“Who is that?” Sergeant McIntyre asked. The young woman came storming through, trailed by a servant who was apologizing for all he was worth.
“That, my lad, is Miss ‘Lead Acid’ Krügerin,” Johan Kipper told him. “The battery queen.”
“Who is she?”
“Just another of the rich nobodies who have appeared since the Ring of Fire,” Johan said, still looking around for David Bartley. They were at the Magdeburg Opera House and didn’t much care for the opera.
“Like you?” the sergeant asked, slyly.
“In a way, lad. In a way,” Johan said. “Miss Elzbeth Lead Acid Krügerin is the Anna Nicole Smith of the seventeenth century. She spent the years between 1631 and 1633 pushing an old up-timer around in a wheel chair and now she owns the controlling interest in the biggest battery factory in Germany.”
“She’s the who?”
“Doesn’t matter. Just that a lot of people think that she married the old guy for his money.”
“So what happened? Did she marry him for his money?”
Johan looked around the lobby one more time. He didn’t want to see the last half of the play. There were people who loved opera, as the line from Pretty Woman went, and people who didn’t. Johan was one of those who didn’t. Especially this one. He had time. He looked over at the newest sergeant of the Exchange Corps and decided to enlighten him. “It all started . . . ”
“You want my chair, Frank Jackson, you can take it from under my cold, dead ass.”
The chair in question was one that had been paid for by Social Security. It was battery powered and it let Gordon Bozarth get around. Gordon was sixty-nine and suffered from clogged arteries in his legs. He could stand and cover about a hundred feet before his legs ran out of blood and he fell on his butt. The chair gave him mobility and let him get by without the aid of a family that was less than fully supportive even before the Ring of Fire had left his only source of income up-time. Gordon took a breath. “Frank, this is my only way of getting around. I need this chair. Why don’t you guys use a car battery?”
“We are, but the science teachers over at the high school say that your batteries are a different kind.”
“My batteries are lead acid, same as a car battery. ”
“They’re lead acid sure enough, but not the same as car batteries. They are deep-cycle batteries.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
“Do I look like a geek?”
“No. You look like a dumb ass coal miner, just like me. But, Frank, I need my chair.”
“So does everyone else who has one, Gordon. Most of ’em are worse off than you are.”
“Well, what’s so all-fired important about batteries?”
“Frank, have you gone nuts? Even I know there’s no oil in a lead acid battery.”
Frank grinned, and Gordon wanted to punch him. Gordon wanting to punch someone was not an uncommon occurrence.
“It’s like this. Most of our transportation up-time ran on oil. Gasoline, diesel, basically oil. Hell, damn near everything ran on oil. And while there is some oil in Europe, there isn’t all that much. So we are having to look at everything we might be able to use for power. Steam, electric, alcohol, anything. We don’t know if we can build up-time batteries. We don’t know if we can build good steam engines . . . we don’t know much of anything yet but we’re gonna run out of gas and we have to have something to fall back on. We do have electricity and if it won’t work as well as gasoline engines, it’s probably better than nothing. If we can do it.”
“All right. But I want some stuff in return,” Gordon said. “First, if I’m not going to have a powered wheel chair, I am gonna need someone to push my ordinary chair. And I want someone young and pretty.”
Frank shook his head. “You’re a dirty old man, Gordon, and I ain’t a pimp. You can find your own keeper and I hope he’s fifty and uglier than you are.”
“Can’t happen, Frank.” Gordon gave a grin back. “Ain’t no one uglier than me. You know that. Anyway, the other thing I want is I want in. The government, your damned emergency committee, can’t do everything unless you’ve gone commie on us. That means private enterprise. Private companies figuring out how to make batteries and if someone is going to get rich off my chair battery, it’s going to be me. At least partly me.”
Frank Jackson sat across from Coleman Walker and prepared to do battle for a fellow member of UMWA. Gordon might not be Frank’s favorite person, but he was an upstanding member of the union and he had lost pretty much everything when the Ring of Fire happened. No more Social Security and no more union pension either. But even here the UMWA would take care of its own, even if they had to come up with excuses to do it. “All the deep-cycle batteries are in use, Coleman, and we are going to have to pay through the nose, however we manage it. Besides, Gordon is old and not in good enough shape to work, but not bad enough for a nursing home.”
“So, we are going to have to take care of him, anyway. All he has is his chair, a much-used truck, and that old trailer. He doesn’t even own the lot it’s on. Either we find a way for him to support himself or we end up supporting him.”
“Which would be cheaper in the assisted living center.”
“Not really. He manages pretty well on his own and the assisted living center is packed and it’s going to get worse.”
“What do you want me to do, Frank?”
“Make him a loan. Use the chair and its battery as the collateral.”
“It’s not enough and you know it,” Walker said. “Look, Frank, I know he’s union but that doesn’t entitle him to special treatment from the bank.”
Special treatment was precisely what Frank was after, though he wasn’t about to admit that to Coleman if he could help it. “I know that, but think about it. How much are we going to be out taking care of him for the rest of his life, which might be six months or sixteen more years. This way, there is at least a chance of a pay off. I’ll talk to Mike and the Emergency Committee will sign off on the loan.”
