Facebook Page
The Continuing Saga of the Toenail Ridge Shortline
Page uploaded June 24th, 2007


 The Mountain

The Mountain

Written June 2007

In the fullness of time just about anything that can happen, will happen. Everyone who is familiar with the adventures of the inhabitants of the Valley of the Toenail Ridge knows that in that secluded part of the world million-to-one chances come off nine times out of ten so it was with no great surprise to most of the valley's denizens that one fine Spring morning they woke to find that a dramatic change had occurred in their little piece of heaven, to whit, the earth was grey, covered & coloured by a fine ash blanket which adhered to every blade of grass, every twig, every cow, every roof. And with the ash a smell, a smell of sewer, of rotten eggs, of chilli farts, of flatulence unleashed.

Now a wonder like that calls on all men to surmise as to the cause, the reason, the method behind this dramatic departure from normal. And as is typical of all men, those with the least idea proposed the loudest answers. So it was that Stan Smith (he of the big mouth & bigger imagination) broadcast to the populace in general that what they were all witnessing was a sign from the Lord for having thrown out that no-good preacher man The Most Holy Reverend Elmore Lutschke of the Holy Most Blessed Church of The Gateway to Heaven Praise the Lord!, who had been politely ejected from the Valley by New Jersey Jack Lazyacre following his exposure as a bit of a con-man/fraud/flim-flam man/liar/crook. (Incidentally, none of that would have mattered if he'd managed to win that election in West Virginia, he'd just have met the job criteria....)

Of course, given that just about all of the folks who called the Valley home knew that Stan Smith was usually as full of bovine excretion as it's possible for a human being to get, not too many adhered to his pronouncements and just looked elsewhere for a logical reason.

Now logic is an interesting word, its definition varying on the gullibility and/or level of education of its audience. It is the ability to reach a reasonable conclusion given a certain set of facts. For instance, logic is the method whereby a man can see a full glass & an empty glass & realize instantly that some bastard has drunk his beer while he was in the privy. So opinions became divided, even before lunchtime, as to the cause of the grey ash phenomenon. The average fellas agreed amongst themselves that it was probably due to some supernatural occurrence which it was beyond the ken of mortal men to understand so, with the same application of reasoning that they used to swallow the preachings of the Reverend Jeremiah Little, they decided that the ash was there and that was that.

The more thinking individuals (i.e. those with an IQ above room temperature) figured that where there's smoke, there's fire, or in this case, where there's ash there's something that got mighty damn hot somewhere. And while the rotten-egg smell was a considerable insult on the average olfactory apparatus, more than one of these individuals recognized the odour for what it was...hydrogen sulphide. Now, to get rotten-egg smell without considerable ingestions of baked beans and Texas chilli (which incidentally produces methane, a compound also containing hydrogen but needing a fermentation process, most frequently provided by 20+ feet of alimentary canal, especially the distal portion thereof...) the most commonly know supply is the Earth itself, as anyone who has visited hot-springs will readily attest.
And the Valley of the Toenail Ridge lies, as we know, in that beautiful & secluded part of North-eastern Oregon just over the border from the State of Washington. The State of Washington of the volcanoes. The State of Washington of the occasional mountain that dissipates half of itself over the odd thousand or so square miles in the form of ....... ash. Fortunately this volcanic excreta (mountain merde?) is a mighty handy thing for revitalizing the soil & replenishing the nutrients needed for good agriculture.

Unfortunately, not right away.

In fact, not for a minimum number of months or even years does it break down & become absorbed by the underlying loam due to the action of rain.
In the meantime, it's messy.
And stuff doesn't grow in it.
And it kills stuff that was growing before it came along.
And it sticks worse than excreta to a blanket when it gets rained on.
And it blows into every nook & cranny (& even into crooks & nannies if they're bending over at the wrong time) when the wind doth impart motion to it.
And it makes grown men cry when it gets in their eyes.
And it makes children cough & wheeze.
And it makes mothers curse as their pristine washing takes on the hue of a recently scrubbed blackboard.
And it washes off the roof & taints the drinking barrel.
And it flushes into the magnificent, clear waters of Lake Wallace & turns the water filthy so that the fish swim around using reeds for snorkels to try & get some air.
And it makes Mr & Mrs Joe Average pretty damn mad & someone better do sumthin' about it or by Gosh & by Golly!

New Jersey Jack Lazyacre was awoken a bit more forcefully than usual that morning by a heavy-handed pounding on the door of his private apartment on the second floor of the Selbyville hotel. Now while he was normally a polite man in his demeanour and temperament this sudden arousal from his slumber did not impart to him a feeling of peace & tranquillity so he clambered from his blankets with a scowl & a frown & pulled the door open with a "What the hell is going on?"

