Who Moved the Cheese

by Howard Faxon

Copyright© 2016 by Howard Faxon

Science Fiction Story: A smart man with a head full of plans is shifted to an agrarian world where the furries ruled over the 'bald folk'--It doesn't end well for the hero, so be prepared.

Tags: Post Apocalypse   Extra Sensory Perception   Violent  

It was damned boring checking sailors for VD and keeping up their shot records. I was an over-qualified, under-paid guest of Uncle Sam's blue water contingent. King's Bay Georgia Naval Resupply Base holds more stored nuclear missiles than Nevada and California put together, but nobody talked about it. We were the re-arming port for all the boomers on the East Coast. My ID hadn't been replaced yet. It still read CPO Benjamin Sanders. I went by Benny. I'd just been busted down to PO3 for giving a colonel exactly what he asked for.

My smart mouth kept my pay grade disappointingly low, and I had just enough rank to tell the smart-assed missile boys when to bend over and take it like a man. I'd just read a book, "Who moved the cheese?". I'd come to the conclusion that in my job, there was never any cheese there to begin with.

I was down in the hole, checking the weekly dosimeter counts and totaling up the bad news for the hot teams, when every radiation detector in the room started squealing like a stuck pig. I could feel the blood leave my head as I realized I'd just born witness to my death sentence. The lights flickered as the base went to generators, then those then went out. Only the tritium-based emergency signs still glowed. I strode through the crash bars on my way outside.

The sky was an odd swirling orange-red. Then I figured out that it was a dome centered over the base. The overarching cover developed bands, then started rotating like a huge magnetic field in a motor with the axis parallel to the ground. It slowly started accelerating, accompanied by a frying noise like a mistuned arc welder. My glasses were getting hot on my face so I threw them away. Then the contents of my pockets started burning my crotch. I quickly lost the boots and stripped. The dome was spinning too fast to see, then it developed a nasty whine that went up in frequency until I lost it. I started shaking. Paralyzed, I passed out.

I woke on a hillside covered in black pine trees in a plantation grid. I sat up. It was a damned big reforestation project. I couldn't see the edges of it, even when looking out over a broad series of valleys that grayed in the distance. Like I said, a damned big reforestation project.

I was naked as a jaybird, and sunburned fit to beat the band. All my hair was gone; above, below and everywhere in between. I explored my teeth with my tongue and found no fillings, no holes. That shocked me. What the hell? My hands didn't look like a thirty-six-year-old guy's hands either. They were too perfect. My palms had no calluses. The nails were thin and soft. I checked my feet. Ditto. I had a nasty feeling that I didn't wake up in the body that I grew up in.

On standing up I overbalanced a little and had to grab a tree trunk to balance myself. My head was too far from the ground. That meant to me that my limbs were longer which meant they had new moments of inertia. I'd be damned clumsy until I got used to things.

I spotted a wood wheelbarrow not far from where I had lain. On top lay a long pull-over shirt, a pair of tie-on under shorts, a pair of canvas pants, knitted wool socks and a pair of lace-up rough-out ankle-high mocs. I curiously examined one. The soles were sewn on then the seams were tarred and short heels were pegged in place. There were no metal buttons or eyelets. I quickly got dressed, stuffing my shirt inside the pants and hauling the suspenders up over my shoulders. I quickly let them out to keep from crushing my nuts as I danced about in pain.

Someone had paid attention to details. The boots fit my long, narrow feet. They were remarkably similar to Jefferson Booties.

I turned my attention to the barrow. It was narrow, high and long, like an old European barrow or push cart made to transport cargo down a forest trail. It was filled to the top and it was heavy! What the hell was this? two mules and a plow, without the mules and plow? (Sharecropper's start)

