Botts and the Queen of the North: Laugh That Off
In The Queen of the North, the fourth volume in the Alexander Botts and the Earthworm Tractor series, the saga continues for our hero who promises a demonstration of a new, high-speed tractor that is not yet in existence. Unwilling to backpedal on a promise, he outfits a sturdy Earthworm tractor with an aviation motor and creates a beast equipped to conquer Canada’s deep snow and steep mountains. In this excerpt, Botts competes with another tractor salesman to rush desperately needed materials to a mine. Start your Botts adventure with Botts Begins or purchase volumes 1-4 as a set!
DEAR HENDERSON: This is to advise you that I have been forced to abandon for the moment my sales campaign in the far north, and go into hiding here in Winnipeg—a fugitive from the police. But the situation is far from hopeless, as you will see when I explain exactly what has occurred.
When I got off the train at Muskeg Siding last Friday afternoon, the tractor-transport manager for the gold mine welcomed me with a cordiality which would have been completely satisfying except for the fact that he extended his cordiality in equal degree to the Behemoth man.
“It’s lucky for me,” said the transport manager, “that you guys are here with your machines. The boss over at the mine has been calling me up every few hours—we have our own private radio-telephone system—and asking about a long-overdue shipment of sodium cyanide.”
“What’s that for?” I asked.
“They use it in what is called the cyanide process for extracting the gold from the ore. Since the war started, this stuff, for some reason or other, has been hard to get. And the supply at the mine is so low that they say they will have to shut down the whole mill in a few days unless they get more. Fortunately, however, a shipment consisting of forty two-hundred-pound drums of cyanide has just come in on this train.”
The Behemoth man and I both spoke up with identical words, “And you want it rushed over to the mine?”
“Exactly,” said the transport manager. “I have a string of sleighs already hooked up and partly loaded with other stuff. I’ll start transferring the cyanide to one of these sleighs. And you can both get busy unloading your machines. The first one ready can hitch onto the load and start for the mine.”
The Behemoth man and I leaped into action. The flatcars bearing our tractors were both beside an unloading platform, so all we had to do was knock loose the blocks around the machines, fill up with fuel and drive off. Owing to my natural quickness and mechanical skill, I would have won out with the greatest ease except that my tractor would not start. And, as I am not very familiar with aviation motors, it took me over half an hour to locate the trouble—the fuel line had been clogged up with some sticky substance resembling chewed-up chewing gum.
While I was cleaning it out, the conductor of the train came by, and hearing my cursing and swearing he volunteered the information that he had seen the Behemoth man, at one of our previous stops, working industriously on this very fuel line.
Unfortunately, the news of this dastardly act came a little late. By the time I had finally got started and driven down into the yard, the Behemoth man had already hitched onto the load. There were four sleighs up front loaded with heavy mine timbers; the fifth sleigh carried the forty drums of cyanide; and on the rear was a caboose—loaded, as I discovered later, with a hundred bushels of potatoes and a lot of canned goods.
I stopped my machine, jumped out, and demanded that the transport manager let me take the load. I explained how the Behemoth man had done me dirt. But I had no proof, so the transport manager merely stated that he would give me another load “in a day or two”—which meant I would probably reach the mine after Mr. McGregor-Craig had left.
Suddenly I noticed, on the front of the caboose, something that looked familiar. “Hey!” I yelled, placing my hand on it, “that Behemoth man can’t use this; it’s one of my special spring hitches.”
“I know it,” said the transport manager. “You sent us the hitches. I put them on all these sleighs. And they’re going to stay there. We’re in too much of a hurry to change them now.” He walked forward and addressed the Behemoth man, who was seated in the cab of his tractor.
“All you have to do,” he said, “is drive straight ahead and follow the trail. It’s had the snow plowed off and it’s well marked, so you can’t miss it. I will telephone the mine that you are on the way, so they will be expecting you. All right, let her go!”
The Behemoth started with a roar, and swept down the trail, followed by the first five sleighs. The caboose, however, stayed right where it was—a circumstance which came as a bit of a surprise to everyone present except myself.
Note: As I have just mentioned how I had laid my hand on the special easy-release spring hitch at the front of the caboose, I need not explain my own lack of surprise. “There is a limit,” as Professor Mirrielees so aptly puts it, “to the profitable elaboration of the obvious.”
At once there was a shout, “Stop! Stop!” But the Behemoth man did not hear; he kept right on, ignorant of his loss.
“Come on!” I yelled to the transport manager. “We’ll drive after him.”
We both leaped into the cab of the Queen of the North. A couple of minutes of fast driving sufficed to overhaul and flag down the Behemoth. After explaining the situation I offered to drive back and bring up the lost caboose. Just at this moment, however, my motor once more seemed to go dead on me. So the Behemoth man, accompanied by the transport manager, unhooked and drove back with his own machine—whereupon my motor seemed to come to life again. At once, I eased the Queen of the North over and hooked onto the front of the string of sleighs. And as soon as I saw that the caboose had been attached to the rear, I opened the throttle wide and went roaring away down the trail so fast that nobody, either on foot or in a mere twelve-mile-per-hour Behemoth, had the faintest chance of catching me.
Note: I will not attempt to explain why my motor so opportunely stalled and then came to life. Here again, there are limits to the profitable elab. of the obv.
As I speeded along the trail at about eighteen miles per hour, there was a tremendous howling and clanking from the overloaded and superspeeded transmission and track assemblies. But I kept right on, carrying the desperately needed cyanide through the snowy, sparsely wooded wilderness toward St. Peter’s Lake with all the enthusiasm of Balto carrying the serum to Nome.
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