“All right, but you know and I know that getting that old fart to put together a real battery factory is a pipe dream.”
“Maybe, Coleman, but it’s a cheap pipe and I know Gordon. He’s not the nicest guy around, but if he sets out to do something, he is going to give it a good try. He’s not stupid and he works hard. We may not get a battery factory, but we will get something useful.”
“Humff,” Coleman snorted.
Frank didn’t smile. Coleman was probably right but it might work.
Elzbeth Krügerin had had cow pox when she was a girl and had never had smallpox with the blemishes that it left on the survivors’ faces. She had a substantial chest and wide hips with a narrow waist. She was five foot five inches tall with strong hands and arms from working on a farm from the time she was little until 1630 when her village was burned out. She had been wandering around central Germany, finding what work she could for the last year and a half and she had ended up at the refugee center just in time to read the notice for personal assistant to an elderly man. She also had a very wide pragmatic streak. To the best of her ability, when she went to apply for the position, she arranged her clothing to make her assets as predominant as possible. She needed a job and if that meant an old fart got to look at her tits and ass, he was welcome to look. For a good enough job, he was welcome to do more than look, though at that age he probably couldn’t. Five people applied, three of them men and the other woman was fifty. Elzbeth got the job.
She started her first day by pushing an empty wheel chair behind Gordon as he drove his electric wheel chair up to the school. At the school, she, along with Gordon, watched as a group of high school teachers and students first removed the batteries from his electric chair and then took them apart.
Elzbeth watched trying to understand. It wasn’t witchcraft. She didn’t believe in witches, at least she hadn’t before the Ring of Fire. But put lead plates and acid in a square jug, hook up wires to the jug and to a device of more wires and have it spin . . . well, that was an awful lot like witchcraft or something equally strange.
Herr Bozarth, Gordon as he told her to call him, was grinning at her. “It’s like water in pipes,” he said. “The electricity travels along the wires and makes magnetism. The magnetism pulls the parts around in a circle.”
Elzbeth looked at him and tried to work out what he had said. She just knew that he didn’t know that much more about it than she did. Some more . . . certainly. He had lived in the world of electronics for all his life, Elzbeth thought. She was wrong about that, but it would be later that she learned he had grown to manhood in a house without electricity. They spent the day watching the teachers and students of the high school working on the battery, trying to figure out how it worked by looking at it and by using the books they had. Three hours into it Gordon had her wheel him down to the cafeteria and they ate lunch.
Then, back at the lab, they got the report. “Mr. Bozarth,” the science teacher said in English, and then kept talking. Elzbeth didn’t speak English, and Herr Bozarth apparently felt that since he was the employer and she the employee, it was her responsibility to learn his language, not his to learn hers. So she got to watch what was going on and listen to what they were saying, without translation.
So it went. Day after day. Herr Bozarth had a trailer that he lived in. It was an Airstream which, it took Elzbeth a while to figure out, was the name of the company that made them. It had electricity, a microwave oven, a stove and a refrigerator that worked. Herr Bozarth also had a five-quart crock pot, and he showed her how to use it.
For the first several days, she wheeled him around, understanding very little of what was going on. He tried to explain, she knew that. They went to the bank and set up a company account. She would learn later what that meant.
“Come in, Mr. Bozarth,” Dori Ann Grooms said as pleasantly as she could. “Mr. Jackson has already talked over your issues with Mr. Walker and your small business loan has been pre-approved. Mr. Walker thinks that a drawing account would be best. With a monthly disbursement for living expenses and further expenses involved in starting up your company arranged on an as needed basis. We aren’t trying to be stingy, but Mr. Walker feels that you should be able to manage well enough on an amount equal to your social security from before the . . . ”
“Part of the deal was that I got an assistant,” Gordon Bozarth said. “That’s her. I have to pay her salary plus the extra food she eats. I can’t get around without my chair unless I have someone to push the wheelchair. I can’t set up a business without getting around.”
Dori Ann looked at the German girl and wondered what she assisted the dirty old fart with. But the assistant was part of the deal to get the electric wheel chair. Dori Ann would have been a bit more sympathetic if the assistant hadn’t been a young blond with a big chest. The way Mr. Walker had explained this loan to her was as a compromise between charity and business. Since Gordon Bozarth didn’t have any close family and his nephews and nieces didn’t want to take him in, Grantville was going to end up having to take care of the old coot anyway. Giving him the drawing account gave at least the possibility that something might come of it and got them an electric wheel chair to take apart. Besides, it gave the old guy a semblance of pride. But Mr. Walker didn’t want to spend any more money on it than they had to.
Elzbeth sat and listened, not understanding much of what they were saying though she got the impression that they were talking about her, at least partly. Later, after she had learned some up-timer English, she would learn about the deal that Frank Jackson had struck with Herr Bozarth to start a battery company. She would learn about the drawing account and the monthly living expenses. Her salary too, Elzbeth would later learn, was paid by the Bozarth Battery Company.
