The cooper who manufactured barrels for the brewery was a surly old coot who rejoiced
in the name of Ebenezer Gugenheimer. He had learned his craft while growing up in the
Amana Colonies in Iowa, but had managed to escape that strict way of life and headed West to
indulge himself in the heady delights of the late 19th. century.
Unfortunately one of those heady delights had happened to fall pregnant and Ebenezer
found himself the husband of a shrew and the father of a brat, and he had established
himself as cooper in the valley of the Toenail Ridge in an effort to fulfill his obligations
to his new family.
Coopering is an honourable profession, dating back to antiquity.
Barrels have been used as containers for liquids and solids for 500 years, surpassing the
previous pottery jars that had been in use since the ancient Egyptians. Barrels and casks are
made from hardwoods which are plentiful in places that clay is not.
Because of his home situation, Ebenezer Gugenheimer spent virtually all of his life in
his cooperage. Here he shaped staves and bottoms and tops and fitted hoops to hold his
barrels together. He swelled the wood with boiling water and hammered down the iron hoops
until the finished product was water-tight and sound.
The cooperage was immediatlely next door to the blacksmith's shop, a wooden, draughty,
dark and poorly ventilated converted barn.
The overlord and grand Vizier was one Jeb Dunk.
Blacksmiths are by definition tall, muscular, bare-chested, barrel-chested, gleaming with
honest sweat,powerful, physical, hormonally overendowed, MEN!
Jeb Dunk stood five feet tall in his Cuban heels, his physique resembled most closely a
xylophone seen side on, he weighed 79 pounds dripping wet and when he ate toast for
breakfast you could tell which side the butter was on when he swallowed.
Well, Ebenezer and Jeb both shared a family situation.
They couldn't stand their respective wives.
Interestingly, however, they were both drawn to the spouse of the other. What a shame that they
didn't live a half a century later when partner-swapping took on the guise of a popular sport
for a time.
But alas, Ebenezer had to be content with secret, dark visions of himself in the close
proximity of Thelma Dunk, while Jeb dreamt of clandestine trysts with Mahalia Gugenheimer.
And the two men, such close friends who shared every thought, gave no hint to each other
about their desires.
Of course, this was all such a deep dark secret that neither of them had any idea about
the feelings of the respective women for themselves and God forbid that they should ever
deign to inquire! There are some things that a man just can't do!
Well, as it happened, and unknown both to her husband and Jeb Dunk, Mahalia Gugenheimer
did in fact harbor thoughts of dallainces with her husband's friend.
Mahalia had been a statuesque beauty when Ebenezer had first encountered her
in the Sleazy Dive Saloon and Gambling Emporium in San Fransisco, but the years of good farm
food and mothering had added girth to her buxom figure so that the hour-glass she had once had
now more resembled a town hall clock.
Nevertheless, she was what at the turn of the century was described as ' a fine figure
of a woman.' And she dreamt of the blacksmith, all five feet in his Cuban heels of him.
They say that love is blind.
In the unlikely pairing of thes two, love's guidedog would need a guide dog.
The two families would often spend leisure time in each other's company, at church
socials and picnics, at brewery gatherings and at the annual valley festivals like
Thanksgiving and Harvest and Christmas and Emmet Selby Day. They would share fried chicken
and potato salad and home-made pickles and fresh sour-dough bread and Jed would try not
to look at Mahalia and Mahalia would try to place her ample being in the direct line
of sight to wherever Jed happeneed to be looking at the time.
And in all of this non-contact Ebenezer and Thelma would gaze at each other over the shared
picnic rug and over the heads of their respective broods and the air would simmer with the
heat and force of their lust.
Without either one of them knowing that they each heartily reciprocated the feelings
of the other.
What a wonderful gift have animals, that can tell with the casual sniffing of the
hind-quarters exactly what their prospective partner has in mind or is open to.
If such a sense was man's, what time and hinting and subterfuge and lying and outright deceit
(not to mention advertising costs) could be saved humanity!
But it is not to be, and so Jeb hungered for Mahalia, whose ample banquet went untasted,
while Thelma and Ebenezer deluged each other with pheromones and neither had senses to
detect the other's flood.
As so often happens, however, just about everyone else for miles around knew exactly
what thoughts went through the respective heads. It is an absolutely amazing capability
of humans in numbers to grasp instantly details and facts that are forever beyond the
comprehension of each specific individual.
(This phenomenon is observed at virtually every football game, when spectators in the
tens of thousands will rise as one in waves of accolades, or rise in progressive tides in
Mexican waves, each person part of a herd intelligence that knows exactly when and why to.
Now just try asking one person in that same assembly to rise to his feet, with arms upraised
and voice decrying "Bubba! Bubba!" SURE! they are going to! Right!)