Standing on the landing in the hallway of the hotel, hats in hand, were the men of the delegation chosen to attend on the leader of the Valley of the Toenail Ridge to inform him of the dramatic transformation that had overtaken their world overnight. And chief among them was Sheriff Dillon Matthews. "Jack!" he started...." a hell of a situation here. Damn town is all covered with ash! Reckon that damned volcano up in Washington, Mt St Helluvamess, has done blown its top! Hell of a situation, Jack, hell of a situation!"
"Gentlemen, come on in, take a seat, gimme five minutes to put on some breeches & we'll have a look-see" and Jack spun on his heel (which isn't easy to do in bed-socks..) & strode through his living room into his bedroom & slammed the door.
Within minutes, Lazyacre re-appeared fully clad and ready to tackle the latest catastrophe to hit the little valley.

Vulcanology is not the study of esoteric characters with pointy ears from television shows, rather it is the science of volcanoes, of magma, of the mind-bogglingly hot interior of Mother Earth. And volcanoes are the way that Mother Earth gives herself an occasional make-over, equivalent to the regular facelift, boob-enhancement & tummy-tuck of the aging Hollywood diva. Volcanic ash replenishes the minerals & nutrients in the soil, it rejuvenates worn-out land & is generally a most beneficial substance....provided you don't have to live with the damn stuff when it's fresh.
When it's fresh, it stinks. And clings. And infiltrates. And makes purty much everyone in the local 100 miles damned unhappy.
And such was the situation confronting New Jersey Jack Lazyacre that fine morning in the Valley of the Toenail Ridge, in particular in the fine burg of Selbyville.

Jack set to with a Will, also with Dillon, Jeremiah & considerable numbers of other towns-folk & stepped into the daylight, there to be greeted with the dismal & grey truth. Selbyville, his Selbyville (HIS! SELBYVILLE!) was corrupted. Its delightful demeanour was totally demeaned, the trees hung their foliage in shame (which is an anagram of me-ash), the roof tops looked covered in dirty snow, the whole town stank of old farts.
New Jersey Jack was not a happy chappie. He not only had a proprietary interest in Selbyville (translation: he owned damn near every piece of lock, stock, barrel, nail, tile, shingle etc within sight...) but he was inordinately proud of his community too & the sight of the area reduced to ashes weighed heavy on his heart & kindled in his breast a rage that such a calamity should have befallen HIS town.
"Gentlemen..." he intoned, turning to face the gathered city fathers.... "... this requires assistance from the State! Sheriff, hie yourself down to Dempsey at the railway station, tell him to wire the Capitol immediately with our situation, then get him to send a wire to my friend the hon. Derek Molecan, the Governor of our fine state of Oregon. Tell him I need him here. Now!"
"Little! Get me Fr Fred! Man’s got a mind on him like a bear trap, mebbe he can come up with some ideas".

There are times in the life of a man where he just has to stand back, light a cigar & wait with hands in breeches pockets until events & responses to events catch up with each other. For New Jersey jack, this was one of those times. "Gents, reckon I've done all I can do right this minute, reckon I'll go have some breakfast...." & with that he strode back inside his hotel & sat in the dining room.

Down at the station, early in the morning.... Joe Dempsey was pouring himself his fifth cup of java when Sheriff Dillon Matthews rode up.
“Joe! Git your lazy butt up & hook up the Western Union! We got a situation here & we need to git word to Portland!”
Joe Dempsey wasn’t a man to be rushed in the usual course of events but when Sheriff Dillon Matthews tells ya to get your butt in gear, you get your butt in gear, so he leapt to his feet, crossed the room & pulled out the old office chair in front of his roll-top desk where sat the handset & repeater for the telegraph.
He tapped out his identity number, waited for the reply from Rowell down the line, then turned:
“So what you want me to say, & who to?”

The Sheriff was not a loquacious man but he had a mind like a steel trap (…chained down & inflexible…) so he said “Top Priority! Send a wire to the Capitol, tell ‘em we got a problem here & we need help real soon! Then tell the Governor the same thing, Lazyacre said pull out all the stops!”
For a man of few words this was probably the most exclamation marks that Matthews had uttered in the past year which gave Joe the impetus to set to at the telegraph key & send the message for assistance winging down the wires.

Well, within a matter of hours the wheels of government began to turn.
The Hon Derek Molecan, Governor of the Blessed State of Oregon, immediately sent a wire to New Jersey Jack Lazyacre that all that was within the power of the Governor’s office to do, he’d do. He then reached for his candlestick phone & bade the operator “Shirley, get me General Practice of the National Guard. Got a little job for his boys.”

