It was getting pretty damned scary. I sat in my office watching the economy slowly spiral down in the death grip of climbing fuel prices. The governor of Illinois was frantically trying to close department after department, office after office in a vain attempt to keep the state government alive.
Gas prices had hit ten dollars a gallon and showed no sign of stopping. Food prices were climbing fast. Rolling power blackouts covered the entire mid-west. I ordered three hundred mixed one- three- and five-gallon food-grade buckets with gamma-seal lids. (Remember Y2K? All the food scares? Gamma-seal buckets have air-proof twist off lids that re-seal easily.) I began using all my spare cash to stock up on long term stored food. Starches? Of course—pasta, flour, rice, corn meal—even potato flakes and corn starch. I bought into well over a hundred pounds of each. I bought oils such as corn oil, olive oil, crisco and ghee in the same quantities. (Ghee is clarified butter which lasts quite a long time under cool, sealed storage. I stored that in mason jars, using sterile canning practices.) Under "Everything Else" I bought bulk quantities of baking powder, yeast, raisins, sugar, salt and spices. I bought flats of canned vegetables, pork and beans, canned meat stock, canned meat, evaporated milk, tea and coffee, all in institutional sized containers. I bought spices in bulk. I packed my chest freezer with the spices, nutmeats and chocolate. If nothing else they would make great trade goods.
Everything got a good purging shot of dry nitrogen before sealing the buckets to keep any oxygen from 'burning' the food.
Each pay check I bought a few 5-gallon steel jerry-cans that the military used to store fuel and pack along on vehicles. I filled 'em full of gasoline and put a shot of stabile in each one, then stashed 'em away. I rented a truck, loaded it up with everything I'd stashed and everything that I wanted to keep from my apartment then headed down South to a suburb of Springfield. I rented a 20x10 storage cube. I filled it up and prepaid the rent for four months.
Gas hit 14 dollars a gallon. Very few groceries were on the shelves. What there was were sold at incredible prices. It wasn't unusual to see gas stations in flames on the news. The economy was looking grim, grim. When I went to work that Monday I knew something was up. We were all called into the main conference room. Most of the secretaries were crying. The boss looked like someone had shot his dog. "We're closing down. We can't afford to stay open and the county won't cash your next paycheck." He started passing out envelopes. "Here's a month's pay for each of you. This taps out our funds but at least you get paid. I'm sorry, but that's it. Please shut everything down as you leave." I could see that he was heartbroken as he turned to go to his office. I hurried after him. "I want to shake your hand. You at least tried dammit. Most places I've been reading about have just locked the doors and scooted with any salaries and pension funds. You at least tried. Thanks."
I vowed to get out, no matter the cost. I wanted to be at the other end of the food supply—a producer rather than a consumer. I sat in my car in front of a grocery store that had just gotten in a food shipment. I noticed an armored car in front, waiting to pick up a deposit. I saw my solution. I was going to knock over a few armored cars to fund my migration.
I spent a week watching the armored car routes. I found four armored cars on routes running through a high-dollar neighborhood about 35 miles away, in towards Chicago. I thought up a plan that might work. If I worked fast enough my method would allow me to nail three-maybe four cars before the police began to catch on. I needed certain supplies first. My first objective was transportation. I wanted a large truck that would blend into nearly any environment. The paper mentioned that Stevens industrial electrical was bankrupt, going into receivership due to a huge defaulted loan. I tracked down their warehouse and drove by. Yep, there behind a chain-link fence were a row of 10,000 pound GVW (Gross Vehicle Weight) cube trucks painted with the company's logo. I pulled the power interrupter on an electrical pole outside the fence and padlocked it open. I wanted to let any security company come and go before I broke in.
Two days later I biked up to the gate in broad daylight with another padlock, a battery powered angle grinder, two spare charged batteries and a stack of spare steel cutting disks.
