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Archie Mitchell was about to pull the lever on his reloading press when he heard his wife, Marjorie, call from the front of the house, "Pat's here!" Archie was in what the family had come to call the gunroom. It was a room off the Mitchell's portion of the two-story house jointly owned by Archie and Marjorie Mitchell and the Isslers, Dieter and Greta. Dieter Issler was Archie's senior SoTF Deputy Marshal. He and Archie, the SoTF Marshal, had come to Suhl the previous spring when they were assigned to the SoTF First District Court.
The house was divided by floors. The Mitchells had the ground floor, less the large room in the front of the house that was the storefront for Greta Issler's bakery. The Isslers had the upper floor.
The door of the gunroom was thick, heavy, and iron-strapped for security. The walls had additional thick, hardwood paneling and iron bars covered the room's two windows. It was not as secure as an up-time safe, but it was the best strongroom that Archie could make until his up-time safe could be hauled from their house in Grantville. Inside the room was a wooden reloading table that faced one window. On that table, securely mounted, was a single-stage reloading press. Along one wall was a rack of rifles and shotguns.
Archie's up-time oak desk, swivel chair and two wooden captain's chairs faced the other window. The two chairs were newly made. He had commissioned them from a local cabinetmaker who used photos from one of Archie's True Tales of the West magazine as a guide.
Pat Johnson walked into the gunroom and stopped when he noticed what Archie had in his hand. "Whatcha doin', Archie?"
Archie turned to face Pat in the doorway, "Decapping brass, Pat. Take a seat and tell me what's up."
Pat walked into the room, pulled one of the chairs from Archie's desk, and slid it around to face Archie at the reloading table. "Got a delivery for you, this just came in," he said, giving Archie the box in his hand. It was addresseded to U. S. Waffenfabrik, Pat Johnson's gun manufacturing company. "It was delivered to the shop. One thousand large pistol primers from the Hart boys."
Archie looked at the box in his hand. It was a plain wooden box, flimsily made with LP written by hand on the top. "LP…large pistol? Did they size 'em right, this time?" The last box of primers from the Hart Brothers was supposed to have been sized for Large Pistol, the primer size used for .45ACP cartridge. They weren't. When Archie tried to seat the primers into some brass, they wouldn't fit. They were too large and had detonated. The detonation hadn't damaged Archie's reloading press, but it did destroy the cartridge brass in the press. He had quit trying to find one that was the correct size after a half-dozen failures. Forty-five caliber brass was too valuable to be wasted trying to seat primers that were oversized.
"Well, so they say. I guess you'll find out when you try to seat them. I'd use my old brass first."
"You better believe it," Archie agreed.
Archie pulled the lever of the reloading press, finishing the act he had started when Pat arrived. The fired shell casing slid upwards and disappeared into the reloading press. Pat saw something shiny fall out of the bottom of the press and drop into a wooden box at Archie's feet. Archie returned the lever to its usual upright position and the brass slid out of the decapping die. Archie took the decapped cartridge brass and dropped it into another larger box on the floor.
"Uh, what are you going to do with your spent primers?" Pat asked.
"Haven't decided yet." Archie glanced at the box at his feet. It was filled inches deep with spent primers. "They are metal. Should be worth something, I suppose," he mused.
"Can I have some?" Pat asked. An idea was forming in his mind. Suppose . . .
"Well . . . okay. Why?"
"I just had an idea . . . well, it might be an idea," Pat explained. "I'd like to have some used up-time caps to play with. See if my idea is something I'd like to try."
Archie waited for Pat to expand on his statement. When he didn't give one, Archie reached down, picked up the box with the spent primers littering the bottom and extended it to Pat. "Here, take all you need." Pat reached into the box, took a handful of the spent primers and put them into his pocket.
Archie looked at the box of Hart Brothers primers and then back to Pat, "I hate using the Hart boys' primers. They use fulminate of mercury and that makes the brass crack and split after a few reloads. It cuts their reloading life in half, if not more." Archie muttered, ". . . wish I had a new supply."
