To: Grantville Emergency Committee. From: John Sterling, Edgar Frost and Francis Kidwell. Date: May 30, 1631? fifth day after the disaster. Re: Road options around Schwarza Falls.
Yesterday, May twenty-ninth, the fourth day after the disaster, we went up Buffalo Creek to the power plant to look into how to build a road connection over the border into the lands to what is now the southwest. You asked us to tell you everything, even if we weren't certain it was important, so pardon us if we ramble a bit.
I. The Situation
The report from the power plant is correct. There's a real castle up there looking down on us. Don't imagine a fairy-tale castle. This is a deadly serious looking fortress. There's also a bit of a village there, or at least half of one. The village and the castle are both named Schwarzburg. We need to make friends with whoever runs the place, because they're guarding our southwest flank very nicely. And, if their cannon are even mediocre, I doubt there's much we could do to stop them from wiping out the power plant.
As you come around the bend in Buffalo Creek, about a mile out from Grantville, what you see is a wall of black rock, streaked with red, green and brown. This castle sits on a hill dead center on top of it, right above the power plant. The cliff has a mirror polish on it that reflects the sky when you get close enough. We guess that from the bottom of the Buffalo Creek valley up to the floor of the valley above, it must be three hundred feet. Our ridge tops are about four hundred feet above the valley floor, but the hills of the land we've been plunked into are much higher. We guess about twice as high, which means eight hundred feet up from the valley floor. The German hills aren't as chopped up as ours. They seem a bit rounder, but the valley walls are steep enough.
There's a stream in the valley we cut into. They call it the Schwarza, and where it flows over the cut edge, there's quite a waterfall. We'll call it Schwarza Falls. It's hard to guess how high it is, because it's pounding down on what was a steep slope and washing quite a bit of that slope downhill. We figure it's a clear fall of at least fifteen feet, but then it tumbles down at least two hundred feet before it flows into what used to be Spring Branch.
If it hadn't been for the fact that the Schwarza valley is offset a bit from Buffalo Creek valley, there'd be no hope of getting a road up that cliff. As things stand, though, the Schwarza had a loop to the northeast that got lopped off by the disaster. (We're starting to call it the "Ring of Fire," by the way, since that seems a pretty good description of the disaster—"RoF" for short.) The ridge to the north of Buffalo Creek just manages to come up to that part of the Schwarza's stream bed. Also, just southwest of Schwarza Falls, there's a little knob on our side that just goes up to the level of the rooftops of some houses nearby. It's all that's left of the ridge that divided Spring Branch from Buffalo Creek.
One thing is real clear. That little village at the top of the falls is in big trouble. Half the place is gone. Calling it a village may be too generous; it was a cluster of houses and barns built beside a bridge across the Schwarza. In a few places, the ground collapsed as far back as thirty feet from the edge, taking houses and barns if they happened to be there. There's quite a mound of muck and rubble along the face of the cliff below those places. There's one barn, though, that's standing right on the edge and hasn't moved an inch.
The cut-off chunk of the Schwarza northeast of the castle must have dumped its entire contents and a good part of its riverbed over the cliff in one great gush. There's a flow of debris from there down along what used to be Spring Branch Creek. It looks like what was left of Spring Branch Road inside the ring of fire was pretty well buried or washed out within a few minutes on Sunday. The culvert over Spring Branch Creek on the main road looks like it survived that first gush, but it was never intended to take the flow of the Schwarza river, so the road is acting like a dam. The water was over the road when we got there. It's a few inches deep and running fast, but the road is pretty flat so the overflow is spread over quite a distance. It's eating at the road, and we think it'll wash it out unless we dig up the culvert and put in a proper bridge.
We waded across and took a hike up what's left of the ridge that divided Buffalo Creek from Spring Branch. It's the steep but direct route into what's left of the lower Schwarzburg village. They were watching us the whole time, and there's no doubt that they were as nervous about us as we were about them. By the time we got up the hill, a guy named Franz was there to meet us, with two others who stayed back a bit and whose names we didn't get. Franz seemed to be an officer in the guard of the castle. As near as we could make out, his boss is the graf of Schwarzburg and a town named Rudolstadt.
Franz turned out to be a decent fellow and pretty quick witted, but he had some big pistols in his belt and a sword. We were careful not to put our hands anywhere near our holsters those first few minutes. We'd better send someone official to Schwarzburg quickly, someone who knows German!
We read Franz the message you wrote for us in German about wanting to open the road connections across the border of the "ring." After we gave him the letters you gave us, we tried to have a conversation. I wish we knew more German, but the stuff you gave us helped a lot. With lots of mistakes, hand gestures and an occasional picture on a notepad, we managed to get by.
He told us that the Ring of Fire destroyed the road from Schwarzburg to Rudolstadt where, as near as we could make out, his boss lives most of the time. It also destroyed the road to the town of Saalfeld. As a result, it seems that we're in agreement about trying to open up a road connection.
