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The Continuing Saga of the Toenail Ridge Shortline.

Chapter 14
The Touch of Healing Hands

Written 22 June,1998
Uploaded 24 June, 1998

Far into the back gullies running off the valley of the Toenail Ridge, men fought for riches in the bowels of the earth, wrestling minerals from their deep-buried beds and then refining them and shipping them out. The whole area had originally been settled by these seekers after mineral wealth, even the great valley patraich, Emmett Selby himself, had arrived in the region to answer the wild call of easy pickin's.

Well, at a gold strike, the only easy pickin's to be had after the first free-lying nuggets are grabbed lies in the hands of those selling provisions and licences to the fools with gold in their eyes. After that initial stage, the work gets back-breakingly hard and dirty and tiring and dangerous.
And spectacularly un-rewarding.
But there is always that rugged individual who labours on, delving for the mother lode, the big strike, the Eldorado, the Midas touch.

A number of these rugged individuals, easily identified as individuals by their identical mole-skin trousers, flannel shirts, ragged hats, busted boots and ingrained dirt, scratched a living from the hills of the valley.

During its short history the valley had had gold strikes, a trace of silver, lead and nickel.
The gold ran out soon enough, although everybody still working a claim knew that the big nugget still lay waiting for the caress of their pick.

The silver initially promised boom times all over again, but it was only a flash in the pan.

Lead and nickel will return a man a million dollars, providing he has invested five million dollars in its extraction, refining, transport, storage and re-distribution.

Unless there is a war on, when the Government will pay him not to export it to Japan or Germany, of course.
But a miner wasn't always that lucky. Shoot, half the time the Goverment refused to have any wars at all, despite intense lobbying by the miners interests in Washington.

A dedicated gold seeker from the old days still scratched the old diggings in the back-hills and treked to Selbyville every few weeks for supplies and human contact.

His name was Ralf Grossenscaler.

He had immigrated from Germany before the turn of the century, seeking freedom in the United States.

Germany in the 1890's was one of the most well-educated, free and enlightened societies in Europe. The freedom Ralf was seeking was not from an oppressive regime, rather from a shotgun-wielding potential father-in-law.

Ralf had been told often by his mother (in German, of course)
"An hour of pleasure isn't worth a life-time of regret."

Well, for a start, he hadn't been able to make it last an hour, and he sure as schutin' wasn't going to hang around to find out just how long that regretting lifetime was going to be.

So he packed his Rucksack (which is German for 'Rucksack'), crossed France by goods train, and purchased steerage passage to New York.

His arrival in the Big Apple (although back then it was only a core of its future self) co-incided with banner headlines in the Wall St. Liar and other papers of further gold finds in the Rockies.

Well, his Englisch was passable, due to a misspent youth hanging around tourists, so he got himself a job on the Union Pacific Railroad as a car-conductor, and got paid to cross the continent.

Ralf had been serving an apprenticeship in Germany as a barber, so when he wrote hair doctorer in the 'Previous Employment' space on the UP application, he used the German spelling and the UP thought they were hiring Herr Doktor Grossenscaler to care for their cross-country passengers.

Well fortunately, no-one needed a baby delivered or an appendix removed during the journey, in fact the only examination Ralf was called upon to do put a quizical smile on his face, when he was asked to privately peruse a bruise on the nether-regions of a delightful young lady who had fallen in the dining car.
She never quite understood why a simple bruise required such careful perusal and Ralf never quite understood why the opportunity presented itself, but 'never look a gift horse in the mouth' may be freely misquoted to cover the inspection of sundry other body parts, and he took full advantage of the opportunity.

They parted the best of friends.

Ralf took his leave of the Union Pacific when it entered California.

He loved to go a'wandering upon a mountain track so he spent a number of weeks hiking steadily northward until he reached the coast above San Fransisco. From there in rapid stages he covered the remaining distance to Portland and began to ferret out the now- irregular reports of gold strikes.

Well, we all know where he finished up, don't we?

He arrived at the station a mile out of Selbyville carrying his worldly possessions in his Rucksack, his UP conductor's cap perched jauntily on the back of his blonde scalp, and the gleam of gold fever in his eyes.

And the gleam never dimmed.

Years passed, the memory of that delightfully bruised derriere on the train slowly faded in his mind's eye, his cap became soiled and mis-shapen and still he prospected and dug, delving deeper into the earth for her riches.

(One speaks of the 'bowels' of the earth...that must put miners on about the same level as intestinal worms.)

Ralf occasionally had a show of color in his pan or settling-cradle but his income never ever exceeded his outgoings and he lived virtually hand to mouth for the better part of a couple of decades.

He tramped into Selbyville for beans and coffee every month or so, coverting his little hoard of gold dust to US dollars at whatever exchange rate Michael Cotton had thought of that day, and with his next month's staples in his now badly battered Rucksack, he would repair to the dim comfort of Chuck Parker's saloon, there to imbibe the balance of his earnings in beer and rum and bad whiskey.

