Nothing To Get Excited About – Calumet “K”, Chapter 7
Bannon had the knack of commanding men. He knew the difference between an isolated—or better, perhaps, an insulated—man and the same man in a crowd. Without knowing how he did it, he could, nevertheless, distinguish between the signs of temporary ill feeling among the men and the perhaps less apparent danger signal that meant serious mischief.
Since his first day on the job the attitude of the men had worried him a little. There was something in the air he did not like. Peterson, accustomed to handling smaller bodies of men, had made the natural mistake of driving the very large force employed on the elevator with much too loose a rein. The men were still further demoralized by the episode with the walking delegate, Grady, on Thursday night. Bannon knew too much to attempt halfway measures, so he waited for a case of insubordination serious enough to call for severe treatment.
When he happened into the office about the middle of Saturday morning, Miss Vogel handed him two letters addressed to him personally. One was from Brown,—the last paragraph of it as follows:—
Young Page has told MacBride in so many words what we’ve all been guessing about, that is, that they are fighting to break the corner in December wheat. They have a tremendous short line on the Chicago Board, and they mean to deliver it. Twenty-two hundred thousand has got to be in the bins there at Calumet before the first of January unless the Day of Judgment happens along before then. Never mind what it costs you.
P.S. MacBride has got down an atlas and is trying to figure out how you got that cribbing to the lake. I told him you put the barge on rollers and towed it up to Ledyard with a traction engine.
The letter from Sloan was to the effect that twelve cars were at that moment on the yard siding, loading with cribbing, and that all of it, something more than eighteen hundred thousand feet, would probably be in Chicago within a week. A note was scribbled on the margin in Sloan’s handwriting. “Those fool farmers are still coming in expecting a job. One is out in the yard now. Came clear from Victory. I’ve had to send out a man to take down the posters.”
“That’s just like a farmer,” Bannon said to Miss Vogel. “Time don’t count with him. To-morrow morning or two weeks from next Tuesday—he can’t see the difference. I suppose if one of those posters on an inconspicuous tree happens to be overlooked that some old fellow’ll come driving in next Fourth of July.”
He buttoned his coat as though going out, but stood looking at her thoughtfully awhile. “All the same,” he said, “I’d like to be that way myself; never do anything till to-morrow. I’m going to turn farmer some day. Once I get this job done, I’d like to see the man who can hurry me. I’ll say to MacBride: ‘I’m willing to work on nice, quiet, easy little jobs that never have to be finished. I’ll want to sit at the desk and whittle most of the time. But if you ever try to put me on a rush job I’ll quit and buy a small farm.’ I could make the laziest farmer in twelve states. Well, I’ve got to go out on the job.”
An elevator is simply a big grain warehouse, and of course the bins where the grain is kept occupy most of the building. But for handling the grain more than bin room is necessary. Beneath the bins is what is called the working story, where is the machinery for unloading cars and for lifting the grain. The cupola, which Bannon was about to frame, is a five-story building perched atop the bins. It contains the appliances for weighing the grain and distributing it.
When Bannon climbed out on top of the bins, he found the carpenters partially flooring over the area, preparatory to putting in place the framework of the cupola. Below them in the bins, like bees in a honeycomb, laborers were taking down the scaffolding which had served in building their walls. At the south side of the building a group of laborers, under one of the foremen, was rigging what is known as a boom hoist, which was to lift the timbers for framing the cupola.
While Bannon stood watching the carpenters, one of them sawed off the end of a plank and dropped it down into the bin. There was a low laugh, and one or two of the men glanced uneasily at Bannon. He spoke to the offender “Don’t do that again if you want to stay on this job. You know there are men at work down there.” Then: “Look here,” he called, getting the attention of all the carpenters, “every man that drops anything into the bins gets docked an hour’s pay. If he does it twice he leaves the job just as quick as we can make out a time-check. I want you to be careful.”
He was picking his way over to the group of men about the hoisting pole, when he heard another general laugh from the carpenters. Turning back he saw them all looking at a fellow named Reilly, who, trying to suppress a smile, was peering with mock concern down into the dark bin. “My hammer slipped,” Bannon heard him say in a loud aside to the man nearest him. Then, with a laugh: “Accidents will happen.”
Bannon almost smiled himself, for the man had played right into his hand. He had, in the four days since he took command, already become aware of Reilly and had put him down for the sort ambitious to rise rather in the organization of his union than in his trade.
“I guess we won’t take the trouble to dock you,” he said. “Go to the office and get your time. And be quick about it, too.”
“Did ye mean me?” the man asked impudently, but Bannon, without heeding, went over to the hoist. Presently a rough hand fell on his shoulder. “Say,” demanded Reilly again, “did ye mean me?”
