Thursday, July 13, 2017

Depression Era Antics

Here is a short story I wrote some time ago and I believe I posted it here once before about 2 years ago.
The kernel that grew into this story was a tale told to me by a man who actually did "ride the rails" during the "dirty thirties". He had several stories of his travels through North America and I expect that in the future I'll be using some of what he told me to build other short stories.
But for now ...

A Voice From Beyond.
By D.M. McGowan ©


1


            His eyes opened to dim bands of light coming through cracks in the ancient boxcar. Those who had never found a need for a low-budget ride on a fast freight might not appreciate how he could have slept through the clack of the wheels and the squeal of steel. After years of becoming used to it, he found the rock and sway comforting, and only heard the noise when some fellow traveler might try to speak over it. However he may not have slept so well had he been able to look into the future and know he was soon to be a corpse.
            Still on his back, he swung calloused hands to his face and tried to massage the parchment there into something with the feeling and life of skin. When this proved relatively ineffective, he ran fingers through thinning hair, and then pressed it down. This cursory attempt at neatness was as effective as can be expected when the body in question has been subjected to several days of soot, sand, and the sun-soaked interior of a boxcar. The face was nicely smeared, and the hairs – those that remained – waved merrily at each other.
            With a stiffness ignited by sleeping on the hard floor, but more the result of inadequate and infrequent nourishment, he rolled to his side, then to hands and knees. He shook his head in an attempt to improve circulation and vision. The desired result was only marginally achieved and the abrupt movement did little to improve his appearance. Slowly, with the aid of the wall of the rocking boxcar, he attained a position which could almost be described as upright. He was only in his late twenties, but the thinning hair and frequent stiffness often led observers to guess his age ten years higher.
            "The faint-hearted fools on the home front know not the great pleasures of life on the road," he said aloud to the duffel bag at his feet.
            With one hand on the wall for support, he staggered the short distance to the door and rolled it open a few inches. Before him were the dark shapes of trees, open fields and an occasional homestead. The day was fast approaching, but the lights in some of the houses still winked at him as the train sped toward the dawn.
            Leaning on the door frame he unbuttoned his shirt pocket and retrieved tobacco and papers. Just as he turned away from the rush of air to light his freshly rolled cigarette, the lonesome sound of the whistle came from up ahead in a long, plaintive wail. After a short pause, two shorter blasts cut the dawn.
            Pushing the door back a little more he leaned out into the slipstream to look ahead, dropping the broken match on the roadbed. He could see a community ahead, but not well enough in the wind and poor light to identify it. Stepping back into the car he drew deep on the cupped cigarette, then coughed at the dry smoke on a too dry throat.
            "Maybe you should smoke two or three cigarettes at once, you damn fool," he said between bouts of chocking.
            By the time he recovered and turned to the open door, the train was passing through the small town and he could identify it from two earlier visits. Catching a fleeting glimpse of the sign on the end of the station also helped.
            "Kirkwood," he announced, for the duffel bag’s enlightenment. "Time to depart our rail-bound carriage."
            The next town would be Webster's Grove, where he intended to stop. Not that he had any business in the small community, or any business being in Missouri, for that matter. However, he did wish to avoid some business that he expected to find in St. Louis, only a short distance farther down the track.
            It was in the larger centers such as St. Louis where those who might catch freight on the fly ran the greatest risk of running into "Bulls." Two years before he had met some of those St. Louis Bulls and, after they had talked to him with brass knuckles and bung starters, they had helped him detrain in Webster's Grove.
            With tens of thousands of young men, and sometimes women, riding the rails of the land, railroad companies had hired large numbers of security personnel to discourage these non-paying passengers. Since they did not deem it logical to spend a great deal to handle a problem that was already costing them, very little was spent on wages or training for these railroad "detectives". It was not difficult to hire great numbers for the work, since there was no other, but the caliber of personnel was not usually high. They were often bullies or "Bulls", and may have caused more death and injury than was caused by a slip and falling off or under trains.
            Garnet Smith was one of those who had made a life for himself by finding work wherever the last freight had dropped him. Three years before, in 1932, he had convinced himself that he would be less of a burden to his family if he went off on his own. There were several times, including the meeting with the St. Louis Bulls two years before, when he would have dearly loved to be a burden to anyone rather than a load for someone to dump.
            He remembered his earlier visit to East Missouri with a mixture of embarrassment and pleasure. He should have known better than to try and go through a large center on a long freight, close to a shift change when the bulls would be awake, sober, and at their meanest. However, he also might not have wound up in Webster's Grove where he met a man who helped to start him on a run of relative successes.
            He made his first visit to "The Groves" – as residents of Webster's Grove called their town – with the help of two railroad men. One Bull, more attentive than most – or perhaps one who enjoyed beating defenseless men more than his mates – stayed on the train after it passed through St. Louis on its way southwest. As they approached The Groves, he had found Gar Smith in an empty gondola car. As he awoke, Gar was introduced to the attentions of a sawed-off baseball bat. Another bull was sliding into the car while trying to slip brass knuckles over his fingers. Gar avoided certain injury by instead choosing the possibility of injury. He jumped from the moving train.
            With no money, no job, and in no physical condition to take a job after going from 50 miles per hour to zero in seven bounces, Gar spent that first night in The Groves' jail on an uncomfortable cot and a charge of vagrancy. However, the Sheriff who had arranged his evening lodging had also arranged work for him on the following day. It had turned out to be three of the more pleasant weeks of Gar's extensive travels.