So it was that just about every denizen of the valley of the Toenail Ridge knew that
Jeb wanted Mahalia and Mahalia wanted Jeb and Ebenezer drooled after Thelma and Thelma
craved Ebenezer. And they also knew that none of the participants had any hints
at all about the whole situation.
Except for the hot, sweaty dreams at night which involved the muscular bulk of the cooper.
Mahalia on the other hand, had been a city girl.
She had grown up, very rapidly in some ways, in that throbbing, thriving den of iniquity
and entertainment, San Fransisco, and was a horrified eighteen when she found out where
milk actually came from.
When she followed her husband to the valley, with the fruit of his loins coming to fruition
in her loins, she was as prepared for life in a small rural village as the average union
official is prepared for high office.
Thus she became the most frequent and most valued client of Cotton. She purchased
everything from soup to nuts.
(The tragedy of her life was that she lived before the advent of the freezer and the
microwave oven. Or home-delivered pizza.)
Life in the community of Selbyville caused an expansion in the corporal being of Mahalia,
so that by the time she had produced her fifth child for Ebenezer, she was a woman
of ample proportions, considerably different from the slim, magnificently proportioned waif
with whom he had fallen deeply in lust in their youth.
In a later age she would qualify for shopping privileges at one of those boutiques that
advertise their wares "for the fuller figure...".
She had slowly come to terms with living the life of the wife of a craftsman, slowly
adapting to the lack of housemaids, laundry facilities and hot water, but the one thing she
never managed to do was become a house-wife.
Her children wore store-bought clothes, which got handed down to the next youngest until
their consistency was closer to lace than muslin.
The healthy preserves served at meal times were purchased at fairs and fetes, the bread
came from Dick Sexton's bread oven until Selby foreclosed and shut him down.
Then she bought it from a store in Rowel and had it shipped in on the Toenail Ridge Shortline
daily. When Ebenezer had married Mahalia
he had hoped to get an economist in the kitchen and a whore in the bedroom. What he finished up
with was an economist in the bedroom and... well, this probably doesn't need pursuing.
Suffice to say, she had managed with very little effort to spend every cent that Ebenezer had
ever been able to earn, not on luxuries or frivolities but purely on keeping body and
The two wives were good friends also, although neither was averse to having the odd carp
at the other in the privacy of the bedroom.
Thelma had more than once criticized Mahalia to Jeb, regarding her lack of housemaking
abilities. Jeb of course was put in that nasty position of having to grunt affirmatives
while all the time trying not to jump to the defence of the absent slighted subject
in whom he had such a secret and un-requited interest.
And Mahalia frequently complained to Ebenezer that Thelma never
wanted to gossip, just talk
about house and kids and church.
"She has no sense of fashion, or manners, or any graces whatsoever!" she would
decry to Ebenezer, who would listen in his stoic Germanic way and fantasize about Thelma
with nothing on at all.
Grant Alexander from down the rail yards stopped in to the cooperage and smithy one
Tuesday afternoon to inform the two tradesmen that a gondola load of charcoal had arrived
on the noon freight from Rowel and did they want to arrange transport or just have it
stored in the railyard - for a monetary consideration, of course - until it was needed?
Dunk and Gugenheimer shared the cost of importing charcoal into the valley as they both used
it in prodigious quantities for their craftmanship, Jeb in his forge and Ebenezer to heat and
curve his barrel staves.
Now until his brother-in-law had caught him in the act and curtailed his profitable
little side business, Chilly John was the carrier for the district, using the General
Store horse and cart to ship goods around the area, all to the exclusive benefit of Chilly,
never mind that the ownership of the means of transport resided in his sister's husband.
So thatleft the cooper and blacksmith with a bit of a dilemma.
How to transport their charcoal to the shared backyard of their premises?
If thatnice old Harry had still been working at the brewery they could have bought him a bottle
of rotgut from Parker's saloon and borrowed a brewery dray, but Harry had retired after his
stroke, brought on by excessive laughter at some little private matter between him and Daniel
Devlin that occured in the bottling department one day.
Rod up the crossroads had a Ford
pickup but he wasn't about to allow its pristine load bed to be sullied by anything as dirty
and un-refined as charcoal. What to do?
Well, business had been pretty good for the two men, given the financial constraints of the
time, so over a cool brew at lunchtime, while Jeb consumed the three courses that Thelma
had prepared, and Ebenezer stoically masticated the doughy bits in his lard sandwich,
they discussed the possibility of sharing the cost of transport of their own. And since it was
modern times, there was no point in even considering anything as mundane as an animal-powered
It had to be the product of Mr. Ford or nothing.