That learning was hard, though. He didn’t speak German and she didn’t speak English. Most days Elzbeth didn’t really know what was going on. The work wasn’t hard, and it was a little boring pushing him around. He could get around in the Airstream on his own, mostly. It was when Gordon stood for a long period, or tried to walk any distance, that he just couldn’t. His legs gave out. And without the up-time electric wheel chair, Elzbeth was the electric motor. The first English word she learned was “stop.” The second was “go.”
Over the next weeks, she learned left, right, over there, dinner, electricity, and more. She learned enough that three weeks into her employment she was half-way following conversations. Partly that was because she had spoken more than one variation of German for a long time. English, especially up-timer English, was harder to follow, but she was getting better at it. What wasn’t happening, as far as Elzbeth could see, was much progress on the battery factory.
“When we open battery factory?” Elzbeth tried.
“I don’t know, girl. I try to talk to your down-time merchants and can’t get them to figure out what I mean. We need a container for the wet cells. We need lead plates and a form to make them that will give them a very rough surface. Lead oxidizes as soon as it’s exposed to air, but in a very thin coating.”
The statement hadn’t been quite meaningless to Elzbeth, but it was close. About the only thing she really got out of it was that they needed someone who spoke English and German.
Gordon had become pretty fond of Elzbeth. She was pretty and not particularly body shy, so he had regular nude and semi-nude shows as she changed for bed or dressed and undressed before and after showers and the like. She knew he was looking and didn’t seem to mind. And, absent Viagra, there wasn’t a lot more he could do than look.
She was willing to work and the Airstream was cleaner than it had been in years. So was he, for that matter. Before the Ring of Fire there hadn’t been anyone to clean up for. And she seemed interested in the battery factory. He wasn’t sure why. Gordon was an old coal miner, not a businessman. Dori Ann Grooms at the bank had told him a couple of times that he needed a German partner. Someone who knew down-time business practices and could translate between him and the down-time craftsmen. But Gordon was afraid of being taken. He knew that if anyone got hold of the business they could sucker him out of everything and leave him penniless. So he was stuck. He couldn’t do it himself and he was unable to trust anyone else. Meanwhile, he had talked himself into the business loan, and the loan was paying the bills for now.
Truthfully, if it had just been him he probably would have done nothing till the note came due. But he gradually realized that he wasn’t the only one who would be left out in the cold if he did that. Elzbeth would be out of a job too. He had to do something; he just didn’t know what. “Elzbeth, do you know any businessmen? Down-time businessmen?”
But she didn’t understand. “Tomorrow we go back to the bank,” he told her.”
“Good,” she said.
Dori Ann called over a German fellow to talk with them about what was needed. He spoke German and old-fashioned English, with lots of thees and thous but understandable. And they talked about what was needed.
As a bank employee, he wasn’t able to become involved, but he did know several of the people in Badenburg.
“What do you know about the Kunze family in Badenburg?”
Gordon didn’t know a thing, but Elzbeth did. “They are very rich. The richest family in Badenburg, with relations all over the place. They are very well respected.”
“Right. Well, I know Bernhard and he would make a good partner for you. He has some English, though not as much as I do, and he is picking up more. He is on the city council over there this year, but won’t be next year and if you set up a deal with him he can run a lot of the business for you and provide you with technical translations for the down-time craftsmen you are going to need.”
“What’s the catch?” Gordon asked.
“He will want a piece of the business.”
“That’s actually good news,” Dori Ann said. “Look, Mr. Bozarth, if he was charging a straight fee, well, the bank would have problems endorsing such an expense, considering the lack of progress over the last few months. We want you to succeed, but at some point we have to start wondering about throwing good money after bad.”
“How big a piece will he want?” Gordon asked.
“I’m honestly not sure,” the German said. “Partly, it’s a question of likelihood of success. I don’t know that much about it, but you aren’t the only battery company.”
“I know. When Frank Jackson showed up at my trailer, he said they were doing the same thing with car batteries. But car batteries are different. They have to put out a lot more power over a much shorter period of time. If you try and run a powered chair or a forklift with car batteries, they will . . . well, they won’t work.” By now Gordon knew quite a bit about the difference between a starter battery and a deep-cycle battery. He hadn’t been sitting on his hands, even though he couldn’t do the negotiating with the down-timers. He had been studying all he could about batteries in general and lead acid batteries in particular, and most especially deep-cycle batteries—the sort that were used for powering golf carts and other electric vehicles.
“Well, all right then,” Gordon said. “We need to get to Badenburg. If we were still up-time and I still had my chair, I could just ride it for five miles and Elzbeth could walk beside me.”
Elzbeth looked at him. “We can get a wagon to take us. I could push the chair that far, but the roads, they aren’t paved like Grantville.”
Which was what they did. They and the folded up wheel chair went into the wagon. It wasn’t difficult. There were horse-drawn wagons that went back and forth several times a day. By this time they were even talking about extending the tram line to Badenburg.
Two hours later they were at the Kunze family home.
