Kudzu Werke – Safety First Always

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This story is a continuation of the stories written by the late Karen Bergstralh.


May, 1632


Sleep hadn't happened. Martin really hadn't expected it to. It had been two days since the accident. He was all too poignantly aware, however, that it might be just an event for everyone else, but for Jakob, it was his life. Everything would be changed for him. And it ate at Martin. His stomach still twisted at the thought.

"Why did it happen?" he muttered. "What didn't I see? What didn't I take into account? It's my machine, it's my fault!"

He needed help. He needed another head. Someone who knew more.

The light filtering through the window grew pink and then slowly brightened as Martin sat in his office, half torturing himself and half trying to come up with a solution to all the questions.

"Reardon!" Martin leaped forward, slamming his knee against the desk. "Dammit!" He sighed, rubbing his knee. "This is going to be a long day."

Giving himself a shake, he snatched the phone from its cradle and dialed.

"Herr Reardon, it's Martin."

"Morning, Martin. What can I do for you?" The man's gruff voice was a small comfort.

"I assume you heard about the accident."

"I have. How's he doing?"

"It sounds like he'll be okay. I'm calling . . . well, I need some advice. Can I come by your office?"

"Of course, Martin. Come on by as soon as you can."

"Thank you very much." Martin dropped the phone and leaped to his feet, hurrying out into the shop. "Carl-Maria, I want you and Rudy to clean up the drop forge, but make sure you secure the ram first. Put something under it. I don't want another accident."

"Yes, Sir," Carl-Maria said.

"Once it's clean, fire up the forge and boiler and finish up the bolts. Block up the ram when you're removing items, though."

"Yes, Sir."

Martin looked around for a moment and then spotted Max across the shop. "Max!" he called.

The man looked around, and then hurried over. "Yes, Sir?"

"I'm heading over to Herr Reardon's office to ask a few questions and get some advice. I want you along for an extra set of ears. Get some paper so we have some notes to work from."

"Yes, Sir."

The walk to Ollie Reardon's shop was quiet. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Max watching him, but he wasn't in the mood to talk. Questions swarmed through his mind—spinning, settling, rising, and spinning again.

Martin shook himself as he pulled the door of Reardon's shop open and squared his shoulders. With a deep burning breath, he set his chin and opened the office door.

"Schmidt!" Reardon rose from his chair. "Good to see you, my friend. Sit, sit!" He gestured to several chairs and dropped back into his own. "I'm sorry to hear about the accident."

Martin nodded. "As was I."

"How's he doing?"

"Lost the arm." Martin shook his head, staring down at his hands. "A horrible fate for a blacksmith."

Reardon nodded. "So what did you need to see me about?"

He was silent for a moment. "Herr Reardon, I know in downtime we think accidents just happen, but . . ." He paused. "But I can't live with the fact that my man lost his arm because of a machine I built!" His head felt like an anvil atop a molten hot post, slowly losing the battle to hold the anvil up. "I can't live with that."

"You're taking too much on yourself, Martin," Reardon said gently. "You can't prevent every accident."

Martin wrenched his head upright again. "I will fix this, but I need to know . . . what would have been done if this had happened up-time?"

Reardon rubbed a calloused hand over his jaw. "Well, there'd be an investigation by OSHA, and . . . and the insurance company would come in and review everything." He squinted at the ceiling for a moment. "After that there's a whole bunch of forms that need to be filled out for pretty much anyone who thinks they've got something to say about it." With a frown, he turned his gaze back onto Martin. "But that's up-time—this is now."

He waved aside the comment. "What would you recommend I do to try to avoid further accidents with my men?" He ran a hand through his hair. "And anyone else who uses my equipment, for that matter."

Reardon shook his head slowly and then heaved a sigh. "Well, you could reenact the accident—without anyone getting hurt, of course. That would let you see, firsthand, what physically occurred. Then it might not be a bad idea to write up what's called an accident report—sort of a record of what happened and what you're going to do about it," he added in response to Martin's frown.

Max glanced up from frantically scribbling on his notepad. "What's OSHA?"

"Oh, my apologies," Reardon said with a chuckle. "Back uptime, OSHA stood for Occupational Safety and Health Administration. They were part of the government that dealt with workplace safety. Everybody kind of gave them a hard time and got irritated often enough, but," he shrugged, "all they wanted was to make sure your business was safe for your workers."

"Are you getting all this?" Martin asked, glancing at the notepad, filled with scribbles and half-finished sentences.

"Yes, sir. What's not down, I've got up here." He jabbed his temple. "I'll fill it in as soon as we're done here."

Martin nodded and turned back to Reardon. "Is there an OSHA now? And once I've reenacted the accident, where do I start?"

Reardon chuckled slowly, nodding. "Sit tight for a minute. I want to grab Don. He was my safety manager. He dealt with this more directly." With long, sure strides, Reardon headed out into the shop.