And of course, if they owned a motorised vehicle, they could use it for family purposes as
well, just think of the picnics and excursions and ....
... and each of them had hidden little visions of being in charge of an automobile with their
lady love by their side (even if their wifewas in the back seat with the kids...).
As it happened, Emmett Selby Day was coming up real soon, when all the local businesses and
the school would be closed and every inhabitant in the valley would gather on the shores of Lake
Wallace and have a fair and picnic and races and fishing competition and drinking
competition and in general, find myriad reasons to eat too much, drink too much, get filthy,
pick fights with the neighbors.... in other words, act like all good friends in all locations
in the world when thrown together at a common social function.
But Emmett Selby Day was limited only to the valley of the Toenail Ridge, so Dunk and
Gugenheimer decided that they would ride the Shortline to Rowel that day and continue on to
Portland, there to discuss with the relevant businessmen the aquisition of a product of
Every resident was looking forward to the annual celebration with great anticipation so
it was with a certain amount of regret that Gugenheimer and Dunk left the valley for the day.
The interchange to Portland from Rowel was at its chaotic best.
The connecting line,
the Portland and Great Eastern, insisted on scheduling its through passenger service
to leave ten minutes before the Toenail Ridge morning combine arrived, so every day the
local dispatcher had to invent an excuse to delay the departure of the train until the
arriving passengers could board.
This particular day he had to be sneakier than usual because some of the big brass from the
Portland and Great Eastern were on an inspection tour and expected the line to perform
to its punctual best.
Fortunately the duty driver on the Portland loco this particular day was a fellow amenable
to the odd glass of conviviality so it didn't take too much of a promise to get him to tarry
over the re-watering while the loco was at the watertank.
The folks from the Toenail Ridge valley were pretty much used
to the hoity-toities from
Portland who tried to make them miss their connection, so as soon as #9 pulled into the
Rowel station the mass stampede was on, valises and cases hoisted on shoulders,
coats thrown over arms, children grabbed by upper arms and half hoisted, to shift from one
side of the station platform to the other and board the standard gauge Pullmans.
The journey from Rowel to Portland is normally undertaken in a leisurely two hours,
with the conductor chatting with his passengers and a general feeling of cameraderie
Not so today.
Old Randell the conductor was on his officious high horse, adamant that nothing would
occur while he was the captain of the train that would react adversely on the opinions
that the management were gleaning in the private car at the end of the consist.
Whistle-stops were timed to the second, the couple of passenger set-downs were rushed to the
point of danger, and the train pulled into Portland Central station 14 minutes early,
with the driver, the fireman, the conductor and the engine all breathing heavily.
Portland had enjoyed a brief spell of lawlessness in the last decade of the previous
century but had settled into middle age with a dignity and decorum
that belied its former role
as entry port for some of the nastiest characters and miners that the West had ever had
the misfortune to host.
Many of Emmett Selby's former clients had found legitimacy and comfort in the growing capital
and their offspring were now ensconced in lucrative banking and commerce careers with little
idea that their fathers had been anything other than upright and righteous men.
It's an interesting thing that like species, professions also evolve, slowly changing
capabilites and qualifications to fit the demands of particular occupations.
Not so car salesmen.
Sharks have existed since time immemorial.
A phenomenon of the late 1800's was the snake-oil salesman, that purveyor of spurious products
who relied solely on a sharp sales pitch to move useless products to ignorant purchasers.
Snake-oilsalesmen didn't disappear, they just bought three-piece suits to replace their velvet
vests, and set up shop in the new automobile industry. No training needed,
no qualifications beyond telling the rube what he wants to hear and promising anything that
it takes to separate the cash fromthe owner.
Want a motorcar and tractor all in one? Of course this fine piece of machinery can pull out
Want to cruise over rutted farm tracks at sixty miles an hour? Of couse the superb suspension
of this fine piece of mechanical engineering will handle that!
Need to carry a ton of seed potatoes home from the market? Why, the engine installed in this
vehicle wouldn't even notice a paltry task like that!
Gasoline too expensive at eleven cents a gallon? Of course this marvel of the Twentieth
Century will run on kerosene!
And cheap? Why, you could be the proud owner of this sparkling automobile for the piddling
sum of just $200!
..........Of course, you'll want some wheels on it, and possibly a top, given that it rains so
much up your way, and seats could be a good idea......
At the corner of Commercial and Main an enterprising character who was still listed as AWOL
from Camp Pendleton since 1917, had established a lush emporium dedicated to the proposition
that the one thing the American man most needed in his life was the American car, and nothing
would stand in the way of this character assisting that American man to realise that need.
He delighted in the magnificent moniker of Alfred Chance Rockefeller(no relation)
and he conducted himself with all the decorum and dignity of a Wild West Show barker.