“No doubt of that. Go and get your time.”
“I guess not,” said the man. “Not me. My hammer just slipped. How’re you going to prove I meant to do it?”
“I’m not. I’m going to fire you. You ain’t laid off, you understand; you’re fired. If you ever come back, I’ll have you kicked off the place.”
“You don’t dare fire me,” the man said, coming nearer. “You’ll have to take me back to-morrow.”
“I’m through talking with you,” said Bannon, still quietly. “The faster you can light out of here the better.”
“We’ll see about that. You can’t come it on the union that way——”
Then, without any preparatory gesture whatever, Bannon knocked him down. The man seemed to fairly rebound from the floor. He rushed at the boss, but before he could come within striking distance, Bannon whipped out a revolver and dropped it level with Reilly’s face.
“I’ve talked to you,” he said slowly, his eye blazing along the barrel, “and I’ve knocked you down. But——”
The man staggered back, then walked away very pale, but muttering. Bannon shoved back the revolver into his hip pocket. “It’s all right, boys,” he said, “nothing to get excited about.”
He walked to the edge and looked over. “We can’t wait to pick it up a stick at a time,” he said. “I’ll tell ’em to load four or five on each larry. Then you can lift the whole bunch.”
“We run some chances of a spill or a break that way,” said the foreman.
“I know it,” answered Bannon, dryly. “That’s the kind of chances we’ll have to run for the next two months.”
Descending to the ground, he gave the same order to the men below; then he sent word to Peterson and Vogel that he wished to see them in the office. He wiped his feet on the mat, glancing at Hilda as he did so, but she was hard at work and did not look up. He took the one unoccupied chair and placed it where he could watch the burnished light in her red hair. Presently she turned toward him.
“Did you want something?” she asked.
“Excuse me. I guess—I——”
In the midst of his embarrassment, Max and Pete came in. “I’ve got a couple of letters I want to talk over with you boys,” he said. “That’s why I sent for you.”
Pete laughed and vaulted to a seat on the draughting-table. “I was most afraid to come,” he said. “I heard you drawed a gun on that fellow, Reilly. What was he doing to make you mad?”
“Well, I’m glad you fired him. He’s made trouble right along. How’d it happen you had a gun with you? Do you always carry one?”
“Haven’t been without one on a job since I’ve worked for the old man.”
“Well,” said Pete, straightening up, “I’ve never so much as owned one, and I never want to. I don’t like ’em. If my fists ain’t good enough to take care of me against any fellow that comes along, why, he’s welcome to lick me, that’s all.”
Hilda glanced at him, and for a moment her eyes rested on his figure. There was not a line of it but showed grace and strength and a magnificent confidence. Then, as if for the contrast, she looked at Bannon. He had been watching her all the while, and he seemed to guess her thought.
“That’s all right,” he said in answer to Peterson, “when it’s just you and him and a fellow to hold your coats. But it don’t always begin that way. I’ve been in places where things got pretty miscellaneous sometimes, but I never had a man come up and say: ‘Mr. Bannon, I’m going to lick you. Any time when you’re ready,’ There’s generally from three to thirty, and they all try to get on your back.”
Peterson laughed reminiscently. “I was an attendant in the insane ward of the Massachusetts General Hospital for a while, and one time when I wasn’t looking for it, twenty-four of those lunatics all jumped on me at once. They got me on the floor and ‘most killed me.” He paused, as though there was nothing more to tell.
“Don’t stop there,” said Max.
“Why,” he went on, “I crawled along the floor till I got to a chair, and I just knocked ’em around with that till they was quiet.”
Bannon looked at his watch; then he took Brown’s letter from his pocket. “It’s from the office,” he said. “We’ve got to have the bins full before New Year’s Day.”
“Got to!” exclaimed Pete. “I don’t see it that way. We can’t do it.”
“Can or can’t, that don’t interest MacBride a bit. He says it’s got to be done and it has.”
“Why, he can’t expect us to do it. He didn’t say anything about January first to me. I didn’t know it was a rush job. And then we played in hard luck, too, before you came. That cribbing being tied up, for instance. He certainly can’t blame us if——”
“That’s got nothing to do with it,” Bannon cut in shortly. “He don’t pay us to make excuses; he pays us to do as we’re told. When I have to begin explaining to MacBride why it can’t be done, I’ll send my resignation along in a separate envelope and go to peddling a cure for corns. What we want to talk about is how we’re going to do it.”
Peterson flushed, but said nothing, and Bannon went on: “Now, here’s what we’ve got to do. We’ve got to frame the cupola and put on the roof and sheathe the entire house with galvanized iron; we’ve got to finish the spouting house and sheathe that; we’ve got to build the belt gallery—and we’ll have no end of a time doing it if the C. & S. C. is still looking for trouble. Then there’s all the machinery to erect and the millwright work to do. And we’ve got to build the annex.”