Meanwhile, Fr Fred had arrived at the domicile of New Jersey Jack & had ensconced himself with the lawyer in an impromptu council-of-war. Cigars were lit, a fresh pot of coffee was served in its silver server and grand plans were put forward as the two great minds sought a solution to the environmental catastrophe that had descended on the Valley of the Toenail Ridge. Of course, as we all know, there isn’t a hell of a lot that can be done on the short term with mountain merde unless resources are pretty near infinite. Which Jack & Fr Fred didn’t have available to them in the Valley of the Toenail Ridge. They thought about hooking up the water pump from the fire engine to wash the ash away, using the pristine waters of Lake Wallace but the problem with pristine waters that have been used to flush ash (or anything else) off the streets & buildings is that the no-longer pristine, used waters find their way back into the lake where they convince their watery brethren that being un-pristine is a pretty cool thing & before you know it the lake isn’t fit for man, beast or fish.
They thought about forming bucket & shovel brigades using the local labour but common sense prevailed when Fr Fred did a quick calculation on the back of a menu & concluded that if every man, woman, child, horse, dog, cat & immigrant worked 24 hours around the clock the Valley of the Toenail Ridge would be rid of its ash in 74 years. And that didn’t address the issue of where to dump the durn stuff.
Little suggested calling on the Almighty Lord for a miracle but a withering glare from New Jersey Jack Lazyacre caused him to shut up in a hurry. “Little, religion is a fine thing when a man needs it but when something important needs to be done; the Lord helps them that helps themselves!”

“Reckon we’re pretty well stuck until I hear back from Molecan “said Jack. “Hope he can send jus some assistance.”

In the Capitol the Hon Derek Molecan was explaining at length to General Practice just what was needed of him & his troops, namely, hie themselves ASAP on the Portland & Great Eastern Railway to Rowel, then transfer to the Toenail Ridge Shortline & get to Selbyville as fast as the railway could convey them. Take all equipment they would need to deal with a blizzard, snow ploughs, shovels, buckets, trucks, horses, hoses, anything he could think of to get the Valley of the Toenail Ridge -& New Jersey Jack Lazyacre’s Selbyville in particular- as much back to normal as possible in the shortest time possible.

Now every now & again the Fates smile kindly on Mankind. It’s been mentioned often in these epistles, Dear Reader, that the Valley of the Toenail Ridge –as with the rest of the Pacific Northwest- was regularly blessed with huge inundations of rain. Rain gauges in the Valley didn’t measure rain in inches but feet It’s been said that if it hasn’t rained in the Valley today, it just hasn’t rained YET. And 2 days without considerable precipitation is classified as a drought. Thus it was that as New Jersey Jack & his compatriots waited to hear back from the Governor via Jack Dempsey at the railway station that the heavens opened & the daily downpour deposited its drenching deluge of dew. Which began to move the ash from roof tops & streets & trees into gutters & drains. And the gutters & drains led to the creeks. And the creeks led to the lake.


Many years before, when the mountains that surrounded that Valley of the Toenail Ridge hummed with the sounds of silver mining, it had become a huge problem that the effluvia generated by mineral mining was making its way via the waterways to the pristine waters of Lake Wallace, so, following considerable discussion & even more labour by the miners & the denizens of the Valley, a holding dam had been constructed to intercept the polluted run-off from the mine tailings. Most of the silver miners had moved on years ago as the veins petered out but the infrastructure of the tailings dam still existed, now heavily silted & overgrown with reeds but still holding back the floods that regularly washed down from the hills. The reeds acted as a natural filter so that by the time that inrushing water had reached the overspill into the lake itself the heavy solids had largely been sieved out, where they settled to the bottom & enriched the nutrition of the dam, much to the delight of the prolific birdlife that had adopted it once the main mine muck had settled into the mire & mud. And as the years had passed, most of the drains and gutters of the township had been diverted into the feed-drains to the dam.

And so it happened that as the prolific precipitation of the Valley percolated upon the polluted pastures, the holding dam held back a lot of the ash that rushed down the gutters & drains &slowed the over-spill into Lake Wallace.

Well, in a day or two the National Guard under the command of General Practice arrived with their considerable convoy of equipment at the Selbyville station, and official clean-up began. The Valley of the Toenail Ridge still looked like a pale shadow of itself due to residual crud that had lodged in inaccessable places but after a couple of weeks the place started to appear almost habitable again. The soil would take a decade or so before it could support a reasonable cover of grass again -much to the chagrin of the deer hunters- but the main crops of the Valley were grown underground, ie spuds, turnips, carrots, and they didn't particularly care what happened to the top couple of inches of loam so that while the next 8-9 months would be a damn nuisance & fresh provisions would need importing from Portland via the Toenail Ridge Shortline, the underlying resiliance of the Valley folk would eventually overcome.

 Return to Book index
Return to Main Page