He contracted new automobiles from The Ford company in Dearborn, Michigan, having negotiated
himself a contractthat allowed him to pay for the cars after they had been sold, so that
with the exception of a modest rental on an otherwise vacant block, and the salary
occasionally paid to his office staff, (whose name was Audrey and was a second-cousin
on her mother's side...) he frequently found himself in possession of large sums of
currency that hadn't yet been forwarded via Western Union to the Michigan head-office.
Now this could lead the average person into a bit of temptation, large sums of cash in the pocket.
In the case of Alfred Chance Rockefeller(no relation), it wasn't a matter of maybe,
it was as inevitable as rain in Oregon in (insert month here).
He had become aquainted with some of the men that New Jersey Jack Lazyacre had practiced
his card tricks on years before, with the result that his cash flow had become a drought
and he was desperate for an injection of new capital.
Rockefeller(no relation) had early on in his auto sales career had a large advertising
hoarding erected immediately outside the Portland Central Railroad Station, lauding
the many design and creature comfort benefits of the Ford automobile over its competitors,
and specifically designed to attract the eye of the arriving passenger.
Thus it was no coincidence when Ebenezer Gugenheimer and Jeb Dunk arrived at the premises on
the corner of Commercial and Main within minutes of alighting from the Rowel connection,
seeking elucidation in the matter of a new Ford automobile for their respective and joint uses.
One of the main differences between real sharks and human ones is that real sharks have to
work for a living, hunting and pursuing and catching and killing their prey.
Human sharks in the automobile business sit at their desks, unfocused eyes staring out
the window at their stock until the next meal walks in under their own power, begging
to be cleaned.
Then on goes the toothy smile, the jacket is buttoned, the tie is straightened, the spring is
imparted to the step and the predator enters the arena.
One of the great advantages that Rockefeller( no relation) had over his modern counterpart,
of course, was that he was not bound by any consumer laws that insisted on honesty, truth,
fact or disclosure.
He was at liberty to promise anything that popped into his head, and given that he was
frequently dealing with simple folks from the back-country, some of the ideas he came up with
were indeed occasionally worthy of fantasy awards.
However, he was also a shrewd judge of character and it didn't take him too long to realise
that his visitors from the valley of the Toenail Ridge were businessmen in their own right,
looking to drive a hard bargain and not to give an inch. Jeb Dunk had spent some of his
early life in Missouri and was well-endowed with that state's 'Show-me" attitude.
And being a blacksmith he earned his living by dealing physically with ornery critters and he
could tell a shifty animal just by the smell, so he was well on his guard from the second that
Alfred Chance exited his office.
It is well know that Henry Ford made his Fords available in any color the customer wished,
provided it was black.
He also made no provision for options, the basic car was what you got and if you wanted more
it was up to the purchaser to arrange it for himself from a myriad of after-market
suppliers.Every big town had numerous craftsmen skilled in the production of different seats,
pickup trays, buckboard sides, lamps, horns, electric starters, windows, luggage racks..
the list was long and varied.
The Sears-Roebuck catalogue had ten pages of bolt-on bits just for the model-T.
And Jeb had on occasion been called on in his smithy to fabricate a carrier to attach
to the back of a Tin Lizzie to transport hay or a trunk.
(Which incidentally is why to this day the Americans call the rear load space of
their cars a trunk. The rest of the English-speaking world refer to this section as the boot,
which is derived from the English driver's skill at planting the well aimed and well shod pedal
extremity to this portion of the vehicle when it refused to run. Not being inflicted with British
engineering practices, this was a skill that Americans did not have to learn.)
Now it happened that Rockefeller(no relation) had recently taken delivery of a Model T
which had been originally purchased by one of Portland's elite, but had been replaced by a
vehicle that promised more style and class.
This automobile had had a pampered life, even to the point of having been garaged in the
stables rather than left out in all weathers, so its appearance was pristine.
Now it's a fact that Model T Fords didn't come equipped with an odometer.
No record of mileage covered.
No compliance plate telling one and all when the car was built.
No carpet to show heel wear.
No rubber pedal covers to indicate prior use.
No way for the unaware and motorcar challenged to readily know that what he was being shown
as the pinnacle of the automobile builder's art was someone else's discarded pride and joy.
Of course, there is one sure way for a customer to demonstrate to a salesman that he is
car wise and mechanically knowledgable and that is to kick the tires.
And inversely, there is one way for the salesman to know that the individual with whom he is about
to conduct business is totally innocent in the ways and wiles of the automobile, and that is
when he kicks the tires.
Ebenezer Gugemheimer kicked the tires.
And Alfred Chance Rockefeller(no relation) descended on his prey.
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