It was just 4 a.m. when Mrs. Kemp, a cleaning woman, left her house and headed toward the Farmers Home Store. Her daily cleaning task had to be done by the store opening time of 8 a.m. Her meager pay for this morning task enabled her buy necessities that her husband's stevedore pay failed to cover. Feeling the early morning chill, she hugged her unbuttoned sweater closely about her. Although dawn was just breaking in the east, it was the flickering light from Mason's loft windows that caught her eye. The hayloft door facing her seemed closed, but the two glass windows left no doubt that the hay inside was on fire.
For seconds she stood transfixed, unbelieving; then she acted. Running across the street, she began pounding on the office door of the local attorney who lived upstairs. Within seconds he was at the open front window over his office, calling, "What do you want, woman?"
She shouted up at him excitedly, "It's Mrs. Kemp! Mason's barn is on fire; please wake others and get help. I'll try to find the sheriff and as many men as possible."
It seemed only moments before men appeared, many carrying water buckets. Suddenly the fire burst through the roof of the loft with a loud whoosh, almost an explosion. Flames and sparks rose high in the air, the yellow-red flames lighting up the grey-black smoke in scintillating colors. It was immediately apparent the flames had gotten so great a hold, and the fire spread so rapidly, that there was no possibility of saving the building. Sensing this, and shouting commands, the men began wetting down the adjoining buildings.
The crackle of the hungry fire was as loud as thunder and never ceasing. The onlookers stood horrified, knowing many horses were still inside, their piercing screams heard repeatedly. The heat close by was intense, almost unbearable.
Although the huge west doors were tightly closed, the bar had already been forced. Hastily the doors were swung wide in an effort to save the animals trapped inside. Apparently the fire had already broken through the loft floor, as vast clouds of smoke poured from the opening. Two men, perhaps encouraged by the shrieking of the terrified animals, braved the smoke and heat to enter the building. Finally they were forced to flee for their lives. They reappeared in the doorway, leading only three horses. One of the men was George Mason, the stable owner; the other man was Joe, his hostler.
Joe shouted to his boss, "Cripes! I untied nearly a dozen horses, but they wouldn't leave the barn. Suppose we can get back in for more?"
The query went unanswered; at that moment a thundering crash shook the ground, indicating the loft floor had collapsed on the remaining horses. The ball of fire that erupted from the doorway forced the two men back across the street.
At that moment the sheriff and Ned Cavalier arrived to join the group of men and boys gathered at a safe distance from the barn. Ned turned to Charley disgustedly. "There go my two horses, my buggy and robes, all up in smoke. What a kick in the ass!"
Brown was sick at heart. First his trotter had been cut up; now she was being burned alive. Inwardly, he thanked the Lord he had lent his riding horse to Sergeant Heidelburg last night. The overweight man had been complaining about having to walk back to the fort, because he had missed his ride. At least his gelding was safe. He turned as Mason approached. It was nearly full daylight now. The stable owner's face was black with soot and it was obvious he had suffered burns. His shirt hung in scorched tatters.
"Charley, the fire started in the loft and there was no wet hay there to cause spontaneous combustion. Someone set that fire! I don't allow sleeping in the loft and the back and front doors were closed and locked at 11 o'clock last night. We managed to save some small stuff from the office at the east end, and the three horses, but I think Booker's horse will have to be destroyed. It's in tough shape. Judas, there were 22 horses and a cow in there, according to my hostler. I've got $5000 insurance, but that won't cover even half of the loss." His distress was obvious to all.
They watched as the bulk of the hay in the loft burned with a fury and intensity that was almost unbelievable. When the roof was totally consumed, the loft ends of the barn slowly collapsed into the inferno.
"Who in his right mind could be so cruel to set a fire that would kill all those fine animals?" asked Charley, incredulously.
Cavalier added gloomily, "Lucky it happened early in the morning when there was no wind; otherwise we might have lost the entire business district."
Within an hour the building no longer existed. Fragments were allowed to burn themselves out. By noon only faint wisps of smoke rose from the heap of grey and black ashes. Little remained to indicate the size of the huge building.
Several of the more influential men of the town gathered at the Brown and Kabernagle store to discuss the disaster. Seemingly, no one could cast any light on the perpetrator.
Inwardly, Charley was convinced that the recent events were the work of Brogan and his cronies, caused by his shaming Brogan last winter. He questioned Mason at length as to any enemies he might have.
Mason was adamant. "As far as I know, I've never done dirt to anyone. Oh, I've had to dun some for their bills, but there were never any words exchanged. I've tried to run an honest stable, for the rental of horses and buggies. I just can't figure anyone who would do this to me. Now I've got to start over, and with darned little money." He studied the sheriff. "What can you do to catch the S.O.B.?"