I made short work of the padlock on the gate and closed it behind me. Each truck had a four digit number stenciled on the driver's side door. I broke into the warehouse office looking for a key repository. Yep, there it was. It was Standard Operating Procedure. Install a lockable key box and screw it to the wall next to the dispatcher's desk. Two minutes with a cutoff blade later I had a handful of keys, all nicely numbered. I looked around while I was there. I found a flashlight in the desk drawer and wandered through the warehouse. Lord, talk about strange pieces and parts! I found a few things that might come in handy-- a large drill with a belly-bar to drill through joists and beams, a box of 1-1/4" hole drilling bits for making runs for conduit (that's thin galvanized pipe that city code demands all electrical wiring be run through to cut down on fires. If a circuit shorts and melts the insulation on the wires it'll ground out on the metal conduit which is earth grounded, and blow the fuse or circuit breaker rather than burn the house down.), junction boxes, reels of insulated heavy copper 3-conductor wire, wall boxes for 1 and 2-gang, wall switches and receptacles, cover plates, a 200-amp distribution box and a box of breakers. I figured that I was going to build a place eventually so why buy what I could steal?
I looked through each truck in the line, inspecting them for mileage and general repair. I narrowed it down to three then looked in the boxes (storage rear-ends). One was full of crap: transformers, heavy insulators—you name it. It would take more effort than I wanted to expend to empty. The next was greasy-filthy. Again, I passed. The third was a happy medium between 'em. It was fairly full, but the stuff was on pallets and the interior looked quite clean. I backed it up to the loading dock and used a pallet jack to empty it then loaded the stuff I wanted onto some spare pallets, wrapped up everything in stretch-wrap and loaded them neatly into the front of the box. I added six more empty pallets and a huge 3-foot wide roll of stretch-wrap with handles. I spent over 300 bucks filling that damned thing with gas. I swore that I was going to find a generator and portable pump. I'd driven a cube truck before. It was pretty scary until you got a feel for it. They were wide enough to take up an entire lane with very little room to spare. You couldn't drift around for nuthin'.
I found a university that had closed down—people couldn't afford to drive to classes and back. I broke into the chemistry building with my trusty angle grinder, made my way to the chemical stores room, broke in and stole six five-pound cylinders of carbon monoxide. I made sure that I wore gloves the entire time so that nobody could identify me through the cylinders.
Shopping around I picked up a Tyvek painter's suit, a pair of generic high-top sneakers, goggles and a respirator. I had tape, nitrile gloves (non-latex surgical gloves) and a baseball cap with the electrician's logo on it that I'd filched from the office. I bought a pair of gauntleted heavy leather gloves as well.
My little battery-powered cutoff saw wasn't going to 'cut it' for my next job. I paid good bucks for a quiet little Honda generator, an industrial high-volume fan and a high-end cutoff saw. Now for my evil plan.
The first armored car I'd watched was near the end of their run. I walked by the back of my first target as they were opening the rear door load the cash from the day's take. Just as he was closing the door I twisted open a CO cylinder, lobbed it through the door and rammed it shut with my shoulder. There was a whole lot of shakin' going on for a minute, then things quieted down. I tried the door. It had automatically locked on closing. I geared up in the sneakers, Tyvek suit, gloves, respirator and goggles, backed my cube truck up to the back of the armored car with about 3 feet between 'em, opened the rear door to my truck, popped the starter to the generator, then made DAMNED SURE to start the fan blowing out the back of my truck at the armored car doors. About forty minutes of screeching and sparks later I had the door open.
I cut the generator and opened the door wide with me NOT facing the inside of the armored car. I waited the longest fifteen minutes of my life for the carbon monoxide to disperse then crawled in and looked around. The two poor bastards that had run the route were dead as hell. I was sorry that I had to kill them to do the job, but there it was. I detest the phrase 'collateral damage'. You're responsible for everything you do. Their deaths were a weight I'd have to bear.
There were bags of money and receipts everywhere. I crawled out, backed my truck up to the armored car until I could just fit between 'em and crawled back in. There was a heavy aluminum ramp in the armored car that I used to bridge the two vehicles. I got to work transferring all the bigger bills using their hand-truck. I left bundles of checks and most of the coin. I took a couple of bags of quarters just for the hell of it. The shotgun and pair of pistols in the armored car mysteriously disappeared. When I was done I pulled the ramp back in, closed up both vehicles as best I could and drove away. I had a half hour until I had to be in position to do it again. Once someone noticed the open door to the armored car human curiosity would do the rest. There would be fingerprints everywhere and I'm certain that everything that I'd left would be missing.
