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    Ch. 44 The Wisdom of the Wise
Submitted by Dave Free on 7 December 2006 - 10:09am.

Steve dreamed that night of the things he had dreamed of every other night of his life. He dreamed about his family, his friends, the jeep he would own someday, scoring the winning basket, going out with the cutest girl, eating the biggest steak. When he woke to the sound of a bugle, the smell of a musty canvas tent, and the snore of Patrick O’Malley, the blow was almost as painful as the one he’d received on the train the day before.

Despite the darkness, others in the tent were already up and beginning to move about. Not wanting to be the topic of Captain Martin’s next sermon, Steve rolled out from under his blankets, pulled on his pants and boots and found the flap of the tent door. The eastern sky line was just beginning to turn gray as Steve trudged down the trail to the spring. Despite the early hour, the air was thick with humidity and there were none of the cool early morning breezes that Steve took for granted growing up among the mountains. The pit in the bottom of his stomach began to grow again.

By the time he returned to the tent, the fire had been lit and breakfast prepared. It consisted of a good sized slice of the saltiest bacon Steve had ever tasted and a couple of biscuits that had been fried rather than baked. Steve gulped it all down, not knowing when the next meal would come and then joined the group of brethren that were headed for the wagon yard.

As the sun cleared the eastern horizon, the building superintendent, Brother Webb, gave assignments to the brethren for the day. He’d look at the list in his hands of the tasks that needed to be completed and then turn to the group of men waiting for assignments and pick two, three, or several, depending on the task that needed to be completed, and send them off to their assigned area.

Steve hadn’t noticed it the night before because of the darkness and the other things on his mind, but at six foot two he literally towered over most of the other brethren in the company. In the growing day light, he was also a little surprised to discover that most of these pioneers were not very strong looking. As a matter of fact, many of them looked rather frail and, almost to a man, very white and pasty--not at all as Steve had imagined pioneers to look.

Steve, O’Malley, and O’Malley’s boys, Des and Noel, were assigned to the ticking operation. Steve wasn’t sure what the assignment meant, but he had some serious misgivings about the sound of it. The O’Malley boys’ reaction to the assignment added to his fears.

“Aye ticking! The work of women it is.” complained Noel, the twelve year old.

Des, the fourteen year old, was a little more determined, “I’ll not do it! Not for a day, not for a bloody minute!”

O’Malley’s reaction was immediate and sharp. “Watch your language lads! This is the Lord’s work. If it’s ticking he wants, it’s ticking we do. If he asks us to clean up after the oxen, we clean up after the oxen--with our bare hands if need be!” Turning directly to Des with a seriousness that sent shivers down Steve’s spine, O’Malley continued. “Don’t ever let me hear ye use such language again lad. I’ll not stand for it in me family.” Both boys seemed to grasp the fact that arguing at this point was probably useless and nodded sullenly.

“Come along then, we’ve work to be done.” O’Malley turned and headed the direction that the building supervisor had directed them. Steve felt a little sorry for the boys and hung back to walk with them and let them know he wasn’t very happy about it either.

“So how do we get the ticks out?” he asked as they walked.

“What?” Both boys asked in unison.

“The ticks! We’re ticking aren’t we? How do we get the ticks out and who do we take them out of?” At this, both boys began to laugh.

“Papa! Papa!” Des called to their father who was walking ahead of them. “Papa, the Elder wants to know who we are going to take the ticks out of!” He began to laugh again and a huge smile spread across O’Malley’s face. He stopped and waited for the others to catch up, laughing as they came. Steve was glad that the family was happy again, but wasn’t too tickled to be laughed at without knowing why.

“Okay, Okay, you’ve had your little laugh. Now will one of you please tell me what we are going to be doing today?”

“Right, now do not be gettin' all hot and bothered Elder!” O’Malley replied. “We mean ye no harm. A wee joke is all. Come, come, I’ll show ye what we'll be about today.”

They walked over to the line of nearly completed carts. Each cart consisted of two large wheels, four to five feet high. The wheels were mounted on an axle about five feet across. Two long shafts, six to seven feet long, were mounted on the axle and parallel to the wheels. Between these two shafts and beginning at the back, four cross pieces had been put in place at about one foot intervals. The front two to three feet of the shaft length was left without any cross pieces except for one at the very front. Steve gathered that this was where the puller, or pullers, stood and could then push against the front cross piece.

