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garden railway - chap17
The continuing Saga of the Toenail Ridge Shortline

Chapter 17: ....There's Fire!

Written September 3, 1998
Uploaded February 28,1999

The Continuing Saga of the Toenail Ridge Shortline.

Now it came as a bit of a surprise to a lot of folks who had watched the development of Selbyville with interest that due to the unfortunate cremation of 300 pounds of Gelignite, this little town appeared to be a smoldering ruin.

As it happened, the crematorium which had been constructed in the middle of Main St. had in part used recycled supplies from the town's earlier derelict premises. One of the features of the little crematorium was a solid and impressive cinder-block brick wall, separating the public area from the place where the heat was brought to bear.
The cinder-blocks had formerly been part of the cellar of the burnt-out hotel and unfortunately there weren't quite enough of them to completly build in the back of the crematorium.
So the back wall was, temporarily of course, constructed of wood.
Old wood salvaged from old buildings.
Brittle, dry, frail old wood.

So that when the high technology new cremation furnace managed to ignite the wooden crate and that in turn turned the Gelignite into past tense, the force of the explosion was directed by the block walls straight back out through the rear wall.

The fireball engulfed the stockyards and cheese factory, and badly singed the sand house , but since everyone normally at work was either at home with the flu or in the funeral cortege, not a bruise was left on a soul.
Those mourners who had solemnly watched the wooden crate slide down through the brick wall and then listened to the final summation by Reverend Little, were all stunned by the noise of the explosion and almost without exception thrown onto their backs as the roof lifted, but actual physical injury was miraculously totally avoided (with the small exception of Mahalia Gugenheimer, the wife of the cooper, and Jeb Dunk the blacksmith. They by pure and unlikely chance happened by pure chance to be in close proximity to each other by pure coincidence and chance and he by pure chance happened to be bending to do up his boot lace and by pure chance she happened to be leaning on a chair and so, Dr. Bill Johnstone had to later extract one of Mahalia's teeth from Jeb's thigh and one of Jeb's teeth from the close proximity of her bustle. Pure chance.)

Selbyville managed to catch fire pretty well from the after effects, but the fire department volunteers rallied to the cause admirably, especially seeing that not one of them could hear the fire bell ring.
In fact, ringing ears and total deafness became the norm amongst the populace for a number of days following the blast.

The explosion was not without its tragedies.
Old Harry from the brewery who was tending the furnace just about dead-heated the young stranger in arriving at the Pearly Gates, much to his surprise. He died so fast he didn't know he had, the half-formed thought in his mind as his body components went explosively their separate ways "My God! That was a powerful chilli!"

One of the things that the human race is noted for, of course, is its resiliency.
So within a matter of days, the worst of the rubble had been carted down to the Selbyville railyards and loaded into gondolas for transport to the escarpment above the Toenail Ridge cliff, there to be tipped over the side in an early example of land-fill.
The broken windows in the saloon and General store had been replaced.
In fact Parker in the beer joint used his legendary Yorkshire personality and salesmanship and persuaded the board of the brewery to replace his window for him, on the understanding that they could cover the new glass with a large sign advertising their Supremely Healthy, Invigorating, Truly Tasty, Yeasty Selbyville Beer.

Cotton had been enveigled upon by New Jersey Jack Lazyacre a few weeks before to take an Insurance policy on his store, with the result that the Most-all States Insurance Company of Moline Illinois has shipped in a crate of panes and a glazier to fit them at their expense.

The cheese factory appeared at first inspection to be a total loss.
However, by following their noses, the inspection crew found, firstly to their amazement, and then to their olfactory stupefaction, that the heat of the fire had not destroyed the cheese in the vats, rather just toasted it to perfection, and within days the Fenster Cheesey Comestibles Corporation was exporting instant Welsh Rarebit, just add toast.
This was such a sales success in Portland that the factory was able to rise new and pristine in a matter of weeks, restored to its full operational capabilities.

The demand for instant prepared Welsh Rarebit led the board of Directors to consider diversification into other prepared food items, but after considerable debate the conclusion was reached that the American public would never give up the joys of kitchen-prepared food just for the convenience of purchasing it ready-made.
They returned to their previous product preparation, thus saving the cost and inconvenience of having to use Gelignite whenever another batch of Welsh Rarebit was required.

One of the beneficial aspects of the flu epidemic was that the stockyards had been empty at the time of the explosion.
If the usual quota of beef had been present, and a similar outcome to the cheese factory had been experienced, heaven alone knows what the impact on the world would have been at the ready availability of flame-grilled beef just waiting to be offered for sale.
Probably nothing, people are too sensible to give up quality and taste and texture and quality just for convenience.