I pulled off four armored car robberies in six hours. I had to quit because: 1, my truck was full. 2, I didn't have any other armored car routes scoped out, 3 I'd been visible for too long.
Parking behind a factory I blended in. I snoozed from about 2 AM to 8 AM. I climbed out, straightened myself out, took a pee and looked around. I threw the sneakers, Tyvek suit, respirator, mask, angle grinder and gloves in a dumpster. I was concerned that the alloy used in the armored car's lock was identifiable so everything went. It was over 70 miles from where the robberies occurred. I was now South of South East Chicago near the Indiana border—corn country. I'd stayed away from truck stops, interstates and back roads, following the old state highway system where I could go slowly. It was a technique I'd observed other commercial drivers use to conserve fuel—driving slowly and keeping an even speed.
I'd pocketed ten packs of twenties in various pockets of my coat the previous night before closing up. I left the truck cab and box locked up in the parking lot of a large strip-mall then hunted up a diner.
After grub came a hunting-camping store that I was surprised to find still operating. I reasoned that here away from the city people hunted more for food. I bought into more than a few boxes of ammunition and looked over what firearms they had available. There was a 2-day holding period on all firearms sold in Illinois so I gave them a pass. I'd buy something in Tennessee where I wanted to hole up. The laws were more forgiving there.
I bought a couple of electric lanterns, a stove, cot and some heavy-weight shirts and pants. A new pair of red-wing boots were added to the cart along with a few pair of socks. It was time well-spent washing the new clothes. They felt great. I headed south for Springfield.
While at the storage place I packaged most of the money into gamma-seal buckets at one hundred thousand per bucket in used twenties. It came to thirty eight buckets packed full of cash--mostly twenties with some fifties and hundreds separated into their own buckets. I had three buckets of tens. It came out to about 3.8 million. The risks had been worth the reward as far as I was concerned.
Now I had to cut any trace to the robbery sites. The van had to go.
A local newspaper had a large for-sale section. Since gas was so expensive it was no wonder that big vans were going for a dime on the dollar. I'd once driven an old bread delivery truck re-purposed to hold sheet-trays of fresh donuts that I'd made that night. Yep, time to make the donuts (remember that commercial? It gave me flash-backs!) I found a van just like it, about ten years old and on its third, brand-new motor. I took a taxi to the address listed on the ad and paid 1300 cash for it. A short trip to the DMV later and I was legal. I filled it up (again, 50 gallon tank, 15 dollars a gallon. You do the math.). I had made sure that it had a hitch when I bought it. I went shopping for an 9x20 foot enclosed trailer. I found one that was in good shape and didn't look like it'd been stolen from U-Haul. Most of my apartment goods from the storage place went into the trailer. I stuffed every open space I could find with family packs of toilet paper. I pure despise running out of bog paper. What can I say? I 'm a product of my upbringing. Thankfully the truck had a pass-through where the cube van hadn't. It was a long, narrow space that would fit a sleeping cot. I rented a motel room for the night and parked the now-packed trailer in front of the door. I had some time before dark so I kept working.
At a grocery store I found a half-dozen cans of wasp killer and three fogger kits. A hardware store yielded a siphon and four jerry-cans. After transferring all the contents from the cube truck to the bread truck I siphoned all the gas I could into the jerry-cans and stashed them in the bread truck. I sprayed all inside surfaces and everything I would have touched outside the van with wasp killer to destroy the proteins making up the finger prints. I finished the job with one fogger kit in the cab and two more in the cube. Later I wiped down all the outside surfaces with ammonia. I left it behind a closed-down factory beside a loading bay, unlocked and with the key in the switch.
I had that truck stuffed like a Christmas turkey. Still, there was room to set up a cot in the aisle. On my way south I stopped at a truck stop for a deep discharge 12-volt battery, a 12-volt drop cord (It's a shielded light bulb at the end of an extension cord.) and a cigarette-lighter linked battery charger. One 75 to 100 watt light bulb will keep you warm overnight down to about 15 degrees if you can keep the wind out. I'd just put it under the cot when I slept. It was near the first of March and snow still covered the ground. The temperature wasn't that bad at night—in the twenties—so a 50 watt bulb should do.