2


            On this, his second visit to The Groves, Gar entered Main Street just as the town was greeting the new day. He and a hoarded sliver of soap had already visited a stream, so his appearance had greatly improved and perhaps would not be particularly noteworthy to the local populace. He was, however, a stranger in Small-Town America and carrying a duffel bag.
            At that point he was also the only one on the street. A Model T truck was parked by the pumps in front of Casey's Automobile Repair/Tires/Blacksmith. Farther down, past the first cross street, an Oakland Touring Car was angle-parked in front of Arbuckle's Mercantile and General Hardware. Except for the young man walking down the boardwalk, duffel bag swinging from a rope over his shoulder, there was no other sign of man or beast.
            After ten hours in an empty boxcar, his main thought was breakfast, and he strode directly toward a sign that read Jenny's Lunch. Two doors past the diner, a door opened and a tall man wearing a Sheriff's badge, and a gray Stetson hat stepped onto the sidewalk
            "Good morning, George," Gar greeted the Sheriff with a smile. "You'll need to be careful where you hide when you're trying to catch bad guys," Gar observed, his eyes on the Sheriff's extensive stomach as he patted his own. "I see you've been living fairly well."
            The Sheriff paused, both hands on his stomach, his head cocked at an angle, and a quizzical expression on his face. "Stone. Rock? No, Garnet something. You were here about a year ago."
            Garnet shook his head. "A little over two years."
            The Sheriff nodded, and then continued as if there had been complete agreement. "Since you've been here I've actually lost a few pounds. Nice to have a steady job, though." He patted his ample girth affectionately.
            "On the other hand, ya don't look too spiffy yer own self," the Sheriff added, walking toward Gar.
            "I didn't have a steady job," Gar replied with a grin.
            "Not many do." The Sheriff grasped the handle of the screen door and swung it back. The squeal of the return spring filled the empty street and bounced back at them. As he grasped the brass handle of the diner's main door and thumbed the latch open he added, "It don't make my job easy, folks not workin'. But it's a job."
            The Sheriff paused with his hand on the door handle and turned his head to look at Gar. "You on the bum?"
            "On my way home," Gar replied, waving the Sheriff to continue through the door, "and I'm buying you breakfast."
            "Well! Makes me mighty happy, that does," the Sheriff responded, continuing on into the empty diner. "I'll get fed well, an' if you're buyin' yuh must have money. If yuh have money, I don' have t'nab ya fer a vagrant." He pointed at the table farthest back in the room, near the kitchen door, then went behind the counter and filled two cups with coffee.
            Gar dropped his duffel in the corner then took a seat facing the street.
            "Maybe it’s a bribe," the Sheriff continued, a glint in his eye. He returned to the table, deposited the cups and took a seat, flipping the holster off the side of the chair. "Maybe you're tryin' to buy your way out of a night in jail. Or did yuh have a good summer?"
            Gar smiled and shrugged. "Nothin' wrong with sleepin' in your jail. You could do somethin' about the bed, but it's nice and warm.”
            He sipped his coffee, the first for him in two days. "I did have a good summer. It's been a good year, actually. Most of two years I've been doing all right. It started to get a little better when some small town clown lined up three weeks of work for me back there. The least I owe him is a breakfast."
            Replacing his cup on the table, the Sheriff smiled. Before he could comment, the door to the street opened and a tall thin man wearing a black, threadbare suit and carrying a black bag entered the diner.
            "Good morning, George," the newcomer said, placing his bag on the floor beside Gar's duffel. He turned and went behind the counter to get his own coffee. "Who's your friend?"
            "Good mornin' Doc," the Sheriff replied. "Garnet," he paused, looking at Gar.
            "Smith," Gar offered, moving to the seat against the wall.
            "A likely story," the Sheriff commented with a smile. "Garnet Smith, this is our local pill-roller and meat-cutter, Doc Logan." He paused as the Doctor took the seat just vacated by Garnet. "Gar is one of them acky-demic types we see so often these days; travellin' the country givin' great study t' society."
            "Academic," the Doctor offered, nodding his understanding. "Been working much?" he asked Gar.
            "It's either getting better, or I'm getting better at finding work," Gar replied.
            The Doctor nodded, and then sipped his coffee as a middle aged woman entered through the batwing doors leading to the kitchen.
            "What's the stranger havin'?" she demanded abruptly.
            "Mornin', Clara," the Sheriff responded. "It's jist the greatest pleasure to see you too." He turned his eyes on Gar, his brow lifted in silent question.
            Gar shrugged. "Flapjacks? Eggs? Ham? Whatever the Sheriff's having."
            Clara nodded and returned to the kitchen.


