River 22 - The Rube Machine

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Sorry this has taken so long to post. I have had computer problems. See my blog for details.


By Dawn Natelle, edited by Eric

Chapter 22

So far: the river has cured the doctor of cancer, although he won’t admit it yet. Progress in getting a bank branch for the town has taken a different tack, with the possibility of a credit union managed by Alison. Both of Alison’s children are registered for school in September, although not without problems.

On Friday many of the townspeople were standing outside of Red Door First Nations Arts and Crafts, as the new store was named, and that name was now clear for all to see. Carl Bluelake had finished painting the store sign that was being erected by some volunteers from the reserve. River was ecstatic about the design, which was clear and readable by anyone speeding past on the highway, yet had a First Nations motif that spoke to the culture of the people of the river.

And while most of the people were concentrating on the signage, another crew worked in the vacant lot next to the store. Kyle Audette was erecting his homage to Rube Goldberg that he had been working on for the past week or more, and lately he had spent nearly 20 hours a day on it while his girlfriend George was in California to install the machine-parts totem pole that had caused such a buzz on the Internet last week. It alone had made their website famous, and was still drawing sales of the other more mundane items the store was selling. The store was not yet officially open, although almost everyone in town had been inside by now, either volunteering to help, or just dropping in to snoop, but online sales were already over the $1000 mark.

Kyle explained his invention. “The three bicycles in the front power the whole thing,” he said, pointing to bikes of different size, from beginners to adult that were fixed in front with rear wheels raised off the ground to power pulleys. “The bikes are geared differently, so a child on the smallest bike has an advantage over Dad on the full size bike,” he explained. “Pedaling as fast as possible makes these chains at the back turn these wheels, which make the billiard balls rise up inside the machine. The faster you pedal, the faster your ball gets to the top.”

“Once the balls hit the top then chance takes over. There are 15 different places where random options come into play, and George said that there would be over 30,000 different ways the balls could go through the system. Sometimes they get stuck, and you have to get back on the bikes again to raise another ball up to the top to dislodge your first one … although you never know, it might wind up helping the ball of one of your competitors. Want to try? I’ll race you.”

“Sure,” River said. “Let’s get all three bikes going.” She looked around and then saw who she wanted. “Liesl? Do you want to try?”

“Do I?” the girl said, bursting with pride at being the first in the town to try the new device. She hopped on the smallest bike, River got on the second one, and Kyle got on the adult one, and when River said ‘Go’ they all started to pedal.

Liesl used the advantage of youth, not to mention the gear differential, and had her ball up to the top of the machine in about two minutes. Kyle was about 15 seconds later, and River’s was last, but only by a few seconds. Then they watched the balls start to work their way down the machine, triggering different switches and devices as they went in true Goldberg fashion. The race was not a given. Even with her long head start, Liesl’s ball went off into a weird area like a bowling alley, and had to run along the alley three times before it had knocked all the pins over and it could continue to run the course. At that point, it looked like River would win, having caught up with Kyle soon into the course. But then her ball stopped dead. Suddenly one of those ‘perpetual motion’ drinking bird toys came into play. Every time it bent over to sip on the water a tiny gear raised a barrier a fraction of an inch, finally letting the billiard ball proceed to the end of the course. When it did, there was a huge cheer, and River turned to see that most of the town was arranged behind them, watching the race.

Liesl eventually won, with River just beating out Kyle, who jokingly insisted that he needed to make some modifications to the game so that the inventor would always win. The entire game had taken just over five minutes to play.

“Can I go again, River?” Liesl begged.

“Rule the first:” River intoned officially. “He or she who wins the race gets to go a second time against new racers. But only once. After that it is back to the end of the line to wait until the machine is free again. Who else wants to try?”

Almost every hand in the crowd went up, and River picked two townspeople to try against Liesl, since the first game had been all reserve people. Others formed into three lines to take turns after.