Charley shook his head, and then looked up to the men who were watching. "You all know I check the downtown quite often around midnight, and it's not my job as sheriff. It seems lately that things happen in the small hours of the morning. So far the town has gotten by cheaply." He looked around at the businessmen. "How about the town putting on a night watchman? It's about time."
The owner of the Farmers' Home Store spoke up glumly, "I guess it's true, but I don't know where or how we'll raise the money to pay a man."
Toward the end of July the wheat crop looked promising. Jerold was anxious to try out the new McCormick reaper his father had purchased in Pembina. Cyrus McCormick had finally perfected a mechanism that tied a knot in twine, thus enabling the machine to cut and tie the grain into bundles. When the machine was being assembled at the implement dealer's shop at Pembina, both Jerold and Knute were present and assisted the mechanic. The two boys were fascinated by the novel six-foot sliding sickle and the intricacies of the knotting mechanism.
When Jerold began cutting his father's wheat, he found the reaper required more power than he had anticipated. He was forced to remove the 3-horse hitch from the plow and hook it to the binder. Even then, he realized the need for a change of animals after a strenuous five-hour period. He estimated the machine was cutting slightly over one acre per hour, but by dark the following day he found he had cut over twenty acres. Before the week was out, he had completed Patrick's wheat and had moved to Ian's.
Knute was fast at stooking as he called it – stacking eight to ten bundles upright, one against another, with the wheat heads upright for drying. They estimated that it would take nearly a week for the kernels to harden and the straw to dry, before ready for threshing.
The Icelandic carpenter, Johannason, had contracted with Patrick, and completed two 1500-bushel wood granaries behind the barn. The barn itself held two 600-bushel feed bins built into one end. Patrick felt he now had nearly enough storage for half of their crop.
Rather than stack their wheat bundles in one huge stack and thresh them during the winter months as many farmers did, Patrick contracted with a thresher-man to have the job done in the field. A week after Jerold completed cutting the wheat and oats, the monstrous machine moved to the field shortly before dark. The huge straw-burning steamer was hitched to the separator, that to a cook car and finally to a bunk car. Following them into the field were eight teams with hayracks and two 150-gallon water wagons.
While Jerold and Knute watched wide-eyed, the contractor approached Patrick. "We'll start threshing at eight a.m. tomorrow morning; we should finish here early enough in the afternoon to move to your son's field. Hopefuly we will finish by dark.” He looked up at the clear sky and the reddening sunset. "I'm moving to Frank Webb's from there."
"Gosh, how many men work for you?" Jerold asked.
The thresher-man smiled. "Well, my engineer runs the steamer and he has a fireman, a tank man and the flunky to haul the straw to feed the engine. We trade off two of the hayracks for that purpose. Then there are six bundle wagons to pick up the shocks of grain, and two water wagons to keep the engine supplied. In addition, I have two field pitchers who help load the hayracks and two spike pitchers who assist in unloading the wagons at the separator." He turned to Patrick and pointed southwest. "We'll haul water from that small lake over there. It's cleaner and closer than the river." He gestured toward a long shed on wheels with a protruding smokestack. Wisps of grey-blue smoke were beginning to curl from the chimney. "That's our cook car; I see Willie is working on supper. The other car is the crew bunkhouse." He smiled proudly, "We're a self-sustained outfit."
While they watched, the engineer and flunky unhitched the separator from the trailing cars and pulled it some distance westward with the engine. Then, moving the huge steamer some distance from the separator, the driver carefully lined up the huge belt pulley of the engine with that of the threshing machine. The owner abruptly left them to assist another man who was attempting to remove a huge roll of belting from a box on the separator. The two men unrolled the belt, coupling the steamer to the thresher. After placing the belt on the pulleys, they produced shafting and with a sledge hammer anchored the separator to the ground, preventing its movement. The engineer slowly backed the steam engine, tightening the long drive belt until it just cleared the ground. When he started the drive pulley on the engine, the belt came alive, swinging like a sinuous snake. The threshing machine began emitting a cloud of dust, combined with a clanking, deep rumbling sound. After running the machine for nearly a minute, the engineer evidently deemed the belt alignment satisfactory. Driving the steam engine ahead, he slackened the drive belt and finally shut off the engine.
It was apparent the owner was also the separator man; he bustled around the threshing machine with a long-spouted oilcan.
"Why do you have that half-twist in the drive belt?"
Knute was curious.
The owner looked amused. "Son, if we didn't put that half-twist in the belt the machine would run backwards."
Jerold tried to cover Knute's embarrassment by asking, "How much water will you need? It's nearly a half mile to the lake."
"Maybe three or four tank loads for this field." He turned to Patrick. "You'll have to furnish at least two grain wagons; and if you're going to haul back to town, you'll need more. We don't stop when we get going. You pay by the hour and furnish all feed for our animals. As I said before, we start threshing at 8 a.m."