I emptied the thing, taking inventory. I found two sections of sturdy canvas-- one about 12x12 and one about 24x48. There was a huge canvas bag that looked like an over-sized duffel bag. It was only sane to carefully tear everything down to see what I had to work with. I dug out a pair of heavy wool blankets, a pair of axes and an auger with a half dozen 3/4 inch wide bits. Okay, I could build a shelter and some furniture. I kept digging. I found a big sewing kit with wax, a big hank of cordage and plenty of needles, extra socks, a very heavy spool of thick twine, an over-the-shoulder belt, a pair of sheathed belt knives, a flint and steel kit in a waxed leather bag, a four liter nickel lined brass kettle with a lid and another nesting kettle holding about a liter and a half, two lengths of quarter inch sisal or hemp rope of about 50 feet each, A big spool of heavy gauge tarred nylon bank line, a box of big sharp fishing hooks, a screw-top single piece steel canteen that looked to be of a lot different manufacture than the rest of the gear, A flint-lock double-barreled shotgun, a couple cans of black powder, A big pair of pliers and a sturdy hammer, a bag of dry shredded cotton cloth, a great big bag of dried ground corn, a similar bag of dried, powdered meat and yet another and much larger bag of gray salt. In the bottom of the barrow lay a full-sized diamond point shovel, a huge oilcloth overcoat, a waxed pair of pigskin gloves, a wool capote and an oilcloth floppy-brimmed hat.

I sat back on my heels and grinned. I really wasn't too badly off. Living on the east coast, I'd gotten sucked into the reenactment movement long before. This was some prime gear. I'd need to find a swamp for a stiff, strong rod to keep the shotgun clean and I had to pick up a decent supply of uniformly sized gravel to use as ammunition. I could hunt for game. I could weave a net to catch fish and with the most basic of tools I could beat metal into tools. I even had enough canvas to line a primitive dugout or line a cabin roof to keep nature out.

The local tree bark was too rough to climb. I checked what direction the wind came from, then held still to listen for the sounds of running water. I'd need water before I needed anything else. My canteen and bucket were empty. Clumsily, I picked up the barrow handles and headed upwind, over the rise and away from the tree-covered valley.

I stopped to rest and make camp after just a few hours. My endurance would have held out for hours yet, but I could feel hot-spots on my hands and feet.

After removing my shoes and socks to let my feet dry and hopefully harden, I took out my smaller section of canvas and the sewing kit. I measured off one half of it, then doubled over that half the long way into a tube. I carefully sewed it closed at one end and along the long seam, making three passes. After turning it inside out to protect the seam I filled the tube full of pine straw, then ran a line between a couple trees to give my little tent a ridge line. I made a cold camp, eating some jerky and taking a couple mouthfuls of water. I rolled up in a blanket, covered the barrow with the other tarp and settled down for the night.

I got on the trail soon after dawn. It was chilly. The dew had fallen. Before moving out I used my hand to wipe the dew off the tarps and into my canteen. My feet had perceptible calluses. Again, I walked until my feet felt dangerously uncomfortable. I'd traversed a valley and come down into the next. I made my camp part-way up the next slope. I knew that cold air pools at the bottom of a valley and the dew's heavier there. When I made camp I washed my socks then laid them over a bush to dry.

I had a mouth full of parched ground corn and a little jerky. It swelled up in my belly, making me feel full. Watching the moon rise, I determined that I was walking east. I wondered who had planted all the pine trees. There were acres upon acres of them, all planted within a season or two as they were much of the same size. What had happened? A fire? A hurricane? I certainly didn't know and I had no way of finding out either.

By the next morning my feet were in pretty good shape. I took a dump (it's hard to wipe with pine needles! I had to keep scrubbing my hands with the sandy dirt to get them clean. I had no water to waste. Next time I pissed I'd save it to wash my hands.) and quickly broke camp. I kept on walking. About two and a half hours after dawn I topped a ridge to find an old farmstead. It had been long abandoned. The buildings had partially collapsed. I smiled. Resources.

From what had been left for me, I could have been in any time from the late 1500's to a freaky late 1900's What was left on the farmstead would narrow that down for me.

Despite the temptation to explore, I cleared a small campsite, filled my sleeping pad, ate a frugal supper and tucked in for the night.

