Thursday, May 28, 2020

Quest: Only two things in life are guaranteed

Dmitri was all smiles when Janelle came back. Janelle had taken the precaution of bringing another picnic basket.

“I think I have good news” Dmitri started out.

“Your source in Farwell thinks there is a steam engine in South Riley. He said South Riley is near here but I never heard of it” Dmitri said.

“Did he give you any details about the engine?” Janelle asked. She had no intention of traveling around war-torn Michigan in mid-winter in search of an engine that was probably junk.

“Vern said it was used for pumping water and making ice ‘back-in-the-day’. He said the engine was reported to be in good condition but the boiler was trashed” Dmitri said. “He also said the owner bought a pipe to re-tube the boiler before he had a stroke.”

Janelle racked her brains. She only had the vaguest idea of where South Riley was. Unfortunately, she thought it was down near Detroit. That is, in enemy held territory.

Later that day, she bought her dad lunch at Gabby’s Pub. “Dad, what do you know about South Riley, Michigan?”

“What do you want to know about it?” Rick asked as he stuffed a french fry in his mouth. Meat may have been in short supply but potatoes, fry grease and cheese were not.

“Well, for one thing, where is it?” Gabby asked.

“It is a tavern on Francis Road, a little bit northwest of Dewitt” Rick informed her.

“That's it? A tavern?” Janelle asked.

“It probably used to be a town” Rick said. “It probably had a church and a store and a bunch of houses. But now all that is left is the tavern.”

“It is like Kinneyville and Petrieville. You know about Kinneville and Petrieville Highways but you probably never put two-and-two together. Those roads used to go through a town named after somebody named Kinney and the other used to go through a town named after a family named Petrie. Incidentally, both of those towns used to be on the river” Rick said.

“So it is close by” Janelle exclaimed.

“Well, sort of. It is probably a good thirty miles away” Rick said.

“Why do you ask?” Rick finally got around to asking. It was unusual for Janelle to take an interest in obscure, Michigan towns.

That is when Janelle brought him up-to-speed. She had a line on a 15 horsepower, stationary, industrial steam engine that had been state-of-the-art in 1915. And it was in South Riley, Michigan a scant thirty miles away.


The original owner had passed away.

The current owner knew that he had a gold mine. There was some debate about how the current owner had come into possession of the engine, but the fact remained that possession is nine-tenths of the law.

The two parties went around-and-around-and-around.

The current owner wanted the price of forty horses. He contended that the advantage of a steam engine was that you did not have to feed it when it was not working. The argument had some merit.

Milo had driven Janelle and Rick up to South Riley.

Yes, the engine existed. Yes, the factory plate rated it at 17 horsepower at the belt. Yes, the engine turned over. Yes it had a boiler. No, the boiler was not functional.

The seller had taken the time to get smart about steam engines. He knew the jargon. “It is efficient. It makes 17 horsepower with 15% cut-off and the boiler is set-up to super-heat the steam.”

Milo, who was better-than-average welder observed “The tubes are rotted out. The only things in the boiler that are worth salvaging are the shell and the bulkheads.”

It was a hard thing to do, but Janelle, Rick and Milo walked away from the deal. For one thing, they did not have deep pockets. Frankly, nobody did.


Rick gloomily retold the story of the trip to the north to the Capiche leadership. So close, yet so far away.

John Wilder was tapping his finger on the table while Rick spoke.

Even John did not have the funds to buy the non-running engine at that price...and then pay to repair it and put it into service.

“I am going to hate myself afterwards, but I think it is time to talk about taxes” Wilder said after Rick finished his recounting.

“What do taxes have to do with steam engines?” Chernovsky asked. He had pretty much heard the same story from his wife, Janelle.

“Taxes have everything to do with buying steam engines and fighting wars. Taxes, money, are the sinews of least according to Cicero, a guy who was a big deal back in the time of Rome” John Wilder said.

“The war machine is a ship that floats on a sea of money” John said. “Way more than what any one man can pay. We need to issue war-bonds and we need to levy taxes to pay the interest on the notes.”

The assembly would not have been any more repulsed than if John had pulled a snake out of his bag and thrown it on the table. Is there anything more universally hated than taxes?

Eventually, Chernovsky asked Wilder “Why would you, of all people, want to raise taxes. Won’t you end up paying more than anybody?”

Wilder shrugged. “If we lose this war I end up with nothing. They will take my land. Likely, I will be executed. If we win this war, I will pay taxes but the war-bonds I bought will pay interest for thirty years.”

“Really not much of a choice. Poverty-or-death on one hand versus paying taxes and collecting a return on one of my investments on the other” Wilder said.

“The only real question is “How do we come up with an even-handed, efficient method of collecting those taxes?”



  1. Thank you bringing up this topic. A fair system of taxation to provide for legitimate government functions is a fundamental principle of a free and moral which it seems nobody has gotten right in 4,000 years.

  2. And just like that government showed up at the party.


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