3


            The Doctor looked at the Sheriff and asked, his voice low, "Tonight?"
            The Sheriff nodded his face hard. The expression of wry humor disappeared so fast Gar was not sure it had existed.
            "Tonight?" Gar asked, his eyes going from the Doctor to the Sheriff.
            The Doctor and the Sheriff looked at each other. The Doctor shrugged and said, "We really do need more help. It would be much easier with three, and even that is a bare minimum. And he's an unlikely suspect since he's not from the area."
            The Sheriff nodded and turned his attention on Gar. "With the tough times we've had, folks'll do most anythin' to make a dollar. Some of them'll even submit t' medical 'speriments. Sometimes it’s painful, and sometimes it marks 'em for life. In order to stop this, a law was passed makin' it illegal to conduct medical 'speriments on folks. Medical students're only allowed to practice on animals an' the dead."
            Gar nodded his understanding, for he knew most of what the Sheriff had just recited. "And in order to make a few bucks, people have been robbin' graves and sellin' the corpses to medical schools," he offered.
            "Precisely," the Doctor confirmed. "The robbing of graves has been practiced throughout history, but lately it has become epidemic. One can almost guarantee that a fresh grave will be reopened. I understand there is even a market for used caskets, although few families can afford to have their loved ones buried in one, anymore, used or otherwise."
            Garnet suddenly understood what they wanted. "And you have just had a funeral in town?" Gar guessed.
            Both the townsmen nodded. "Yesterday," the Sheriff replied.
            Gar knew where the two townsmen were headed and he didn't much like the idea. Grave robbers could be every bit as dangerous as moonshiners. Someone could get hurt: that someone might be Garnet Smith. "Listen fellows, I'm on my way home. I'm all in favor of a little visit, but I expect to be on whatever train goes through tonight. By tomorrow I'd like to be in Detroit or Toledo. This is October already and I don't want to get caught in an early storm."
            The Sheriff nodded his head in understanding. "There'll be another eastbound tomorrow night," he assured Gar. "One little ol' day don't make no never mind."
            "What I mind is spending a night sitting out in the cold waiting for your grave robbers to show up," Gar responded. "I've also heard they can be downright violent, and I take particular exception to being shot. Or even shot at, for that matter."
            The Sheriff nodded again, but the Doctor spoke first, much as if Gar had not expressed his objections. "Yes, three people are an absolute minimum. We believe that we can catch those who are actually opening the graves, but it would be much better if we could also catch those who buy the corpse. George and I were going to do it on our own, but with a third person we could follow the robbers, and perhaps apprehend everyone".
            Leaning back in his chair the Sheriff looked at the Doctor and shook his head in puzzlement. "Appree-hend? You read too much, Doc." He turned his attention on Gar. "We don' know who we can trust. Anybody could be involved, 'r maybe related t' the robbers. Stranger like yerself is jist what we need."
            Gar hoped to be home within the week. None of his plans included spending the night in a cold, damp graveyard. Although he did feel somewhat indebted to the Sheriff, he did not think the responsibility required much more than a breakfast. In addition he could think of no personal debt – or any other reason – for putting himself in the line of fire.
            "I'll just pick up the tab for breakfast, and then I'll be on my way," Gar announced. "I really don't see any need to get involved."
            The Doctor started to respond but the Sheriff caught his eye, shook his head, and then shrugged in what Gar mistakenly interpreted as resignation.
            Taking a drink of his coffee, the Sheriff arose, collected all their cups in his beefy hands, and then went behind the counter for refills. As he returned the three cups to the table, he changed the course of the conversation.
            "You're from Canada, ain't ya?" the Sheriff asked.
            Gar nodded. "My folks have a little farm near a place called Mount Forrest. That's in Ontario. I'm probably halfway there about now. I'm looking forward to seeing them. Help Dad over the winter and have a warm place to stay."
            George sipped his coffee, then nodded as he set the cup down. "Reckon that makes yuh one o' them illegal a-leens," he observed.
            "Aliens," the Doctor offered.
            "Whatever," George shrugged, never taking his eyes from Gar. “As a peace officer its muh duty t' report such a thing t' immigration. 'Course, it might take 'em a fair spell t' get around to followin' up muh report. 'Spect it'll be well on into winter for yuh can leave. Shame, really."
            The townsmen stared at Gar as Clara dropped breakfast on the table. Gar let out a long sigh of resignation, then took a drink of his coffee.
            Gar smiled. "You know, I've been giving it some thought and, uh, I believe this sort of thing is, uh, you know, everyone's responsibility. If you boys don't mind, I think I'd like to hang around and help you catch these despicable desperados."
            "That should be alright, don't you think George?" the Doctor responded.
            The Sheriff nodded and smiled. "Downright Christian of 'im."


