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The Continuing Saga of the Toenail Ridge Shortline.

Chapter 15
Trouble Brewing

Written 1-6th July,1998
Updated 20th July, 1998

Halfway down Main St. in Selbyville was the brewery.

It had been established in the 1880's to serve the needs and demands of the miners and local residents to free them from the excessive demands of the importers of alcohol from Portland and Seattle.

Admittedly, Rowel just down the line had had a brewery for 10 years but nothing tastes as good as local beer. Besides, a local business provided local employment and in a time when the gold finds were wearing thin and people were talking about moving on, employment meant security and continuation and stability.

Now the brewing of beer requires a number of ingredients which were not available in the valley but that just stimulated their ingress via the Toenail Ridge Shortline. Every couple of weeks No.9, under the control of Woody and Ken, would haul in a couple of boxcars full of sugar bags, a hopper loaded with hops from Northern California, malt from Seattle, bottles from Portland, crown seals all the way from Philadelphia and labels printed in far-off Denver by JD Laffoon & Sons.

(James Dale Laffoon began his printing dynasty by offering free services to budding authors, giving them exposure and experience so that they could develop their skills and embark on careers with confidence and enhanced ability. More than one sucessful writer owes his confidence to the initial push from J.D. Laffoon. His passing left a hole that may never be filled).

Crystal clear water was available in abundance from Lake Wallace, it's snow-fed purity lending a clarity and sparkle to the final product that made the beer a byword in the valley for pristine quality.
And if the odd animal deposit or fish carcass came through the delivery pipe, well, that just added body to the product, in a manner of speaking.

The brewery had been first established by an itinerant English miner from Manchester, by the name of Eddie Billias.
Like so many, he had entered the valley of the Toenail Ridge in search of that elusive mineral, and like so many others had found that the way to his fortune lay in different directions.

The difference between an achiever and the average person is that John Doe will perceive the need for a commodity and complain at its absence, while an achiever will put his head down and set about filling the need.

Thus it was with Eddie.

In his case, however, it was himself in need of beer so he set to learning the method of manufacture.

One of the first eye-openers he discovered was that these colonial types didn't appreciate their suds delivered at room temperature, so he had to modify his recipe to deliver its full taste when chilled.

(The English have a reputation for discovering something purely so that the rest of the world can improve it or beat them at it. Cricket,Soccer and tennis immediately spring to mind.)

Eddie Billias built his brewery into a thriving enterprise with attention to detail, consistent quality (this meant straining most of the thicker bits out of the Lake Wallace water), and of course, initial financing from Emmett Selby and the Bank.

Needless to say, no sooner was the brewery in a position to make a good profit than Eddie found it no longer in his possession, having been foreclosed on with no notice by that paragon of the valley, Selby.

Billias left the valley a broken man, and reportedly returned to his native Manchester where he finished his days a bitter librarian. God help the late-returnee of the borrowed book!

Selby didn't stay in the valley too long after that either, feeling the call of the wild in his veins.
This call of the wild was the anticipated reaction of those good folks who had money in the bank, especially their wild calls when they found him gone along with their investments.

So the brewery sat, in full production, fully staffed, with no owner.

More by a process of evolution than conscious planning, the business became one of the first examples of a Co-operative enterprise. As the need for a guiding hand became evident, the person on the staff most able to do the job inherited the position and pretty soon, the place hummed at full production.

Big decisions were put to the vote, even the handful of women employees being allowed to cast their ballot (not the blacks, Chinese, Irish or Mexicans though, no point in taking this thing too far..)
Monthly meetings began to be held for the discussion of the business, and profits were distributed equally after neccessary expenses had been deducted.

One of the first big decisions that came before the committee was the name of the beer. From the day that Eddie Billias had bottled the first run it had been sold as 'Billias' Beer ("Thirsty? Try this for that Billias Feeling!").

Of course, with Eddie B. departed o'er the sea, a new name was needed, and quickly.

The inhabitants of the valley of the Toenail Ridge had arrived there from all parts of the United States, Canada and Europe, so many suggestions for names reflected memories of home and fond recollections of summer days in the old haunts. Nonetheweiser, Old Peculiar, Green Ribbon, Fisters, Butsch, Doors, names to conjure memories of picnics and headaches and throwing up behind the barn.

It was a tendency during the late 1800's to assign healthy conotations to all manner of products, in the belief that a glib name and advertising slogan would turn around generations of knowledge and prejudice on the part of the anticipated audience. Thus, after much debate by the massed workers of the Selbyville brewery, Billias' Beer was renamed. Initially it was touted with the advertising motto "Supremely Healthy, Invigorating, Therapeutic, Truly Yeasty!" Unfortunately, it rapidly became known by its initials and a quick re-think was the order of the day. It's a shame that the first batch of labels had already been printed by Laffoon & Sons in Denver before the unfortunate slogan's connotations were caught. These labels now command a high price by collectors the world over.

Our Beer Is
S upremely...
H ealthy........
I nvigorating
T herapeutic
T ruly...........
Y easty!.......

Anyway, after that little gaffe, the committee agreed to be a little more conservative in their naming and the product finished up with the milder moniker of "Selbyville Ale:...Savour the Toenail Taste!"