River turned to Kyle, and spoke with him as the next race started. “This is great Kyle. I have no doubt that it will eventually stop being so popular with the locals, but it will be perfect for people travelling through. Different sized bikes were a stroke of genius. It means that a little kid will have a chance against an older sibling. And the adult bike means that even parents can get into the action. Riding a bike for a couple minutes like that is a great exercise for someone who is driving a car for eight or more hours straight. This thing is going to make St. Mary’s a must-stop location on the trip across the lake. And hopefully a lot of those people will come into our store and buy something, or go somewhere else in town.”

As she talked, River found herself watching the second race. It was addicting: the true mark of a successful Goldberg device. Liesl lost to the town teenager this time, and gladly gave up her seat to another child who had gotten into that line. The second line didn’t move, since the teen took his right to play a second time, and those waiting to play realized that they needed to cheer for the people on the bikes for the other lines, since they would move the line faster if the person in their line lost. This added a whole new dimension of interest for those in line, as they cheered on the other players.

River watched three more games, and as Kyle said, each time the games played differently, as promised. She finally had to pull herself away, and head into the store. Connie was away today, and would be for the next two weeks, so River would have to stay close to the shop, which was just now starting to have a few pre-grand opening sales, although the store sales were a small fraction of the online proceeds.

“Thanks again, Kyle. Now we just need to decide how much that thing costs. How many hours of work went into it?”

“No River,” Kyle said. “George and I discussed this, and we decided that this would be our gift to the town. We made so much money on the totem we don’t know what to do with it all, so this is a freebie for the town.”

“That is so sweet of you,” River said. “But I do want to know how much it was. Someone else might want to buy one.”

“It took 100 hours,” Kyle said. “George did a lot of work on it before she left, and I’ve been at it steady since you visited.”

“So $15,000, at a shop rate of $150,” River mused. “It is worth a lot more. Your weird inventiveness isn’t something that can be billed out like a machine. Let’s say $40,000 if someone wants another one. Okay?”

“Wow. Yeah, sure. I’d love to make those things full time. They are as much fun to build as they are to play. The hardest part was deciding when to finish. I kept coming up with new features to add. The fact you were raising the sign today gave me a deadline to work towards. The one thing I can promise is that no two machines will ever be the same.”

“And I will promise that we won’t sell any more to places along the TransCanada Highway. At least not for a couple hundred miles either direction from here. I kinda like the idea that we only sell them to smaller towns like ours, which need a tourism boost. No big cities, and no WalMarts or the like,” River suggested.

Just then April Audette rushed up. “Look River,” she said, holding up her camera. A video started to play in the viewfinder and River saw herself, Liesl and Kyle on the bikes. They were pedaling like mad until Liesl’s ball rose to the top, when the video showed the path her ball took down to the bottom.

“I should have had three cameras going,” April said. “One tracking each of the balls, and possibly a fourth one looking at crowd reactions and stuff. I did get shots of the next few games, though, and I can edit them together to make it look like just one game. I thought it would be good for the webpage.”

“It sure will,” River said. “You are a great Chronicler for the people. After you get it edited the way you like it, get it to Colin and have him post it.”

That evening the video went onto YouTube, and over the weekend it went viral, hitting several million views a day. The video led people to the store website, and the result was that on Monday morning there were hundreds of orders for the staff to process.


Royal VP, Assistant Missing

Toronto (CP) – A vice president and an assistant from the Royal Bank headquarters are missing after a boating excursion on Lake Ontario yesterday.

Hanson Langston, Vice President of branch operations for the bank, and his administrative assistant left Toronto Marina at 7 a.m. headed out onto the lake for a short excursion. Marina staff were told to expect them back by noon.

An aerial search of the lake was commenced shortly after 5 p.m., but found no traces of the boat before dark. The water was calm all afternoon, with waves under a foot and most other boaters described the water as being “like glass.”

The weather station at Pearson Airport said that radar records showed a small anomaly at mid-lake at about 8:05 a.m., similar to a waterspout. This anomaly was considered to be a false reading, due to its short duration and the otherwise ideal boating conditions.