"What was that, Archie?" Pat had been thinking about the spent primers in his hand. He hadn't heard Archie's muttering clearly.
"I said I wish I had a new supply of cartridge brass. I think I'm going to run out of .45 Long Colt brass in a year or so, and then what? Back to cap 'n ball?" He looked at the box of primers and shook his head, "I hope not."
Archie's wish gave Pat another idea. He needed to think on it for a while, do some research. When the time was right, he'd need to talk to Gary Reardon, maybe Ruben Blumroder. There could be opportunities here. He stood and said, "Well, see you later, Archie. Let me know how those primers work."
"Will do, Pat," Archie said. He stood and walked with Pat to the front door. Archie watched Pat walk down the street for a moment, then closed the door and returned to the gunroom to decap more fired brass.
Pat's walk home took him past the Boar's Head Inn. His mind was still working on an idea that had formed when he visited Archie Mitchell. Pat Johnson was in the business of making firearms. He, like a number of gunsmiths in Suhl, was introducing up-time technology to the seventeenth century. The design of the SRG rifle in use by the USE army utilized two technologies, rifling and the flintlock ignition system. Neither technology was new. Both existed before the Ring of Fire. However, the arrival of Grantville and up-time firearms had accelerated the development and use of rifling and flintlocks earlier than they had in the old timeline.
The thought was still in his mind when he turned a corner and entered the street where the Boar's Head Inn was located. The inn had become the favorite watering hole for Suhl's up-timers when it was the temporary residence of Marshal Archie Mitchell and Deputy Dieter Issler the previous spring. Although Archie and Dieter had moved out when they found permanent housing, the inn had become the place favored by the city's up-timers. It had also become a cop bar, having become the chosen place to meet, eat, and drink by the city's watch, the militia, and members of the Mounted Constabulary stationed in Suhl.
Pat shifted direction and entered the Boar's Head to discover his favorite table, in a corner next to the fireplace, empty. He sat, with his back against the wall, ordered a stein of beer, and took a spent primer from his pocket.
He rolled the primer in his fingers, not really seeing it; his mind was elsewhere. The idea that had started during his visit with Archie Mitchell was percolating. He looked closely at the primer. On one side of the primer cup was the face of the primer with the center dented by the impact of a firing pin. On the other side, the primer was an open cup with . . . Pat took his lock-blade knife from his pocket, flicked it open, and used the tip to pry a three-legged, star-shaped piece of copper out of the cup—the primer's anvil. When a firing pin hit the smooth face of the primer, that face was pushed into the primer, crushing the primer compound against the anvil and igniting the compound. The shape of the anvil directed the burning primer compound into the powder of the cartridge. It was a simple concept, a simple design, but difficult to make.
"May we join you, Herr Johnson?"
Pat looked up to see Wachtmeister Osker Geyer and Mounted Constabulary Captain Eric Gruber standing before him. The two habitually had a beer here in the Boar's Head after making their joint walk around Suhl in the late afternoon. Their frequent walks were a public display of cooperation between the city watch and the Mounted Constabulary. On occasion, they would have a third party, Marshal Archie Mitchell or Deputy Marshal Dieter Issler, with them. "Certainly. Take a seat," Pat replied.
"What have you there? You were studying it so much that you never saw us come in." Gruber sat down next to Pat in the vacant chair that allowed him to watch the common room and its entrance.
"It's a spent cartridge primer. Archie Mitchell gave me some." He reached into his pocket, retrieved another spent primer, and gave it to Gruber. "Here, take a look."
Gruber took the primer and rolled it in his fingers just as Pat had done minutes earlier. He examined it more closely and said, "I've never seen one that wasn't in a cartridge. So little for what it does. Here, Osker, take a look."
He passed the primer to Geyer, who made the same examination. Then he looked at the disassembled primer on the table before Pat.