Martin heaved a sigh and dropped his head into his hands. What was he going to do? He couldn't let this go. The memory of the call burned a hole in his brain, setting fire to his guts. Jakob's been hurt. His arm . . . caught in the drop forge. They're taking him to the hospital.

A strong grip on his shoulder startled him. He turned to see Max watching him.

"Herr Reardon's right, Martin. You're taking too much on yourself."

"I've gotta try, Max." He shook his head slowly. "I've got to." He jumped as the door opened again and Reardon returned with Don McConnell in tow.

"Martin," Don nodded to him. "Max."

"Don." Martin stood and shook hands.

"I've brought Don up to speed on our conversation," Reardon said.

Don perched on the edge of the table. "I get your concern for your men, but why are you concerned about anyone else? No one else is around your machines."

"Well, if I ever make the same type of equipment for others as I've made for myself, I want it as safe as possible. I don't want to hear from someone who bought one of my machines that they've had an accident and one of their men's lost an arm . . . or worse."

"Accidents can always happen, Martin," Don said. "And no matter whose fault it is, someone's always going to try to blame you."

"I know, but I figure if I do my damnedest to make it as safe as possible, then they can try to blame me if they want and what will be, will be." His muscles jumped, still thinking of Jakob's stump of an arm, bandaged, the boy's life ruined. He leaped to his feet, unable to sit still. "Besides, I want to create all the machines you have in your shop. I want to create the wonders you brought with you in the Ring of Fire. Herr Reardon suggested reenacting the accident and writing a . . . an accident report?"

Reardon nodded. "We have some old forms from up-time you could use as a guide."

"Not a bad idea," Don said. "Make sure you have everyone there who was present the night of the accident, if you can get them all. How are the others doing?"

Martin frowned for a moment. "Shaken up, obviously. No one's touched the drop forge for two days. Not that I wanted them to." He shrugged. "But they seem to be holding it together all right."

"Well, you'll want to be outside the action of the reenactment since you weren't there. You've got a fresh perspective. Hopefully the exact problem is obvious. Once you know the problem, then you can start finding a solution."

"Is there an OSHA now?"

"I doubt it." Don chuckled. "But there will be, sometime."

"Do you have any questions, Max?" Martin ran a hand through his hair again, fairly sure he'd wear himself bald before they figured this out.

Max shook his head. "Seems simple enough. Might be a good idea to have Herr Glauber there, though."

Martin nodded and turned to Reardon. "I can't thank you both enough." He shook their hands. "I need to get back so we can get started on this."

"Good luck," Reardon said.

"Max, I want you to get back to the shop and get everything arranged. Make sure they've finished the bolts first, then get started setting up."

"I will, Sir. Soon as I get the papers from Herr Reardon."

"Thanks." Martin spun on his heel and hurried from the shop.

He broke into a jog as soon as he was out the door and headed down the street for the building he knew Glauber was repairing. It took him a minute of searching to find him hard at work on a window.

"Herman," he called. Glauber turned, taking out a handkerchief to wipe his glistening brow.

"Martin, you look terrible. Everything alright?"

He waved aside the question. "I'm fine. I was just over at Herr Reardon's about the accident. He suggested we reenact it to get a firsthand idea of what happened. Max suggested you observe with me—two sets of eyes . . ."

"Good idea. Let me get things settled here, and I'll be over as soon as I can."

"Thanks." With a wave, he sped off, making record time to the shop. He pulled the side door open and paused to catch his breath. The floor shuddered with each clang of the drop forge.

He wandered farther in, watching the men at work. Each time the ram was raised they shoved a rod under it.

"Good," he muttered. "Hopefully that will at least slow it down."

As the men paused to shift to the next bolt, he joined them. "Max, how many bolts are left?"

With a glance at the shrinking pile, Max yelled over the noise of the shop, "Four left, then we're done with this batch."

"All right. Finish it up, then we'll get everything ready."

He stood watching as they worked.

"Martin," came Glauber's voice.

He jumped and spun around. "Herman, thanks for coming. Oh, Heinrich, good. Forgot to let him know I needed him."

The ram clanged again.

"That's the last one, Sir," Max called. "We just have to dump the fire in the boiler and release the steam once we've secured the forge."

"Hang on, I want to do a quick test first. Get everyone on the other side of the shop. I don't want anyone else getting hurt if this goes wrong."

Max frowned, but nodded and called for the men to move back.

"No, leave the bar," Martin called to Rudy who'd been about to remove it. "That's what I want to test."

The boy nodded and hurried to join the others.

Martin slowly walked around the drop forge, eyeing it. His heart slammed against his rib cage as he reached for the hand lever. Gulping in a breath before he lost his nerve, he wrenched the lever back.

The ram dropped. Creaking metal echoed in the cavernous shop as the bar crumpled beneath it. Then with a screech of metal on metal, the ram slowed. The bar shifted with a bang and whipped into the side of the drop forge. Martin ducked, throwing his arms up in front of him.

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