Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Quest: Trading

Sally got to watch Steve “peddle” on the fourth day.

They were passing through Branch County when one of the local Amish men called out “Are you a peddler?”

Steve could not help himself. “I sure am.”

The man needed eyeglasses. Steve had some. In five minutes, the man had two pair that suited him and Steve had five pounds of cheese and a wind-turbine with a cracked housing. Joyce and Cairo did not notice the extra weight. Well, maybe Cairo did but Joyce didn’t let it affect her performance.

The wagon went west to Michigan Highway 66, then south into Indiana.

Steve traded most of the cheese for a Delorme Atlas of Indiana and an Atlas for Illinois. Steve traded the wind-turbine for two solar panels. And so it went.

Steve lamented that they were moving too fast for word-of-mouth to get ahead of them. He kept asking what was in demand, hoping that he might have better trading goods on the way back.

He was surprised that people in that part of Indiana had not figured out how to refill “disposable” lighters from bulk LP. He vowed to collect as many empty lighters as possible in the hope of refilling them and reselling them.

Sally had never appreciated how information was critical for trade. For example, they could have brought cheese but cheese was far more abundant, and cheaper, in Branch County than it was in Eaton County. On the other hand, some things like eyeglasses and refilled, butane lighters were abundant in Eaton County but dear in Branch.

Suddenly, Steve’s “pickle-shaped” tours made sense. He gathered information of what was needed on the outbound leg and made money on the return leg by filling those needs.


On the fifth day somewhere west of Fort Wayne, Pup smelled game and deserted Sally before she could command him to stay. Pup was a mongrel Sally had purchased from Nyssa Talon. A mix of Lab and Brittany Spaniel and Beagle and perhaps a dash of coon hound.

Pup demonstrated his Beagle heritage by his boneheaded deafness when trailing game. Sally could hear him but she couldn’t quite catch him.

She had been following the wagon and had just about been to the point where she was going to jog to catch up when Pup caught scent of something.

She was several hundred yards off Indiana 26 when she burst into a clearing where two men had Pup by the collar.

Sally could tell instantly by their leer that this was not going to end well.

Sally was a veteran of live performances. She was a pro.

Things happen. Stars get sick or drunk or break bones and somebody has to fill in. IF they cannot remember the lines they improvise.

Props break. Fellow actors forget lines. The band gets lost on the way to the venue. The veteran actor improvises.

As the yahoos were sizing her up, Sally morphed from a delectable young lady in her early-twenties to a babushka in her late sixties. Sally’s mouth mushed down like she was missing teeth. Her posture stooped and her shoulders humped so quickly and naturally that one was to doubt that one saw her confidently striding through the undergrowth.

“Thank-ee for collaring my dog.” Sally cackled with her face looking down toward the ground. She shucked her hood to put her face deeper into the shadow.

“I kin take him now.” Sally said in her MacBeth's Witch voice.

One of the young toughs edged around to get behind her.

The one who had Pup said “You can have him but it is going to cost ya.”

“And what might that be?” Sally asked, pretending to not be aware of the man behind her.

“I never had a BJ from somebody with no teeth. I heard it was something special.” the man said.

“What is a ‘BJ’?” Sally temporized.

“You know, a hummer.” the man said. And with that, the man unzipped his fly and dropped his jeans. Grabbing his pride-and-joy, he shook it at her as if expecting her to know what to do.

Sally squinted at the man’s private parts. “Be you one of them trans-jenners? I don’t see nothing.”

Then pretending to squint even harder she said “Oooh. There it is. I never seen one that small.”

“I guess there is no harm in playing your harmonica as long as you let me squirt some soap on it first.” Sally said.

By now she was less than a yard from Romeo.

17% OC pepper spray was not legal in Michigan before Ebola. That does not mean that nobody had it. It just means that people had a harder time replacing them when the “Best by” date expired. Sally hoped that there was still enough propellant to get the job done.

Sally didn’t need to worry. There was plenty of zip left in the three-ounce, Magnum canister. And there was plenty to hose down the man behind her, too.

Sally grabbed Pup and left the two men writhing on the ground. One clawing at his gonads and the other tearing at his eyes.

As she jogged to catch up with the wagon, it gave her time to think about what Steve had said at the beginning about young women being a lightning rod for trouble. She saw how even old women were targets (although less than nubile, young women) and knew that she had gotten lucky. There was no guarantee that the second guy would be where she expected him to be when she turned and sprayed.

Even as she jogged, she could feel her right eye burning. Had the wind been slightly stronger or the opening less sheltered by brush, she would have been as incapacitated as her would-be assailants.

When Steve asked why she took so long, Sally brushed the question aside. “Pup started sniffing at something and I had to dig him out of the weeds.”

For now, Sally would keep Pup on a leash but her mind never stopped churning about her near-miss.



  1. She was indeed lucky. The BJ would have been just the beginning of the assault. When they were fully done with her they might have decided to kill her just for good measure. I am surprised that she was not carrying a piece. Perhaps now she will - that is, if her husband has an extra one available.

  2. I know the vapor pressure for propane is much higher than the pressure for butane.

    I'd have to do some research, but I think the plastic lighter would not hold the pressure of a propane fill.

    1. What! You would let physics get in the way of a good story?

      Good point, actually.

      I assume a second, compatible hydrocarbon like naphtha (a common paint thinner) could be put into the lighter and then the propane dissolved into the naphtha, much like acetylene gas is dissolved in acetone or carbon dioxide is dissolved in water.

      I think a substantial volume of propane could be dissolved in an appropriate carrier, vapor pressures and all that.

    2. Or one could keep some butane cannisters for refilling. Or my preference, a Zippo. You can run them on white gas (naphtha) and that comes by the gallon as "Coleman Fuel".

      May Dad told a story about using gasoline in them during WWII. Not sure I'd want to try that.

    3. You might well have a point about needing to control the fill pressure, but the blogger Selco (https://shtfschool.com/), who survived a year of SHTF conditions in Bosnia, says he made a partial living by refilling people's butane lighters.

    4. I my dusty memories said that acetylene is kept dissoved in acetone because acetylene is really, really, dangerously explosive.
      I checked my memory and found this.
      I had no clue about dissolving propane in water, so I looked that up. (Answer is No.)

      And you are correct about physics getting in the way of the good storytelling you are doing, but I think you can have both good physics and good storytelling.

    5. Typo. Remove "I" and capitalize "my."

      Since the peddlers are traveling with one or more 20 pound propane tanks, they could easily sell refills for the common one pound disposable propane cylinder.

  3. A Zippo will run on any liquid that will ignite with a spark. I've run them on rubbing alcohol, kerosene cut with gasoline, charcoal lighter fluid...
    If a spark will ignite it, a Zippo will eat it.

  4. Lessons learned... Easy or hard are the ONLY two choices...


Readers who are willing to comment make this a better blog. Civil dialog is a valuable thing.