One of the main vendors of the brewery output was, of course, Chuck Parker down at the saloon.
He purchased the sparkling ale in wooden barrels that were made by the local cooper, and stored them in the relative cool of his cellar beneath his place of business.
He had adopted the English method of delivery, tapping the kegs to a delivery pump mounted on the bar itself.
On really hot days, Parker would pack the delivery pipe in ice, so that the poured beer would arrive in the customer's glass frigid and frosty.

The inside access to the cellar was via a trapdoor immediately behind the bar, and on the occasion that a keg needed to be changed over while customers were in the saloon, Parker would close the tin money box he kept on a shelf under the polished bar top, lock it, and with it safely under his arm, he would lift the trapdoor and slowly desend the steep ladder to the cool depths.

Obviously, the kegs weren't delivered to the cellar via this trapdoor, they came in through the storm doors just outside, delivered on the brewery dray.

It was a standing joke amongst the saloon clientele, whenever Chuck desended to the cellar depths, for all present to stamp on the floorboards and yell as loud as they could to hurry him up.

Like all practical jokes, the humour wore off very quickly on the recipient, so with his natural taciturnity further enhanced by his patrons, Parker would change barrels and return to his habitual position behind the bar, re-distributing dirt inside a glass with his dishcloth.

A freshly tapped keg of beer has a healthy head, that is, it foams prodigiously as it is poured, so the first few glasses produced from the bar pump justified their slang name of 'suds'.
It is usual practice to discard these froth filled glasses, but Parker, with a hint of the Yorkshire blood in his veins, would carefully place them in the dim coolness below the bar-top and allow them to settle, incidentally allowing them to go flat as well.
Then when a miner or some other no-account would come in, he would top up the settled glass from the pump and present it to the newcomer.

This happened so often that at least one deep-hills resident didn't know that Selbyville beer could even have a head on it.

The brewery had evolved and grown over the years but some of its production equipment was still the original installation from Billias.

This led to some safety problems for the workers, as a lot of the walkways were not railed, and machinery was not guarded.

A story oft told to newcomers to the employment roster involved one Thomas David Mularkey, originally from Pennsylvania, who was such boring company that he had earned the nickname of 'Tedium'.
It was told that one day he accidentally fell into a fresh-brewed vat, incidentally swallowing copious amounts before he could regain the surface.

He struggled and fought valiantly, successfully managing to elude his rescuers until he sank from sight beneath the foamy surface. (Reports that he got out four times to relieve himself before he finally drowned are almost definitely untrue.)

He had requested in his will that his remains be subjected to the new disposal process called cremation, and it took three days for the volunteers to put the fire out.

Out of respect the brewery refused to bottle that particular vat of beer for the use of the Selbyville inhabitants, choosing instead to barrel it and export it to the unsuspecting drinkers of Rowel.
It was reported from that market that that particular dispatch had certainly shown more body than usual.

The Selbyville brewery was one of the first in the world to charge a deposit on their beer bottles, thereby assuring a copious quantity available for bottling, and reducing the number of new vessels that had to be purchased.
Originally they charged the munificent sum of one cent, redeemable from the loading dock on delivery of the empty. Bart Shay used to stack bottles for Chuck Parker so that his bottles could be delivered for re-imbursement in bulk. A lot of the other local kids would souvenir any bottle they could get their hands on and take them to the back of the brewery for pocket money.

The man in charge of the loading dock and the refund scheme was one Daniel Devlin.

He had been a master brewer but was pensioned off to the dock after incuring heavy shoulder injury following a fall from a vat gantry.
It was his charge to dole out the pennies to the eager little fingers of the kids, and he enjoyed his rapport with them, enjoying their enjoyment of cash in hand.
However, one empties deliverer stood out above all of the other boys in his ability to profit from the returns. Where one boy would bring in five bottles in exchange for a shiny nickel, little Cyril Hoskins would bring in a crate-ful a day, on Saturdays even two or three.
And yet, whenever Daniel happened to be in the Main St. of Selbyville on business, or passing by on the way home from work, he would see young Cyril, not out collecting, but playing with his peers.

Well, Cyril must have just about had enough refund money collected to buy a new bicycle from the General Store when Daniel received a report from one of his offsiders, whose job it was to stack and crate the bottles in preparation for washing and refilling, that something fishy was going on in the storage area out the back of the bottling plant.

This offsider, name of Carl and originally from Texas, was not the brightest person in the valley of the Toenail Ridge,but he was adamant that he could count and he could remember and that what he was counting and remembering on a Friday afternoon wasn't what he was finding in his stacks on a Monday morning.
Bottles were missing, crates were moved, finished areas were again undone.

Close investigation of the area by the two men soon turned up a carefully disguised hole in the back fence, behind a pile of lumber that hadn't been attended to in years.

And all around the hole, little footprints in the perpetually damp soil of the valley.

So Daniel set a trap.

He marked bottles with a pencil mark on the label, and placed them in crates that Carl most commonly noticed disturbed.

And sure enough, that very afternoon, three of the marked bottles turned up, tucked away in a batch of crates brought in by wagon from Chuck Parker's saloon.

