Monday, June 28, 2021

The Lumberman's Library...A First Edition Bookmobile


The Lumberman's Library

From the late 1800s to the middle of the next century, the Anaconda Copper Mining Company (ACM), headquartered in Butte, Montana was one of the largest mining companies in the world, and the ACM Lumber Department was the largest lumbering operation in Montana. They had around five hundred loggers working in the forests and an equal number of employees working in their mill in Bonner, east of Missoula.

The General Manager of the ACM Lumber Department from 1900 – 1926 was a man by the name of Kenneth Ross. One day in 1919, Ross was on an inspection visit of their headquarters logging camp in the Nine-Mile Valley west of Missoula, when he ran into an old acquaintance by the name of Ruth Worden, who was the Missoula County Librarian. She inquired whether the lumber company would like some books for the loggers to read in the logging camps. Ross thought that the proposition would be more trouble than it was worth, and was annoyed by the idea, but because he knew Miss Worden and didn’t want to offend her, he agreed that if the clerk at the logging camp wanted to take responsibility for the books, then it would be okay with him.

It wasn’t much longer after that that Miss Worden showed up at the mill in Bonner and asked if she could supply books for the sawmill workers. Again, Ross was annoyed by the idea but agreed to let some books be placed in the care of the company storekeeper.

The persistent Miss Worden wasn’t through with Ross yet. She showed up in Bonner not long after and informed him that the store was not a sufficient place to keep and distribute the books and that other arrangements would need to be made. More in an effort to be rid of the “meddlesome” librarian than out of any desire to provide a library for the sawmill workers, Ross told Miss Worden that he would take charge of the books himself; then he promptly rented a room in a local hotel and hired a young lady to act as the librarian for him. Washing his hands of the whole business, he walked away and didn’t give it another thought.

It wasn’t until the end of the year before Ross had to face the issue of the library again, but this time he had a drastic change of heart. It happened when he was handed two different reports, one from the Bonner library and another from the logging camp library. He discovered that at the Bonner Library, over 4,000 books had been read by the sawmill workers. The Logging camp library was enjoying comparable popularity. Ross had witnessed an improvement in the relationship of the workers with the company and believed that it was largely due to the education that his employees were getting from the library.

Inside the Lumberman's Library

Building on this success, in 1921 Ross commissioned the construction of a railroad car that would serve as a mobile library, capable of visiting the various logging camps and distributing books to the loggers. The special car was to be 14 feet wide and 40 feet long and contained a stove, electric lighting, a table with comfortable armchairs, a Victrola, separate sleeping quarters for the librarian, and over 1,400 books, newspapers, and magazines.            

Dubbed the “Lumberman’s Library,” this first edition bookmobile was painted gray and had a placard on the side that said “Missoula County Free Library.” Most of the books were donated, but a number of them were purchased by Miss Worden out of a fund of four-hundred dollars that the lumbermen and mill-workers donated themselves.

Librarian James Dwyer in 1926

By the 1940s, library visitors had declined to half their earlier numbers, due primarily to the popularity of radio to pass the time, as well as better roads and the availability of automobiles for travel. The Lumberman’s Library was taken out of service in the late 1950s. Today, you can see the restored Lumberman’s Library on the grounds of the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula.

The Library car at the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula

About the Author

Mike is an award-winning Western author currently living in a 600 square foot cabin in the mountains of Western Montana. He has been married to his redheaded sweetheart, Tami, since 1989. He is a Western Fictioneers Peacemaker Award Finalist three years in a row and his short stories have been published in numerous anthologies and are available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other online retailers as well as brick and mortar bookstores. His first Western novel, The Sons of Philo Gaines, was released in November of 2020. It is available everywhere books are sold. Mike is a member of Western Writers of America and Western Fictioneers. You can find him on Facebook at, or at his website

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Nik James- The Writers Behind the Name

In this interview, we meet a husband and wife team, and new Western Fictioneer members, who use the pen name Nik James. It is interesting to hear both their voices in the answers. I hope you enjoy their answers as much as I did. 

1. When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?

We’ve always been writers and readers. Nikoo used to write stories for her grade school friends. After high school, being very good at math and science, she went to engineering school. After all, that was where the jobs were. She tucked away her love of writing (in a safe spot) to pursue her immediate responsibilities. As a result, writing took a back seat to paying a mortgage and raising a family. She never lost her love of storytelling, though. 

From the Nik James Amazon author page
photo of the authors

Jim wrote ‘007’ skits for the kids in the neighborhood and poetry for himself. He later became an English major and at least tried to stay in touch with his desire to write. In fact, after finishing college he wrote a screenplay that almost sold to Robert Redford’s production company. But real life again interfered with dreams as he pursued a career in a submarine shipyard before going back to school and getting his Ph.D.