My first objective was to plot out the site and inventory what was there. I found the well right away. Thankfully the pump hadn't fallen into the well shaft. The fact that there was a lever-operated pump put the local timeframe at post civil-war equivalent. I tied a rope around the mechanism and tied it off before I did something stupid, then hauled it up, out of the well casing and off to one side. I doubted that it would work without a new flapper valve. Still, I had a well filled with clean water available! I emptied my canteen into a pail, tied it off and let it down. It came up heavy with cold, sweet water. Goal number one had been achieved. I would not die of thirst or of disease from drinking polluted water.

The outhouse structure had decomposed and was partially covered with moss. I dragged the remains away to a burn pile where I could torch the wood both to cook my meals and recover the nails. I salvaged the moss for toilet duty. Some of the more easily recoverable planks left from the main house were in good enough shape to cover the pit. I tied a rope around a sapling a short distance away to give me something to hang on to while balancing over the pit, much as a sailor did at sea. Within a week I'd rebuilt the outhouse, roofed it over and installed a seat.

I started looking at the smallest outbuilding and worked upwards. I grinned when I identified the smallest structure, but then I left it alone. It had been a smithy. The heavy vise and anvil had been greased and were in fine shape. When the building fell over the bellows and fume hood had been crushed. It would take some work to get it back into working shape. The files were in very poor shape and there wasn't a saw to be had. On the other hand, I found chisels, hammers and tongs hanging from loops around a heavy work table. I found angle iron, flat stock, bar stock and round stock as well as a mostly filled coal bin. Looking down through the fire hole and tapping with a stick proved that the tuyere or throat looked to be in fine shape. This was looking better and better. I had to kill some larger game for leather to tan and get the bellows in operation.

I'd always been interested in farm life around the time of the civil war and how it differed between various geographic areas. I'd especially studied the Foxfire books and had taken a few courses in utility blacksmithing. Getting dropped into the ass-end of nowhere with the guts of a working smithy at hand didn't scare me at all. Now, planting, weeding, harvesting and putting-up crops scared the hell out of me. There was no way on God's green earth that I could get everything done alone to survive on a subsistence farm on my own.

I didn't know if someone had been listening or not, but I had my suspicions. Finding that huge potato field was just too providential to be put down to chance. I found six acres in mixed white and sweet potatoes just sittin' there waiting for me. Good God. I cleaned it up the best I could and trained the vines well enough to leave paths, then looked to see where they needed water. The machine shed held some wood-tyred carts and pieces of field equipment like a plow, a rake and a pretty good reproduction of a McCormick reaper and binder. I cut down an old rubber tire to make a flap valve and rebuilt the pump. It was simple enough to do. I didn't hang it back in the well yet as I didn't trust the lumber on hand. I realized that the tech level must have been about at 1900, but the farm had been worked with mules, oxen or horses. Seeing the cracked old horse collars hanging from a post eliminated the idea of oxen.

If I ever saw a set of plans or a schematic, I remembered 'em. I was dangerous that way. I knew that I had to get that smithy up and operational fast, as I needed a windmill to pump my water. I took a couple deer with my shotgun, then while smoking the meat under an impromptu tarp smokehouse I tanned the skins and softened them with deer fat to rebuild my bellows. I punched holes in sections of angle iron to join them into four legs. The machine shed had enough nuts and bolts on hand to let me construct a 16-foot tower. Using some clay from down near the farm dump I made a few heavy pots, then fired them. It took me several melts before I was able to pour the gears and housing I needed to get the rotary to reciprocating gear box working. After that it wasn't much to get the pump connected. I had hopes that I was still in southern Georgia, so I wouldn't have problems with my water pipes freezing.

There were four outbuildings. As I said, the smallest was the smithy. The next was closer to the house and was mostly buried--it was the root cellar. It was easy to dig it clear, re-roof it with split pine saplings and re-cover it with sand and gravel. All the old Mason jars had to be scrubbed and boiled clean before harvest. I'd have to salvage flat wood to make sand boxes. That's how I was taught to preserve potatoes, in shallow dry sand beds.

I had no lids for the canning jars and the rings were nearly rusted away--unusable. I realized that I had to cap my jars the old fashioned way--with a poured layer of hot wax. The problem was, I had no wax!