4


            For some moments they ate in silence. Gar searched his mind for some subject that might ease the tension, finally settling on the subject of the fresh grave. "Who is the newly departed?" he asked
            "Jeff Hindle," George responded. "Good thing ya didn' say dearly departed. Doc never had much use fer 'im."
            "Can't think of a soul that did," Logan offered. "He was a mean, money-grubbing, skinflint."
            "An' it didn' help that he 'cused you o' malpractice," George noted.
            Logan waved his left hand in dismissal as the right hand put a forkful of eggs in his mouth. "He'd been doing that every six months for the last five years. What has caused my greatest discomfort are the many people who have been forced from their homes because Hindle foreclosed."
            The Doctor turned his gaze on Gar and explained. "He ran the general store across the street. When the difficulties started, he extended the kindest hand out to all his customers, offering them great credit terms. Of course, it was written up so that he could call the loans whenever he chose, and when he was certain the customer couldn't pay, that's exactly what he did."
            "Well, we don' have to worry 'bout 'im doin' that anymore," the Sheriff observed.
            "Won't his next of kin just take over the debts?" Gar asked.
            "Maybe, maybe not," Logan responded. "His closest surviving kin is his mother. Lives over in Kirkwood. Now he used to visit her every few months – that's where he was when he died – but there wasn't a great deal of love lost between the two. As a matter of fact, he stated in his will that he wanted to be buried here so that he wouldn't have to spend any more time with his parents."
            "He leave everything to her?" Gar asked.
            "Actually, no; He left everything to some cult up in Canada, but that will be contested, and I'm sure everything will eventually wind up with the mother."
            "Sounds like a real pleasant guy," Gar observed. "How did he die?"
            George looked sharply at Gar. "No, nobody killed 'im. Though there's lots would've liked to've had the pleasure. Heart attack, wasn't it Doc?"
            Logan shook his head. "A statistical impossibility. He would first need to have had a heart."
            "I thought you went over and had a look at 'im?"
            "Yes, yes. I was only making a small joke." Logan replied, repeating the dismissive gesture of waving his hand. "I went over and had a look at him. No marks on the body. He had a problem with his blood pressure and it was probably his heart. He was also dried up like an old boot from sitting in his truck in the hot sun for two days."
            "Dried up?" Gar asked.
            The Sheriff and Doctor nodded in unison. "Was over visitin' his maw," George related. "Leavin' Kirkwood fer home he just pulled over t' the side o' the road and died. Most folks reckanized the truck an' didn' wanna talk to 'im, so they just let 'er sit there. Two days afore somebody finally decided that was a mighty long sleep he was havin'."
            "Sucked every bit of moisture out of his body," Logan added. "Never seen anything like it."