2. Did you chose the genre you write in or did it choose you?

We’ve written in a variety of genres (under a variety of pen names), and we have definitely chosen them…from medieval Scottish historicals to contemporary thrillers to Westerns. 

Twenty-five years ago, we began writing what Malcolm Gladwell refers to as ‘Northerns’—stories in which the fictional setting and story have a functioning system of justice in place. These were our early British-set historical novels. From there, we created a dozen ‘Easterns’—stories in which the system in place is corrupted by the ‘bad apple’ on the inside. These were the Jan Coffey contemporary thrillers. Continuing our literary journey, we traveled into the world of ‘Southerns’—stories in which the system itself is corrupt. This sojourn included our more recent historicals—violent, political, and also British-set. 

Now, we’ve followed our trail into the fictional world of ‘Westerns’, where there is no viable system of justice in place, no law and order…except that which the strong, independent hero can impose. It is a world where Caleb Marlowe, the protagonist of this new series, lives by a personal code that pits him against the ruthless greed and murderous ambition of landowners and railroad barons, as well as the powerful natural forces of the American frontier. We’re drawn to the chaos in which men and women must carve out a place for themselves. We feel quite at home in this literary frontier.  

3. What was the nudge that gave you faith that you could and wanted to be published?

After our younger son successfully came through heart surgery as an infant, we found ourselves reassessing our lives and our goals. We wanted careers that gave us more flexible hours to be with our family. That’s when we decided to try writing a short story together. That story, a prizewinner in a national writing contest, was the first step. The next step, naturally, was a full-length historical novel.  

4. Do your life experiences influence or hinder your writing? 

They definitely influence our writing. I (Nikoo) am an immigrant. The comfortable bubble of the life I grew up in was pierced when I left my country and came here as an eighteen-year-old. The bridge behind me collapsed. And straight ahead, there was a frontier with many challenges that I had to face. 

Aside from coming from a strong tradition of storytelling, I spent years working in cutting-edge areas of technology and business, and those experiences brought me a wealth of knowledge and discipline. As a woman in a predominantly male field, I crossed paths with some unforgettable characters…and character is really at the heart of our writing. Jim has worked in so many places, from submarine shipyards to Rodeo Drive clubs to academia. So he too has met a few characters along the way, and his love of research in historical periods has often influenced our choices of time periods and the situations in which we place our characters. 


5. Where did you get the idea for your latest release and tell a bit about the story?

We’ve always been drawn to the lone, reluctant hero, and the myth of the American West is built on that ideal. Our protagonist, Caleb Marlowe, embodies the spirit of the men and women forging a new life for themselves in the frontier. We think readers will find our Nik James novels have the historical feel of Lonesome Dove, the high-powered action of John Wick, and the heightened social awareness of 2021.

High Country Justice, the first book in the series, introduces Caleb Marlowe—mysterious, guarded, unpredictable, and famous for a lightning-quick draw and nerves of steel. He wants to leave his past behind, but the past has a way of dogging a man.

When Doc—Caleb’s only friend in town—goes missing, his daughter comes seeking his help. Newly arrived from back East, she hotly condemns the bloody frontier justice of the rifle and the six-gun. But this is the high country, and justice is fierce.

To free his friend from the murderous road agents, Marlowe will have to track them through wild, uncharted mountain territory, battling wild animals and bushwhackers. And when the daughter is captured by the ruthless gun hawks, Marlowe will have to take them down one-by-one, until no outlaw remains standing.

6. Are you a plotter or a pantser?

We’re plotters, but that’s pretty essential in a team effort. And we have written everything collaboratively since the day we started our first novel. But we never let our planned plot get in the way of a good story. The key is to clearly communicate possible changes with each other. 


7. Is there a writing routine you follow or do you write when the Muse strikes?

We’ve never been ‘Muse’ types. We write almost every day. When we’re not at the keyboard, we’re walking and talking about stories and craft and publishing. Nikoo is always up around five a.m., reading and planning the day’s writing and working on staying on top of the business. Jim is up around six, and we’re both at the computer between 8-9. We write until noonish, when we have our dinner, and then go back to writing until about 4 when our dog tells us he’s ready to eat and go for a walk. If we’re up against a deadline, we’re back at the keyboard until we drop.  

8. If you had a choice, which is your favorite to write, short stories, novellas, or full-length novels?

Definitely full-length novels. 

9. Do you ‘interview’ your characters before or at any time while telling their story and what do you do if they don’t cooperate with your story idea?

We’ve used the ‘interview’ technique in the past and still do it occasionally. But because we are a collaborative team, we continually talk and talk and talk about who our characters are, what they aspire to do, how their fears and flaws affect their actions, and what they’re feeling. We get to know them pretty well that way.