The root cellar door had to close solidly and all the walls had to be impenetrable, else the rodents would eat me out of house and home. I spent days scavenging old metal containers to tack around the door's frame, sill and the door itself. Any mouse that got through that barrier deserved a free lunch.

The farmhouse had gradually fallen over. Most of the kitchen lay exposed, protected by the stone fireplace flue. I was able to salvage barrels, crocks, pails and cooking ware on just the first pass.

I found the old vegetable garden. It was growing like gangbusters. After all, by my best guess it had been growing wild for over forty years. Identifying the juvenile crops was not easy.

My solution to the canning problem was to knock together a few empty hives, then follow the bees back to their old hives as they moved to new digs. To bait them, I dug out a few tin pie plates and found a knocked-over sugar jar with a little sweetener left inside. I made a sugar-water solution in a pan for each new hive and left them in the shade, just under the box hives. I took my time, waiting until the new hives were fully established before taking the old one. I remembered how smoke puffers worked, and made sure to drop the tree segment containing the hive over canvas to keep from getting dirt in the wax and honey. Then a block and tackle were used to drag it to the farm site after plugging the nest openings with mud and clay. I let the hive sit for a month before cracking it open, using an axe, hammers and wedges.

I had the shotgun loaded and ready, in case an opportune feeder decided to come to the party.

The barrels I found that were still sound would leak if filled, but when heated upside-down over a fire and swished with fresh hot wax they sealed right up. I only poured enough into each barrel to fill the cracks, then picked the trash out of the honeycomb and packed full the smaller ten pound barrels. The older wax was a dirty brown in color and opaque. I poured it into every metal pan and pot that I could scavenge, then kept them covered and warm by the edge of the fire to allow the solids to settle out. After a day I allowed them to cool, then inverted the containers, tapped out the contents and cut the wax slugs free of the dross if I saw a good demarcation line. Otherwise I started all over again, keeping the dirty wax warm and liquid for several days. The wax salvaged this way would be my canning wax, seal my ironwork in the smithy and would wax my boots. The filled barrels of honeycomb, clean wax and salvaged wax were covered and went into the root cellar.

I cut the tree trunk into smaller segments so as to make hauling them away easier. I didn't want to leave such an obviously smelly bait so close to where I lived.

I looked for sweet fruit such as berries. I mashed them with clean water and left them in an uncovered jug in the root cellar. I would need vinegar to pickle cucumbers and cabbage. There were several old stoneware crocks in the cellar that had survived. I'd definitely have a use for them.

Regrettably, my fruit vinegar never caught yeast.

Living in a tent in the rain got tiresome fast. There was just enough room to lay a pallet down in the root cellar. I felt safe as within my mother's arms the first night I slept in the cellar. It did wonders for my confidence.

I tore down the house a little at a time and stacked the recoverable building material into piles. I had to use a maul to erect beams under the collapsed floors as I worked from one end towards the other. It had been a two-story farm house, the second floor being only a partial addition bearing a couple bedrooms.

There wasn't any room to pack the furniture into the root cellar, but there was room to store all the cooking gear on the shelves. There had been four bedrooms. Each one held at least two beds, a chest of drawers that had seen better days as well as a trunk full of bedding, each of which had stood the test of time. The chests of drawers furnished me with cotton rags which, after washing, would serve well for shotgun wadding and char cloth. I thought about braiding them into strips for rugs, but thought again. Instead I used the shredded old wool blankets, once they had been thoroughly washed. My first rug was made the size of my pallet and over an inch thick to provide quite a comfortable bed.

The kitchen stove and fireplace were undamaged. The stove had been left high and dry under several layers comprising the second floor and the roof. I decided to work around them as the core of my new home. Luckily someone had constructed all the buildings except the outhouse with a half-dozen courses of stone before laying down any wood, as a barrier to termites.

None of this went quickly, you understand. I had to make a batch of soap, daily harvest dry wood for the fire, keep clean, wash my clothing, prepare for the harvest, raise the roof on the smithy, rebuild the bellows, rebuild the smithy's smoke flue, hunt for the pot and a hundred other tasks.