Now an interesting thing is a Northern European in his cups.

Americans become boistrous, The English turn maudlin, Australians turn pugnacious, Mediterranean types turn romantic, but Germans sing.

And sing.

And sing!

A nation whose unofficial National Anthem is called "Drink! Drink! Drink!", whose national pass-time is slapping each other on leather-clad behinds while foisting gallon beer-mugs at each other, whose national dance involves planting each other's boot in posteriors while dancing to the strains of Strauss waltzes, like 'the Booze Danube' and who actually invented the salt-covered pretzel, not to assuage hunger but to increase the thirst for more beer!

(Which incidentally, they spell 'Bier' as in its grasp you are transported towards your final fate.)

Well, in Chuck Parker's saloon, Ralf Grossenscaler was a popular if infrequent visitor.
He would go from a state of total sobriety to one of total alcoholic inebriation in the space of one glass, and then maintain this state, neither increasing or decreasing his condition, until his money ran out, all the while, in his magnificent bass baritone, singing of the scenic delights of Tyrolean Alps, Swiss verdant valleys, mountain pastures and other geographical delights of the Vaterland.
(Which, for reasons of decorum we shall pronounce 'Fatherland').

Finally, when his pocket was empty and the rest of him was full as a boot, he would stagger out into the street and make his weaving way towards sheriff Dillon's office, where he was assured of a bed for the balance of the night if he raised enough of a ruckus.

One thing only cast a cloud on the life of Ralf Grossenscaler, and that was his health.

Particularly the health of that part of him most intimately in contact with the back of his long-johns.

In short, due in large part to the amount of time he spent in cold, damp mine shafts, this unfortunate man was the victim of hemmorrhoids.


He had tried cold water, hot compresses, infusions of tea, calamine lotion, everything that folk medicine and the questionable advice of the doctor over in Rowel could throw at him.

And still the affliction made this strong man dread that certain time of day.

Well, into the valley came a young man, riding the Toenail Ridge Shortline in search of a place to put down roots and set up practice.

He was called Bill Johnstone and he was a doctor, freshly graduated from his Iowa college and hungry to spread his healing ability amongst the populace.

The valley until now had not had immediate access to a medical man, those in dire need either riding the train to Rowel to consult with old Doc Marten, or managing to die without any medical help at all.

Now a young man first in practice has a few prejudices to overcome.

The first is that he is too young to know anything, regardless of the fact that he may have spent the best part of half a decade being instructed in the Healing Arts.

The second is that he is a young MAN, so he has to overcome the generally held belief that his entire interest in life resides in the lower front half of his trousers.

Then there is the problem of being a young man with a valley full of young women, all of whom would make the ideal life's partner for this particular young man, and traps go up everywhere to ensnare him.

Not to mention the fact that regardless of how deep his knowledge, how intuitive his diagnosis, how efficacious his therapy, how rapid the effect of his medication, how neat his suturing, how minimal his side-effects, how gentle his bedside manner, he wasn't a patch on old Doc. Marten, who had been the attending for virtually everyone born in the valley for a half century and had a death rate average just below the Mt. Vesuvius eruption.

However, Dr. Bill had no sooner set up his surgery in one of the old store-fronts on Main St. when he was presented by no less a patient than Ralf the miner, or at least presented with part of Ralf the miner, that part in dire need of attention.

Now Dr. Bill had kept a close eye on the medical journals and was aware that a major breakthrough had been made by the pharmaceutical company UpJacks in the efficient treatment of just this particular malady.

So consulting his references, Bill prepared an unguent ointment to the instructions supplied by the company.

They had tested and experimented with numerous formulae and had finally reached the pinnacle of therapy in their fourth attempt, Preparation D.(C)

This ointment Bill carefully distilled into a jar and supplied to Ralf, explaining carefully the means of application.

A small mis-understanding arose when Ralf said that he didn't have a back passage at his cabin to place the ointment in so could he put it in the wood-shed instead, although he thought that that would be about as useless as sticking it up his....

Well, Dr. Bill got him sorted out on that one and sent him on his way, with instructions to report back in a week, and to avoid chillis in his diet.

Now the best possible way for any new enterprise to flourish is for it to have excellent advertising.
Within three days, Ralf had informed virtually every person over the age of two in the whole valley that the new young doctor 'vas der best Artz Doktor in der World!'

(It should be explained here that in the German language a medical practitioner is called 'Ein Artz', a word sharing its etimological background with the English word 'artist'. Ralf was expressing his belief that Dr. Bill was the best medical man he had seen.)

However, few of the inhabitants of the valley of the Toenail Ridge spoke German, so within hours, whispered over back fences, guffawed over the saloon bar, snickered over coffee in the Selbyville yards, the new medical practitioner to the valley had earned his reputation for life.

Chapter 15 in the ongoing Saga!

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