Tuesday, August 27, 2019

The Shrewd King 6.2: Coats and Grease

Mrs Treadwell looked over her “A” team.

Dora, small and mouselike, quick with scissors and needles.

Lorraine who had an eye for mapping curved and darted panels into shapes in-the-flat.

Gidget who was a master spinner and had dabbled with felting.

“Mo Pockets is Mr Wilder’s agent and he commissioned this work. The plan is to come up with a design that starts with that” she said pointing to the battered work coat “and executes it in local materials. We aren’t going to clone the design. We are going to make it better.” Mrs Treadwell said.

Lorraine raised an eyebrow. “Make it better? In what ways?”

“More durable. More versatile. Better.” Mrs Treadwell said.

“I don’t mean to be a negative Nancy” Dora said “but that is going to be almost impossible to pull off using just wool.”

“I didn’t say just wool. I said ‘local’” Mrs Treadwell said. “That means wool, leather, hemp, wood, clamshells, bone...even copper.”


“People used to make buttons from clamshells and bone.” Mrs Treadwell said. “Use your imagination.”

“That won’t be cheap.” Gidget observed.

“That is why it will have to be durable.” Mrs Treadwell said firmly. “This has to be a coat that can be worn every winter for ten years, have minor repairs and then worn for another ten years.”

Gidget frowned. “How do you do that?” she asked.

“Let me paint a word picture to give you a starting point” Mrs Treadwell said, laying the battered coat on the table in front of them.

“What if we changed the cut of the pattern so the high-flex areas like the elbows were leather.” Mrs Treadwell said.

The women nodded. They were all familiar with tweed jackets with leather patches.

“And what if we replace the most worn areas” Treadwell said, displaying the most scuffed places “with smaller, easy to remove and replace panels.”

The lights went on in Loraine’s eyes. “So, for instance, have lower arms attached to upper arms at the elbows.”

“Exactly.” Treadwell said.

“Another way we are going to make this better is to make it expandable.” Treadwell said.

“I want to have a way to make the waistline expandable so the same coat can be worn in late pregnancy.” Treadwell said.

“How can we do that?” Dora asked.

“Lots of ways. We can have lots of overlap in the front and double rows of buttons or snaps. We can have insertable panels or we can have darts that are basted in that can be let out and pulled in as needed.” Treadwell said.

Gidget was scratching her head. “Which do we do?”

“We make our best guess and make one, then we find somebody to wear it. That is what a prototype is all about. We don’t have to be perfect. We just have to make good guesses and let customer feedback guide us.” Treadwell said.

“Why is Wilder paying us to do this?” Gidget asked.

“Because the designs will belong to Wilder when we are done.” Treadwell said.

“And the way I have it figured is that he is going to need people to manage his factory once he ramps up production. Creating these designs gives us, and our families, a leg up on getting those jobs.” Treadwell finished.


Dr Samantha Wilder was sipping a glass of hard cider and to her immense surprise, was enjoying it.

The first part of the party had been non-stop introductions and she quickly overloaded on names. Fortunately, her husband John was exceptionally good at names and he would coach her later.

John was the center of attention and she was very happy with that. Their strengths complemented each other and they were a very effective team.

She felt a gentle tap on her shoulder and she turned to see who wanted her attention.

A boy whose face was innocent of hair or acne asked “Are you Doctor Wilder?”

The boy looked to be all of twelve.

“How may I help you?” Dr Wilder asked with a kindly voice.

“I heard you are good at chemistry.” the boy stated.

“Well, I must confess that I am pretty good at chemistry.” Samantha responded. “Why do you ask?”

The boy said, “My name is Shadrack Shaw. Most folks call me Shad.”

“I have been trying to make calcium soap and I am having some problems.” Shad admitted.

“Calcium soap isn’t any good for cleaning or washing. You want to make sodium or potassium soap.” Samantha said.

“Well, I would agree with you if I was making the soap for washing but I intendd to use it to thicken oil to make grease.” Shad said.

Samantha was hooked. There was more to the kid’s problem than what she had assumed.

“Why don’t you start for the beginning?” Samantha suggested. “I might be more help if I had some context.”

Shad said, “I overheard the wood cutters complaining that they had run out of oil for the bars of their chainsaws. They tried used motor oil but it is way too thin, especially as the weather warms up. They run out of oil really quickly and then the chain runs dry. That eats up the chains and the bar. We just cannot afford to lose any of those.”

“I have a few reference books; a set of encyclopedias and a chemistry book written by Zumdahl but I am getting stuck.” Shad said.

Samantha said “Zumdahl wrote college textbooks. That Zumdahl?”

“Steve. C. Zumdahl, Introductory Chemistry 2001 edition.” Shad said.

“If you don’t mind my asking, Shad, just how old are you?” Samantha asked.

“I am sixteen. I was home-schooled.” Shad said.

Suddenly Samantha realized she wasn’t talking to a ‘kid’.

“Anyway, go on with your problem.” Samantha said.

“I didn’t have any problem making the soap. My mom makes soap and I was able to figure out how much slaked lime to used based on the iodine values in her book and the molecular weights of lye and lime.” Shad said.

“So what is the problem?” Samantha asked.

“The soap is as hard as a rock and it takes forever to dissolve in the used motor oil.” Shad said.

“Did you try anything else?” Samantha asked.

“I guessed at how much soap I needed to thicken the oil and mixed the oil, lard and slaked lime together and started cooking it. I left it on the fire for three days and it still hadn’t started to thicken.” Shad said with disgust.

“What proportion of ingredients did you use?” Samantha asked.

“Two gallons of used motor oil, eight ounces of lard, four ounces of water and two ounce of slaked lime.” Shad said. "I am doing this is small batches until I have a process figured out."

“Yeah, that would take a while to react. You gotta realize that when you dilute the active reagents that it slows down reactions.” Sam said.

“You know what might work is if you start making the soap without the motor oil and then as it starts to thicken, drizzle in enough motor oil to make a rubbery solid when it is done reacting.” Samantha said. “You ought to be able to cut it into strips that you can melt into hot motor oil to thicken it.”

“Thanks, Dr Wilder, you are the greatest. Thanks for talking with me” and with that Shad turned and sprinted back toward his “lab”.

Dr Wilder had a quick sensation of disorientation. She had just had a conversation with a sixteen-year-old that would have been a credit to a college chemistry major at a major university.

She looked over at her two sons who were in their early twenties. They were having difficulty mingling and were sharing stories of the trip they had taken sailing and skin-diving in the Philippines a year ago. She hoped they would adapt as well as Shadrack had.



  1. Good one, and no, not ALL kids are dumb idjits... :-)

  2. ERJoe, Would we be safe in assuming that the proportions Shad mentioned and the procedure Dr. Wilder specified were obtained from someone actually knowledgeable about chemistry?


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