We are firm believers that the characters MUST drive the stories. As we said, we are plotters, but the integrity of a character’s composition must take precedence over our consideration of plot. We’ve all read books in which an author forces the protagonist to do something that is out of character for him or her, simply to keep a plot on track. We’ll never do that because it frustrates the reader’s belief in the reality of that character…and the story. If a character doesn’t cooperate, then he or she is right, and we roll with it. 

10. Is there a process where you find your next story or does the idea just hit you?

Story ideas can come from anywhere: the news, history, television, our reading, talking to friends, dreams, etc. Once we have the glimmer of an idea, we walk and talk and walk and talk and walk and talk. And then walk some more. Nikoo needs to move to think creatively. For the past twenty-five years, we’ve chosen our residences based on the proximity of a walking trail or a park.



11. Is there anything else you feel people would like to know or would be surprised to learn about you?

Two things. First, our fiction has a strange tendency of being prophetic. That has happened a number of times. One of our YA novels for Harper Collins (Jan Coffey’s Tropical Kiss) was set in Aruba and featured an American student who was abducted at one point in the novel. Just weeks after Tropical Kiss was published, an American girl named Natalie Holloway went missing. Our story turns out happier. The premise of our novel Five in a Row became the topic of a New York Times article “Can a Virus Hitch a Ride on your Car?”. The journalist even used experts we talked to in researching the novel. In our story, a cyber-terrorist is taking control of people’s cars. Now, we’re not saying Elon Musk is that guy, but those Tesla vehicles ARE self-driving.

Second, because Jim was an academic and Nikoo an engineer, people might have a preconceived notion about their personalities. So it might surprise them that Jim is ‘type-A’ when it comes to his attitude toward life. Everything he touches has to be sorted by size and type and color and texture and whatever. His desk, the garage, his clothes, the dishes, the dog’s toys, they’re all neatly organized and categorized. The bookcases would be alphabetically arranged if it wasn’t for someone else’s meddling. Even the dishwasher can only be loaded by him. Nikoo is far more relaxed, saving her energy for more important things, like writing.

13.  What are your favorite areas of research and why they are important to you?

Both of us love politics, and we’re fascinated with history. It’s important to understand the social currents of progress. We believe that human nature doesn’t change, and “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” 

14.  When do you start to ‘market’ your new release?

The main channel of marketing for us is our newsletter. Some of the subscribers have been with us for over two decades. The newsletter is year-round, and we try to reach out to subscribers at least once a month. The marketing of the individual book starts at least six months ahead of release. 

15.  What advice would you give to those who dream of writing, or what advice would you give your younger self?

To those who ‘dream’ of writing, there’s that old 60s song about, “Wishing and hoping and thinking and praying, planning and dreaming…That won’t get you into his heart.” Our advice would be to start writing and keep writing. We all learn and relearn every time we sit at the computer and connect with our characters and the quests and conflicts and obstacles we throw at them. 

To our younger self, the advice would be “Brand yourself.” We’ve made the mistake of following our hearts and telling many different types of stories. The journey has been fun but the marketing a nightmare.  

16. Are there authors you grew up with or inspired you to take pen to paper?

Nikoo remembers skipping classes in middle school and hiding behind the shelves in the library to reread Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, Tolstoy’s War and Peace, and many others. She was and is a reader. Those authors and many others inspired her. 

As a child, Jim read every historical biography he could find. As he reached high school and college, he was captivated by Fitzgerald and Hemingway, Arthur Conan Doyle and Charles Dickens, and Willa Cather. 

17. If it were possible would you choose to go forward in time or back?

We’d both definitely choose to go back in time, but who would want to go back prior to modern dentistry?

Thank you both. This was fun and informative. For more about the authors and their works visit the following:

May McGoldrick 

Jan Coffey 

Nik James

Post (c) Doris McCraw All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021



Dr Keith Souter aka Clay More

I was researching about the Chisolm chloroform inhaler recently ( as a Scottish doctor I feel compelled to use our way of spelling) when I went off on one of those distracting tangents that  make research so much fun. So in this blog I am going to talk about the Wind of the Ball Theory postulated in the early very early nineteenth century to account for unexplained deaths on the battlefield. They were attributed to the wind of the passing cannonball and the mysterious force it had to kill without necessarily producing signs of impact or injury.

But first a biographette and a thumbnail description of his great invention.

Dr Julian John Chisolm (1830-1903)
Julian John Chisolm, often referred to as John Julian Chisolm or as J.J. Chisolm was born in Charleston, South Carolina in 1830. He obtained his MD medical degree from the Medical College of South Carolina in 1850 then travelled to Europe to study medicine and surgery in Paris and London.

