Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Quest: Lead on the target and smooth sailing

“It doesn’t matter how much lead you can throw downrange if you can’t hit anything” Tomanica growled at the grunts. “Only hits count.”

“Now pull your heads out of your ass and focus on making the next shot hit the black.”

The grunts didn’t complain, they whined.

They whined about everything. They whined about the food. They whined about the range. They whined about the wind, the ammo and their spotters.

“Look” Tomanica said, disgusted “it don’t matter if you are shooting a 50 caliber BMG. If you can’t hit the target then you wasted a round. That is the only thing that matters. You have to hit the target.”

“Yeah, but we are shooting BB guns” one of the ‘men’ said.

“It is a pellet gun, not a BB gun” Tomanica corrected him. The first few squads he had run a mile each time they were technically inaccurate but it cut too deeply into the training time.

“All of the principles are the same. Breath. Sight picture. Trigger control. Hold after shot” Tomanica said. “I ain’t gonna waste ammo trying to train on any asshole who cannot shot a pellet gun. You can haul mortar rounds and water if you cannot shoot.”

Even the dullest of students started to pick up on the fact that the ‘skilz’ they had picked up playing video games didn’t necessarily carry over to shooting real firearms.

Tomanica had the same push-back when he introduced the trainees to the suppressed .22s as he got with the pellet guns.

“We want to shoot real guns!” they said.

“If you cannot shoot a .22 then you cannot shoot anything. You might think your shooting will get better but you are just fooling yourself” Tomanica told them.

“Besides, .22s are ‘real’ guns” Tomanica told them.

“Maybe for shooting sparrows” the troops jeered him.

“More deer have been poached with .22s than with everything else combined” Tomanica told them. “And a deer is a dead-ringer, pound-for-pound, for humans.”

“If a .22 can kill deer and steers, it can kill humans.”

Tomanica didn’t feel it was necessary to tell them that over a thousand hostiles had been killed by 30 Capiche defenders during the initial waves of invaders...and most of them had been killed with the lowly .22.

He also did not tell them that almost half of the fighters were to be equipped with .22LR, semi-auto rifles. Given all of the other gear they had to lug in battle, it only made sense to economize on weight. 200 rounds of .22LR ammo weighed less than two pounds. 200 rounds of 5.56mm “AR” ammo weighed more than five pounds while 200 rounds of the armor-piercing .30 caliber weighed over 12 pounds.

For example, mortar crews would be issued .22 rimfire weapons because they were hauling tubes and baseplates and mortar rounds….lots of mortar rounds. They might come under enemy small-arms fire but their main function was to stay out of sight and drop death on the enemy from above. Personal weapons were secondary to their primary mission.

It also meant that the squads and shooters who did not meet Tomanica’s standards were going to be donkeys. He was not one to make idle threats.


Steve, Walt and Sally’s trip suddenly became easy as towns bent over backwards to be hospitable.

There were a few glitches. The leaders of one town tried to pressure the expedition. They assumed that they were in a position to dictate terms since they were twenty-five miles from the last “station”, they had ample sidings and they were much larger than the surrounding communities.

Steve could not tell if the mayor was myopic or simply very aggressive. The mayor kept moving closer to Steve, to the point where the mayor was bumping Steve with his belly. Later, the expedition joked about it as the probable origin of the word ‘bellicose’.

The instant the mayor poked Steve in the chest with his finger, Steve said “Pack the wagon.”

It was a simple matter to get out of town since nothing had been unpacked. The expedition was deaf to the entrities of the town’s people.

The expedition went another two hours west on the road before coming to another town with sidings. Even though the expedition had originally adopted the story of restarting the rail line as a cover story, the longer they thought about it, the more sense it made.

Their reports would have value. The prices, condition of the facilities and attitudes of the people would all be important considerations for anybody restarting the lines.

And, the sooner the line restarted, the less difficult it would be to bring the equipment and railbeds back up to snuff.

They made no secret about the plan to drop-and-hook every twenty-five miles. That was a viable plan if the locomotive could cover 125 miles a day.

Sally found herself with multiple notebooks. One of them listed old railroad men and heavy-equipment mechanics who were willing to go back to work. The expedition sat through more than one heated discussion regarding the virtues of steam-versus-diesel.

From Walt’s standpoint, it was very simple. Diesel won until you could not do diesel anymore. Diesel needed less than a half a pound of fuel for every horse-power-hour vs steam’s two pounds of coal and five pounds of water. Diesel needed about one-tenth the maintenance.

The flip-side was that steam could use local fuel and the parts could be made in low-tech machine shops.

Walt’s gut feel was that the mainline locomotive would be some form of diesel. It would drop-and-hook a car every twenty-five miles. Then, a small steam engine would shuttle the car, for a fee, to the satellite towns on the rail.

The expedition experienced two other hiccups east of the Mississippi river. One of them involved detouring around some civil strife in El Paso, Illinois. Fortunately, the citizens of Gridley were aware of the incursion by the forces from Bloomington/Normal and warned the expedition. It necessitated a couple of day’s jog to the north to ensure they did not get tangled up in the conflice.

The other hiccup was planned. They skirted south of Peoria since it counted as a “big city”. They also had a contact in Peking, Illinois who was more than happy to provide them with food and lodging and get them back in contact with the rail road and the road to Burlington, Iowa



  1. There is probably going to be a glut of diesel locomotives.
    And steam locomotives are going to be few and far between.

    The issue of course is exactly what you said. Fuel.

    1. There are 178 operating steam locomotives in the US, per Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Preserved_steam_locomotives_of_the_United_States). You only need a couple to do what these folks are looking to do. There are 3 at the Steam Railroading Institute in Owosso, Michigan. Google says that's 55 miles. Probably 2-3x as much when you start avoiding places like Lansing. These folks are smart. That makes it doable.

    2. I didn't the number was that high, nor that there were engines close.

  2. Good knowing about steam-versus-diesel, re: fuel and maintenance. One other advantage of a diesel-electric locomotive is the ability to provide localized grid power while on site, fuel supplies permitting. Something like that would provide added incentive to stand up the petroleum industry again. There was a book, Men And Volts At War: The Story Of General Electric In World War II. It was intended as a public relations piece, I guess, but the stories were fascinating.

    1. I agree, but in a situation like this everything is far more localized than what we're used to. I suspect that things would devolve to the "new normal" in some highly unpredictable ways, and everything will depend on locally available resources, including local available brainpower. That's why I hope that, should this happen in the here and now, there will be those who see me as worth helping, because I can help them with knowledge and experience they lack. Otherwise, I'm probably toast in 6-8 months. Age and some health problems are against me.

      Getting petroleum production back online and doing even simple distillation would be an energy and knowledge intensive task. Cutting wood or mining coal out of an existing strip job, not so much. Use the steam to help sell the idea, then may folks would see it in their own best interest to "do better". And if not, steam works.


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