Gordon got to sit and listen as Elzbeth explained things to Bernhard Kunze. Bernhard’s wife, a plump and pleasant woman in her late thirties, came in while they were talking and joined in the conversation. It was all in German, so Gordon was mostly left out. Then Elzbeth said something and Bernhard started speaking in English.
“My family was in the wool trade for generations, so I speak some English.”
“Why? Not to be rude, but why does being in the wool trade make you speak English?”
“Because the English export a lot of wool, or at least they used to.”
Bernhard spoke fairly good, if very Shakespearean, English that was fairly quickly morphing into modern English. “Your servant has been explaining your needs to us and I have been asking her about your—what do you call it—power chair?”
“Yes. Or powered wheel chair.”
“She said it sped around all over the place and she found it hard to keep up with that first day. You say we can build such things in our time?”
“Not quite the same, but yes. Probably not as efficient, but we ought to be able to build something. Also we should be able to build other things. The same sort of batteries that are used in a power chair are used in a forklift, just more of them. There are a lot of other uses too. Radios, household appliances, that kind of thing.”
“What is a fork lift?”
“It picks up heavy loads and carries them.” Gordon had a vision of a mechanical jolly green giant picking up carts and dumping them in a giant sack. He wondered if that was the image that his words had given Bernhard Kunze. “They are sort of a cart with a forked arm.” He stopped again. “There are a couple in Grantville. You should arrange to see one. Besides fork lifts, the batteries can also be used to provide power for homes and factories.”
“So with these batteries we can have electricity in Badenburg?”
Gordon felt temptation, strong and fairly ugly. A simple yes wouldn’t be a lie, not quite. “Not exactly,” he said instead. “They have to be charged. Lead acid batteries have been around for a long time. They are rechargeable batteries. You have to put the electricity into them before you can get it out. So you can have electricity in your house, powered by a bank of deep-cycle lead acid batteries, but you will have to have them taken over to Grantville to be recharged every so often. How often depends on how much power you use and how many batteries you have.”
“Is Grantville the only place to get the electricity to put into the batteries?”
“You know, I’m not sure. I know that you can get them recharged off the power grid and I know that you can recharge them using wind mills or steam engines or anything that will make motion and can be hooked up to a generator. And you can make generators downtime. There is nothing really all that high tech about them. They are just coiled, insulated copper wires and magnets.” Which was maybe overstating the simplicity some, but Gordon didn’t think it was exaggerating by much.
“So even if right now . . . ” Then Benhard Kunze stopped. “Why not simply make the power here and leave out the batteries? Are they necessary to the process?”
“Not exactly, but if you just use the generator you are going to lose power a lot. Like when the wind isn’t blowing or when you change horses or whatever you’re using to turn the generator. Batteries take inconstant power and make it more constant. They also let you move it.”
Bernhard was nodding. “An imperfect world. Even with your up-time magic, it is still imperfect. I won’t answer you today. I will need to ask around, but I am interested and I think we can work a deal.”
“Guten Tag, Fraulein Ritterin.”
“Hello, Elzbeth,” Bernhard Kunze’s wife said. “I wanted to see an up-timer dwelling. It is fairly small, isn’t it?”
“Yes, but Herr Bozarth is a widower and he was on what the up-timers call a ‘fixed income.’ I don’t understand how it all worked. I think it means he was on town charity, but for the whole up-time world. Besides, even if it is small, it’s very well appointed.” She showed Frau Ritterin around while Gordon grumbled about hen parties and asked to be helped out onto the drive.
Elzbeth took Gordon’s chair down the three steps to the driveway and Gordon, using the railing, managed the three steps with no difficulty. After they got Gordon onto the drive, Elzbeth and Marlene had a nice talk about the batteries and what Elzbeth had seen when they were disassembled at the high school.
“I want three-fifths of the business,” Bernhard Kunze said calmly
Gordon choked on his beer. “Three-fifths? Sixty percent! Control? For what? A few introductions and translating? That’s worth maybe five percent.”
“Where will your factory be, Gordon? Do you have room for it on your lot? Will the bank advance you enough money to buy the land to build your factory? How much is the land going to cost? What about construction? How much will it cost you to have a factory built on the land? Where will you find employees? I understand you need acids, hence the name lead acid batteries. Where will you get it? Do you know some alchemists?”
“And you’re going to do all that for me?”
“Some of it,” Bernhard agreed. “Most of it. I hold the lease on a village just outside of town.”
Gordon shook his head. “We will need power from Grantville. Five miles wouldn’t be that long to run power lines up-time but . . . ”
“Very well. I can acquire the rights to a village that had half its land cut away by the Ring of Fire. The villagers have no place to farm and the lehen holder is quite upset.”
“Thomas?” Marlene asked.
“Yes, your brother. He wants to make nice to the up-timers because Junker is being such a problem . . . ”
Marlene sniffed. She was of the opinion that “Junker” and “problem” were synonyms. “So you’re going to take advantage of Thomas again? I’m never going to hear the end of it from that wife of his.” She grinned.