He returned to Charleston in 1860 and took up the post of Professor of Surgery at the Medical College. He  kept the position throughout the War and in 1861 published the first edition of his textbook A Manual of Military Surgery for the Use of Surgeons in the Confederate States Army.

He was one of the few competent surgeons at the start of the War (it was the steepest of learning curves for surgeons on both sides), but his book gave detailed instructions. His experience was based on personal observations of many wounds  treated in both civilian and military hospitals admitted form the battlefields of Europe. The book was updated twice during the War.

The Chisolm Inhaler
During the war chloroform took over from ether as the anaesthetic of choice. It was administered by using a piece of cloth, which was fashioned into a cone, onto which the chloroform was administered. This was found to be wasteful, since much of the chloroform evaporated. Hence it was unscientifically and crudely given and could also affect anyone see in the enclosed space used as an operating theatre. In a field hospital that may have been a tent.

With the Union Naval blockade the supplies of chloroform were drastically reduced. Stimulated by that, and by the wasteful and hazardous way it was traditionally given he invented  his inhaler. It consisted of a flattened cylinder, measuring 2.5  by one inch, with two tubes which could be inserted into the nostrils. The chloroform was dripped into a perforated disc onto a cloth inside the inhaler. It reduced the amount needed to a mere ten per cent.

It was not until the latter stages of the war that he invented this ingenious device, and he invented it because of necessity. 

But as I said, while reading his Manual of Surgery I came this fascinating offshoot.

The Wind of the Ball Theory

Ever since men went to war with guns military surgeons had reported of deaths on the battlefields with no apparent cause. No wounds visible, yet internally sometimes catastrophic damage. Such things are mentioned in medical writings in  the sixteenth century. 

A Doctor D Ellis wrote a paper about this in the Edinburgh Medical Journal of 1812 entitled Observations on the nature and cause of certain accidents which sometimes occur in battle, and have been usually ascribed to the 'wind of a ball.' 

This wind of the ball, was thought to be the wind that accompanied the flight of a cannonball, but which came to be associated with musket balls and the Minie ball. 

Ellis wrote about delayed death of a soldier, that he had witnessed firsthand. 

"A shot passed above the head of a man who should have been with his comrades in a trench. The surgeon examined him immediately, but found no injury. From the state of the pulse, however, the surgeon deemed it necessary to send the man to the hospital, and although no external injury could be discovered, the man died in less than 48 hours after the accident."

He goes on to describe another case.

"Another delayed death occurred when the victim of a minor wound "died a few days, not, as was conceived, from the effects of the injury done to the arm, but from the '"wind of the ball.""

Such deaths the military officials and the medical authorities attributed to the wind of the cannonball.

A French surgeon, Felix Larrey, who was a military surgeon and physician to Napoleon lll postulated that the phenomenon was due to the physics of the cannonball motion, which he described as travelling first by rectilinear movement and then by curvilinear motion. By this it seems he was trying to describe the falling of the cannonball towards the end of its trajectory. He used this to try to account for the lack of external damage to the human body by postulating that as the velocity diminished as it neared the ground, its curvilinear motion, by which he meant its rotation, would cause it to roll around the body without leaving a mark. This he equated with the way a wheel would pass over a limb or body, instead of forcing a way through it. 

Felix Larrey (1808-1895)

Ellis was not convinced by this and could not imagine that a cannonball other projectile could move so slowly around the body, leaving no mark, yet still caused death. He did not accept Feix Larrey's physics. instead, he said:

"these accidents appear altogether different from those produced by the operation of ordinary mechanical agents; and bear, in all their circumstances, a much nearer resemblance to th effects of...the action of atmospheric electricity."

This theory did not last long, however, and it was supplanted by that of another by Doctor P Forbes, also writing in the Edinburgh Medical Journal of 1812. He proposed that it was not wind at all, but a vacuum that was created by the passage of the cannonball. This would suck the air from the body, and also produce its effect:

"The consequences of which is a sudden expansion of all the fluids in the stomach and the blood in the blood vessels, and the rupture of both."

Not wind, but a vaccuum?

Well, let  me now show you what Doctor Chisolm had to say.

"Cases not unusually occur on the battlefield in which the abdominal contents might be severely crushed without apparent external injury. It is the toughness and elasticity of the skin which gives rise to the exploded theory of the wind of a ball destroying life: and such cases as those we are now considering were formerly brought forward as instances of the fatal effects of the vacuum following the wake of a cannonball. 