"I'll have two wagons here. l've arranged to borrow one from a neighbor. We'll pile the grain over on that high spot near the road." Patrick shook his head. "It's going to make extra work to handle the grain twice, but it can't be helped."
"At least you can take the last two loads home from this field. You'll have time while we move to your son's wheat."
By 6:30 the next morning Jerold and Knute were beside the threshing machine with their wagon boxes. Promptly at 8 a. m. the engineer opened the throttle and the field hands began tossing bundles onto the feeder of the huge machine. The owner stood on top of the machine, oiling here and there, stopping occasionally to cast a remark to the teamsters and spike pitchers who were unloading the bundles onto the feeder.
By 9 o'clock Patrick appeared in a buggy, accompanied by Maggy, Mary and Mike.
"It's a grand sight, Patrick!" Maggy exclaimed. "Just look at that black monster puffing and casting all that grey smoke and steam. Why, they've even got a water and straw wagon alongside it.
"Pat, imagine what your Father and Mother would say if they saw this huge outfit." She looked at him proudly. "We've come a long way in a short time."
"The man knows his business, Love. He just got this new machine. It's a Buffalo Pitts engine and thresher."
"What's that thing flipping every so often, dropping the grain into Jerold's wagon?"
"It measures the bushels, and it's got a mechanical counter. We'll know exactly how many bushels we have when they finish threshing."
Patrick clucked to the horse and shook the reins in an attempt to go closer to the noisy machine, but the horse began shying, attempting to turn away.
"Seen enough, Maggy?" asked Patrick.
She turned to Mary. "I've never seen anything like it. I wouldn't have missed it for the world, but we'd better get back. Kate will wake up hungry and Susan will want to get home."
When the threshing was completed the next evening, the contractor was paid off. That same evening at the supper table the family discussed the problem of moving the grain.
"One wagon isn't enough, Pa." Jerold complained. "We'll be at several days moving all the wheat and oats into the bins. If a heavy rain comes, we'll be in trouble."
"He's right, Pa," said Ian. "I'll buy a new running gear and grain box. I'll have to get another team of horses, too." He looked to Jerold. "I want to keep my job with the railroad; it's good for all winter. Can you find someone to haul for me? I might have to pay out all my wages for awhile, but I'll still have my job."
"How about Pete? Will he work?" Patrick knew good men were hard to find.
Ian nodded. "I'm going over to see Susan after supper. If Pete is home, I'll ask him. I don't think he's doing much, except fishing. The trouble is, there's no manual work involved in fishing and he sells the fish at a good price. He might turn me down."
Patrick grimaced. "Well, whatever we do, we've got to get the grain moved as soon as possible. Knute, can you handle the discing and plowing for awhile?"
"Sure, I will do that. But if you use two teams on the wagons, I will still need a change of animals."
"That does it!" Patrick exclaimed. "Ian, we've got to find heavy, draft animals. We've got the land, now to farm it!"
"Pa, our barn won't hold any more animals," Mary protested. "The cows take up nearly all of the room."
"Then we'll have to build a lean-to on the north wall. We're going after a big acreage of wheat next year." Patrick smiled in anticipation, thinking not so much of the dollar value, but of the satisfaction gained.
Maggy brought up a touchy subject. "Jerold, that badger of yours has got to go. Have you seen the damage it's done to the garden? There's a monstrous hole where it dug after a gopher. Also the darn thing has been digging and eating the potatoes."
Patrick looked at his son. "She's right, Jerold. The critter has a right to be in the wild."
"But he likes us, Pa. He won't leave."
"That's our fault; we've fed and spoiled him. Take the badger out on the prairie. It's not right to keep it any longer."
"I tried that this spring, but he came back home.”
"You've got to take him farther out. If you don't, someone will shoot him. Look at the trouble we had in Emerson. The neighbors were wild about the damage he did. He's got to go!"
Jerold reluctantly agreed. "I'll take him over east next Sunday, after church. I won't have him shot."
Since Ian's riding horse was available for Mary's use, she decided to make a split skirt. She consulted Susan, and they searched the stores together for a suitable material, finally settling on a grey Melton. The design and the way the skirt hung gave no indication that it was split. Mary knew society frowned on a woman riding astride, but she considered the investment in a side-saddle foolish. Ian already owned a western style stock saddle with a high cantle which gave her a firm seat and more control over the horse. When her mother remonstrated her, she answered, "If Kirby doesn't mind me riding astride, why should I worry about what other people think? Besides, I think a side-saddle is old-fashioned. Why, I've heard that out West, it's common to see girls and ladies riding astride."
Maggy gave in, but not without a final word. "Mary, you aren't living out West."
Mary didn't tell her mother that she had gotten the idea of the split skirt from Susan. Ian had mentioned the time Susan had surprised him with hers.