Friday, April 3, 2020

Quest: Down Day

The recovery day at the Bazylewicz compound saw Steve, Sally and Walt going their separate ways. It was not that they disliked each others company. Rather, they knew that chances to meet other people would be severely limited.

Through the course of the dinner the night before, Mike had been probing to get a feel for each person’s “verb”, the thing that motivated them.

He had his daughter-in-law Helen come and pick up Sally.

Steve went with his son Louis and Walt went with his son Mike Junior.

Helen’s family specialized in clothing. “Mr B. said everybody in your expedition needed warmer clothing.” Helen said.

“Oh, no. We are fine. We are from Michigan and we know about cold weather.” Sally assured her.

Helen’s silvery laugh brightened the room. “I am from Minnesota and trust me when I tell you that you know nothing about cold weather.”

Sally would have been offended except for Helen’s good nature and, well, Minnesota is a whole different kind of cold.

“What you don’t realize about Iowa and western Illinois is that it gets much colder at night than back home in Michigan. Michigan, blech, what a gloomy, cheerless state. The sun doesn’t shine from October until April.” Helen said.

“What do you mean?” Sally said. “The sun doesn’t shine in the winter anywhere.”

“That is where you are wrong” Helen said. “Lake Michigan pumps moisture in the sky and fills it with clouds. Illinois and Iowa...not so much.”

“But wouldn’t clouds make it colder?” Sally objected.

“Clouds might might make it cooler in the day but it keeps things warmer at night. And you gotta remember, you have twice as many hours of darkness as light.” Helen said.

“And then there is the wind.” Helen said. “You are dressed fine for twenty degrees Fahrenheit but you need clothing for weeks of zero weather and dips to -30 F. Otherwise you are going to lose fingers and toes, maybe even die.” Helen said in all seriousness.

Sally was distressed. “What are we going to do?”

“That is why Mr B. put you with me. I need to have you find a pair of trousers and a shirt that fit Steve and Walt. I can find a couple of lads their size and we can start layering them up until I am convinced they can survive Iowa/Minnesota wind and temperatures.”

Since laundering was on Sally’s list of assignments (funny how that happened) she had access to the relatively few clothes they had brought along.

Helen’s plan was quickly put into action.


Among Louis’s many tasks was running the tobacco barn. “Do you smoke or dip?” Louis asked.

“No. Can’t say that I do.” Steve said.

“Good. You are less likely to smoke the profits.” Louis said. Of course, anything Steve had said was going to be fine.

“Mr B was wondering if you could do some ‘Brand Building’ as you went west.” Louis said. The capital “B”s were obvious.

Steve cocked an eyebrow. “What does he mean by ‘Brand Building’?”

“We grew ten acres of tobacco this year. We have cigarettes. We have loose tobacco. We have dippin’ tobacco. We also have ‘chiklets chewing’ tobacco.” Louis said.

“What are chiklets chewing tobacco?” Steve asked.

“A pre-measured dip with a candy shell that dissolves when you put it between your lip and gum.” Louis said. “The candy shell makes them easy to pour and measure and store. Mr B’s idea: Clear Creek Tobacco Company Chiklets.”

“Doesn’t getting wet make a mess?” Steve asked. “We are going to be out in the weather and potentially crossing flooded creeks.”

“Thought of that. Pockets get damp, too. There is a thin wash of wax over the candy coating.” Louis said.

“Sounds expensive” Steve said.

“Sounds like you can charge a lot, is what you mean” Louis said. “You don’t need to tell your customers this, but we can hide a lot of stems and imperfect leaf when we grind it up and compress it into a chiklet.”

“I don’t know what I have to trade for them” Steve said.

“Word went around that you have a supply of pain-killers, some kind of tincture.” Louis said.

“Yes, Mrs Cherrystone’s Very Finest Laudanum” Steve said. Tincture of opium was always a strong seller, especially when there were medical people around.

“I think we can work out a deal where you trade most of your laudanum for tobacco. The remainder can be on consignment” Louis said. “We will give you a heck of a deal because Mr B wants to build demand for genuine Clear Creek Tobacco Company products. These river bottoms grow excellent tobacco.”

“Would you consider selling me tobacco seeds?” Steve asked.

Louis gave Steve a bracing punch on the shoulder. “Nice try, guy. But not a chance.”


Walt went with Mike Junior who was the diesel, heavy equipment mechanic.

Walt was taken aback when Mike Junior said, out of nowhere “My dad is not really that great of a guy. Actually, he can be a real asshole.”

“What do you mean?” Walt was not about to trash-talk their host nor did he want to get into an argument with his guide for the day.

“My dad is a control-freak” Mike said, shortly.

“Did he tell you that he made $30,000 in two weeks, once. It was Christmas and the plant needed to start up and make-rate on January 2? Yeah? He tells everybody that story. About how the Great Michael Bazylewicz lived in the plant and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.” Mike said.

“Look at me” Mike said. “I am thirty-eight and basically living in my dad’s basement.”

“I thought you guys owned the property your house was on” Walt objected.

Frankly, Walt was a bit put off by a grown man, twice his age, acting like a spoiled child.

“I do. I own the house and a small lot but not the property around it. But the deed comes with restrictions where I have to offer my siblings last right-of-refusal if somebody outside the family wants to buy it. All they have to do is offer one more dollar than the outside and it is theirs.”

“Why is that a problem?” Walt asked. “And why would you want to move?” The Bazylewicz compound seemed like a pretty sweet set-up to him, at least compared to most of what people were doing to get by.

“Don’t you see? I am trapped here. Nobody has any money. Nobody would bid on this property, knowing that whatever they bid one of my siblings would simply out-bid them.” Mike said, bitterly.

“Do they have the money?” Walt asked.

“Dad would loan it to them.” Mike said.

Having vented his bile, Mike took Walt into his workshop where he showed him some water turbines he was assembling. “Most of the diesels I worked on had turbines to increase horse-power” Mike said. “The proportions and shapes come naturally to me.”

Mike even had a foundry where he made his own castings and a machine shop to finish them.

Ultimately, Walt was saddened that Mike, a gifted craftsman in his own right, felt so over-shadowed by his father. Walt knew of several small streams that tumbled down to the Grand River in their last quarter-mile; streams that were almost perfect for the turbines Mike Junior was making. If the expedition passed back through the Bazylewicz compound on the way back, Walt intended to buy one or two with his profits.



  1. I have been wondering how our travelers are going to fare when it gets REALLY cold. It is very fortunate they are being outfitted with suitable winter clothing.

    But I have also been wondering how the horses and the dog are going to fare in bitter cold. Are they not also at risk for frostbite and hypothermia if they are fully exposed to the elements in a cold snap or a winter storm?

  2. I'll second George's question. And I see Walt doing some 'recruiting' on the way back... :-)


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