I slowly cruised down Illinois route 47 to near Normal, Illinois then started South East to Indianapolis on 74. Just after passing Indy I over-nighted at a full-service truck stop. A shower after dinner felt great. I bagged my dirty clothes and changed. I slept well, lulled by the sounds of the diesel engines turning over in the Semis surrounding me. A toilet stop, breakfast and a purchased brown bag lunch later saw me back on the road headed for Lexington and points south down Route 75. I was aiming for the TVA (Tennessee Valley Water and Power Authority) area around Knoxville. I'd looked into some of the river bow and slough areas that were outside the TVA impoundments but found the river waters rose and fell so much as to make much of the acreage near the water unusable. The TVA used a series of dams, artificial lakes and impoundments with controlled water releases to generate cheap power for the area and control the levels of the lakes and impoundments.
I had enough money to buy about anything I wanted but it was 'dirty'—it hadn't passed through a bank or the nasty little fingers of the federal revenue system, and I wanted to keep it that way! With the services of a plat book I hoped that I could find several small farms backing onto a TVA lake that I could directly pay for and incorporate into a large truck garden operation.
(A plat book is published by the county assessor's office. It maps out and identifies each parcel by land use, buildings, property ID number and by owner for all the land in the county.)
Living near Chicago I was at the wrong end of the food supply chain. I needed to be at the SOURCE to stay fed and solvent. If I could sell the produce that I'd raise locally perhaps I could circumvent government intervention and nosy-parkers. If travelling back into Appalachian Tennessee wouldn't do it I was screwed. One hundred acres is a bit more than one square mile. That was my goal. If I were to lease out most of the land at first to a farmer that wanted more land to farm in exchange for a portion of the yield I could keep pigs and a milk cow or two, whether he grew hay or grain. Timothy was fine for feed, but alfalfa had more protein. I know due to a well-spent summer on a Wisconsin dairy farm as a field hand back in my youth. I also knew that the best way into a small community was through the church. I was born and raised Lutheran and now despised it. The Baptists were too close to the Lutherans as far as I was concerned. I wanted a nice calm, cool, collected Methodist congregation to attend. But first I had to find the property and buy in.
About 30 miles after I passed the Tennessee border I hit Route 61. My map book said that this is what I wanted. I headed east until I picked up 170. The lake in question was headed by Big Ridge State Park and continued to cover the Northern bank. The Southern bank was farm and forest all up and down the lake. I stopped at a couple of mailboxes, writing down names and addresses. I carried on until I hit a little 'town' called Breadbox. It barely had a gas station, but it did have a restaurant/bar called Judy's. I pulled into the lot about four oclock on a Monday afternoon, stretched and headed in for, hopefully, a good dinner. The tall red-haired woman behind the bar gave me a 'Howdy!". I grinned and 'Howdy!'d back. "What'cha want?"
"How about a tall sweet tea, a menu and point me to the men's room."
After I visited the necessary I sat down to scan the menu. I looked it over but had no idea what the kitchen day crew were like.
"I know it's off hours. What can I get this time of day that I'll like?"
"Oh, I guess Silas fries up a mean burger, but the pork tenderloin sandwich falls apart if you look at it."
I had a very tasty deep-fried breaded pork cutlet.
"That was truly fine. I can see I'll be back here a few times, I can tell."
Her eyebrows got mobile. "You movin' in hereabouts?"
"Yep. If I can get a hundred acres or so together back on 170 south of Big Ridge Park I will. I plan to build up a farm, set a new house and outbuildings then make a living with a truck garden, chickens, pigs and a cow or two."
I showed her the list of names I harvested from the mailboxes. "I need three or four of these together that are willing to be bought out to make up a square mile or so. The plat book shows all of these farms to be mixed forest and field, just what I'm after."
She looked over the list and started ticking names off. "Samuelson wants out. James lives in-city now. Carpenter wants out. Fredericks wants out. The bank owns the Boies place. The Carters live in-town. There—that's five-six in a row that would probably settle up without an argument."