           
5


            The Grove's graveyard was on a low hill behind the town. It was enclosed on three sides by a picket fence, and on the fourth side by several acres of trees. In the fence opposite the trees, a small gate gave access under a sign that read, "Webster's Grove Cemetery."
            At three o'clock in the morning, the Sheriff, the Doctor, and Gar were sitting in the trees behind the cemetery, not far from the newest grave. Each of them was wrapped in a blanket that proved less than effective in maintaining body heat.
            The ground was hidden by a foot of wet, thick fog. When the moon occasionally peeked out from behind a cloud, they could see before them a moving expanse of white, broken in places by the tops of gravestones, the gateposts and sign, and the top half of the picket fence.
            Hiding a cigarette under the blanket, Gar took a drag, as the Sheriff chattered on, his voice low, telling some story that would – if previous stories were any indication – fail to come to a point.
            "---looks down 'is nose at me – which was some tough since he was nigh a foot shorter 'n me – an' sez in his high toney voice, 'It would do you well, Constable, to be more aware o' yer place. Those of my position are never subject to the curious---"
            "Scurrilous," the Doctor interrupted his eyes still on the gate at the far side of the graveyard.
            "What?" George asked.
            "The word he used was scurrilous."
            "Now what kind o' word is that?"
            The Doctor turned his attention to Gar. "Whatever induced you to leave your home?" he asked, his voice still low.
            Gar shrugged, put his mouth back under the blanket, took a drag, and then released it into the fog. "Convinced myself that it was better for the folks; one less mouth to feed."
            "So I said to 'im, 'Duke, I know zacktly where yer place is," George interjected, attempting to return to his story.
            "I understood your family to be farmers," Doc observed.
            Gar nodded, took another drag, and then placed the butt under his heel.
            "So I give 'im a place. Locked 'im in a cell," George informed them. "He was mighty unhappy."
            "Serves him right," Gar responded to the Sheriff, and then turned his attention to the Doctor. "Yeah, feeding us wasn't a problem. We didn't have two cents, but we had food. It was just an excuse for a young fellow to run off and look for adventure."
            George shrugged and turned his attention to watching the entrance to the graveyard. There was no evident petulance or bitterness in either the shrug or his expression, simply acceptance. People had expressed a disinterest in his stories before, but he had found others who would listen. Admittedly, some of those who listened did so while waiting to be released from a cell, but they did listen.
            Doc smiled. "Did you find it?"
            Gar smiled wryly. "Yeah, I've run into adventure a time or two. Discovered it wasn't something anybody in their right mind wants to deliberately search for. Another word for trouble."
            Doc nodded and pulled his blanket tighter. Several minutes passed before he asked, "What have you seen?"
            Under the blanket, Gar began to roll another cigarette. "Well, I just came from Oklahoma. Spent the summer building some fence and corrals. Rode around and fed cottonseed cake to dyin' cows. Didn't like it much – dirt blowing all the time – but he paid me.
            "Before that I spent the winter in a line shack in Colorado. Made sure there was a hole in the ice so the cattle could drink. Helped with calving and spring round-up.
            "Last year I was in Nevada. Lawyer fella had a silver claim he wanted me to prove up on."
            "Not what I had in mind," Doc said. "I've seen a few places, although most of it has been toward the east. What I meant was, how are people handling this?" He waved his hand from under the blanket to indicate the world in general.
            Gar pulled his face under the blanket and lit the cigarette. He expected the Doctor was asking how people were handling the destruction of their lives.
            "Doesn't seem to be any in between," Gar responded. "Some people react with total panic and go running off in all directions. Others just hunker down and keep pluggin' away. Those that decided to run I see on freight trains and standing beside the road. They don't know where they're going but they're in an all-fired hurry to get there. The stubborn ones I wind up working for."
            There was a short pause before Doc responded. "It's quite amazing the stories we hear. those of us that are bound to our homes, I mean. Tall tales about how wonderful it is in Alaska or California. But we keep seeing people coming back that have just been there."
            As he blew out another stream of smoke, Gar nodded. "I haven't been to Alaska, but I was to California my first year out. I guess there was some work there, but they don't pay you enough to live. Or leave."
            There was another short pause, and then Doc asked, "How did you get out of California."
            Under the blanket Gar took another drag then looked at Logan with a glint in his eye. "I wasn't very nice."
            Doc Logan's smile was rueful. "Circumstance seems to cause a lot of that, these days."
            During the exchange with Doc, Gar's attention had wandered from how cold and damp he was. In the long silence that followed, awareness of his surroundings seeped through the thin blanket.
            Sometime later Gar whispered through chattering teeth, "This is a really good idea you boys had."
            "Sure wasn't my idea," the Sheriff responded. "Like muh comfort too much to come up with a scheme like this."
            "Shush!" the Doctor hissed. "Listen!"
            Within seconds the others heard it: the creak and rumble of a wagon, with the occasional click of a horse's hoof. The moon disappeared behind a large cloud, reducing the scene to a few light-colored rectangles and crosses from those grave markers closest to their position.
            When the moon appeared once more it revealed the wagon standing outside the cemetery gate, half of its wheels and the horses' legs lost in the fog. Two men descended from the wagon seat into the mist and moved silently to the rear. One man removed a large wheelbarrow from the wagon, and placed it on the ground. The second man removed a bulky but apparently light package, which he then placed in the wheelbarrow. The first man began pushing the barrow into the cemetery, while the second swung two shovels and a pick over his shoulder, and followed.
            An hour passed, an hour in which the three watchers sat in complete silence, blankets wrapped around their mouths so that the cold air would not make them cough. Despite this they each felt a compelling urge to clear their throats. Several times the moonlight vanished then returned.
            In the grip of complete, miserable, discomfort the watchers heard the shovels scraping on the pine box at the bottom of the hole. One of the diggers traded his shovel for the pick, and then disappeared back in the hole, now plainly visible, an island in a sea of fog. The squeal of protesting nails could be faintly heard as the top was pried from the coffin. Each digger took an end, lifted, and set the lid to the left of the hole on the pile of loose dirt.
            Working again from opposite ends, the two men lifted the body out of the grave, placing it on the right side of the hole. After climbing out themselves, they removed a tarpaulin from the wheelbarrow. Having wrapped the corpse in the tarpaulin, they placed it in the barrow, and rolled it away from the grave, and behind a large headstone.
            As the grave robbers began picking up their tools, Gar noted the location of the corpse and smiled. What better way of discovering who was buying bodies than by being the product purchased?
            As the weary diggers began carrying their tools back to the wagon, Gar tapped his companions, motioned for them to follow, and then moved out of the trees toward the wheelbarrow.
            Gar placed his blanket flat on the ground, and motioned for the Sheriff to lift one end of the corpse. Placing the bundle on the ground, they unwound the tarpaulin, allowing the body to fall on the blanket. Garnet then lay down on the tarpaulin, and the other two men wrapped him in it, picked him up and placed him in the wheelbarrow. Picking up the blanket- wrapped corpse, they retreated back into the trees.
            But things don't always work out as planned!
            For one thing, Gar had given little thought to the rough ground. As he attempted to play the part of a body that has achieved the point of complete relaxation, one of the grave robbers began pushing the wheelbarrow toward the wagon. At times Gar thought the bouncing would snap his neck.
            With a complete understanding of the feeling to be found in a corpse – along with callousness bread by familiarity – the grave robbers were not particularly gentle. They grabbed the bundle from each end, swung it up, and dropped it in the back of the wagon.
            Having felt and guessed what they were doing, Gar held his breath but had difficulty not crying out. "Let's be a little more gentle with the goods, boys," he thought. "You won't have happy customers if you deliver a damaged product."
            Soon the bouncing wagon was adding to his discomfort. He could also hear that the two men on the seat in front were having some discomfort of their own.
            With the recent outcry about the stealing of bodies, the grave robbers were beginning to worry about being caught. It was getting later than they had planned, and it was possible someone might be awake when they drove through The Groves. A wagon loaded with digging equipment and a wrapped bundle might cause questions.
            As they approached the edge of town, one grave robber said to the other, his voice low, "Gettin' mighty late."
            Gar could only assume that his companion nodded agreement.
            "Someone's liable to be gettin' up soon. Maybe that ol' gal runs the diner. Maybe see us."
            "Might," his companion acknowledged.
            There was a short pause before the first voice said, "What say we bring 'im up here an' prop 'im up 'tween us. Then, if somebody sees us, we're just three guys goin' to work. No reason to remember us."
            They stopped near the edge of town and dragged the bundle from the wagon bed, propping it up between them on the seat.
            As they approached the center of town, each grave robber was tense, pressing tightly against the corpse to keep it in place while watching for lighted windows.
            Suddenly, the bundled corpse shivered between them, and said in a high quavering voice, "Lord, its cold!"
            Not another sound came from the grave robbers. With eyes as big as their shovels they fairly flew from the wagon – the driver going right, the other left – running before they touched the ground.
            The Doctor took off in hot pursuit on the left, cursing with every step, his knowledge of English completely forgotten in the spewing of curse words. Going by on the right the Sheriff said nothing, concentrating instead on getting another wheezing breath. The horses stopped, returning almost immediately to their interrupted sleep. The "corpse" lay against the dashboard of the wagon, laughing uncontrollably.