The walls went up for the old kitchen. Instead of trying to build a truss roof, sheathe it and shingle it, I decided to use an existing section of roof to cap over walls of unequal height, making a shed roof. I cut sockets in the cap rails to accommodate the beams making up the old roof structure. At the corners and half way down I drilled holes through the joints and hammered pegs through them to attach the roof to the walls. It was difficult squaring off the roof section without a hand saw.

I managed to salvage two unbroken windows and a door. The chimney needed rebuilding, and a brick or two had fallen inside, jamming the flue. I used a pointed iron bar attached to a rope to repeatedly drop down the chimney until the errant bricks broke up and made a racket as they landed in the smoke box. I got pretty filthy reaching in there through the damper to retrieve the pieces.

Boy, was I glad to find that shelf of decrepit old rat traps in the machine shed! The smithy had a big, round sandstone sharpening wheel with a pedal drive. The old wood water tank needed rebuilding as well as the seat, but after a little TLC I had a damned fine tool. I beat out a drawshave and gave it a rough hone after which I cut some coarse threads in the handles, then tempered the thing in dirty oil. A couple ferrules were easy to make as were handles with goose-eggs to pull against. The ferrules kept the handles from splitting when twisted around the threads.

You see, I needed clean flat boards to rebuild those traps. I searched through the farm's dump for wire to tie down the traps. Otherwise an animal might run away with one, and I couldn't make those springs. I could patch the kill-bar but I couldn't make a torsion spring to save my life. I didn't have the metal.

I made quite a few discoveries while digging through the machine shed. I found three open kegs of nails as well as evidence of a long history of the previous resident's scavenging every nut, bolt and washer he could lay hands on, and a couple big stacks of folded canvas tarps. The harness work was all cracked and useless. There were a few mouse nests and chewed spots in the canvas but it had held up remarkably well. It was a good thing because I'd have to be sewing new clothes sooner or later.

Setting traps around the farm made a lot more sense than wasting my time trying to hunt. I had enough trouble finding time to weed the wheat field. I'd have to harvest it with a scythe because that damned reaper needed two horses to pull it, and I had none. I had to forge a scythe blade and make a snath. I decided to use a straight pole like the Europeans did rather than a double-curve. I didn't have the time to fool with it. Getting that damned three-foot blade forged, set to the proper angle, sharpened and tempered was enough of a problem without adding to it.

I started catching rabbits and squirrels right off the bat. I got pretty handy at skinning and butchering small game. That old two-eye stove usually had a big cast-iron pot with some sort of stew simmering away on it.

The problem came down to preserving my catch for the winter and spring. I didn't have any cement, so using the biggest, flattest rocks that I could salvage from the rest of the house's foundation I dry-laid a smoke house foundation against the back wall of the kitchen, making use of the fourth wall. I used nothing but salvaged beams from the second floor joists which I pegged together to make the top half of the structure. I was optimistic and made it big. The kitchen was about twenty by thirty, so I made the smoke house the same size. I roofed it over with the same joists, side-butted together and pegged into a solid surface. It had a good slope to it, so I figured that a couple feet of clay soil topped with sod would keep out the weather and retard rot. I over-built the hell out of those big strap hinges. They were big enough to hold the whole door together. By the time I'd finished the damned thing it was so air tight that there wasn't any draft! I couldn't slam the door--it would "whuff" mostly shut against an air buffer. I dug out a couple holes up high and one down low for a fire draft, then nailed a rotating plate next to each of them to close 'em off. I drilled holes in some of the overhead beams to support rods, then forged hooks out of half-inch round stock that would hang over the rods.

To draw the moisture out of my catch I'd need more salt. I found about thirty pounds in a half-full keg under the kitchen counter, but I could use that in a couple weeks of dedicated deer hunting. I'd located a small orchard while previously walking the animal trails, the same way that I found the wheat field.