“Thomas wants out. The farmers can’t afford the rent with half the land gone to the Ring of Fire and he doesn’t want to throw them off the land or be sued for the land they have leased that isn’t there anymore. If we buy the lehen on Bechstedt, we can move the farmers to Pennewitz, those who want to continue farming. Meanwhile we can convert Bechstedt from a farming village to a battery producing village.”
“What is Bechstedt like?” Elzbeth asked.
“It’s a village right on the edge of the Ring. There isn’t much there. Over half their farmland was in the Ring and it’s gone. We can certainly get power there. Those who don’t want to move are looking for a new occupation. That will provide us a ready-made labor force, even if unskilled.”
“That sounds good but its still not enough for me to give up control.”
“Have you considered the cost?” Bernhard said “Will the bank front you the money to rent the village of Bechstedt and build your factory?
“You say you need power and Bechstedt is only yards away from the edge of the Ring of Fire, true, but even so they will have to make connections, will they not? That will cost money. How much money can you afford? How much will the bank advance you?”
“Not much,” Gordon admitted. “Look, I have some stuff. I have an old truck. It ain’t much and I can’t afford to have it converted to natural gas or alcohol like some are doing, but if you could it could give you a good start on a transport company.”
It took more negotiating and Gordon ended up giving up his microwave as well as the truck, but he argued Bernhard down to forty percent and got his promise to help in getting the line run out to Bechstedt.
Gordon would have gone straight to Bechstedt from Badenburg, but Bernhard Kunze wanted a day or so to talk about the plans with the farmers of Bechstedt. So it was three days later that Gordon and Elzbeth first saw Bechstedt.
“Good day. I am Karl Baum,” said a short, solid man when the wagon they were riding arrived at the edge of town. He was around twenty-five or so Gordon guessed.
“Hello, Karl. I’m Gordon Bozarth.”
“Ja, Herr Kunze talked you would be here.”
Gordon let Elzbeth take over the conversation while he looked around. The view was spectacular. It wasn’t one of the highest cliffs of the Ring Wall, but it wasn’t like the little hump on the way to Rudolstadt either. He couldn’t see the granite wall directly in front of him, but where it started to curve around, he could. To his right, looking along the Ring Wall, he could see literally miles of cliff face. Directly in front of him he could see where the little bit of soil that had been icing on the granite cake had spilled into the Ring of Fire, leaving a steep slope to the Ring Wall. And just before it started sloping, there were stakes pounded into the ground and a rope tied between them. As Gordon looked out over the Ring Wall down into the Ring of Fire he could see a power pole not very far away.
Karl apparently saw where Gordon was looking because he said something to Elzbeth and she translated. Her English still wasn’t good but it was better than Karl’s or, for that matter, Gordon’s German. “They had to ah . . . make the sticks cause it was dangerous. A goat valked close and vent over.”
Yes, she was definitely getting better at English. Gordon smiled. “Makes sense to me. Ah. It makes sense to me. It seems a reasonable precaution.”
The whole conversation was like that. They talked about the plans for the factory and Karl showed Gordon where he thought it should be. Gordon wasn’t so sure. He thought it should be farther from the village and farther from the cliff face, but the English and the German weren’t good enough to make why he felt that way clear. Why, in Gordon’s case, was safety. The safety of the village from the electricity and the acid that would be used to make the batteries. The safety of the factory in case more of the Wall collapsed. So far it had just been topsoil that had gone over, but Gordon wasn’t in any hurry to build any closer to the Ring Wall than he had to.
“I need a power line run out to Bechstedt.”
“Where’s that? No, never mind. Not going to happen. Look, we need what we have and can’t waste it putting power lines out to run somebody’s toaster.”
“It’s not for a toaster,” Gordon said. “It’s for a deep-cycle battery factory. To get the lead dioxide, we need power.”
“Maybe. But I can’t authorize that.”
It ended up taking the backing of Frank Jackson and Bernhard Kunze to get the power line run.
When they got back to the trailer there was a note taped to the door, asking Gordon to call the guy he rented the lot from. With a feeling of foreboding, Gordon called and was informed that the rent was going to double starting in December.
“That’s only three weeks from now.”
“I know and I’m sorry but I have people lining up to rent that lot. If you can’t come up with the extra money, I’m just gonna have to give it to someone who will. The truth is, Gordon, that if you move out, I’ll rent the lot for four hundred bucks a month.”
“Four hundred for this little place?” Gordon almost screeched. He had been paying one hundred a month before the Ring of Fire. And the reason he had paid so little was that the lot was just about big enough for his trailer and his truck. It had no yard. It wasn’t big enough to put a house on. Heck, it wasn’t really big enough for the trailer.
“That’s right,” came over the phone. “And I have people lining up to pay it. So what’s it gonna be, Gordon?”
Gordon took a breath and said, “I’ll let you know.”
“What do you want the extra money for?” Dori Ann asked.