Sunday, July 9, 2017

What can be seen at a Festival

I went up to Fort St. John, yesterday for one of the short concerts promoting the “Alaska Highway 75th Anniversary” CD. Recited my short rhyme, “The Road That Couldn’t Be Done” and sang a couple of songs from the era.
I managed not to have to re-write any of them too badly and didn’t fall of the stage or anything.
I missed some of the presentation but what I heard was very well done by all; A good presentation.
It reminded me that I wanted to post some artists I like very much.
Here is the Gibson Brothers who usually put on their Sunday go t’ mettin’ clothes for their shows, something we all used to do and I enjoyed it. Now days it “just isn’t done.” This is the video for one song so it is short … probably to short considering the caliber of work.

The Gibson Brothers – They Called it Music


The next one is a group called “Iron Horse.” I heard this done by our MLA (Dawson Creek mayor at the time) and though he did an amazing job it wasn’t anything like this.

Iron Horse with Rocket Man


The next video is of the Luckett County Fair and it gives some idea of the open, friendly atmosphere at a Bluegrass Festival. The first two fellas (Patent Pending) do a great job jamming and the next presentation is the Hillbilly Gypsies.

Luckett’s Fair Bluegrass (Patent Pending and Hillbilly Gypsies)


I don’t know the next group but I wouldn’t be surprised if they prove to be from Stoney Creek, Ontario (Hamilton). This is a video trailer for one of their releases and the brush looks much like what I have experienced along Blue Mountain.

Come Stay Awhile – Stoney Creek Bluegrass Band


The last is a most of a live show from the Steel Drivers and is about 45 minuets in length. There is amazing harmony and musicianship all through but the gospel number right at the start is outstanding.

The Steel Drivers live


Enjoy … and if you need more entertainment, well try one of my novels.

By the way, a comment on any of these videos would be much appreciated both by me and the entertainers putting on the show(s).

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Busy times interfering with the writing.