Observation has shown that a knapsack might be torn from the back, a hair struck from the head, an epaulet from the shoulder, or a pipe from the mouth, without leaving a trace of injury; while on the other hand, viscera might be reduced to a jelly, or bones crushed, without a visible bruising of the skin. It is the ball itself, and not the wind, which produces these disorganisations. from the blow of a spent cannonball or fragment of a shell the liver might be lacerated, intestines torn, blood vessels opened, spleen fissured, or kidney ruptured, without an external wound. Severe shock and collapse mark the extent of injury received' and should the patient rally fro this condition, which is rare, violent inflammation will soon destroy life. Although we follow vigorously the treatment laid down above, we very seldom have the satisfaction of saving the patient."

He gives a clinical case of a Sergeant who sustained such an injury at the Bombardment of Battery Wagner, but I will spare you the actual details, part from to say that they illustrate the catastrophic internal injuries that can occur despite no external wounding. 

Spent balls

Chisolm then goes on:

"The amount of destruction effected by a spent ball is often surprising. the uninitiated on the battlefield will attempt to stop, with the foot, a cannonball rolling on the ground, and which is just about exhausting its force, perhaps with only momentum sufficient to carry it one or two feet further, yet it crushes the limb put out to oppose it. Baudens, in warning persons to avoid cannonballs, however slowly they may be rolling, mentions the case of a grenadier of the guard, sleeping on his side on the ground, who was instantly killed by a spent cannonball, the blow from which lactated the vertebral column. The ball came with so little momentum that it rilled itself up in the hood of the soldier's overcoat, where it was found. It was just about to stop when it struck. One or two feet further, and its entire force would have been exhausted."

Lucien Jean-Baptiste Baurens (1804-1857) was a French military surgeon, who was himself a staunch advocate of chloroform. 


Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Wanna' Learn History?

Post by Doris McCraw writing as Angela Raines

It's been a busy summer, and I've tried to keep up with my love of history and research. To help I've started making use of online programs and videos. They have become prevalent with the 'stay at home' of the last year. Add the sesquicentennial of Colorado Springs this year and it's been a great time. I've also thought, I shouldn't be selfish. I've shared some links, but with so much happening, I just have to offer the following. All are free and full of information.

Photo property of the author

The History Symposium is all online this year. The first session has aired, and there are three more to come. The main link is Pikes Peak Library District Symposium

Here is a link to Part 1, the topic and speakers: Part 1

Part 2, Saturday, June 26, 2021 will include: 

Susan Fletcher: Glen Eyrie at 150
10:10 – 10:30 a.m.

Tom Noel: The Broadmoor Hotel’s Beginnings: From Count James Pourtales to Spencer Penrose

10:35 – 10:55 a.m.

Eric Swab: Three Trails That Ring Cheyenne Mountain, Three Tales of Infidelity, Bribery, and Provocation

11 – 11:20 a.m.

Part 3: Saturday July 24, 2021

Leah Davis Witherow: A Story That Must be Told: Trailblazing Entrepreneur “Mama” Susie Perkins
10:10 – 10:30 a.m.

Eric Metzger: The McAllister House and its Place in 150 years of Colorado Springs History

10:35 – 10:55 a.m.

Greg Atkins: City Business: Colorado Springs and the Libertarian Party

Part 4: Saturday, August 28, 2021

Rick Sturdevant: Air and Space Forces in Colorado Springs: Their Bases and Memorable Characters
10:10 – 10:30 a.m.

Mark James: Edwin James, Pikes Peak, and the American West

10:35 – 10:55 a.m.

Kathy Sturdevant: The Quaker Trail: Moral Infiltration, Disintegration, and Revival in the Pikes Peak Region

11 – 11:20 a.m.

There are also many Youtube videos from the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum, Rocky Mountain PBS-Colorado Experience, and History Colorado.

Photo property of the author

As you can see, I love the history of my state and constantly search for new pieces of history I'd not heard of before. With the option of videos to add to reading the old newspapers and books, I'm in research heaven. I do hope some of you may find something to trigger a new story or piece to add to your current work. 

Link to register:

Doris Gardner-McCraw -
Author, Speaker, Historian-specializing in
Colorado and Women's History

Author of the "Agate Gulch" novellas and 
the "Kiowa Wells" novels.

Angela Raines - author: Telling Stories Where Love & History Meet

(c) Doris McCraw All Rights Reserved


Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Western Fictioneers Announces the Peacemaker Award Winners



(For Westerns Published in 2020)




GREAT LONESOME, John D. Nesbitt (Five Star Publishing)

THE RETURN OF THE WOLF, Larry D. Sweazy (Five Star Publishing



MUSKRAT HILL, Easy Jackson (Five Star Publishing)

THE SONS OF PHILO GAINES, Michael R. Ritt (Five Star Publishing)

ANSWER CREEK, Ashley E. Sweeney (She Writes Press)






GOLDWATER RIDGE, Hannah Kaye (Jellysquid Books)

CHEROKEE CLAY, Regina McLemore (Oghma Creative Media)

THE SONS OF PHILO GAINES, Michael R. Ritt (Five Star Publishing)

FOLLOW THE ANGELS, FOLLOW THE DOVES, Sidney Thompson (Bison Books)



“The Last Photograph”, John T. Biggs, SADDLEBAG DISPATCHES
“Dakota Clothesline”, Elisabeth Grace Foley, ROPE AND WIRE
“The Miner and the Greenhorn”, Charlie Steel, UNDER WESTERN STARS
“The Gunsmith of Elk Creek”, Big Jim Williams, UNDER WESTERN STARS

Western Fictioneers would like to thank the judges for the excellent job they did and the long hours they devoted to reading the submissions.


