It is,” replied Calvin. “The one I would get would have that bed with a three way dump kit. Plus the bed can attach and detach pretty quickly without much trouble. I’d get a couple other beds for specific purposes.”

“Hey,” said Mr. Anderson, as he leafed through the brochure. “This shows a bucket on the front. And a pair of forks. And…” He fell silent and looked through the brochure in more detail as his wife, Nan, and Calvin looked on.

Mr. Anderson handed the first brochure to his wife and went through the other papers. Mrs. Anderson looked through them with as much intensity as had her husband.”

“I don’t know,” Mr. Anderson said, after going through all the papers. “Sounds like a good idea. But something trying to do everything usually isn’t as good as a specific piece of equipment.”

“I agree, sir. But for what I envision, I think they would serve the purpose.”

“Mebee.” Mr. Anderson looked thoughtful again for a moment. “Got to admit, Mercedes makes good stuff. Beth, remember that diesel sedan I traded for back a few years ago? Turned a nice profit on that, after driving it for a year. Really good car.”

Mrs. Anderson nodded her agreement.

“And Conrad has a Bobcat out on his farm. He swears by it.” Mr. Anderson frowned. “But he never said nothing about extras for it. He just uses the bucket for all kinds of things.” He looked at Calvin. “You say they can plow snow?”

“Plow or blow, Mr. Anderson.”

“Used to do a pretty good little business plowing driveways and such for people when I had the old Ford with a snow blade on it. Blew the engine and never got it fixed. We had two or three years of mild winters and I didn’t see the need. Way winters been the last couple, snow removal could be a big business.”

This time Mr. Anderson gave Calvin a hard look. “You really do this? This stuff can’t be cheap.”

“I’m pretty sure, but I can’t guarantee it. I don’t want to do half measures, so if we can’t do it the way we want, we won’t do it.” He looked up at Nan and she nodded her agreement.

Mr. Anderson drained the snifter of the last of the Irish Mist and set it down on the coffee table. “I tell you what, sonny. I’ll train you, Saturdays, on my equipment. If you can come up with the equipment, I’ll help you with it, too. This area can’t support a big contractor, but needs lots of work done on a small to medium scale. I been doing it for forty years now, but I’m ready to retire. If you work out, and can get the ‘quipment, I’ll put in a good word for you with my regular customers.”

Mr. Anderson stood, and the others did as well. Calvin held out his hand and Mr. Anderson took it in a firm grip and gave it a good hard double shake.

“Thank you, Mr. Anderson. I appreciate your faith in me. I’ll have a proposal for the bank by the end of the week. I should know if I’m approved a week or ten days after that.”

“Okay, sonny. I’ll see you this coming Saturday at nine at the office. We got a septic job to do for the Widow Hammond.”

“Yes, sir. I’ll be there.”

With that, the Anderson’s took their leave. When Calvin closed the door after they drove away, he turned to Nan and asked, “You think we’re doing the right thing?”

“I do, honey. Mr. Anderson made it pretty obvious that the type of service we plan on doing is needed. I think he’s only still working because there isn’t anyone else around here that could and would do those types of jobs.”

“I’ll get to work on that proposal. Do you think you could get some numbers from Mrs. Anderson that I can use to show the potential for the equipment?”

Nan put her arm around Calvin’s waist as they walked toward the den. “I’m sure they won’t mind. Mrs. Anderson didn’t show it much, but I’m pretty sure she is excited about the idea. I think she really wants them to be able to retire as soon as possible. She has a cruise line brochure at the office that is dog eared from being looked at so much. It’s for an around the world cruise.”

Calvin nodded. “Well, we’ll do our best to help them accomplish that, if that is what they want.” Calvin took Nan in his arms and kissed her firmly. When he stepped back he said. “I love you.”

“And I you,” Nan replied, stepping away from him. “I’ll go clean things up while you start working.”
Enter content here

Enter supporting content here