Heading’ West, Hardly No Work At All
Arlo Slug stuffed the front of his shirt back into his trousers, picked up his lunch bucket and whistled a tune as he walked out the front door of the Cleveland Ohio Iron Works. He’d been thinking about it for a long time and today was the day to tell Isabelle his plan for the rest of their lives.
“Oregon, Oregon,” Arlo shouted as he opened the front door of there, much in need of repair, house on E street. “Let’s go to Oregon, away from the city, and the factory Arlo said. Isabelle, somewhat surprised at Arlo's enthusiasm over something that they had never really talked about, smiled and said “and just what will we do when we get to Oregon and how will we get there.” “Don’t worry, don’t worry,” Arlo answered, “I’ve got it all worked out.” “It’ll be easy, hardly no work at all. We just set up there on the wagon seat; soak up the sun shine and in hardly no time we’ll be in Oregon, hardly no work at all.”
Seven weeks later it was spring and Arlo and Isabelle, well Arlo anyway, were ready to carry out Arlo's great plan. They tossed the last of their belongings on a considerable pile of last minute,” we can’t get along without this,” climbed up on the weathered and cracked wooden seat and headed west. Lazy and Bones there two ancient mules reluctantly pulled the overloaded squeaking and creaking wagon to a roll. “Yes sir-ee, Arlo shouted we’re headin' west, Oregon here come the Slugs”. Cleveland was not going to get him down, not any more, no sir, no more shoveling coal in the Iron mill for Arlo Slug, Arlo’s mind raced and filled with happy thoughts of his soon to be new life.
The wagon was a patchwork of tacks, nails, wire, rope and twin, a relic that Arlo loved and Isabelle hated. Much to the embarrassment of Isabelle Arlo had painted, headin' to Oregon, in bright green on the wagons back board. Arlo daydreamed of the west as he held the reigns and let the arthritic mules set their own pace. A loud, CRACK, snapped his mind back to the present. “Two blocks from home, two blocks,” Arlo muttered to himself as he climbed from the wagon seat to the ground and surveyed the damage. The rear wheel on the right side of the wagon had snapped one of its wooden spokes, and now looked rather oval than round. After a nearly two-hour delay and two new wheels, one lashed to the back of the wagon, just in case, and Arlo and Isabelle were off, again. Isabelle had fought with Arlo about this trip for weeks, finally given up a month ago accepting the fact that they were going to Oregon. Now she reached through the knitting on her lap, patted Arlo on the knee and smiled as they rolled westward on a bright April morning. “Maybe this won’t be too bad,” she thought. But she was wrong!
Nearly ten weeks later they reached the Platte and Nebraska territory. So far they had replaced all four-wagon wheels, both wagon sides and the seat. Lazy and Bones, true to their names, and age, gave out the second week and were traded for two oxen. The Slugs were still going it on their own, but hoped that a wagon train would come along soon, pick them up and make them part of one of the many caravans going west each year.
Arlo went hunting often, usually coming home empty handed to cold beans and biscuits, but then he was not one to complain. Arlo’s ability as a hunter had changed some as he went out day after day. His first hunt had been a complete disaster. Arlo had shot at a Buffalo calf from fifty feet, but his gun was not loaded causing him to shout a profanity so loud that the herd startled and almost stampeded over him. Three days later Arlo tripped and shot the tip of his new left boot completely off, he was none the worse for wear, but he was now back in his old work boots telling Isabelle “I like the feel of these better anyway, more natural.”
Nebraska had been boring and flat but the grass was tall and the Slugs made good time, still all by themselves. Arlo hadfashioned new front and back boards for thewagon from cottonwood he picked up and splitnear the grand island of the Platte. Arlo also replaced the front axel with the new one he bought,”just in case,” in Saint Louis. But now Fort Laramie was nearly close enough to smell the bakery fires burning. Arlo was excited and hollered at Isabelle “look yonder see them mountains, them’s the Rockies”. Isabelle was more tired than excited, but she was excited about reaching some semblance of society and maybe, just maybe: a warm bath, fresh vegetables and fruits, a new dress, and if Arlo wasn’t looking a nice glass of wine. Arlo let Isabelle off at the fort store and took the wagon to the carpenters shop to have the wagon bed replaced and then headed to the harness makers to get a complete set of new harnesses to replace the, fixed too many times ones, he was now using.