They were interrupted by the arrival of the barmaid with Pat's stein of beer. Gruber and Geyer gave their orders and returned to their examination of the spent primers.
Pat took a swallow from his stein while Gruber asked, "What makes the primer work?"
Pat completed his swallow and replied, "The most important part is the primer compound. It's a small piece of explosive that ignites when it is crushed in the primer cup by the firing pin. The Hart brothers use fulminate of mercury. Fulminate of mercury is extremely dangerous. The Hart brothers have already had one explosion in their factory that I know of. Their finished primers have to be carefully handled, too. I've heard tales of their primers exploding in people's hands."
Gruber nodded. He knew that rumor was true. A man he knew, who was reloading some up-time cartridges, had a hole burned into his hand when a Hart primer ignited while he was handling it. It wasn't a disabling injury, but still . . .
"Looking at this, it seems so simple," Geyer observed. "Every time I see a piece of up-time technology, I think to myself, 'Why didn't I think of that?'"
"Me, too," Gruber agreed.
"I'm with you," Pat said. "I lived with up-time technology. I didn't think about it. I had no idea how the technology worked. I just used it."
The barmaid returned with two more steins of beer for Gruber and Geyer. Pat was still nursing his first. He didn't drink a lot.
"Much of your technology is simple, once you understand the principles," Geyer said. "Before the Ring of Fire, I was content to just make iron—cast iron, some better wrought iron. I made ingots and shipped them out. Iron was what factors wanted and I supplied them. Since the RoF, factors now want steel. I have been corresponding with some of my . . . uh . . . competitors about how they make steel. They don't see me as a competitor, yet, so they've been very informative. I know now what mistakes not to make. I'd rather learn from their mistakes than from ones I make through ignorance. I've started making steel but I can't meet all the demand."
"How much different is making steel and making brass?" Pat asked.
Geyer paused, took a deep swallow from his stein, "In concept, not very much. Both are alloys, a mixture of two or more ingredients. For steel, it's iron and carbon; for brass, it's copper and zinc. The real difference is the temperature and how you manage extracting the metals from the ores. You need higher temperatures for iron and steel."
Pat nodded, absently. His idea was still percolating. He remembered Gary Reardon, the owner of Suhl's Bolt and Nut Company, saying that he needed to make more milling machines. He had started with one from Ollie Reardon and had made several more. But his stock of high-grade carbon steel was dwindling. Geyer's mention of making steel entered the mixture of thoughts in Pat's mind. He could almost see how Geyer's comments merged with his idea. He needed to talk with Gary.
More customers were entering the inn, and the noise level was increasing. The afternoon was over, and the shadows were stretching along the streets. Time to go home, Pat decided. Pat changed the subject, and the three finished the last of their beer. They had talked through the last of the afternoon, and evening was approaching. The three left the inn, Gruber and Geyer turning left toward the center of town and Pat turned right.
I'll sleep on this and talk with Gary tomorrow, Pat thought.
Pat Johnson didn't meet with Gary Reardon the next day as planned; the unexpected intervened. Pat's company, U. S. Waffenfabrik, received a new order for twenty rifles. That new order was followed by a letter from Grantville. The letter said Anse Hatfield had been severely wounded during the Battle of Ahrensbök and was now recuperating in Grantville. Hatfield was a friend and investor in Pat's company. He had been a part-time employee until he had been recalled into the army the previous year. Hatfield's TacRail unit should have been in a support position. Somehow, Pat was told, Hatfield became directly involved in the battle and was wounded. His wounds weren't life-threatening but, apparently, he was suffering from PTSD—Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Anse Hatfield was a friend—a good friend, and his condition worried Pat. He quickly wrote a letter to Hatfield assuring him that his job was waiting whenever he returned to Suhl.
One interruption led to another. July slipped into August. Weeks passed before Pat finally had an opportunity to sit down with Gary Reardon and discuss his idea.