Mr. & Mrs. John Bowren
I’ve been extremely busy the last few weeks delivering fuel and haven’t done a great deal of writing. There is a short break apparently this week but then there is always something to do around the place which also interrupts the keyboard time. We need an electric fence around the garden to keep from feeding the deer the tender new growth and save it for ourselves. That job is about half done but today’s rain has shut that job down long enough that I can do this.
Another oil field job starting tomorrow but, as usual, no thought of scheduling for those not a part of the immediate on-site crew. They want their fuel after supper.
For now, though, a short break to put a few letters together and form some words.
I have few things on my calendar for the summer; a book signing at Cole’s in Ft. St. John on June 17th, reciting my rhyme contribution to the “Alaska Highway 75th Anniversary” CD at Dawson Creek’s Pioneer Village June 24th (their opening day for the season) and a couple more of those over the summer at the Dawson Creek Art Gallery.
“Cattle Business”, my next novel is ready and waiting for production but that won’t be happening anytime soon … unless I receive a big inheritance from a rich relative I don’t know exists.
I’ve also been working on two new novels, one of which is a continuation of the characters introduced in “Partners”. At this point I’m calling it “Underbelly” a look at some of the less than pleasant parts of life in Barkerville during the late part of the 1860s as the price of gold was dropping. The picture above is of Mr. and Mrs. John Bowren, BC and Barkerville pioneers. He was an “overlander” and walked, with a group of about 160 others from Fort Gary (Winnipeg) through Fort Edmonton, the Yellowhead Pass then down the Fraser to reach the goldfields.
In the mean time here are some excerpts from previous novels, the covers of which are off to the right.

An Excerpt from “Partners”


An Excerpt from “The Great Liquor War”

An Excerpt from “Homesteader”
Of course, on the Amazon site (listed below) there is also a “look in the book” feature which allows access to a few pages.

They are available in print and a variety of digital formats at http://sbprabooks.com/davidmmcgowan
At Barnes and Noble
Google Books
Amazon
Kobo
or at your local book store.


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

A Very Low Place in Our History!

 ... and a few reviews.
No, the cartoon has nothing to do with the post, but it does help to raise the status from the depths of sadness.
 


I would like to know how we came to this very low place.
We have provincial elections taking place in a couple of Canada’s provinces and with most elections in memory there does not seem to be any chance of improvement.
One of the choices seems to think that nothing matters but the creation of jobs while the wants and needs of those actually making things work are ignored.
The other choices all seem to think that if they spend all the money they can borrow (the voter’s cash) to spend on programs they will save the world.
Both sides then make promises that are at odds with their basic ideas in hopes of confusing the voter into thinking their destructive ideas might not be implemented.
There was a time when sacrificing one’s independence for the duty of leadership was a noble calling.
It appears to have become the least laudatory of any effort and only a means to an inflated and un-earned pension.
The whole thing – and the results of recent elections – excite strong concerns about the future.
Therefore, I will avoid such dark thoughts and write no more about it. I will vote, as we all should, and complain when they institute programs that are a disaster as all of them will.
Instead I’ll post a collection of reviews for “The Making of Jake McTavish”.
I would very much appreciate those who have read my novels posting their thoughts in the review sections at https://www.amazon.ca/s/ref=nb_sb_noss/136-2815657-7781256?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=d.m.mcgowan
If you would rather, leave a note in the “comments” below.

Review of “The Making of Jake McTavish” from Western Writers of America.

D.M. McGOWAN. The Making of Jake McTavish. Strategic Book Publishing. Trade paperback, 229 pages, $15, SBPRA.com. The author of Partners and The Great Liquor War again focuses on Canada’s Wild West in this tale of revenge. Jake McTavish has been a loner since his wife was murdered, but when two thugs waylay him and kill his dog … well, McTavish is awakened – “and a whole lot meaner.” D.M. McGowan writes in such an easy-to-read style and with attention to detail and some unexpected twists and turns.

 I loved loved loved this book November 22, 2016
I loved loved loved this book. Ended up not getting much sleep that day because I couldn't put it down and the ending was not at all what I expected to be the final result. This is a really great book. It is an easy read and a fascinating story. Very well done and definitely worth the money. Now just have to get the rest of his books.

 McGowan Scores Again April 9, 2016
Another good western by D. M. McGowan. The author combines a plot full of twists and turns with a well-described setting mainly in the foothills and mountains of Alberta and BC. There are accurate references to historical events that took place in the area. Interesting titbits are inserted about how a man could survive in the wilderness if resourceful. The characters are believable. I especially liked Jake's rather cutting wit. Paula, with her independent spirit and determination, is refreshing compared to the paper-thin development of the female in traditional westerns. I'm looking forward to Mr. McGowan's next book - Cattle Business.