The bridge across the Schwarza at Schwarzburg is right at the lip of the falls. It's in serious danger of collapse because of all the dirt that's been washed away from the foundations. If the bridge goes, the farmhouses that are left on the southeast side of the Schwarza will be cut off, so they're already working on a temporary wooden bridge upstream from the old one. Timber is one thing they have plenty of. The roads here are mostly grass and packed dirt, with cobblestones only where erosion is likely to be a problem.
Northeast from the falls about two hundred yards, the road is almost cut off with half of it slumped away. It looks like it was right on the riverbank there, at the southeast end of the loop of river that the Ring of Fire sliced off. Beyond that, to the northwest, the road is in good shape, with stone retaining walls in places as it takes a long switchback up the slope to the castle gate.
We didn't go into the castle, but we did go up to the square by the gate where there's a bit of an upper village. The castle sits along the crest of a knife-edge ridge with the Schwarza river wrapped around the west, south and east sides. You couldn't ask for a better defensive position, but it's not all that big. The castle must be a quarter mile long but the ridge isn't very wide anywhere.
II. Road Proposals
Franz, the officer, must have been thinking about the problem of getting a road down from Schwarzburg, because he took us to the jumping off point where a new road could connect. He pointed out the route he thought would work before we left to walk down that way. We agree with him, so we'll describe that route and forget the others.
Be aware, we're not engineers, just three guys who've had plenty of experience building and maintaining roads. We're confident that we can do this job, and do it well, but under the laws of West Virginia, we aren't really qualified. It would be nice if there was a civil engineer to help with this project.
The road would turn north just east of the old Spring Branch road and traverse up the east side of the Spring Branch valley. This would almost follow the power company right of way once the power line gets on the same side of the creek. Then, the road would turn broadly around the head of the valley to meet the northwest end of the abandoned riverbed of the Schwarza. The climb up out of the riverbed would be short, and we'd meet the road up from the lower village about a quarter mile northwest of the waterfall.
We figure this would be about four thousand feet of road climbing three hundred feet, so the grade should be under eight percent. On the walk down, we flagged the path we followed while using a pocket clinometer to try to keep our path at seven percent. That brought us out a bit on the high side, but those flags should make charting the path back up pretty straightforward.
We figure that a crew with a medium dozer and a couple of chainsaws could carve a temporary one-lane road up to Schwarzburg along the Spring Branch route in about a day. That's about two hours at half a mile an hour for the first pass of the dozer to cut the roadbed, or about two hours, and then three more passes to shape the crown at a mile an hour, make that three hours. That's five hours of an eight hour day, but it's fair to budget the whole day to allow for the unexpected. There's some decent timber along the way we ought to try to salvage while we're at it.
There's so little watershed above our proposed route that a temporary road like that could last a few years, we think. But with another day of work to put in about five culverts, we could make a road there that would last. We think at least two of the old culverts along Spring Branch Road can be recovered with a winch and some digging, so someone should inventory culverts we can salvage from elsewhere.
With three days work and several truckloads of crushed rock, we could make the new road meet county standards for unimproved roads, which is something none of the roads we saw up on top manage to do. Two days of this would be to widen the road to two lanes, and one day would be to put down the rock and grade it nicely. If we put in the culverts soon enough, the road widening can wait until the traffic demands it.
We noticed that the power plant has a Caterpillar D6. They use it for pushing coal around. We asked about it at the front gate, and the guard there phoned the plant manager, Bill Porter. The upshot is, the power plant is willing to loan the dozer to the county for a day's work. They think that anything we can do to get the folks in that castle on our side would definitely be a good idea.
Finally, you asked us to say something about defending our new borders. If the folks who run Schwarza castle fail to block invaders, or if they decide to attack us, we could defend this end of the valley from the ridge northeast of Spring Branch. That would let us look down on our new road from about two hundred yards and we'd look across at the steeper slope down from the lower village from a distance of about four hundred yards. The castle would have an altitude advantage on us, but the ridge would offer cover and we could dig bunkers into the ridge top. You might want to put a jeep trail up to there from the valley behind the ridge.
The other defensive position would be on the ridge top across Buffalo Creek southeast of the power plant. This would look straight down our new road from a range of six to twelve hundred yards. Again, a bunker would be handy, but the castle hasn't got a good shot at this position because the chopped off hillside southeast of the castle is in the way. The big threat here is from snipers sitting right on the edge of that hillside, but the ground slopes down steeply to that cliff edge, enough so they wouldn't be able to hide behind the terrain. It looks steep enough that they'd have to worry about sliding right over the edge if they slipped.
John Sterling has the most military experience of any of us. He says he'd put mostly snipers on the ridge above Spring Branch, along with a few mortars or RPG launchers, and he'd put the light artillery on the south. Do we have any weapons heavier than hunting rifles? All in all, we agree that we'd much rather defend Grantville from Schwarzburg Castle. Seen from Schwarzburg, it looks like the cliffs do a good job of blocking all access to Grantville for over a mile in either direction, perhaps more. The castle is the strong point that covers both paths into the valley.