Thursday, June 10, 2021

On This Date in the Old West: June 11

 So far, we’ve talked about spies and condensed milk, Vaseline and the Civil War. This month, we’ll go further back in the country’s history, fudge the date a bit, and talk about one of our most famous citizens. On June 14, 1742, Benjamin Franklin invented his Franklin stove.

Up until then, houses were heated with fireplaces. This was an inefficient method, as much of the heat simply escaped up the chimney. Franklin’s cast iron “Pennsylvania Fire Place” was a metal-lined fireplace that had rear baffles for improved air flow and provided greatly improved heating with less smoke and less wood used. The stove heated the entire room evenly and the metal walls absorbed and radiated heat even after the fire went out.


Baffles in fireplaces weren’t a new idea, but Franklin’s stove baffles performed two functions at once. The idea behind a baffle is to lengthen the amount of time the air spends in contact with the stove, thus transferring more heat to cooler air and from the smoke. The Franklin stove’s baffle was positioned inside and to the rear of the stove. It was a wide but thin cast iron box which was open to the room’s air at the bottom and at two holes on the sides near its top. Air entered the bottom of the box and was heated by both the fire and the fumes flowing over the front and back of the box. This warmed air then rose inside the box and exited through the holes in the baffle’s sides. This pathway both lengthened the pathway the fire’s fumes followed before it reached the chimney, allowing more heat to be extracted from the fumes, and placed a duct near the fire, which heated the air by convection.


Franklin’s stove also made use of what he called an “aerial siphon” or “siphon revers’d.” This was a U-shaped duct connecting the stove to the chimney which drew the fire’s smoke and fumes first downward through one leg of the U, then upwards through the second leg and the chimney. This functioned to extract even more heat from the fumes before they exited via the chimney. In order for this design to work, the U-shaped duct was installed beneath the home’s floorboards before connecting to the fireplace chimney.


In Franklin’s own words: “In Order of Time I should have mentioned before, that having in 1742 invented an open Stove, for the better warming of Rooms and at the same time saving Fuel, as the fresh Air admitted was warmed in Entring, I made a Present of the Model to Mr. Robert Grace, one of my early Friends, who having an Iron Furnace, found the Casting of th Plats for these Stoves a profitable Thing, as they were growing in Demand. To promote that Demand I wrote and published a Pamphlet Intitled, An Account of the New-Invented Pennsylvania fire places: Wherein their Construction and manner of Operation is particularly explained; their Advantages above every other Method of warming Rooms demonstrated; and all Objections that have been raised against the Use of them answered and obviated. &c. This Pamphlet had a good Effect, Govr Thomas was so pleas’d with the Construction of this Stove, as describ’d in it that he offer’d to give me a Patent for the sole Vending of them for a Term of Years; but I declin’d it from a Principle which has ever weigh’d with me on such Occasions, vis. That as we enjoy great Advantages from the Inventions of others, we should be glad of an Opportunity to serve others by any Invention of ours, and this w should do freely and generously.”

Benjamin Franklin was a true genius who invented and created many of the things we still use today. He was only 36 when he invented his fireplace, and was inspired by two other inventors: Franz Kessler, who invented the inverted siphon, and Jean Desaguilliers, who utilized metal in his fireplaces. Benjamin’s design was improved upon by others, including David R. Rittenhouse, who added an L-shaped chimney in the late 1780s. He called his appliance the Rittenhouse Stove—but the public continued to call it a Franklin Stove. Your characters, if they have one in their home, would call it the same.



J.E.S. Hays

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

The Hired Hand

Somehow The Hired Hand escaped my viewing until just a few months ago, and that's peculiar because I'm a Warren Oates enthusiast (The Wild Bunch, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia) and enjoy other films where he teams with the underrated Peter Fonda (Race With The Devil) who also directed this 1971 revisionist western. The running time is brisk at just over ninety minutes and that works to the film's advantage because the plot is straightforward, building on character development and eschewing gratuitous action scenes. Fonda plays Harry Collings and Oates is Arch Harris, two drifters headed for the California coast when Harry, weary of the meandering lifestyle, decides to return to his wife and daughter that he abandoned several years earlier. Arch counts Harry as a good friend and because of his easygoing demeanor tags along.