“I thought you was going to forget that,” said Pete. “That’s the worst job of all.”
“No, it ain’t. It’s the easiest. It’ll build itself. It’s just a case of two and two makes four. All you’ve got to do is spike down two-inch planks till it’s done, and then clap on some sort of a roof. There’s no machinery, no details, just straight work. It’s just a question of having the lumber to do it with, and we’ve got it now. It’s the little work that can raise Ned with you. There is more than a million little things that any man ought to do in half an hour, but if one of ’em goes wrong, it may hold you up for all day. Now, I figure the business this way.”
He took a memorandum from his pocket and began reading. There was very little guesswork about it; he had set down as nearly as possible the amount of labor involved in each separate piece of construction, and the number of men who could work on it at once. Allowing for the different kinds of work that could be done simultaneously, he made out a total of one hundred and twenty days.
“Well, that’s all right, I guess,” said Pete, “but you see that takes us way along into next year sometime.”
“About March first,” said Max.
“You haven’t divided by three yet,” said Bannon. “We’ll get three eight-hour days into every twenty-four hours, and twenty-one of ’em into every week.”
“Why, that’s better than we need to do,” said Pete, after a moment. “That gets us about two weeks ahead of time.”
“Did you ever get through when you thought you would?” Bannon demanded. “I never did. Don’t you know that you always get hit by something you ain’t looking for? I’m figuring in our hard-luck margin, that’s all. There are some things I am looking for, too. We’ll have a strike here before we get through.”
“Oh, I guess not,” said Pete, easily. “You’re still thinking of Reilly, aren’t you.”
“And for another thing, Page & Company are likely to spring something on us at the last moment.”
“What sort of thing?”
“If I knew I’d go ahead and build it now, but I don’t.”
“How are you going to work three gangs? Who’ll look after ’em?”
“One of us has got to stay up nights, I guess,” said Bannon. “We’ll have to get a couple of boys to help Max keep time. It may take us a day or two to get the good men divided up and the thing to running properly, but we ought to be going full blast by the first of the week.”
He arose and buttoned his coat. “You two know the men better than I do. I wish you’d go through the pay roll and pick out the best men and find out, if you can, who’ll work nights at regular night wages.”
Peterson came out of the office with him. “I suppose you’ll put me in the night gang,” he said.
“I haven’t decided yet what I’ll do.”
“When I came by the main hoist,” Pete went on, “they was picking up four and five sticks at once. I stopped ’em, and they said it was your orders. You’ll come to smash that way, sure as a gun.”
“Not if they don’t take more than I told ’em to and if they’re careful. They have to do it to keep up with the carpenters.”
“Well, it’s running a big risk, that’s all. I don’t like it.”
“My God, don’t I know it’s a risk! Do you suppose I like it? We’ve got something to do, and we’ve got to do it somehow.”
Pete laughed uneasily. “I—I told ’em not to pick up more than two sticks at a time till they heard from me.”
“I think,” said Bannon, with a look that was new to Pete, “I think you’d better go as fast as you can and tell them to go on as they were when you found them.”
Late on Tuesday afternoon the hoist broke. It was not easy to get from the men a clear account of the accident. The boss of the gang denied that he had carried more of a load than Bannon had authorized, but some of the talk among the men indicated the contrary. Only one man was injured and he not fatally, a piece of almost miraculous good luck. Some scaffolding was torn down and a couple of timbers badly sprung, but the total damage was really slight.
Bannon in person superintended rigging the new hoist. It was ready for work within two hours after the accident. “She’s guyed a little better than the other was, I think,” said Bannon to the foreman. “You won’t have any more trouble. Go ahead.”
“How about the load?”
“Carry the same load as before. You weren’t any more than keeping up.”
Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11 | Chapter 12 | Chapter 13 | Chapter 14 | Chapter 15 | Chapter 16 | Chapter 17
LIVE TALK: Calumet “K”: Ayn Rand’s Favorite Novel by Shoshana Milgram Ph.D.
“This talk offers an introduction to the background, spirit and craft of the novel Ayn Rand called her favorite. Calumet ‘K,’ she wrote, features a ‘portrait of an efficacious man’; it reflects the sense of life of ‘a time when people were capable of admiring productive achievement.’ Dr. Milgram, associate professor of English at Virginia Tech, specializes in narrative fiction and film. She has lectured on Ayn Rand at Objectivist and academic conferences, and has published on Ayn Rand, Hugo and Dostoevsky. She is editing the draft of her book-length study of Ayn Rand’s life (to 1957).
Samuel Merwin and Henry Kitchell Webster
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