The Project Gutenberg eBook, Calumet "K", by Samuel Merwin and HenryKitchell Webster
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Title: Calumet "K"
Author: Samuel Merwin and Henry Kitchell Webster
Release Date: April 11, 2006 [eBook #18154]
Character set encoding: ISO-646-US (US-ASCII)
***START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK CALUMET "K"***
E-text prepared by Robert Petty
The contract for the two million bushel grain elevator, Calumet K,had been let to MacBride & Company, of Minneapolis, in January, butthe superstructure was not begun until late in May, and at the end ofOctober it was still far from completion. Ill luck had attendedPeterson, the constructor, especially since August. MacBride, thehead of the firm, disliked unlucky men, and at the end of threemonths his patience gave out, and he telegraphed Charlie Bannon toleave the job he was completing at Duluth and report at once at thehome office.
Rumors of the way things were going at Calumet under the hands of hisyounger co-laborer had reached Bannon, and he was not greatlysurprised when MacBride told him to go to Chicago Sunday night andsupersede Peterson.
At ten o'clock Monday morning, Bannon, looking out through the dustywindow of the trolley car, caught sight of the elevator, the nakedcribbing of its huge bins looming high above the huddled shanties andlumber piles about it. A few minutes later he was walking along arickety plank sidewalk which seemed to lead in a general directiontoward the elevator. The sidewalks at Calumet are at the theoreticalgrade of the district, that is, about five feet above the actuallevel of the ground. In winter and spring they are necessarycauseways above seas of mud, but in dry weather every one abandonsthem, to walk straight to his destination over the uninterruptedflats. Bannon set down his hand bag to button his ulster, for thewind was driving clouds of smoke and stinging dust and an occasionalgrimy snowflake out of the northwest. Then he sprang down from thesidewalk and made his way through the intervening bogs and, heedlessof the shouts of the brakemen, over a freight train which wascreaking its endless length across his path, to the elevator site.
The elevator lay back from the river about sixty yards and parallelto it. Between was the main line of the C. & S. C, four clear tracksunbroken by switch or siding. On the wharf, along with a big pile oftimber, was the beginning of a small spouting house, to be connectedwith the main elevator by a belt gallery above the C. & S. C. tracks.A hundred yards to the westward, up the river, the Belt Line trackscrossed the river and the C. & S. C. right of way at an obliqueangle, and sent two side tracks lengthwise through the middle of theelevator and a third along the south side, that is, the side awayfrom the river.
Bannon glanced over the lay of the land, looked more particularly atthe long ranges of timber to be used for framing the cupola, and thenasked a passing workman the way to the office. He frowned at thewretched shanty, evidently an abandoned Belt Line section house,which Peterson used for headquarters. Then, setting down his bag justoutside the door, he went in.
"Where's the boss?" he asked.
The occupant of the office, a clerk, looked up impatiently, and spokein a tone reserved to discourage seekers for work.
"He ain't here. Out on the job somewhere."
"Palatial office you've got," Bannon commented. "It would help thosewindows to have 'em ploughed." He brought his bag into the office andkicked it under a desk, then began turning over a stack of blue printsthat lay, weighted down with a coupling pin, on the table.
"I guess I can find Peterson for you if you want to see him," saidthe clerk.
"Don't worry about my finding him," came from Bannon, deep in hisstudy of the plans. A moment later he went out.
A gang of laborers was engaged in moving the timbers back from therailroad siding. Superintending the work was a squat little man—Bannon could not see until near by that he was not a boy—big-headed,big-handed, big-footed. He stood there in his shirt-sleeves, his backto Bannon, swearing good-humoredly at the men. When he turned towardhim Bannon saw that he had that morning played an unconscious jokeupon his bright red hair by putting on a crimson necktie.
Bannon asked for Peterson. "He's up on the framing of the spoutinghouse, over on the wharf there."
"What are you carrying that stuff around for?" asked Bannon.
"Moving it back to make room by the siding. We're expecting a bigbill of cribbing. You're Mr. Bannon, ain't you?" Bannon nodded."Peterson had a telegram from the office saying to expect you."
"You're still expecting that cribbing, eh?"
"Harder than ever. That's most all we've been doing for ten days.
There's Peterson, now; up there with the sledge."
Bannon looked in time to see the boss spring out on a timber that wasstill balancing and swaying upon the hoisting rope. It was a goodforty feet above the dock. Clinging to the rope with one hand, withthe other Peterson drove his sledge against the side of the timberwhich swung almost to its exact position in the framing.
"Slack away!" he called to the engineers, and he cast off the ropesling. Then cautiously he stepped out to the end of the timber. Ittottered, but the lithe figure moved on to within striking distance.He swung the twenty-four pound sledge in a circle against the butt ofthe timber. Every muscle in his body from the ankles up had helped todeal the blow, and the big stick bucked. The boss sprang erect,flinging his arms wide and using the sledge to recover his balance. Hestruck hard once more and again lightly. Then he hammered the timberdown on the iron dowel pins. "All right," he shouted to the engineer;"send up the next one."