Hannah Collings (Verna Bloom) gives her wayward husband a justified cold welcome assuming he will once again leave her. She's a progressive thinker and has done quite well without him once she got over the initial hurt. Hannah allows Harry and Arch to stick around to work as hired hands, maintaining her distance; still, the married couple eventually find a route back to each other's hearts. Arch realizes he needs to move on since not only is three a crowd but he finds Hannah attractive as well. Ms. Bloom dominates every frame she's in, building a complicated, nuanced character. But this is still a Western, and there's a violent shootout after Arch is kidnapped by some thugs who he and Harry had run afoul at the beginning of the story. It's about one of the most realistic, choreographed gun plays I've ever watched.

Peter Fonda does an adept job of directing though I could do without the slo-mo and the ocassional out-of-focus angles that were all the rage of the late sixties and early seventies cinema. That trivial note aside, this is a fine film for fans of westerns and Warren Oates aficionados alike, especially those who wish to get away from exhausted tropes that plague the genre. And perhaps because of the unorthodox approach, I wasn't surprised to read The Hired Hand was a commercial failure on its initial release—now it's regarded as one of the defining films of the 1970s.

David Cranmer is the editor of the BEAT to a PULP webzine and whose own body of work has appeared in such diverse publications as The Five-Two: Crime Poetry Weekly, Needle: A Magazine of Noir, LitReactor, Macmillan’s Criminal Element, and Chicken Soup for the Soul. Under the pen name Edward A. Grainger he created the Cash Laramie western series. He's a dedicated Whovian who enjoys jazz and backgammon. He can be found in scenic upstate New York where he lives with his wife and daughter.

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Win Blevins - A Career in the World's Oldest Profession.

In this next 'author interview' post, Win Blevins lets us into his life as a writer in " the world's oldest profession - storytelling".  It is hoped you will come away with a feeling of pride, and excitement for not only Win's amazing accomplishments but what is possible for yourselves.

Photo from Amazon author page

What drew you to write westerns? 

The answer to this one surprises even me: I don't think of myself as writing westerns but novels set in the West. My characters are mountain men, Indians (especially them), Mormons, Mexicans, in one case a Buddhist nun kidnapped and brought to the U.S. for prostitution, and others. Some of my books (more than 40 of them) are fantasies: One is about Mark Twain coming back to earth to help out a modern Hannibal writer who's in trouble. There are no cowboys in my books, or not yet. But I love the West. Have lived here since 1966, two decades of that on the edge of the Navajo reservation. Loved climbing mountains, learning to ride, hunting, hiking, exploring ruins, everything. 


Who are your favorite writers of the West? 

Some are Norman Maclean (author of the wondrous A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT), Rudolfo Anaya, Tony Hillerman, Edward Abbey, John Nichols, Larry McMurtry, Elmer Kelton... I grew up on the Saturday matinees set in the West and loved them, but those stories don't satisfy the adult me.

Pantser or outliner? 

Pantser all the way. I think outlining would close the doors and windows of my imagination and force me onto a predetermined path. I LOVE the adventure of going on to a new page and a new scene every day. I love to listen to my characters and let them surprise me with what they say. I don't put on shackles by deciding in advance.

What would you say is a short Win Blevins reading list? 

STONE SONG, my novel of the life of Crazy Horse, GIVE YOUR HEART TO THE HAWKS, the DICTIONARY OF THE AMERICAN WEST, and the RENDEZVOUS series, four novels that follow the life of one mountain man from leaving home to settling in California.

Where do you get your ideas? 

I don't get them--they chase me down, tackle me, and don't let go until I write them. One of those, my novel of the life of Crazy Horse, STONE SONG, took seventeen years of labor to produce, rewriting, and rewriting to get it right. It's probably my best-known, most popular book.


Are all of your books fiction? 

No, I've written non-fiction books. HAWKS is a history of the Mountain Fur Trade, the DICTIONARY is clearly non-fiction, and there are others.

Do you collaborate?

I love to collaborate with my wife Meredith. Among other things, she gives my dialogue more pizazz. 


What drew you to writing as a career?

I loved writing even in childhood. Later, I was following the wrong track, finishing doctoral work in English lit when the Rockefeller Foundation rescued me. They gave me a fellowship to study to be a music critic at the USC Conservatory of Music. That led to writing reviews of music and theater at the two big Los Angeles newspapers, again not the right track. Finally, I wrote GIVE YOUR HEART TO THE HAWKS. Half a century later HAWKS is still in print and bringing good royalties. 

In conclusion?