As Steve finished examining the carts, O’Malley pulled a canvas cover off a stack of material nearby and brought a swath of it over to where Steve stood.

“This is ticking, Elder.” He held the material up for Steve to examine. It was a heavy, coarse material, very nearly canvas. “And with this ticking, we make a bed on these carts to hold the saints material possessions and the food that will sustain them on their long trek.”

He took two of the corners of the swath he had handed to Steve and pulled it out wide. Steve did the same with his two corners and then they moved it over the top of one of the carts and let it settle onto the flat area formed by the shafts and the cross pieces.

“That's it?” Steve asked incredulously. “Everything just sits on this material? What if it rips?”

“Me little seamstresses here,” O’Malley pointed to his two sons who were now busy with needle and thread, “will sew the the edges tight around the cross pieces. Twenty to thirty stone twill carry with out tearing.”

“But aren’t these things supposed to have sides and a wooden bottom?”

“Aye, those are the bigger carts, the family carts what some calls them.” O’Malley pointed further down the line to some already completed carts with six to eight inch wooden sides, some of them had hoops over them, like a covered wagon.

“So if the families use those carts, who’s going to use these?” Steve asked as they unfolded another swath of ticking.

“Aye, Elder, tis always a question with ye!” O’Malley complained, but answered anyway. “Many there be traveling without their families. The young lass on the train next to ye yesterday is traveling alone and there be many others just like her.”

For the first time since he had been on the train, Steve remembered that there had been a young girl sitting next to him.

“Who is she, O’Malley?”


“The girl sitting next to me. I don’t know her name and I doubt I could recognize her, but I remember she seemed to know me. Who is she?”

“I’m afraid I don’t her name Elder. From England she is, but I don’t know her name. Now come along, too much talk will make us weak before tea.” O’Malley began singing an Irish folk tune and Steve turned to his own thoughts. The work was not physically demanding but very monotonous. As the sun rose higher the mugginess became stifling. Sweat dripped freely from all of them. Steve was tempted to take off his shirt, but the mosquitoes were still so thick that he didn’t want to give them any more of a target.

Just after the mid morning break that O’Malley called tea, Brother Webb, the building superintendent came by. He chatted for a few minutes with O’Malley while Steve and the boys continued to work then he called to Steve. “Elder, would you mind coming with me for a few hours? I’ve got to go into town and pick up some freshly cut lumber. I need a strong back to help me get it loaded it in the wagon.”

Steve agreed readily. The O’Malley boys volunteered as well, flexing their muscles for the superintendent, but he insisted that they stay and help their father.

The wagon ride back into Iowa city was a whole new experience for Steve. One summer his family had vacationed in New York City and he and Brian had convinced their dad that a ride through Central Park on a horse drawn carriage was critical to the success of the vacation. It turned out to be not that exciting. But this, this was a whole different experience. The wagon was drawn by two huge horses. It had the big hoops ready for the covering canvas, but there was no canvas this morning. There was also no suspension. Steve felt every bump and rut in the road. A few times he almost lost his grip and bounced right out of the wagon.

Brother Webb didn’t offer any conversation and with the rattle and bang of the empty wagon, Steve couldn’t have heard it even if he had. The horses strained some as they pulled the wagon up out of the river bottom, but once they cleared the bluff, Brother Webb had to strain some to keep them at a walk the rest of the way into town. They drove through the center of town and right past the university building, where Steve had nearly been drilled the day before, and then on to the outskirts of town on the opposite side. Brother Webb pulled the team up in front of a large barn with a sign nailed to the wall which read Conrad Lumber Yard.

“Wait here with the team.” He said to Steve, handing him the reins as he jumped down.

“Mind if I turn on the radio?” Steve asked with a chuckle. Brother Webb looked at him a little confused but continued on into the lumber yard. Steve smiled and laid down across the bench seat at the front of the wagon. Despite the heat, he probably would have dozed off had the horses not decided to move a little closer to the adjoining fence in search of greener grass. With a jolt the wagon pulled forward and Steve sat bolt upright.