Pat still hadn't fleshed it all out; everything was still a bit nebulous. Pat was a visionary. He was good doing things, imagining things, and working in his shop and with his hands. What he wasn't, however, was a planner. Planning was one of Gary Reardon's skills. Pat's method of operation was straightforward, see the hill, take the hill, as Archie Mitchell would say. Gary, given the same situation, would see another approach, usually a better one, plan it out in excruciating detail and get it done. Pat needed Gary. Gary had the drive, once he understood the end game, to get there quicker, and with less effort, than could Pat. Pat was the idea man. Gary was the man who could take the idea and make it a reality.
". . . that's the idea, Gary. What do you think?" The two met in Pat's office in the U. S. Waffenfabrik factory. He and Gary had been discussing Pat's idea. Gary had added to the vision with some of his own ideas. He wanted tungsten carbide to make harder, stronger dies and tools. With the added tungsten carbide, they saw a need for better steel, better than was currently available. Scope creep had set in.
The end-game vision was now much more clear. How to get to that end-game still needed more thought. The two of them listed five things that had to be made and assembled to make the final product. Determining those five things was the easy part. How to make them was the real task ahead of them. Pat got up, went to his office door and asked someone to go to the inn down the street and bring back two steins of beer. Pat reached into his pocket and gave the other person some coins. ". . . and tell them to fill the steins with the cool beer in the cellar."
He returned to his desk. "I was getting thirsty, and I expect you were, too."
Gary laughed. "I can count on you knowing your priorities, Pat."
Pat hung his head for a moment. It was true. His momentary attack of ADHD had been appeased.
Gary stood and started to pace. He habitually paced when he was wrestling with a problem. He talked while he walked. He was clarifying his vision of the end game. Now the process was to work backward from the vision, detailing every item needed to make that vision a reality. "Well, we can get all the raw materials, I think. We have copper here in Suhl. We can get zinc to make brass from the Clausthal-Zellerfeld mines up in the Harz Mountains. Maybe tungsten, too. What we don't have are the tools to make the tooling and the dies . . . and the power to operate the machines. We need better steel, good hard carbon and tungsten carbide steel." He continued to build his list, mentally organizing them—what had to be done first, what was needed and when. He stopped before Pat's office window. The messenger Pat had sent for the beer was approaching with a large stein in each hand. They needed one more partner, another partner for the enterprise that would be built on Pat's initial idea.
"I think Osker Geyer would be interested." Pat said. "I know he wants to start making carbon steel instead of cast and wrought iron. I know he's experimenting with crude carbon steel, he told me so. And, he mentioned wanting a powered hammer forge and stamping mill, too."
Gary stopped pacing for a moment and considered Pat's statement. It mirrored his own thoughts. "Could be, Pat. If Osker Geyer wants to upgrade his iron foundry to a steel mill, I don't see why we can't help him—in exchange for him helping us." Gary returned to his chair in front of Pat's desk. "We'll need power for our factory, too, if we want to get into commercial production—more output than can be made by hand."
Pat agreed. "How about Schmidt steam engines? Maybe we can get a price-break if we make a volume order—combine our order with one from Geyer?"
"It's worth asking, isn't it?" Gary said.
"Let's go visit Geyer and see what the thinks . . . after we finish our beer."
"Good idea," Gary agreed as Pat's messenger appeared at the door with two steins. It was a hot day and, Gary thought, a nice cool beer would be a good interlude before bracing Geyer in his lair.
Instead of finding Osker Geyer in his foundry on the outskirts of Suhl, Pat and Gary found him sitting on a stool behind a tall desk in the watch office writing in a ledger. Geyer was getting tired of the city council stalling to fill his temporary position with a permanent appointment. I have work to do at my foundry. If the city council doesn't act soon, I'll give them an ultimatum. I'll give them a week and if nothing is done, I'll resign. It's too much to ask...