Fort Laramie was not what the Slugs expected, it was not exactly downtown Cleveland on Saturday night. They were able to pick up necessities, but that was about all. Isabelle found her hot bath, but no wine, she settled for a shot of whiskey from a jug Arlo bought, for medicinal purposes; actually she took four or five shots, but thought. “Who’s counting?” The next morning Arlo tossed the nearly empty jug through the open back of the wagon and helped his, very headache-suffering, wife into the back and onto a pile of blankets and headed west.
At long last the Slugs saw other wagons as they arrived at Independence Rock two weeks later. Arlo was very pleased to meet an experienced wagon maker with this caravan because he needed a new rear axel and new covering for the wagon as the winds had shredded the old patched one into tiny arms of waving white canvas. Isabelle and Arlo enjoyed the company, and life on the trail with nineteen wagons and fifty-nine new friends. Two weeks and two days later distant smoke curling from chimneys and campfires told everyone that the train would camp this night at Fort Bridger. Arlo helped Isabelle down in front of the general store and rolled the wagon on over to the Smithies shop so the Blacksmith could replace the springs under the seat and build a new wheel brake for the wagon. With the wagon fixed and the oxen grazing the Slugs sat down near the evening’s huge campfire, feasting on real beef, no more wild game, along with potatoes, roasted onions and apple pie. After weeks of mostly jerky, bacon, beans and biscuits it was a feast for a king.
A puzzled look came over Isabelle’s face as she looked around at everyone suddenly whispering or silently jabbing each other and pointing at the old man taking a seat near the fire. He looked old but his dark penetrating eyes made him look menacing despite his age. And there seemed to be certain spryness about him as he moved and sat that belied his age. If the meal had been fit for a king, the king had just arrived.
Jim Bridger the living legend sat down stuffing the last of a piece of apple pie in his mouth, chewed a few times swallowed, wiped the back of his hand across his mouth, cleared his throat and in a much to loud voice asked, “how are the all of you this fine day.” Everyone present mumbled good or hi or fine and returned to listening hoping old Gabe would treat them to one of his famous tales. Not to disappoint any of them Bridger rambled on for three quarters of an hour about the mountains and the good times in the old days throwing in dozens of quotes from the Bible and Shakespeare as the travelers sat fixed on every word. The wagon travelers, most on the only real adventure of their lives hung on every word, and in their minds pictured every detail.
“There I was with my fifty caliber Hawken, me one ball and that ol’ gun ready to go ta work if need be. Problem was one shot and two Mountain Lions. And them critters was some meat hungered, ya know, and about to jump me.” Bridger waved his arms around like a broken windmill and alternately crossed and uncrossed his legs and stood-up and sat down as he spellbound the people with his tail. “Then I sees this big ol’ rock right tween them, I quick fired at that rock split the ball in half and ushered both them Lions right to the pearly gates.” No one was sure what that meant but Arlo guessed that Bridger had killed those lions and they went off to heaven or something like that.
Breakfast fires burned bright, it was four-thirty A.M., and two days rest had made the once weary travelers restless and ready to, once again, head west.
But not everyone was ready; Arlo and Isabelle were tired and no longer excited about Oregon. They quickly said their good buys, telling everyone that they” had seen the Elephant and were turning back.” Arlo harnessed the Oxen and turned them east into the rising sun and slowly walked back to the life he once couldn’t get away from fast enough.
Arlo Slug tucked the front of his shirt back under his belt, picked up his lunch bucket and whistled as he walked out the front door of the ‘Cleveland Iron Works’. He had an idea and it was a good one, he couldn’t wait to tell Isabelle about his new plan. “Australia”, Arlo bellowed as he walked in the front door, “let’s go to Australia and hunt gold and diamonds.” “By ship, it’ll be easy, hardly no work at all, just sits in the sun and pretty soon we’re there.” Isabelle smiled as she walked to the kitchen took out her only wine glass, popped the cork on a nice bottle of red wine and started to poor. She handed the glass to Arlo put the bottleneck in her mouth, drank till she couldn’t breathe looked at Arlo, smiled and said, “NO.”