“We need to rent some wheels and a truck to take the Airstream out to the village of Bechstedt. We need to pay to have power lines run out to Bechstedt. Have a septic tank dug and a leach field installed. Altogether, it’s going to cost almost four thousand dollars.” Gordon handed over an itemized sheet that he had written up by hand. Gordon had never been all that fond of computers and didn’t have one. He did have a fairly extensive collection of video tapes, a VHS player, and a small color TV. Which he could sell for the money, but he didn’t want to. He told Dori Ann, “But in the long run it will be a savings, because the rent on my lot in the Ring of Fire has gone up. Besides, we will need the power hook-up for the factory. Making batteries requires electricity.”
Gordon and Elzbeth had to wait while Dori Ann checked with whoever was really making the decisions, but they got the money.
Three weeks later, with septic tank dug and power lines installed, Gordon rented a pair of tires, since the trailer had been on blocks for years, and they hired a truck and spent a day moving. He waited till the last day of his paid rent to move.
“Good day,” Karl Baum said.
“Hello, Karl. Are your parents set up in Pennewitz?” Karl’s father, the former headman of the village of Bechstedt, was a farmer and wanted to remain one even if it meant moving and not being headman in the new village. Karl was less enamored of farming and while still quite young, was moderately well respected. All in all, about half the village had moved to Pennewitz, leaving three houses vacant and three lightly occupied.
The pastor was one of the ones who had moved, and Karl Baum was a newly religious man. He had heard the thunder and looked around to see the world changed and now believed. It was hard not to, when there was cliff where there used to be rolling hills.
“It’s not a new story I know,” he told Gordon. “Everyone around here experienced the same thing. But still, it changes you. Especially since we lost most of our fields.”
“I lost most of my world,” Gordon agreed. “I think the big difference . . . ”
Gordon stopped. It really wasn’t all that big a difference. A lot of up-timers were convinced that the Ring of Fire was an act of God, and not in the sense that a hurricane or an earthquake is. “Maybe not so big a difference. I don’t know whether God did the Ring of Fire or if it was a natural occurrence of some sort. And I certainly don’t know what it meant.”
Karl smiled at him a bit lopsidedly. “I was hoping you could tell me what God had in mind when he did that.” He pointed toward the Ring of Fire.
Gordon shook his head, then they got down to business. They were going to need a factory far enough away from the houses so that smells and accidents would not harm the village, but close enough for easy walking.
Elzbeth translated but she still wasn’t all that good at English.
Gordon was sitting in his chair when he saw the wagon carrying Bernhard Kunze and another man.
“Good day, Herr Bozarth,” Bernhard called. “I bring help.” He jumped off the wagon. “This is Paul Eisenhauer. He has studied alchemy in Lentz and finances in Vienna. He speaks English, French and German. Also Latin, Greek and Hebrew.”
“That’s a lot of languages,” Gordon said. “Can you make sulfuric acid?”
“Oil of vitriol?” Herr Eisenhauer asked. “Yes. Is that the acid in lead acid batteries?”
“Yep,” Gordon said. “A thirty-three percent solution. By weight, I think.”
“By weight?” Eisenhauer asked.
Gordon grinned. “Yes. By specific gravity. That’s one way of measuring the charge of the battery. As the battery discharges, the sulfuric acid becomes more diluted as the sulfur is used to make lead sulfate.” Gordon wanted to know how well this Eisenhauer fellow would pick up on what was happening. The theories that went with alchemy weren’t the same as those that went with chemistry.
“How does that affect the . . . specific gravity . . . did you call it?”
“Water has a specific gravity. A weight. Coins sink and cork floats. Sulfuric acid has a greater specific gravity than water. We can make glass balls that will float in sulfuric acid and sink in water.”
Eisenhauer, a dark, thin man with a Van Dyke beard—who didn’t look a thing like the twentieth century general—was nodding his head and stroking his beard. “You know, that’s quite a clever technique. And it can probably be applied to any number of liquids.”
Gordon smiled until he saw the way Elzbeth was looking at Eisenhauer.
Damn, it it’s none of your business you old goat, he thought. But it still bothered him.
There were several encyclopedia entries on the making of lead acid batteries and they had the examples of lead acid batteries from the cars and the one from Gordon’s wheel chair. Taken together, it was a good solid start on how to make batteries.
“We could use antimony, Paul,” Gordon said while the shop was still under construction.
Gordon went through his notes. “Stibnite. S T I B . . . ” Gordon spelled it out.
Eisenhauer looked though his own notes. “Stibium?” he asked.
“Could be,” Gordon said.
“I can find some but I am not sure how much. How much do we need?”
“I’m not sure. We don’t actually need it. We can make batteries without it; they just won’t last as long. The antimony, the pure metal in stibnite, adds strength to the alloy and decreases the sloughing off of the lead sulfide.”
“I’ll see what I can find and we will experiment.”
It took them a month to get the shop built. Meanwhile, Paul Eisenhauer moved into one of the vacant houses in the village, and started making sulfuric acid. He made it the way they made it in the seventeenth century, in small glass containers, a little at a time. Once Gordon saw that he took Paul into Grantville and they looked up ways to make sulfuric acid. There they found the lead chamber process, which wasn’t all that different than what Paul was already doing except that it used larger containers lined with lead plus a few bells and whistles that Paul had never thought of.