“Whoa!” He shouted too suddenly. The horses pricked their ears and jumped a little. Steve grabbed the reins which he had dropped and gave them a jerk. “Whoa!” He yelled again. This time the horses reared back, and as Steve continued to pull back on the reigns they began to back up. A loaded wagon was now coming out of the barn and heading for the road behind Steve’s wagon. Given a few more seconds, the wagon coming out of the barn would have cleared Steve’s wagon without a problem. As it was, the right rear corner of Steve’s wagon caught the side of the other wagon and there was a loud screech as wood scraped against wood. This was too much for Steve’s already nervous team and they reared up again and would have bolted had the barn not been directly in front of them.

Brother Webb came out of the barn and ran quickly to the team to quiet them. The driver of the other wagon came running toward Steve, cursing and yelling.

“Are ya daft, man? Purty near wrecked ma rig and sent ma team boltin'--lucky they’s not dead in a ravine somewheres!” Steve dropped the reins when he saw Brother Webb calming the animals and turned to his accuser.

“I’m sorry sir. I didn’t mean to. I’ve never driven a team before.”

“Never driven a team before?” The man spat a big brown tobacco loogey at the wheel of Steve’s wagon. “What kinda man has never driven a team before? Must be one of them damm mormons! Get down here, where I can whup you or I’ll come up there after ya.”

By now the workers in the lumber yard had come out to see what all the commotion was about. Brother Webb had quieted the horses and came around to where the driver was yelling at Steve. He tried to quiet the matter.

“Sir, we want no fight with you. If we’ve damaged your wagon, we’ll pay to have it repaired. Please tell us what we owe you and we’ll be on our way.”

The man spat again, this time on Brother Webb’s boots. “I’ll tell ya whatcha owe me! Ya owe me a new wagon and a new team. I like the looks of this one right here.” He pointed to the wagon Steve sat on. “So ya’ll jump down, and both of you start walking or I’ma gonna beat you to a bloody pulp!”

Brother Webb backed up a step, not sure what to do next. Steve had heard all he wanted to hear from this joker. Sure he’d scraped his wagon a little, but this was ridiculous. He was sure he could whip the driver but he wasn’t sure about the others. Looking around quickly, Steve guessed they’d like to see a good fight but would just as soon not get involved. He hoped his guess was accurate as he stood to his full height in the bed of the wagon. All eyes turned to him. He slowly began to speak in a loud clear voice, unbuttoning his shirt as he spoke.

“I want you all to look at this man’s wagon. See the scrape there on the side, near the back?” Heads nodded and Steve continued, “I did that and I’m willing to pay to have it fixed. But you’ve heard this man say he wants more. I know the laws of this country, they don’t require me to give him more and I'm not going to. Instead I’m going to climb down off this wagon and beat some manners into him.” By now Steve had his shirt off and it became very clear to those watching that he had the build to back up his threat. Steve continued, “Before I do that, I need each of you to stand as a witness of the things I have just said. I don’t want this mean little man,” he pointed to the wagon driver who had become suddenly silent, “twisting the truth after I’m done with him.” Each of the lumber yard workers stood quietly, none of them moved. “Do I have your word?” Steve asked again.

One by one each of them nodded their heads. The wagon driver spat and turned back to his wagon. “Damm mormons,” he muttered “don’t ever cross my path again or I’ll 'ave ya horse-whipped!” He climbed into his wagon, yelled to his team and drove off in a cloud of dust and cuss words.

Steve sat down on the wagon bench and held his hand out in front of him. It was shaking like an aspen leaf in the breeze. The lumber yard workers went back to their work and Brother Webb climbed up into the wagon next to Steve. Without a word, he pulled the team around and headed them onto the road back towards town.

“What about the lumber?” Steve asked as he pulled his shirt back on.

“They didn’t have any. New houses are being built so fast they can’t keep up. Your friend took the last load.”

“Now what?” Steve replied.

“There are four other lumber yards in town. We’ll try them all if we have to.”

“Listen, I’m sorry about the horses and the fight back there. I really never have driven a team before.”

Brother Webb turned and looked at Steve to see if he was serious. “O’Malley told me that you’d had a bump on your head, but I’d no idea it was this serious. I’m sorry.”

“Yeah me too.” Steve replied.