My next big task was to get a threshing floor cleared off and protected. To me, that meant raising the machine shed again, and not just doing a half-assed job at it. I still had a lot of timbers left from tearing down the house. I wanted to raise the machine shed's walls underneath the roof. A long time before I'd seen a house lifted with what's called roof jacks. They look like really tall, really strong bumper jacks. Curious, I'd carefully examined one. I figured that I could reproduce it. However, I didn't have enough straight bar stock to make the eight main supports that I'd need. I decided to work a little off of each end, so to speak. I had enough heavy bar stock to make my jacks eight feet tall, once I made a few welds. Then I had to hot-punch the detent holes along the bars for the jack heads to grip against. If I put a two-foot stone plinth under each jack I'd be able to get the roof up to, just maybe, nine feet at the edges. If the roof assembly didn't fall apart from the stresses of moving it, I could jack and wedge each mortise and tenon junction with a vertical beam. I was thinking of using a hardwood tree trunk wrapped in fence wire. I'd need thirteen of them, varying in height. Once the roof was up, I could frame up the walls and board them over with split dry saplings. The longest trusses and beams from the house's unused half roof could be used to create a cage-like effect with a rigid structure. I'd be drilling a lot of holes, carving a lot of branches and pounding in a lot of hardwood pins.

Thank God for stupid critters that fell for my traps. I didn't have any spare TIME to hunt. I didn't even bother washing my clothes. I just kept hammering away at those roof jacks until I couldn't, day after day. I was up against a deadline. Harvest time. Once the wheat seeds started drooping the first rain after that would destroy the crop.

It was damned rough lifting that roof high enough to get a beam under every two load points so that I'd have something to push against. That roof must have weight a good few tons and it was damned dangerous work. Once I got the cribbing in place, I punched holes in the roof to accommodate the vertical risers of the roof jacks. Then I began lifting the roof, working in pairs. I had to take care yet work quickly. The first good wind gust leading a rain storm would knock the whole damned thing down and God help me if I was under it at the time. I got it jacked up in two days, then started using a sledge to drive the vertical support beams in place. I started at the center and worked my way out. Then the old rafters were pegged in kitty-corner-wise to make triangles. After six days of back breaking work the job was finished and I was able to rest for a bit. I didn't even have to get the walls up for a while. I had plenty of canvas sheet to wall off the threshing floor. I had the time to clean up and wash my clothes. Within a few weeks the crop would be ready. All I had to do before that was patch the roof and string up some sheets to funnel the wind through my winnowing station. I already had a break made to beat the wheat seeds free of the stalks. I didn't want to abuse them, as I'd be using them to sleep on as straw ticking, making straw mats to use as rugs and twisting into rough ropes to make into baskets. I didn't want to bruise the kernels either as some of them represented my next year's crop.

I relaxed by going hunting and exploring further east. After climbing a long ridge I stopped to take in the view. It was a marsh that led down to a shoreline. Just within sight, to the south lay a river mouth. I traced out an old wagon track before I descended to approach the shore. A broad, solid rock ridge separated a nearly sterile salt marsh from the shore. I tasted the water both in the bay and in the marsh. I found both to be brackish--salty, the dead marsh even more so. I hunted clams among the shoreline rocks for my dinner, then retreated up the ridge before setting my campsite for the night. I didn't want to be anywhere near the percolating sand and floating vegetation or near that marsh in that evening or the next morning--sand fleas. I'd be back after harvest with my barrow and some flat pans to serve as evaporators. I'd seen what looked like bush willow that I could use for basketry, weave into wattle fence and, once cut and tied into bundles, used as something to keep me from walking through the mud come the winter rains on my way to the outhouse and back.

Once the kitchen was in-the-dry and the chimney was rebuilt I moved in. I framed up a bed and sewed together a heavy canvas bag to use as a straw ticking mattress. I slept on quilts and my braided rug until the straw was ready.

The apples in the orchard were ripe and beginning to fall. I'd seen wire harvesting baskets with claw-shaped tops mounted on poles to harvest tree-born fruit. It wasn't too hard to twist one together out of fence wire, then heat and hammer the twists together over the horn of my anvil. It made harvesting the apples many times easier. Processing them was slow though. I had to peel, slice and core them, then string them up and hang them up near the kitchen ceiling. It sure made the place smell nice. When they were thoroughly dry I'd bag them up and hang the bags. In the mean time, I filled some of my largest glass jars with apple peel, filled them with water and covered them with muslin. I was going to get a batch of vinegar going come hell or high water. In the mean time I stored my cabbages with the roots intact, hung upside down in the root cellar.