"What's property going for around here, now that the gas is so high?"
"Well, the banks have been holding out, but it's been going for about 800-900 an acre lately."
I settled back and grinned at her. "You've got a new neighbor." I reached out to shake her hand.
"Annie Shelton. Pleased ta meetcha."
Knoxville was about 20-24 miles away. I headed in-town for the nearest motel that didn't have a green-scummed swimming pool in front. I paid ahead for two weeks, parked the trailer and headed out to find a package store and a bar. I ordered 6 cases of wild turkey 101 and a case of a decently priced red wine to be picked up in a week, took two bottles of bourbon to go, settled up and put down a deposit. At the bar I had a couple of beers and popped a question or two about how people were dealing with the gas prices.
"It's plumb gone to shit. Food's scarce and jobs are just falling away. There's gonna be a lot of hungry people soon."
I nodded. "That's why I left Chicago. It's gonna get downright rude this winter. People don't like to suffer." He agreed and drew me another Sam Adams.
"Say, are there any Deadericks around here? I went to school with Jim up in Lexington a long while back."
"A few? I hope to shout."
"Damn. It's gonna be tough looking him up then."
"Naaaw. I know Carl. He knows EVERYbody. Let me give him a shout."
"Hey, Carl, this is Earl—Earl Spivey, down at the Fireplace. I got a fella here that went to school with your cousin Jim up in Lexington—" What years?"
"Umm, 76 to 81 or so. He was going to apprentice at Christie's auction house. Name's Paul Faxon"
"Yeah, seventy six to eight one. Jim still around? Let him know a Paul Faxon is looking up his alley, eh? I'll have him leave me an address and phone for Jim. Yeah, Thanks. Come on by and drink my liquor, aye? Bye."
I scribbled out my address at the hotel and my cell number. "Here. I'll be at the hotel at least two weeks while I look for a place to buy. Thanks for trying for me." I slid the paper to him along with a twenty, then settled up.
"Hey, no problem! Come on back and drink my liquor!"
I headed out to the motel. The room was comfortable and not musty. It had limited WiFi—enough to read the news and catch a story or two on a couple of sites I patronize. I had a good night's rest, sleeping the sleep of the innocent (not).
7:00 AM ... RINGGG RINGGG RINGGG Crap. My cellphone was vibrating off the bedside stand.
"Paul? Paul Faxon?"
"Jim? Good god. Where are you?"
"Umm, outside your door?"
"Holy shit. You woke me up. Waitaminute."
I grabbed shorts, pants and a tee shirt, fought them on and opened the door. There, much worse for wear and with much less hair, stood Jim. I stuck out my hand. As we shook I pulled him into the room and gave him a hug.
"Damn. You're a sight for sore eyes."
He still had the same stupid grin. "You're a sight to make eyes sore. What hit you, the ugly stick?"
"Yeah, well, 20 years will do that to a fella. Here, let me get my shoes on and we'll go out to breakfast. You know anywhere good around here?"
"Yaah, no problem."
As we walked out and I locked up he gave my poor delivery truck the up-and-down.
"Hey, it's worth a lot more than it looks."
I grinned. "Long story. I'm moving here. Well, near Big Ridge Park. I've got the bucks for a hundred acres and lots more. Let's get going and I'll fill you in."
We climbed into his older Escalade and headed for a diner he knew.
I told him about buying up properties off of 170 for a truck garden and more. "I hope to lease any property I don't use right away to another farmer hungry for crop land and take payment in part of his yield. That way if the price goes down or the yield fails he won't be out and I can feed my critters by trading my part of his yield for pig, cow and chicken fodder. I've yet to see a seed co-op that wouldn't dicker. With any luck I can talk a local farmer down on his luck to go in with me to get things running and used to the local growing seasons. Do you see any real problems with what I've rough-framed out?"
"Well, it takes a lot of man power to run a truck garden. Five to ten acres to start with should be enough to prove your concept. You gonna run organic?"