 I LOVE to write and still write every day. At 82 I recently published another novel, am in the midst of writing the next one, and won’t stop I like the daily process of sculpting yesterday's sentences into something more graceful. Like the surprises that my characters bring—good lines, good episodes, surprises in the direction of the story. I like to start by putting a character in a dilemma and see where he or she goes with it. Also, I like editing. Was an editor at TOR Books for fifteen years.

Thank you for an inspiring, thoughtful, and fun interview, Win. What a legacy.

For more about Win, and to find his books on Amazon: Amazon Author Page

Tuesday, June 1, 2021



           Folks of a certain age will remember the Death Valley Days TV show of the 1950s. But before Ronald Reagan, Robert Taylor, and Dale Robertson hosted the long-running series, Death Valley Days was a popular radio program.

            It debuted in September of 1930 and featured a singer called The Lonesome Cowboy, who sang cowboy songs in between the multiple stories which made up the show. His name was John White, and though he knew everything about western music, he’d started life in the East. 

           He was born in Washington D.C. in 1902 and went to the University of Maryland, where his baritone voice made him a valuable member of the college glee club. After graduation in 1924 he took the train out to Wickenburg, Arizona where his brother Bob was working on a couple of local dude ranches (Bob and another brother named Luke later opened the Monte Vista dude ranch).

 A Musical Dude Rancher

            John played the ukulele and brought his instrument on the trip West. Soon after his arrival Bob introduced him to a neighbor and fellow rancher named Romaine Lowdermilk. He owned the Kay El Bar dude ranch, but he did more than wrangle dudes. He was a talented singer/songwriter who sometimes performed on Phoenix radio stations. He was also a real cowboy who dazzled his dudes with jaw-dropping rope tricks.

John started visiting Lowdermilk regularly and always brought along his ukulele. Here’s how he described these visits: “For a couple of weeks, we sat around trading ballads, and when I went home I had a pack of authentic cowboy songs which I had committed to memory.” During his time in Arizona John also traded in his ukulele for a guitar.

            After a two-month stay in Wickenburg, John went back East, worked for the Washington Star newspaper, and enrolled at the Columbia University School of Journalism. But he never forgot the songs he brought home with him.

 Image 1 - COWBOY SONGS JOHN WHITE Lonesome Cowboy Death Valley Days 6 Songs 1934 Song Book

Breaking into Radio

One day John met an old friend who was a professional radio singer, and asked how he could also get on the radio. His friend said it was as easy as walking in the door and doing a quick audition, so John went to New York radio station WEAF. They hired him to sing cowboy songs with his own guitar for fifteen minutes a week. They didn’t pay him anything, but someone at station WOR heard him and offered him the same gig for $25. Singing didn’t pay the bills, so he took a job at General Drafting in New Jersey and performed weekly on the radio. 

             He soon created a sideline career for himself as the “Lonesome Cowboy,” thanks to indulgent managers at his regular job.  Record producers and music executives gave him contracts, and in the fall of 1930, he joined the cast of a Death Valley Days. He also did this job part-time while working at General Drafting, and stayed with “Death Valley Days” until 1936.

Advertisements for his radio shows always said this about him: “White is neither lonesome nor has he ever been a cowboy. His songs of the cattle trail and the once wild and woolly West are authentic, however, for he has roamed the western country and learned from the old timers the songs they used to sing.”

 A Musical Scholar

            John married and had a daughter, who sometimes performed with him at club and charity events. He wrote and recorded songs, wrote several books about Western music, and historical articles about the West which were published by American Heritage and Arizona Highways. He kept in touch with Romaine Lowdermilk and also corresponded with Gale Gardner, Arizona’s “Poet Lariat.”

He retired from General Drafting in 1965 and passed away in Maplewood, New Jersey in November of 1992, at the age of 90. His family gave his letters, research files, his guitar, and his cowboy hat to the Special Collections division of Utah State University

John White only spent a short time in the West, but those few weeks and a fateful meeting with Romaine Lowdermilk changed his life. When he left, he took with him a passion for Western and cowboy music that never faded. In 1975 he published Git Along, Little Dogies: Songs and Songmakers of the American West. It is a deeply researched history of cowboy and western music which includes his “discography,” a detailed list of his recordings compiled by music scholar Harlan Daniel. 

 Cover for WHITE: Git Along, Little Dogies: Songs and Songmakers of the American West. Click for larger image

            John’s heartfelt dedication gave credit to the man who moved his love for music into new directions: 

To my wife, Augusta

who felt that this book should be dedicated

to the late Romaine Lowdermilk, from whom I

heard my first cowboy song, in 1924, and to

Harlan Daniel, who forty years later convinced

me that I was a link with the past and for

posterity's sake I should do something about it.

             For more information about Romaine Lowdermilk, visit the website of the Kay El Bar dude ranch.