Glory, glory. I got hit with the vinegar fairy. You wouldn't think it such a big thing unless you were trying to preserve your food! I drained off the liquor and started a fresh batch every few days. I rough-cut my cabbage and made vinegar slaw. The salt method tends to yield a slimy brown product after a while. All the spare turnips were treated in the same fashion.

I made a few jugged hare in vinegar as well. For something different I made pickled peppers which had a little bite to them.

The vegetable garden was ready to harvest. There wasn't a tomato plant to be found, but I had plenty of root vegetables and runner beans. The cabbages did well, as did the carrots, turnips and the big-assed beets. I'd heard that beets take two years to seed, so I left a few in the ground. I tasted a sliver and found it to be very sweet. Sugar beets. Now, how the hell was I going to preserve or refine sugar beets? I treated them like squash and strung up slices to dry. The onions and garlic came in fine, as did the celeriac for stews.

I used the last of the house's unused interior boards to hammer together several bins to hold the freshly-threshed wheat. I tossed the sand in the potato bins daily to turn it over, forcing it to dry faster. Over half of the root cellar was set aside for root vegetable bins--mostly potatoes. I didn't have a potato fork, so I used 1/4 inch rod to make one. As soon as the first frost hit and the vines dried it was time to harvest my root crops.

I found the farm's flour grinder. The poor thing had taken a hit by a falling beam, breaking the cast iron outer shell. Ya can't weld cast iron on a forge. Ya just can't. I set about the slow process of carving a wood model of the completed part. I'd done this before to make my windmill pump, but this was an order of magnitude more difficult. Once I completed the try-part I re-assembled the grinder with it in place. Everything fit. From that I made a 1:1 wax model. It was finicky work that could only be done during the cool of the early morning. The harvest interrupted me. I had to put it aside.

The sickle worked well for cutting wheat. I used a garden rake to bring the stalks into bundles to tie them off. My roughly four acres of wheat took just about three weeks to harvest. I walked through the mud hand-stripping seed after the rains interrupted the harvest. I salvaged as much as I could that the rain didn't drive into the ground.

After using the brake to strip the heads I tied them into big arm full bundles and put them to one side to slowly dry. I tossed the kernels out onto a stretched sheet to pick out the most robust to plant the next year. I came out with 24 bushels per acre at roughly forty pounds per bushel. I figured on reserving a hundred pounds of seed per acre for the next planting. All of it had to be most thoroughly dried or it would rot. I hadn't even thought about constructing a rodent-proof granary, dammit. I had to get busy. In the mean while I placed all my traps in and around the machine shed.

While I waited for the freeze I took a rope and a piece of canvas to use as a slick drag, then went hunting. I brought back several deer from the orchard in just a few days. Once the harvest was over I'd have my work cut out for me, tanning those skins. It meant that I had to start feeding the smokehouse fire three times a day until the meat was cured. I had venison heart and backstrap in my stew for a while.

I kept hunting until my smoke house was over half full of drying, smoking cut-down carcasses.

I left a few of each crop in the ground until they set seed and the seeds dried naturally. I had to stay mindful of the next year's crop.

The last out-building had been the horse barn. I had no illusions about being able to raise the damned thing on my own, as it had been a three-story building with a hay loft. The bottom floor had been so robustly built that it held up fine. I learned that the granary did as well as it was built of solid 6x6 timbers with a tin lining. I had to cut away the rest of the loft and lay the recoverable lumber to one side. I built up a half-second story over the granary and roofed it over with a section of the barn roof that I cut free with an axe, a wood chisel and a hammer. Using the nails that I'd recovered from burning trash wood from the house I fastened planks around the roof segment, then nailed more planks underneath to cover the exposed rafters. I cut everything as closely as I could to keep insects and critters out of the enclosed space.

All the old grain was useless. I used my barrow to move the bags down to the manger. After harvesting the vegetable garden I planned to mix the grain with the soil to help with the next year's potato crop. Then the bags would have to be boiled out.