"Yep. And hope to sell local The price of artificial fertilizer is so high now that I want to run digested chipped wood and alternating years of clover for nitrogen to keep it fertile, maybe with some cowshit thrown in for good luck. I can drip water three times a week with a tractor-mounted rig I've thought up, and the stoop labor can be dropped to near nothing. Did you know that Nebraska was planted with tree seedlings by people lying on long horizontal carts pulled by horse or mule, and later by tractor? We can do the same thing six- or eight-across or so, supported by a couple of small I-beams and steel cables pulling up at the ends."
We talked things over for a bit over dinner, then I sprang it on him.
"Jim, I've got cash money in seven figures but Uncle Sugar can't see it."
He chortled. "Oh brother. You weren't kidding about being worth more than it looks, were you?"
"Nope. Look--one of the properties that I want is owned by a bank. If you buy it for me and sign it over I'll pay you twenty five percent over what you paid for it. It's an immediate return of twenty five percent. Interested?"
He thought long and hard about it, looking for pitfalls. "I'm in."
"Great!" I grinned. "I need to visit some farmers that want out with a wad of cash. I'll call you in a day or so to get the job done if you give me a number."
"No problem." He scribbled a number on the back of a business card. I examined it. "Still in the antique business?"
"Oh, yeah! " He said with a laugh.
I returned to the motel with a phone book. I located a phone number for each farm that I could. Using the plat book I identified the parcel numbers then called the tax assessor's office for the names of the property owners and identified the parcel number that the bank owned. I didn't get much hassle, but it did take a while. I wrote down all the plat numbers involved.
Mr. Samuelson wondered why the hell I wanted to buy his place when he couldn't make a go of it. I described what I wanted to do and he agreed that it might work. We settled on 950 an acre for his 85 acres. I promised cash in hand. The look on his face when I laid 80,750 dollars on his table was priceless. We both signed the receipt that we split and agreed for him to have the deed for me in two days and to be out in a week. He took me around the place and showed it off. There were plenty of hardwoods, an old orchard that had gone to hell, some nut trees and lots of brush. The fields gently rolled but were lying fallow. He didn't have much in the way of equipment and the buildings were in disrepair. That was all right. I was buying the property, not a working farm. He wrote down the numbers for several fellows that made a living making and selling compost of all types. From the looks of the winter-downed weeds I saw I'd need all the organic material I could get. We shook hands and parted friends.
Mrs. Loretta James had survived her husband and realized that the farm was too much for her alone. Even just living in the farmhouse was scary for her as no-one else was around to help if she got hurt. She was living with her sister in-city and agreed to allow me to visit and listen to my proposal. She was a handsome woman in her later sixties but very thin. I described why I wanted to buy her place and made an offer of 800 an acre for her 75 acres. She scribbled on a pad for a bit then thought it over.
I think that I clinched the deal when I then said "Cash on the barrelhead." Noon three days later I'd meet her at the apartment to make the deal.
Mr. Carpenter didn't care a hoot what I wanted the land for. He wanted 950 an acre for his 250 acres.
I said "Fine. No problem. When can you have the deed ready?"
"Tomorrow. I'm headed for Florida as soon as it hits my hand."
"Deal. See you at noon." We shook on it.
Mrs. Fredericks invited me in for coffee and pie. We sat and talked for while about where I came from and why I was willing to move to such a different place. I told her about the concept for a truck garden and my idea of leasing out the property I didn't use to another farmer for a share in the yield. She gave me the name of Mose Everly as a farmer down the road that wanted to raise more hay, corn and wheat than his property would support. She was willing to sell at 950 an acre for her 120 acres. I asked with a smile when could she provide the deed and how long she wanted to stay on the property. She could get the deed right now, but wanted to stay until the end of the year. I went out to the van and pulled out 115,000 dollars and laid it on the table. I got my coffee freshened, a fresh slice of cherry pie and a kiss on the cheek. She offered to feed me every Sunday evening until she left for Nevada.
The Carter twins were a hoot. They interrupted each other twice a sentence but I got a good deal out of them. Since their land was mostly pasture with some trees they settled for 700 an acre for their 300 acres. We'd settle up on Thursday, in three days time at 9:00 AM at their place with immediate possession.
After a day of such successes I headed back to the Fireplace to hoist a couple.
