Friday, May 14, 2010

A BOX FULL OF WATCHES (flash fiction)


Blacksmith James Warren Sears reached for his newspaper. It was the only thing he looked forward to all day.

He read of the The Pacific Railroad Act of 1862. It would aid in the construction of a continental railroad and telegraph line. It said that Lincoln and his Union promised it would span from the Missouri river all the way to the Pacific ocean. They claim it would change the country.

The blacksmith scoffed and went back to reading about the war. Roughly 23 years later, his son Richard Warren would find himself at a crossroads and the blacksmith wanted to make sure that his son took advantage of what Lincoln had once promised the nation.

"You need to wear a suit, son," the blacksmith told his boy. "I've got soot under my nails from before you were born."

So the only logical prospect in Redwood Falls, Minnesota came in the form of the Minneapolis and St. Louis Railway. The day before he started, the young man had trouble finding a suit that fit him at the general store. He was of average build and most of the town's average men bought them all up. So he wore his father's pathetic baggy suit the day he started as a station agent.

Young Richard loved to listen to passengers, who were thankful that the horrid tribulations of stagecoach convoys were no longer a reality. What once took seven weeks now took seven days. Travel had become elegant with tea cars and whiskey bars boasting plush leather seating.

But every now and then Richard found himself a bit bored and one day, happened upon a small box of gold pocket watches on the train. Unwanted by a local retailer, Richard struck a deal with him. He had plans for the watches.

At the station, Richard prided himself on being practically the fastest telegraph reader and transmitter on the nation's grid. Using that code called morse, Richard offered the watches to other station agents on the line who needed precise timepieces because of the newly applied time zones throughout the country.

Richard also marketed his wares to local farmers who also needed to keep proper time as a result the new zones. What's more, the elegant timepieces were also a mark of the new American urban sophisticate and other station agents bought them from Richard to sell to their passengers.

Six months later, Richard made $5000 and started his own watch company, placing several ads in farming almanacs and newspapers. He would urge the homespun folk to purchase by mail because if anyone could utilize the railroad for shipping, it was Richard.

By 1887, Richard would move his operation to Chicago and hired his first employee - Alvah Curtis Roebuck. Ten years later, their Sears catalog offered much more than watches and was sent to over 300,000 homes.

The 500-page tome offered up everything from plows to bikes to athletic equipment and he owed it all to the blacksmith and the railroad.

Looking at his catalog, he was finally satisfied. He sold it all with great service and speed.

And why not, he thought, somewhere a young man needs a suit that fits.

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  1. A little history in the form of a tale - loved the last line

  2. Love the "rest of the story" feel to this piece. Love the history. Love the old photo. All great.
    Especially excellent considering you feel so crappy! Hope you get better soon.

  3. Anthony, that was superb. A great, well written piece that read as if it was a true story. Top work and hope you're feeling better soon. :-)

  4. Cathy: Glad you picked up on the Paul Harvey feel...

  5. This is a little magic, Anthony. One of my favorites of yours. Love that last line and could never quite explain why. Somewhere, that young man is fortunate.

  6. That was nice historic tale. I couldn't put my finger on it until I read Cathy's comment. Pecisely, a 'Paul Harvey' feel to the story. Well done.

  7. Great homespun feel to this tale. I think those meds are doing you good.

  8. Very nice, Anthony. Yeah, I can hear Paul Harvey reading this in my head.

    Well written, and the description is excellent.

  9. Nice job bringing it back around to the earlier quest for a suit that fits. I liked the theme of taking opportunity when it presents itself.

    Nicely told!


  10. Ant, can't help it ~ this piece just keeps on tickin' and WHAT'S THIS? You're writing your best tell-the-full-story descripto pieces under meds again? (You do realize that's a genre for you?)

    Seriously, GREAT storytelling with genuine flow from scoffing blacksmith to baggy suit to that code called morse and ever a well-run train with a whiskey bar. Why - there was a catalog of info delighting every reader following your train of thought. (that one just snuck in) GET BETTER MR V! ~ Absolutely*Kate

  11. Sorry I'm late to the friday party!

    Like the others have said, It has a Paul Harvey feel, but I hear your voice reading this. I really enjoy your writing style to these classy pieces of history. That last line... just killer.

  12. I felt entertained and educated. This is a great piece of work, Ant. ;)

  13. This is brilliantly done... I've got that google itch now to see if this tale is true.

    My apologies for being late. I will try to do better ;-)

  14. Nice little history and loved how you brought it home in the end.


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