Elzbeth had noticed that Gordon got upset when she looked at Paul or he looked at her and found she was rather pleased by Gordon’s reaction. Paul was pretty enough, meticulously groomed with a practiced smile and studiously pleasant manner. But it seemed to Elzbeth that his interest in her would last no longer than it took him to find our how she reacted. It wasn’t that Paul was evil, or even heartless, but the only things that were real to him were his chemicals and experiments.
She was real to Gordon, and that was enticing. So she paid attention to Paul and was pleased by Gordon’s reaction. It probably took Paul all of five minutes to figure out what was going on, but he played along. It was, after all, just one more experiment with potentially interesting results. Paul had had only limited opportunity to study up-timers.
Their first battery was built using the acid that Paul made in his in his glass jars, heavy lead plates and ceramic beer mugs. They could get them cheap and now. And the very first battery they made worked.
Just not very well.
It put out the right voltage, a little over two volts per cell. But the amperage was minuscule. That wasn’t much of a surprise. Just a little reading had shown Gordon that that would be the result. A discharged lead acid battery has two electrodes each coated in lead sulfide and dilute sulfuric acid. A charged lead acid battery has stronger sulfuric acid and two electrodes, one of which is pure lead and the other is lead dioxide. A battery made with two lead electrodes will work . . . just not all that well. But lead dioxide can be made electrochemically using sulfuric acid, a lead electrode, and a copper electrode. It can also be made in other ways.
They experimented all through 1632. They built, charged, discharged, and rebuilt batteries, using power from the Grantville grid. They made lead dioxide in several ways, finally settling on the way that worked best for their circumstances. They made pastes of lead oxide and sulfuric acid and applied them to different lead alloy plates, which had different shapes to try and maximize surface area and strength.
It was in June of 1632 that Gordon caught a ride into Grantville with Karl Baum along to push his chair. Elzbeth was busy with Karl’s wife. Gordon had timed it that way. In town he went to see Judge Maurice Tito and had a new will made, making Elzbeth his heir. Gordon swore Karl to secrecy because he didn’t want Elzbeth to know.
A couple of weeks later, Dori Ann asked pointedly, “When are you going to go into full production?”
Gordon winced. It was a very good question. The bank had actually been very forgiving of the time it had taken them to work out the details of how to make deep-cycle lead acid batteries. The village of Bechstedt was a much improved place. Some people were investing in indoor plumbing and septic tanks. As well, the village had their own kiln where they made their own stoneware battery cases. They had big lead-lined wooden troughs in which they made sulfuric acid. They had a variety of lead molds and a furnace to melt the lead to pour into the molds. Every house in the village had electricity, used mostly for cooking and heating. They used the batteries they made to power the houses as a test. It would have been easy enough to hook them up to the power from Grantville, but using their experimental batteries let them test things like how long it took for them to run down.
In truth, they could have been in production at least two months earlier but Paul Eisenhauer kept coming up with new innovations they needed to try before going into production. New plate surface shape, new charge measuring tubes, new mixes of the lead dioxide and sulfuric. It went on and on . . . there were thousands of ways to make a deep-cycle lead acid battery. Most of them worked and each of them had advantages and disadvantages.
“We have several new versions of the batteries that need to be tested,” Paul told Dori Ann with his engaging smile. “We are making excellent progress and taking some extra time now will save cost in the long run.”
Dori Ann looked at Paul, then at Gordon. “It’s time, Gordon, to shoot the engineer and put your batteries into production.”
Gordon looked over at Paul, smiled and said, “Sounds like a plan to me.”
“You don’t mean that literally, I hope?” Paul asked, his smile looking just a bit forced.
“Tempting as the thought is . . . ” Gordon said, because Paul’s eternal quest for the perfect battery and his superior attitude had been getting on everyone’s nerves, ” . . . no. It just means that we can’t afford to wait till you’re ready. It is time to put the best design we have ready now into production, even if it’s not the best possible design.”
Paul argued. That was inevitable. But they went into production.
They had a limited stock by Christmas of 1632. The batteries they made sucked compared to up-time batteries, but so what. They weren’t competing with up-time batteries. Besides, Gordon pointed out, up-time batteries suck compared to gas tanks for power to weight.
It didn’t matter. The batteries they made could power a fork lift or move a wagon ten miles or more before they had to be recharged. And electric cars don’t need the hard-to-come-by gasoline that internal combustion requires. And it turned out that there were more people who wanted electric cars than there were electric cars.
Most of their sales were to homes and small businesses that needed, or wanted, some electricity but were too far from the Ring of Fire to conveniently hook up to the grid. Customers could rent charged battery packs a wagonload at a time and bring them back to Bechstedt when the charge ran low. Then the customer could exchange them for a fully-charged pack and be on their way. The deposit on the rented batteries was refundable when the batteries were returned. Mostly though, the deposit was just moved to the new battery pack.
In March of 1633 Bernhard Kunze came to them with a proposal. “It’s a wagon shop in Arnstadt,” he said. “They make farm wagons and buggies. They have been interested in the up-timers ever since the Ring of Fire. Like the rest of us, first afraid, then interested in what up-timer knowledge could do to affect their business. They got interested in wheels, then in steam engines, which they make themselves. Well, they visited Karl Schmidt about a week ago and saw that forklift you built for him.”
