Friday, September 20, 2019

The Shrewd King 9.5: The Maillard Reaction

With Denny on a job and unable to stir-the-pot, the work quickly organized itself.

The overall tasks were simple.

Wesley cut.

Vernon’s crew flipped hay and raked it into windrows.

Denny baled.

Wesley could cut about as fast as Denny could bale and had a two day head start.

As soon as he dropped the last of the grass, he drove the tractor to the big barn, disconnected the cutter and hitched up a hay wagon.

Vernon split his crew in half. Half kept flipping and he assigned the rest to help Wesley. Two men climbed on top of the wagon and stacked bales while the rest of the half-crew tossed bales onto the slowly moving wagon. The crew had been talking about what would happen when Wesley finished cutting and came prepared.

Storage units were full of ticky-tacky plastic toys, out-of-fashion clothing and “junk”. But no work gloves. Nobody had any work gloves. The men brought rags to wrap around their hands so the twine would not cut them and it still took two men to lift the bales.

The wagons conveniently carried 125 bales but there is a world of difference between 125, forty-pound bales and 125, sixty-pound bales. Amazingly, it looked like Blastic’s string of bad luck had run out. The wagons staggered and groaned beneath the weight but none of them broke. It was to their advantage that all of the worst mud-holes had already been identified. And, with the grass cut, it was easy to identify the highest, driest paths through the field.

Once the wagon was full, Wesley had half of his crew stay in the field and half go with him to the barn. There, he pointed out the space, nearly three-quarters of the barn, where the bales were to be stacked. He showed them the bale elevator for when the stack got too high to lift by hand. Denny would have gone ballistic to see Wesley leave the men unattended in the big barn. That is where he kept his most prized possession: His registered stallion.

Not only did Wesley leave them unattended but he showed them how to fuel and run the generator. The elevator used an electric motor and wasn’t any good without electricity.

Wesley did not give it a second thought. He hooked up to a second wagon and went back out to the hay field a half mile distant.

Wesley’s trust and the clarity of the task in front of them was all the crew needed. The had to slide the bales off the wagon rather than throw them because the bindings burst. Even sitting on saturated ground, the top half of the bales had continued to lose moisture and shrink, taking the tension out of the strings. No matter. It was a solvable problem. Wesley told them to stack the bales as high as possible to get as many of them out of the weather as possible.

They found they could stack four bales high without using the elevator. Then they could stack another eight bales high using the elevator from the ground.

One of the guys had the idea of building a platform of hay bales and moving the hay elevator to the platform. The elevator weighed hardly anything. They could use the elevator to lift fifty bales to the top of the 12 bale tall platform, then lift the elevator to the top of the platform and then use it to push the stuck up another 12 bales.

By the time Denny was done, he had made a little over 12,000 bales of hay. The crew was able to cram a little less than half of that into the barn, at times, stacking it up between the trusses almost to the level of the sheet-metal roof.

The rest of the bales were stacked in the field. They stacked them into cubes four bales high and 20 feet wide on a side, the size determined by the plastic sheeting Denny had to cover them.

The only significant event that occurred when stacking the cubes happened when Denny overheard one of the men utter “Asshole” beneath his breath as Denny walked by. Denny did not need to hear the exact word. He was a master of the behind-the-back, sly dig that the target could almost hear. Swinging around, he grabbed one of the crude forks out of a surprised worker’s hands and hit the malcontent in the head, nearly braining the man who had muttered the word.

Then Denny turned his vitriol on Vernon, dressing him down in public. “NEVER let these animals disrespect you!” he bellowed.

“They start with words. Then they keep testing you. They will eat you alive if you show any weakness.” Denny said. "Never, ever let them show you any disrespect!"

Denny resented that he had to work. He ached all over. He was sunburned. The pitching of the wagon made him sore all over. Denny funneled all of his anger and frustration into smacking the man with the fork.

The man who Denny hit in the head with the fork was the father of the gray-eyed girl. He was unable to eat that night due to nausea and missed work the next couple of days.

Tightly packed, damp hay has an interesting characteristic. Molds and bacteria start the process. They generate heat as they digest the hay, much like what occurs in a compost pile.

Once they get the heat to approximately 150 degrees F, a second reaction called the Maillard reaction dominates.

The Maillard reaction is the creation of caramel from the chemical combination of protein and carbohydrates. The Maillard reaction is why dinner rolls have a brown crust. The Maillard reaction is exothermic, that is, it generates heat. It also generates highly flammable gasses...those very same gasses that we identify with the smell of freshly baked bread.

A run-away reaction occurs when a large mass of damp material with carbs and protein is stacked. The heat dries out the outer layer while the the temperature of the inner core rises far beyond what bacteria and molds could generate. In fact, the tightly packed, damp hay can spontaneously ignite.

As did the hay in Denny Blastic’s barn three nights after Denny brained the gray-eyed girl’s father.

The barn, the hay, the 300 gallons of gasoline, the equipment and Denny’s stallion were all total losses.

In the morning, once it was clear that the other buildings were not going to catch fire, Denny beat the gray-eyed girl’s father to death with a baseball bat.



  1. ....."Denny beat the grey eyed girl's father to death with a baseball bat."

    One of the best Western movies ever made was 'Open Range' starring Robert Duval and Kevin Costner. In that movie, a small town is basically being held hostage by an evil land baron just like Blastic. When one of the townsmen is bemoaning the situation, Costner, a cattle driver from out of town says to him, "You could do something about it". Another local pipes up and says, "Ralph is a shopkeeper. Me and my sons are freighters." Costner replies, "You're men, ain't ya?"

    Cold-blooded murder cannot go unanswered. Not long before these men were Blastic's indentured servants, they were workers, laborers, managers, shopkeepers, truck drivers, salesmen, mechanics, and perhaps even military veterans. They need to remember that they are still men, and do something about it

  2. Once the fuse is lit, can Denny put out the fire before they kill him? Vernon and Wesley better hope they can get out of the way.

    1. I think you are giving 'the help' too much cedit. They would assume arson and suspect the injured malcontent. Half were probaby cheering Blastic as he batted the guy who they assumed destroyed two weeks of brutally hard work.

  3. Evil rarely burns itself out - it just feeds on more, and more and more. Until - Someone steps up and says, "No More". One man cannot usually carry the day alone, but someone has to have the courage to step forward and lead - once that happens, the many will usually follow.


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