"Hey, Earl! I'm here to drink some of your booze!" I heard laughter from the back of the room.
I bellied up the bar and slapped down a five twenties. "I'm buying a round for the house and a Sam Adams for me, Earl. You too." A boozy cheer went up. Earl served everyone then drew a shot of something from a dusty bottle, saluted me with the shot and sipped it down.
"What's your poison Earl?"
"Cherry Kirsch. I've loved it since I was a snot-nosed little twerp."
"Yah. I'm that way about peppermint Schnapps, too. I learned to love it while ice fishing."
His eyes bugged out. "What, sitting out in the cold and wind, freezing your ass off, watching the fish laugh at you?"
"Naah, sitting in a nice warm wooden ice house dipping my rod and getting boozed up with three other guys. Let me tell you, the only way you want to drag a 500 pound ice house over a frozen lake is blitzed out of your mind."
You could see by his grin the image of us howling at the moon dragging that damned thing all over the lake looking for pike. He kind of shivered and shook his head. "Naah, Ain't gonna happen, not around here."
"Yaah, I know. Here I'll use carbide and a few rocks in a baby food jar. Got a net?"
He got frantic."SHHH! Not so loud! The damned DNR has ears everywhere."
I got my evil little grin. I turned around on the barstool to face the other guys.
"Hey, you ever hear about my uncle Karl? There he was out on the lake with a half case of beer and a bunch of half-sticks. Up roars this fat, pompous DNR ass in his little DNR speedboat and yells at him 'I hear you been dynamite fishin'. I'm takin' you in!' Old Karl, he just lights up a half stick and tosses it to the ranger. 'Well, what you gonna do, talk or fish?"
The place went dead silent, then the roof came down. Earl just shook his head and grinned.
One guy yelled "Hey, that DNR guy was my Uncle Ed!" Everybody laughed again.
"The reason I'm celebrating is that by the end of the week I'll have bought the Samuelson place, the James place, the Carpenter place, The Fredericks place, the Boies place and the Carter place. I want to put in one hell of a truck garden this year, even though it's late to get everything set up, and sell the produce locally. I'll need people to help with clearing the land, putting up the buildings, setting the fence and then getting the plowing and planting done. I pay cash on the barrelhead."
One guy came up to me, studying me carefully. He was built sort of blocky with a short blonde beard and mustache. He was showing some skin on top and was a little florid. He talked in a quiet, breathy kind of voice. "You're buying my old place? I'm Josh Boies. I got too far behind and the damned bank cut me off at the knees."
"You still want to farm?"
"You damned betcha! But there's nothing to do in this damned town. Everything's falling apart because the fuel's so high."
"If you want to work, I've got a job as foreman. It's food, housing, 40,000 per year and all the work you can handle."
He reached out his big meaty hand to shake mine. "Sold!" He pumped my arm like he was trying for water. I guess he really needed a job.
"I'll be talking to the bank in two days. I've bought the Samuelson and the Fredericks place already. By the end of the week I'll have 'em all and we can start looking around as to which place to live in until I get some new buildings up. Old Mrs. Fredericks is staying on until next year and everyone else is heading for the hills with the money." I looked him over. He looked kind of ragged. I gave him 200 bucks in twenties. "Here's some getting-started money. You might want to get some new boots, clothes and a good coat. I'm down at the Century motel and I'll stand you for a room if you need it. I figure that if I take care of you you'll take care of me."
We shook on it. I like simple contracts, don't you?
"You gotta ride?"
He shrugged. "Not so much. My truck died. Blew a rod."
I made a snap decision. In for a dime, in for a dollar. "Fine. Come on with me. We're getting you a truck. You'll need it. The way gas is, I'll have to front you some more cash, but that's the way it is. Let's go."
He pointed me to a Ford dealership. There was a dark green F150 king cab sitting there. He looked it over and gave his blessing. I popped for 22,000 with a full tank of gas, cash. We headed over to the DMV and got plates for it then it was off to the races. He went shopping and I went back to the motel to set up a room for Josh, then laid back in the bed with a drink and thought about what I had to do next. It was a fearsome list but I had a hold of its tail. I'd tame this tiger or die trying.