As they came through his hands, Daniel re-marked them, so that he would know already pilfered stock.

And within an hour, to his amazement, one of the remarked bottles sat in his hands, buried in another returned crate!

And who had turned it in for refund?

Chilly John, Michael Cotton's brother-in-law and odd-job man.

And then another, in a crate from the Selbyville rail-yards, and four more in a crate brought from Ken Blunt's house!

The mystery deepened!

Daniel Devlin assigned Carl to secrete himself in the loft over the storage shed and observe the store of crates, and not to report back until he had something worthwhile to say.
Then, it getting on for final whistle time, Daniel took himself off to Parker's saloon for one or two cold ones to steady his nerves and steel himself to go home to his wife.

Now Carl was, if nothing else, a loyal and obedient servant.

Daniel had told him to sit in the loft keeping watch, and sit in the loft Carl would.

Like all breweries of the day, the employees were allocated a small free allowance of the product on a daily basis and Carl made sure that he had with him in the loft his permitted lot for that day as well as a couple of dozen he had been setting aside for the right opportunity. (On the basis of one bottle per man per day, Carl had surreptitiously borrowed ahead to the point that he was indebted to continue in the employ of the brewery for another twenty-seven and a half years.)

Well, it was getting on for that time of year when the sun sets a little earlier, and the chill in the air turns crisp, and the leaves begin to change from verdant green to gold and red and russet.
And sitting quite still in a loft with one eye stuck to a peephole is not a good way to maintain adequate circulation to all of the extremities.
A man needs something to assist his blood flow, something to heighten his concentration, something to relax tensed muscles while he watches. And if one bottle does such a good job, then another has to improve the effect and in fact a third will bring about a positive glow!

So as the sun set in the west, Carl relaxed into his vigil, cheese and pickles in one hand, fresh beer in the other, with his attention riveted to the yard of the bottling plant.

One of the reasons that modern technology has invented the security camera is that it doesn't have to periodically get up and go answer the call of nature.

Carl had a prodigious capacity for the amber fluid but his bladder did not, so with monotonous regularity he would clamber to his feet, clump across the loft floor to the ladder, descend and, with a contented gaze on the moon rising over the trees, and accompanied by those eructations and eruptions from both cephalad and caudad ends to which all dedicated beer drinkers are accustomed, return the Selbyville water to the soil.
It has been said of Selbyville beer that the reason it goes through the drinker so fast is that it doesn't have to stop to change colour.

This is not true.

The reason it goes through the drinker so fast is to leave room for more.

(Selbyville beer is not so much purchased as rented.)

The cool evening passed, and in the fullness of time Daniel Devlin stopped in at the bottling plant on his way home from the saloon to check on Carl's progress. Carl he found in his assigned position, eye firmly fixed to the peephole, alert and aware.

Together they descended to the ground, lit lanterns and inspected the stacks of empty bottles.

And found gaps missing in crate after crate after crate!


The following morning, Saturday, Daniel Devlin opened the gates to the loading dock yard and assumed his position in his little office overlooking the yard. The first trickle of bottle returners began, amongst their number one Cyril Hoskins, laden with a full crate of empties.

And everyone of them marked.

Daniel rushed out of his little cubicle, grabbed the boy by the ear, and demanded to know where he got his crateful of bottles!?!

Now little Cyril was a spindly kid, slight in built and meek in manner, so he resorted instantly to that defence of the seriously overpowered, tears.
Daniel, soft-hearted as always, felt about the size of a dime under the wilting glare of those standing close, and released the boy to comfort him.

And Cyril was gone, sprinting at top speed through the bottling yard, clearing the loading dock edge in one leap, skidding round the end of the lumber pile and gone through the fence.

There isn't much point in a grown man pursuing a lad in full cry, and Daniel had enough sense to know that. So with the satisfaction that he now knew the culprit, he turned back to his office to refund the next returnee of bottles.

Who was Woody, and his bottles were marked!
As were Grant's, Joe's, Clay's, in fact every bottle that came through the gates that morning bore the little 'X' on the label!

Fortunately, that morning, the Reverend Jeremiah Little did not happen to be in the vicinity of the brewery, being rather engaged on pastoral duties with the widow Lee over in Fenster, because if he had heard the language emanating from the mouth of Daniel Devlin he would have damned him to serve fourteen lifetimes in Hell for his sacrilege and blasphemy, not to mention inventiveness. As it was, even such a worldly man as Carl was seen to turn red and turn away in shock at some of the words being issued by his foreman.

Well, all stories don't have a happy ending, in fact, some seem to have no ending at all. It's very hard to accuse one person of a crime when every other person in the valley is also circumstantially guilty, so Daniel Devlin pretty much had to accept the mystery for what it was. However, from that day, the empties stopped disappearing from the loading dock yard.

And over in the despatch dock, old Harry, who had been passed over for the loading dock job in favour of Daniel, put away the pencil with which he had marked every outgoing bottle, and laughed, and laughed, and laughed.

The Concluding Chapter
in the Saga of The Toenail Ridge Shortline!

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Most sincere thanks to Rick Drescher in Tacoma for the Billias Beer label