After Karl left Dana at the Stauers’, and gave Melodie money to buy the toiletries Mary requested, he went back to the shelter. The men were deciding where to go for supper. They all decided to go to a sub shop and bring the subs back to their room.
As Shorty said, “Money is getting tight and none of us have found a job.”
When they were all back in the room eating, Karl spoke up,
“Have any of you thought of working for Wesson Farm?”
“Tell us more about it.”
“Mr. Cartright wants me to go up to Victoria this week, if I can get into it. He wants me to report on what repairs need to be done to the roads to have access to the Farm with big trucks. Then he wants us to repair the roads well enough for big trucks to go back and forth to the Farm. After the roads are repaired he wants an inventory of what farm equipment is useable and what equipment can be repaired. After that he wants the fields surveyed to know which ones still have crops growing, and what fields will have to be graded and bulldozed before they can be ploughed.
“It is a big job, but I think the way we worked together in Blytheville shows that we could handle the job.”
“When would we start?”
“Probably next week.”
“Who would we see?”
“Me. He gave me authority to hire who I needed.”
“How much will it pay?”
“Probably $25/hour. I will ask for $30/hour, but I might have to come down to $25.”
Jack Raymond spoke, “I am all for it. If the job could start by next week, I am going to turn up the heat and see if the Red Cross has any information on my wife and children. Karl found his family after someone turned up the heat. You know what they say about the squeaky wheel is the one that gets the grease.”
“So I can count on all of you?”
There was a chorus of affirmative responses.
Karl called the Stauers’ home. He asked to speak to Melodie.
“I realized that it was presumptuous of me to ask you to buy those items for Mary.”
“Not at all. It takes another woman to perform that sort of errand. Besides, with Dana here helping with the children, it is no bother to slip out and run an errand.”
“What time could I pick up the items in the morning?”
“I should be back by 10 a.m. I can get everything she needs at Walgreen’s.”
“Could I speak with your father-in-law?”
“Mr. Stauer, I want to go up to Marked Tree tomorrow and then see how far I can go toward Victoria.”
“I will have to rent a four wheel drive vehicle and I will have to have money for a motel and meals.”
“Find out where you can rent a four wheel drive vehicle and how much it will cost. When you come over here to pick up the items Melodie is getting for your wife, have the amount and the name of the dealer. Clifford will write two checks – one for you and one for the dealer. I’ll be anxiously awaiting your report.”
The next day Karl found a 2010 Ford F-250 diesel four wheel drive truck. The dealer agreed to lease it Wesson Farm for $1500/month. Karl went back to the Stauers’. Clifford agreed that a lease was best because they would be using it until next spring. He gave Karl a check for the dealer and a check for $1000 for his personal expenses.
Karl asked for their driver to accompany him so that he could return the Corolla he had rented.
Karl dropped off the bag of toiletries for Mary and was on the road by noon headed for Marked Tree. In Marked Tree he found a room in a modest motel. He walked around town looking for places that farmers and truck drivers might be found. He wanted to find out about the roads. They told him that the road to Lepanto was broken up in some places but was passable. No one had any information about the roads beyond Lepanto.
On Wednesday morning he drove to Lepanto. He found out that a couple miles north of Lepanto there is a long curve in the road. In the curve there was a “dune” about the height of a two or three story building. It came up out of the field. There was no way of knowing what the road was like underneath it. That was AR 140.
Going back to Lepanto, he tried going north on AR 135. Not far from town there was a bridge and the bridge had been torn apart by the quake. Looking across the bridge the road seemed to be in pretty good shape.
Tomorrow he would go north on US 63 to AR 69, go north on it to Bowman, from there go east to Black Oak where he could get on AR 135 and go south on it. If AR 135 was passable going south back to the bridge, it would just be a matter of putting in a temporary bridge like the Army Engineers put down.
While he was on the north side of the river, he would find out if the road from AR 135 to Victoria was passable. That was going to be a lot of driving. He decided to fill up his tank with diesel fuel, buy a sleeping bag and some food like hikers carry, plus several gallon jugs of water.
On Thursday Karl was able to get back to the north side of the ruined bridge on AR 135 by going up US 63, AR 69 and then east to Black Oak and coming south on AR 135. By then it was afternoon. He knew that if he simply retraced his route that it would be late at night by the time he returned to Marked Tree. He decided to drive north on AR 135 to the road which leads to Victoria.
He was able to go past the road to Whistleville and thought that he was going to make it to Victoria. Suddenly he came to a deep chasm in the road. He got out of the truck and looked down into the chasm. It was so deep that he couldn’t see the bottom. They could probably put one of those bridges like the Army uses across that chasm, but it was really scary to look at it.
By now it was dark. He had to back up a long way before he came to the dirt road leading to Whistlevile. He pulled up beside the cotton gin, parked the truck, took his flashlight and went looking for his father-in-law’s A frame cottage. He found it and it was open. He saw two oil lamps and lit them. He walked back to the truck and got his sleeping bag, food, and water. It wasn’t cold enough for a fire. He settled in for the night.