 Great Story telling! March 23, 2016
Darn it all, I'm off my feed this morning. Had to finish the book far into the night. The Chapters were short and kept introducing interesting twists and turns. Great story-telling!

style='box-sizing: border-box;orphans: auto;text-align:start;widows: 1; -webkit-text-stroke-width: 0px;word-spacing:0px' v:shapes="_x0000_i1028"> Journey for Justice December 20, 2015

Well-developed characters and true to life settings with descriptive writing put the reader into the story. The main character Jake McTavish stands alone in his empty cabin with his thoughts that he voiced to his blue tick hound, “Maybe I’ll just have t’shoot somebody. That way the government will have t’ feed us ‘til they punch my ticket and bury me.”

Thursday, April 13, 2017

75 th Anniversary of the Alaska Highway (the Alcan)

The Alaska Highway early years
Building the trail that became the Alcan - 1942
Civilian travel during the early years - 1943


Alaska Highway, Kilometer 1639, Feb. 26, 2013

As I’ve mentioned before, the Alaska Highway 75th Anniversary CD is now available and there is some good music on it, some good writing, good musicianship and good recording. Bert Goulet even made me sound authoritative.

Here are some more videos about the building of the highway with some great views of the cable control Caterpillars, gallons of mud and gumbo (no, it isn’t the same as mud; walk in it for one minute and you’ll know the difference.) a look at some US Army Engineers and the civilian contractors.

Alaska Highway then and now

Building of the Alcan . USA Signal Corps

Mega Structure

Alaska Highway documentary

US Army, 341st Engineers, 1942
Mechanics from US Army 93rd Engineers
Rusty Dow, first female driver, 1942



Monday, March 27, 2017

Alaska Highway history you may not have heard

In 1964, from June through September I worked on the Penalty Ranch across the Peace River from Fort St. John. I went back a few times in subsequent years. The man who owned the ranch, René Dhenin had come to the country from Southern Alberta in the 1920s and was a packer, guide, freighter, horse trainer and cattlemen in the area well into the 1990s.
This year, 2017, is the 75th anniversary of the beginning of construction of the Alaska Highway. Although he had already been a guide for several years René was not involved in the initial trail blazing and the following rhyme explains why.
The concept of a land route from the “lower 48” states to Alaska had been around for several years. There where three routes in strong contention. Where the Mackenzie Highway is today was one choice, from Peace River town up through Hay River in the North West Territories then west through the Yukon. A much better idea was where the Alcan actually is, from Dawson Creek, BC, north-west through the Yukon. A third choice that was favored by many in the US Army was where the Hazelton – Cassiar – Watson Lake Highway is now.
Thus, in 1942, confusion abounds.
René’s story bellow is a part of that history.
As I’ve mentioned before, the CD with the songs from local artists acknowledging and celebrating the 75th anniversary can be found at many businesses and art galleries along the Alaska Highway or take a look at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nTt25BOVaqs



 Near Muncho Lake

 Minnaker River Valley - Mile 178 on Alaska Highway
Hiking Mountain Ranges, René Dhenin’s Yarn

He told me of a walk he made back in forty one
With a day pack, rifle, knife and hand gun

He received a wire at Fort St. John, it said “Services required”
It specified the date then added, “All equipment, horses supplied.”

“From US Army Engineers” he said, “I’d worked for them a lot,
With my horses and guiding them over hill and ‘round the bogs.

So I put my horses out to graze, stored all tack and gear,
And hitched a ride, me and a pal, early spring that year.

Rode the caboose from Dawson Creek, then Pullman car to Cowtown.
Partied there with folks we knew then railroad again coastal bound.

It took four boats along the coast, each one getting smaller
Then we walked a couple of miles, the Telegraph Trail to follow.

At Telegraph Creek there’s another message, addressed directly to me
And after days and weeks of travel, one I sure didn’t want to see.

Once again from the US Army, my services no longer required.
I’m off in the Coastal Mountains and before I’m hired I’m fired.

My pal says he’s off to the sea, without my work, no work to be found.
He’ll get a ride on some coastal scow and he’s for Vancouver town.

But I make my living with horses and tack, and it’s to the east not west
So we say our goodbyes, off he goes, and I head for a high mountain pass.

I’d walked a week or so, low on grub and getting gaunt,
When some mountain caribou appear; more meat than I really want.

I took a fat cow and did her up, skinning, stripping and eating my fill
Packed some fresh wrapped in hide, but smoked jerky for most of the kill

Crossed many a creek and skirted muskeg, rivers as well, one or two
But coming down in the Omineca, there was the Finley a river I knew.

So I made a raft tied with bark, planning to float down to the Peace
But white water broke up the raft, lost it and most of my meat.

Back when I shot the caribou I’d made the hock skin into slippers.
On stretchers they floated and I found ‘em but lost my boots in the river.

Had my rifle slung on my shoulder, pistol and knife on my belt
So except for my boots and the meat, came out of it all pretty well.

Another day to dry myself and another week of walking
I’m not far from Hudson’s Hope and the supply boat’s docking.

So I caught a ride down river to home where all my equipment sat
So you see I missed the start of building the Alcan, but maybe best at that.