As the cleanup preceeded, a new spirit gripped the people of Selbyville, a sense of renewal and progress.
Paint was applied, yards were cleaned, sidewalks were swept (in a couple of cases they had to be laid first....), in general, the little town underwent a revival.
Grant Alexander down at the railyards got his crew busy repairing the sandhouse (although one unfortunate side-effect of this was the premature discovery of the missing paint that his men had generously donated to Mac to paint the school-house. The sand house was intended to be in the Toenail Ridge Shortline colors of green and white but finished up receiving a thick coat of Lake Wallace water from the freshly opened paint cans. To this day the sand-house sits in the condition that furniture salesmen call "requires finishing.")
The Shortline directors weren't too pleased at the expense required to put things to rights, but in general they wouldn't have been pleased if they had found the rails turned to gold. Imagine the expense of having to relay them with steel!

The heat from the blast and subsequent fire had fused some of the sand to glass and this was quickly souvenired by young Cyril Hoskins who tried to redeem it at the beer bottle reclaiming depot but Danny Devlin was smarter than that, besides he'd had the same idea himself and was busy fiddling the receipts so that his nephew Sean could do exactly the same thing. If you're going to be dishonest, at least keep it in the family.
This premise has worked brilliantly for generations of Mediterranean islanders anyway.

Well, the flu epidemic finally dissipated, giving Doc Johnstone and the other residents of the valley of the Toenail Ridge a much needed respite and things slowly returned to normal.
Poor Mahalia Gugenheimer was left with a rather nasty little infection on her tail, caused purely by chance of course, by the fact that Jeb Dunk hadn't washed his teeth recently when he purely by chance sunk his chewing equipment into her nether regions.
Fortunately he was left with little more than a small scar on his thigh from her likewise application, although that small scar was in fact to bring him many fond rememberances in the years to come. He was solicitous in his concern for her well-being as she healed, making excuses to leave the smithy in the middle of the day to go and inquire after her health.
In this he was fortunate because his very dear friend Ebenezer Gugenheimer, the cooper, was more than willing to supervise his business while Dunk was playing the part of the Good Samaritan.

Old Harry's funeral was a sad affair.
Needless to say, Reverend Jeremiah Little officiated and Heironymus Whitehouse took care of the physical arrangements, while Little's Women prepared a slapup lunch for the mourners.
When he was alive there was little in the world that Harry enjoyed more than a good free feed, and here he was, guest of honor at his own funeral and not a bite could pass his lips.
Just goes to show that, even in the after-life, in the words of that great psuedo-philosopher Heinlein "There ain't no justice!"

Obviously there wasn't about to be a cremation this time, in fact, the last body burning forever had just about occured in the valley, so drunken Billy Carter had to dig a hole up on Goats Hill for the planting of the deceased.
Dave Munzbuck the carpenter went all out on the final wooden overcoat for Harry, smoothing it on the inside so that not one splinter protruded to disturb the rest of the old man, polishing and waxing the outside so that it shone in the sun, sealing the edges so that no water would be able to affect the remains, not that water had ever had too great an effect on Old Harry when he was alive. The closest he had come to water when he was breathing was the occasional splash dropped into his bourbon at Chuck Parker's Saloon.

Well, of course, everyone showed up for Harry's send-off.
Not the sort of occasion one could really miss.
Even that skinflint Michael Cotton locked up the General Store and put in an appearance.
The brewery closed down for a shift so that all of Harry's former workmates could tell lies to each other about how much he meant to each of them.
Harry didn't have any family in the valley of the Toenail Ridge but a cousin travelled in on the Shortline from Vancouver in Washington, mostly to claim his belongings. There was a bit of a fuss about that, because New Jersey Jack Lazyacre had turned up a will from somewhere that he said Old Harry had had him prepare, and sure enough it did kinda look like Harry's mark on the bottom, and in that document the deceased had decreed that everything he owned was to go to a widow woman over Rowel way.
Not that there was a lot to distribute.
Harry had lived a frugal and generally untidy existence in one of the old huts that had originally been built by Emmet Selby way back when the valley was first settled.
Its contents had pretty much remained undisturbed until Sheriff Dillon went through the place.
Harry had apparently just lived with the stuff on the top layer, and as new possessions surplanted old, the old slowly sank into the general miasma that spread on every level surface. Harry's belongings sorta lay on top of Harry's belongings.

And down at the bottom of the deepest pile was a tin trunk, locked, chained, sealed.

The Next Chapter in the Saga!

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