To think that just weeks ago Dana had found shelter here from the quake, had spent several nights here with her grandfather shortly before he died. How did she get across that chasm when she was running away from Victoria? How did men get a pickup truck across that chasm on their way to Whistleville to pick up Dana and her grandfather and how did they get across it on their way back to Victoria?
Friday, Karl arose early, put his things in the truck, drank some lukewarm, day old coffee from his thermos, and ate a couple toaster pastry bars. He remembered the stuffed animals Dana mentioned and went back into the house for them.
Just as he was about to step up into the truck, the ground started bucking and heaving like an untamed horse trying to throw its rider. The A frame cottage came down in dust and splintering wood. The cotton gin collapsed with the rattle of tin and the grinding of steel against steel. When the quake subsided, Karl drove out to the road AR 158 which he had come in on. Looking to the west, which is the direction of his return, a huge section of the road had crumbled into the field on the south side.
He knew that east on AR 158 he would come to that huge chasm about where the National Ditch #6 crossed it. He decided to drive down that way. When he reached the chasm, it seemed to have come together. It could still be seen in both directions, but where it crossed the road it was only a foot wide. Karl knew that it could crumble away and become much wider if he crossed it in a vehicle, but he decided to try it anyway. He put the truck in four wheel drive and drove across it quickly. The rear wheels started to drop down, but with the truck’s momentum and the front wheels pulling, he made it across.
Karl realized that he would now have to go south on AR 181 and then west on AR 140 which would bring him to that big pile of dirt. He decided to go into Victoria before going south on AR 181.
Mary wanted the picture albums. He drove to the trailer. It had been rolled over on its side. The roof looked like a giant can opener had cut it out and rolled it back. Karl went to their bedroom. Everything was strewn around on the wall which was now the floor. He stooped and crawled to the dresser but he couldn’t move it or reach the drawers. Going back to the truck he got a nylon rope. Forming it into a lasso, he fitted it around the dresser. Then he tied the rope onto the ball hitch of the truck. He slowly moved the truck forward. The rope got so tight that he was afraid it would break. Suddenly the dresser came flying out of the trailer and landed in a mound of splintered wood and clothing. Karl left the clothing and retrieved the picture albums. Then he drove away.
Going down AR 181 and then on AR 140. National Ditch #6 crosses AR 140 east of Atheistan, but Karl saw no evidence of the chasm. Approaching Lepanto he kept watching for the twenty feet high “dune”. It was still there but the bulk of the dirt had shifted onto a field east of the road. The “dune” was now only five feet high. Karl knew that it would be loose dirt and that he could get stuck. If he did, he could walk the last couple miles to Lepanto. He put the truck in four wheel drive and got a running start. Going up the dune, the truck went slower and slower. Near the top it almost stopped, but it reached the top, tipped onto the downward slope and then the task was to keep control of the steering.
In Marked Tree he picked up his belongings and checked out of the motel. He drove straight to Little Rock and arrived at the shelter about 6pm. The men were about to go out to eat. They had decided to go to Jimmy John’s which claimed to have the best sandwiches in town. They all jumped into the crew cab truck and Karl drove them there.
They had all been trying to locate their families. Jack Raymond’s wife and two children were in a shelter. He wanted to take them with him to Marked Tree. Shorty’s wife was in a hospital in Fayetteville. He was going up there tomorrow to see her. One of the men was called “Snuffy Smith”. The Red Cross had no information on his wife so far.
Harry Davenport called his in-laws who lived in St. Louis, Missouri. His wife and three children somehow got away from Gosnell in their car. His wife had driven to her parents and didn’t know if he was living or dead. She didn’t know who to ask to find out. He told her that he had a job starting Monday. As soon as he had the money, he would fly up or somehow get up there to see her and the kids.
Slim Sam Walters was told by the Red Cross that they had no information on his wife so far.
After they ate, Karl took them back to the shelter and then went to the Stauers’. He told Dana that he would pick her up at 1pm to go see her mother. Then he asked to speak to Mr. Paul Stauer and Clifford.
He told them about what he had found – the dune on AR 140, the bridge that is out on AR 135, the section of AR 158 that collapsed. He told them about the chasm along National Ditch #6 which was open and then closed after a second quake.
“Our men can do the other road repairs, but we would need the military to come in and put down one of their temporary bridges on AR 135 and probably over the chasm. We would need permission from the State to make temporary repairs to their roads.
“If you want to go ahead with your plans to reopen Wesson Farm, you will need government cooperation and it will cost a lot of money. I have asked the five men who worked with me in Blytheville. They want $35/hour and full health insurance – no copay – because the hazard of working with the earth while it is still unstable.
“This near to the event is the best time to get government aid and approval for rebuilding. On the other hand, there is something to be said for waiting several years until the earth has quieted down below.”
The elder Mr. Cartright said, “People who are cautious never make any money. I don’t think that we are being reckless. We have 8,200 acres that are losing money as long as they are idle. Clifford, do you feel up to going up there with him on Monday.”
“I’ll be ready, sir.”
“Take the checkbook with you and I will be busy calling the Governor and some legislators – state and federal.”