“Well, don’t feel bad about the horses son, you obviously already know how to handle a jackass, a good team of horses is much easier than that.” They both laughed and then rode on in silence to the next lumber yard.

The third lumber yard they tried had part of what they were looking for and they found the remainder at the last. At each of the yards, Brother Webb tied up the team and Steve accompanied him inside. They purchased a variety of hickory, elm, white oak and ash. Steve did most of the loading and was amazed at the weight of the wood. Most of it was wet, and very recently cut. With the wagon fully loaded, brother Webb was worried about the horses’ ability to pull the load so he and Steve walked beside them rather than riding.

“Boy that’s some heavy wood.” Steve noted as he watched the horses lean into their harnesses.

“Too heavy.” Replied brother Webb. “It’s green and still full of moisture, that’s what makes it so heavy.”

Steve had taken wood shop for a few years and knew that building anything with green wood was not a good idea. “Shouldn’t we be using dry wood?” He asked.

Brother Webb nodded. “We should, but we don’t have any choice. We were lucky to get what we have here.”

“But if we build with it now, when it dries and shrinks, won’t the carts fall apart?”

Brother Webb took a deep breath before replying. “Some of them might. But like I said, we have no choice.” Steve started to speak, but brother Webb continued in his calm, consistent voice. “In May and June we built over a hundred and sixty carts and sent the first three companies on their way. We thought we were done for the season, but three days after we sent off Captain Bunker’s company, Captain Willie and his five hundred came into town. We’ve worked like beavers since they arrived two weeks ago and we were just beginning to think we might make it, but then yesterday your good captain and his five hundred came into camp.” He stopped talking for a few moments to cluck to the horses, before continuing.

“Well we’re doing everything we can, we’ve bought up all the dry lumber in the area and hired every available worker. But it’s just not enough. There are over a thousand saints in that camp determined to get to Zion this year. Every day we wait for the wood to dry, winter gets closer. We have to build with green wood and depend on the Lord for the rest.”

Steve could see that the superintendent was very weighed down by the whole matter and felt sorry for him, but he had to ask the next question. “Why don’t the saints just wait here until next spring?”

“That’s not my decision to make.”

“You, better than anyone, know that carts made out of green wood are going to fall apart!” After saying it Steve wished he hadn’t, but it didn’t seem to bother the construction superintendent.

“I’m a carpenter Elder. I know wood. Each time I build something I select the wood to use based on the qualities that I know that type of wood exhibits. Hickory for the axle because its almost as straight and strong as iron. Elm for the hubs, oak for the spokes and rims, and ash for the shafts. Each type of wood has a particular characteristic that suits it for its duty. If I ignore those characteristics when I build, the results are disastrous.” Steve began to wonder if this little woodworking lesson was going to go anywhere but held his tongue.

“I believe,” Brother Webb continued, “that the Lord is a great carpenter himself. But he doesn’t work with wood, he works with men. We all have our abilities and our aptitudes and the Lord knows them better than we ourselves. With that knowledge he calls us to a particular work to further his kingdom here on earth. Our duty is not only to perform the work we are called to, but to support others in the work they are called to. The ash of the shaft has no business telling the hickory of the axle how to do its job, nor could the ash do the hickory’s job.”

“So,” Steve cut in, “what you’re trying to say is that we should be blindly obedient.”

“No, that’s not what I’m trying to say. I have talked with the brethren leading this migration. I have told them my concerns and my opinions. Now that they have made their decision, I will support them because that is what I have covenanted to do. To do anything less would cause me to fail in the work I’ve been called to do and perhaps cause others to fail as well. Elder, if they have been called of God, and I believe they have, then I will do what they ask me to do, with the faith that the Lord is leading them to a greater purpose--a purpose that I am not aware of.”

Steve fell silent as they walked the last few yards to the top of the bluff at the edge of town. One thing was sure, Brother Webb was solid in his support of his leaders. Steve liked the man, he was quiet, yet confident and determined. Still, Steve had some lingering doubts. His thoughts were cut short when they reached the top of the bluff. Brother Webb halted the horses and climbed into the wagon.

“Climb in Elder. We’ll have to ride the brake down into camp or this load will roll right over the team.” He showed Steve how to work the brake lever then took the reigns and started the horses down the hill. Within ten minutes they’d skidded their way back into the camp.

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