“We didn’t. Build it, I mean,” Gordon said. “Karl’s foundry made most of it and TwinLo Park made the innards. All we did was supply the batteries.” Truth be told, in Gordon’s opinion it wasn’t much of a fork lift, anyway. But he kept his mouth shut. Bernhard Kunze was a major player in Badenburg.
“They want to make electric cars and they want you to make the batteries for them.”
“I don’t see why not.” Gordon shrugged. “The Arnstadt Electric Car Company?”
“No, the name of the shop is Pomal Wagons. They have registered in Grantville and are now a stock corporation. We should do the same, by the way.”
Gordon considered that. “We would want to give the employees stock, and I don’t want it all to come out of my share. For that matter, until the loans are paid off, the bank would have to approve any change in the structure of the company.”
“I’ll talk to Herr Walker about it.”
That would probably help a lot. Coleman Walker hadn’t said a word to Gordon since the Ring of Fire. Heck, Coleman hadn’t said more than a few words to Gordon in the thirty-plus years they had known each other. And that was before he became Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank. The battery factory was turning into a successful business, but there were a lot of successful businesses these days.
They talked about taking the company public. And who would get how much stock.
Bernhard was not one to cheat the employees. But neither of them wanted control to get lost. So they would have preferred stock as well as common, with many of the employees getting considerable preferred stock.
Dori Ann briefed Coleman on the battery factory and he agreed that the factory was now worth considerably more than they had loaned. Then Coleman told her about the proposal to take the company public and asked her if the bank should convert the loan to preferred stock.
“The way the market is acting right now, the bank would make a lot more by taking the loan in preferred stock and selling the stock.”
“Do it that way then,” Coleman Walker told her.
And that was that.
They made their deal with Pomal Wagons two weeks after the company went public with a nice bounce. It was a stock trade. Pomal was short on cash just then and Bozarth Batteries was flush. So Gordon and Reinhard ended up owning about five percent of Pomal Wagons and Carts. In the long run, that proved a good investment.
“Hey, Uncle Gordon. Who’s the dish?”
Gordon and Elzbeth were sitting at their picnic table outside when Triple B showed up. And immediately ticked Gordon off with his leering at Elzbeth.
“Haven’t seen you in three years now, Bobby Billy Bell,” Gordon said, knowing that Bobby hated that name. Good, as far as Gordon was concerned.
“Well, I’ve been busy. You know. The war and all.”
Right, Gordon thought. “The army send you off?”
“Not exactly. Drill and stuff. Teaching the down-timers how to fight.”
“It seems to me they already know that,” Gordon said. “Otherwise it would be the Thirty Years’ Shouting Match or the Thirty Years’ Spitting Contest.”
“You know what I mean. The down-timers don’t know crap about modern war. That stand-and-take-it crap is just stupid.”
Gordon basically agreed with that but didn’t think that was what had kept Triple B away. And he was pretty sure what had brought him here now. When Bozarth Batteries went public, The Street reported on the value of his stock. Gordon was a millionaire now. The total value of his stock was one point three million dollars. Bernhard had almost a million in BB stock but that was the smaller part of his portfolio and his father was even richer. Elzbeth and Paul each had almost fifty thousand worth and most of the villagers had at least thousands in stock. Most of them were holding onto it too.
“Elzbeth, how about getting us a couple of beers?” Gordon asked.
She stood, passing close to Triple B as she headed into the trailer. And Triple B ran his hand across her butt. She stiffened and gave him a dirty look. Gordon stood up, slammed his hand down on the table and said, “Never mind, Elzbeth. Bobby Billy won’t be staying.”
“Now, look, Uncle! No reason to get all upset. She’s just a maid!”
“No, she’s not. She’s about to be your aunt.”
It was hard to tell who was the most surprised, Triple B, Elzbeth or Gordon.
That night, once they’d gotten rid of an enraged Bobby Billy, Gordon’s legs were giving him more trouble than usual.
“Uhhhh,” he grunted. “Damn brat. Come out here and make trouble. It’s got me tied up in knots.”
“Lie down, Gordon. I massage those legs,” Elzbeth said.
It couldn’t be claimed that the massage helped with the medical problem, because it didn’t. But it sure felt good. And Gordon realized that with the proper stimulation, he didn’t actually need Viagra.
That having been established, they put up the banns the next day. Six weeks later, Elzbeth and Gordon Bozarth were married, right there in the village of Bechstedt. And shortly after that, Gordon went to see Judge Maurice Tito again, to make sure that his will reflected his wishes and was as unbreakable as the law could make it.
“Anyway,” Johan said, “When Gordon died a few months later, Triple B tried to challenge the will on the grounds of undue influence. And Judge Tito threw him out of court. I understand he’s appealed to the USE Supreme Court now that there is a USE, but no one with any sense expects it to go anywhere. Elzbeth and Bernhard run the company and it’s doing pretty well.”