I settled up with Mr. Carpenter the next day. He had continued farming to the very end. His home and out-buildings were in decent shape and he had a machine shed with a decent collection of equipment and a small repair shop on a concrete slab. It was a mess, though. I gave him two buckets of cash along with 37,500 in a canvas sack. It was the first and last time I saw him smile. He beamed at me, patted me on the back, wished me luck and hit the road.
I sat at the kitchen table with the keys in my hand and the signed deed to the place. It was getting real. You couldn't chisel the grin off my face. He had left me a chest freezer that was mostly full of butcher-paper-wrapped beef, all nicely packaged and stamped by a meat packing house. I figured that this was where we were going to stay while we built out the farm.
Next stop was the electric company and the phone company. I got both services changed over to my name at the existing address and the services cut to the abandoned buildings. Having the deeds in my hand worked wonderfully to expedite the change.
I took the three deeds I had to the county registrar and registered them in my name using Mr. Carpenter's address. I asked about and was informed of the tax rate per acre on agricultural land. Yes, there was a different tax rate for lowlands and unimproved land, i.e. forest and pasturage. I hired a surveyor to do a GPS plot of the land noting the lowlands, forest and pasturage as well as getting elevation readings for a grid across all the improved land. We needed to cultivate so that rain run-off was captured and didn't cause erosion or soil leaching. I'd want settling ponds put in place on the drainage ditches to help with this.
I called Jim and asked him to represent me at the bank the next day. He called me around 9:30 with an offer—150 acres at 1000 an acre. It was high, but knowing the damned bank that was what they would accept, distressed purchase or no. I resolved NOT to use that bank. I resolved not to use ANY local bank. When the time came I'd look into a farmer's credit union.
Jim came to the motel at about 1:00 pm. I had 180,000 dollars in used twenties waiting for him.
"I've never seen so much fucking cash in one place in my life. I think I'm going home, dumping it in the bathtub, getting nekkid and lay in it!"
"It won't get you much interest but it sure as hell will give you some satisfaction. You have any inventory that you could fake up to bring in something like this?"
"Oh hell yeah. I've got some old Boston and New York stuff that is fake as hell but would be worth this much if it were real."
"Really? If you've got any good, solid fakes I'll pay you good money for them. I'll want some captain's chairs, a couple good, sturdy farmer's kitchen tables, a couple of dressers, beds and highboys. If you can find someone to put together a couple of high-backed fireplace settles I'll take those too."
"I'll keep my eye open for you." We shared a couple drinks of good Kentucky sunshine.
Josh came back with a couple of the sorriest looking golden retrievers I've seen in a while.
"I found my doggies!"
"Josh, those dogs need some real TLC. Leave 'em with me. Go pick up some flea and tick shampoo and a curry brush. I'll order extra towels and we'll get 'em cleaned up. Bring dogfood. Much, much dogfood."
"You got it!" He left whistling. I shook my head. Doggies!
The next day, Thursday, I settled with Mr. Samuelson, Mrs. James, then the Carter brothers. I had my land! I was as happy as Josh was with his dogs. I got the property registered with the county and called it a day. I stopped off at the motel to take Josh out to dinner and to celebrate.
We headed down to the Fireplace to consume alcohol. I asked the guys who had the best pizza around. Everyone sort of agreed on Antonios. I ordered four extra large pizzas to be delivered to the bar along with breadsticks, fried mushrooms and marinara sauce. We had a party. It's a good thing my truck knew the way back to the motel.
Friday—moving day! I loaded everything into the van, hitched up the trailer and headed out to the Carpenter, now Faxon place. Josh and I each claimed a bed room. I spent the afternoon cleaning the place and washing the windows. The dogs sniffed everything and made themselves at home. I headed back into town for bread, lunchmeat and a couple buckets of chicken. The grocery store had college ruled notebooks. I bought a handful and some pens. I had some thinking and planning to do. Soon I 'd have to drop my cell phone and pick up one with a local number, change my driver's license state of residence and settle into local life. I settled into bed with things whirling around in my head. As a sign of ownership I'd paint MY mailbox in the morning. I finally fell asleep between clean sheets.