The surviving empty seed bags were washed and dried in the sun before I dared to risk my precious grain in them. Even though my supply of gunpowder was getting alarmingly low, after sweeping and scraping out the granary to the best of my ability I burned off an ounce of powder in a bucket in the sealed room in an attempt to sulfur it, killing any molds or fungi. Then I built six fires in buckets of sand within the room to heat the bejesus out of it, driving out any residual moisture. Finally, I felt confident in using the granary for its intended purpose.

The ground hadn't frozen hard so it was time to dig the potatoes. I pulled the smallest cart out of the machine shed, one I could move by hand. I used it to move the potatoes I dug to the threshing room floor to dry and remove chunks of soil before gently burying them in sand in the root cellar.

The potatoes had spread in over forty years of being left alone. I harvested over eight hundred pounds of sweet and white potatoes from three acres of the six acre plot. I left all the runts to provide the next year's crop. I added over two hundred pounds of old grain before I turned the soil back over, then covered the entire plot with a thick layer of bundled hay that came from the loft. Some of it was already molding and would serve nicely to add organics to the field.

I saved up buckets full of offal from my traps to dig in among the roots of the orchard. I knew that my trees were aging out, so I used the cores I'd cut free to plant a fresh orchard not too far from the first. I trimmed what I could of the old trees, but they'd been neglected for far too long. I had to spend some time at the forge with a cold chisel and a high-quality piece of steel making a pruning saw. Then I experimented with forging the jaws of a limb lopper, which benefited greatly from case hardening.

I wanted some bread, not wheat porridge. It was time to get back to fixing my grain mill. Since I didn't have any files, getting the size of the bearing hole was quite demanding. A brass bearing had to be press-fit into the hole. Tapered steel mandrels were pressed into all the high spots of the master.

Now came the most dangerous step to the molding process. I pulverized about ten pounds of limestone, then reduced it to lime over a hot fire that I didn't dare let cool for two days and nights. When I was finished I had about eight pounds of quicklime. I mixed it with equal volumes of white fly ash then mixed it with hot water, about two cups of dry mix per batch. Once cooled, that was used to slip-coat the wax model. The lime slurry was about as alkaline as you could get outside of a chemistry lab and would give severe burns. As each coat dried, another was applied until I had an even dozen coats. The whole thing was bedded in a box half-full of sand that had been tamped solid, then more sand was added to the box until full, then tamped hard. I nailed a cover over the top leaving the funnels coming through, then baked the whole thing for most of a day. The wax ran out when inverted, which I salvaged. Then I baked the thing again, at a very high heat. At the same time I broke up the original casting and put everything I had into that bellows to get the metal to melt. There was always some loss, so I added bits and pieces of iron that I salvaged from the garbage pit and off-cuts from around the forge. When both the mold and the stoneware flask were so hot I could barely stand to be in the same building with them I used a very long-handled pair of tongs to pick up the flask and pour it into the funnels. I made sure to get the liquid metal to pool in each funnel, then used a mallet to convince any air bubbles that they were unwanted as I rocked the mold forward and back, side to side. When the level dropped in a funnel I carefully refilled it. I burned all the hair off of my arms, chest, face and the front of my scalp in the process. I left the mold buried in the residual ash and clinkers as insulation so that it would cool slowly. I later soaked my blisters in warm water.

During the cooling process I fretted, wishing that I'd had some nickel to throw into the mix, but I was out of luck. Still, I'd managed to complete a good pour and the vents were wide enough to defeat the molten metal's surface tension. Four days after the pour I still needed leather gloves to pry away the casting sand and reveal the inner mold. A few sharp raps with a hammer released my first heavy casting. I was quietly ecstatic. While it was still hot I waxed the metal to fill its pores to retard rusting. I had no paint. The sprues took notching with a cold chisel then broke free. I turned it in my hands, marveling in its details. Lost wax casting really worked.

I turned the big bench vise on end to act as an arbor press while I seated the bearing, then I assembled the grain mill. The nuts seated properly and the crank turned. I had successfully reproduced a twenty-two pound casting.

That first loaf of bread tasted like manna from heaven.

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