A few minutes later Bannon climbed out on the framing beside him.
"Hello, Charlie!" said the boss, "I've been looking for you. Theywired me you was coming."
"Well, I'm here," said Bannon, "though I 'most met my death climbingup just now. Where do you keep your ladders?"
"What do I want of a ladder? I've no use for a man who can't get up onthe timbers. If a man needs a ladder, he'd better stay abed."
"That's where I get fired first thing," said Bannon.
"Why, you come up all right, with your overcoat on, too."
"I had to wear it or scratch up the timbers with my bones. I lostthirty-two pounds up at Duluth."
Another big timber came swinging up to them at the end of thehoisting rope. Peterson sprang out upon it. "I'm going down before Iget brushed off," said Bannon.
"I'll be back at the office as soon as I get this corbel laid."
"No hurry. I want to look over the drawings. Go easy there," he calledto the engineer at the hoist; "I'm coming down on the elevator."Peterson had already cast off the rope, but Bannon jumped for it andthrust his foot into the hook, and the engineer, not knowing who hewas, let him down none too gently.
On his way to the office he spoke to two carpenters at work on a stickof timber. "You'd better leave that, I guess, and get some four-inchcribbing and some inch stuff and make some ladders; I guess there'senough lying 'round for that. About four'll do."
It was no wonder that the Calumet K job had proved too much forPeterson. It was difficult from the beginning. There was not enoughground space to work in comfortably, and the proper bestowal of themillions of feet of lumber until time for it to be used in theconstruction was no mean problem. The elevator was to be a typical"Chicago" house, built to receive grain from cars and to deliver iteither to cars or to ships. As has been said, it stood back from theriver, and grain for ships was to be carried on belt conveyorsrunning in an inclosed bridge above the railroad tracks to the smallspouting house on the wharf. It had originally been designed to havea capacity for twelve hundred thousand bushels, but the grain men whowere building it, Page & Company, had decided after it was fairlystarted that it must be larger; so, in the midst of his work,Peterson had received instructions and drawings for a million bushelannex. He had done excellent work—work satisfactory even to MacBride& Company—on a smaller scale, and so he had been given theopportunity, the responsibility, the hundreds of employees, theliberal authority, to make what he could of it all.
There could be no doubt that he had made a tangle; that the big jobas a whole was not under his hand, but was just running itself asbest it could. Bannon, who, since the days when he was chief of thewrecking gang on a division of the Grand Trunk, had made a business ofrising to emergencies, was obviously the man for the situation. He wasworn thin as an old knife-blade, he was just at the end of a piece ofwork that would have entitled any other man to a vacation; butMacBride made no apologies when he assigned him the new task—"Godown and stop this fiddling around and get the house built. See thatit's handling grain before you come away. If you can't do it, I'llcome down and do it myself."
Bannon shook his head dubiously. "Well, I'm not sure—" he began. ButMacBride laughed, whereupon Bannon grinned in spite of himself. "Allright," he said.
It was no laughing matter, though, here on the job this Mondaymorning, and, once alone in the little section house, he shook hishead again gravely. He liked Peterson too well, for one thing, tosupersede him without a qualm. But there was nothing else for it, andhe took off his overcoat, laid aside the coupling pin, and attackedthe stack of blue prints.
He worked rapidly, turning now and then from the plans for areference to the building book or the specifications, whistling softly,except when he stopped to growl, from force of habit, at the office,or, with more reasonable disapproval, at the man who made thedrawings for the annex. "Regular damn bird cage," he called it.
It was half an hour before Peterson came in. He was wiping thesweat off his forehead with the back of his hand, and drawinglong breaths with the mere enjoyment of living. "I feel good," hesaid. "That's where I'd like to work all day. You ought to go upand sledge them timbers for a while. That'd warm you through, Ibet."
"You ought to make your timekeeper give you one of those brasschecks there and pay you eighteen cents an hour for that work.That's what I'd do."
Peterson laughed. It took more than a hint to reach him. "I haveto do it. Those laborers are no good. Honest, I can lift as muchas any three men on the job."
"That's all right if those same three don't stop to swap lieswhile you're lifting."
"Well, I guess they don't come any of that on me," said Peterson,laughing again. "How long are you going to stay with us?"
The office, then, had not told him. Bannon was for a moment at aloss what to say. Luckily there was an interruption. The red-headedyoung man he had spoken to an hour before came in, tossed a tallyboard on the desk, and said that another carload of timber had comein.
"Mr. Bannon," said Peterson, "shake hands with Mr. Max Vogel, ourlumber checker." That formality attended to, he turned to Bannonand repeated his question. By that time the other had his answerready.
"Oh, it all depends on the office," he said. "They're bound tokeep me busy at something. I'll just stay