Also on the boat was Lois Macintyre, Langston’s executive assistant.

Alison handed Nick his tablet, which had carried the story on the website of one of the Toronto newspaper’s. “So the river seems to have completed its promise to settle the matter for us. How will this affect my settlement?”

“I learned of this when I was talking to the bank legal people this morning,” Nick said. “The story just got posted though. They seemed to think that we would just let everything go as a result. I let them know that we were proceeding with the full $5-million lawsuit. I’ll settle for a million before it goes to court: they still won’t want the tarnish on their reputation that will come from a trial. It will take a week or two before they come back with an offer, I suspect.”

“What about the police and Mark’s case?” Alison said.

“Oh, I wish you would let me run free on this one. I’ve already notified them that we expect a $15-million false arrest settlement, and that would be easy to get. Are you sure that you won’t let me proceed on it?”

“Yes, in the car on the way back Mark was pretty adamant that we don’t do anything to harm Inspector O’Rourke. He says the man was fair, honest, and completely blameless in the affair. It is Constable Orange that caused most of the problems. And his son.”

“Well, the son is either in jail now, or will be soon. The father is also locked up, since he mouthed off to the judge at his bail hearing. He found out that the courts do not give police officers a free ride just for being police,” Nick said. “I’ll keep the lawsuit open until the police give us what we want, and then we will drop it.”


Acting Inspector Ron O’Rourke was expecting this call. He had just been notified that he had a meeting at 3:00 p.m. with Police Chief Richard Bendeleve. This would be where the mess Const. Orange had made of the affair with the boys last week would cost him his job, or at least his chance of becoming an inspector. The only question seemed to be whether he would be broken back down to assistant inspector, detective, or right back to patrolman. Word had gone through the division like wildfire yesterday that a lawsuit of $15-million had been laid against the department.

The clock hit 3:07 before O’Rourke was ushered in to see the chief, not a good sign. However the man was smiling, or at least not angry.

“You have heard that we were served with a major lawsuit yesterday, I assume,” the chief said.

“Yes sir.”

“You know that we don’t really have a leg to stand on in our defense,” the chief continued. “They might settle for $5-million, or eight, but my budget can’t afford that kind of hit. That is a lot of cruisers and equipment, or some jobs. The city isn’t going to bail us out when news gets out of what happened to that kid.”

So that was it, Ron thought. It is over. “I will resign if you think it will help,” he offered.

“No it won’t,” the chief snapped. “I was speaking to the boy’s lawyer this morning, and he gave out conditions we have to meet to mitigate the lawsuit. 1) they insist that Constable Orange be relieved of his duties as soon as possible. Apparently he is not loved by the union any more than by us, and they won’t fight it. The fact he is sitting in a jail cell right now makes that easier.”

“Yes sir.”

“2) that the police department clear all records of Mark Waters from the division and force in general. It will be as if he was never arrested. 3) the department will give a personal statement of apology to Mark Waters once the other two items are disposed of. And the lawyer was adamant that the apology be given by Inspector Ronald O’Rourke of 32 division.”

“Wait. What?” Ron tried to process the last bit. “Does this mean I get to stay as acting inspector?”

“I’m afraid not, Ron,” the chief said. “What it means is that before that time your role will change to full Inspector, not acting. The lawyer fellow up north seemed to think that you were the one person on the force who was on the ball on this entire episode. Congratulations. I’ve already started the ball rolling on your confirmation, and you should be fully listed as inspector by this time next week.”

“That is great. How much did they lower their demands by?”

“All the way to zero. If we make all those things happen, they will drop the suit entirely. You will issue the official apology, but I insist on being there when you do it. I want to meet this kid. His lawyer was pretty clear that it was at his insistence that you not lose your job over this.”

Ron stifled back a sob. “He is a special kid. He could have been set for life. He said he was only in grade five, so it will be a few years away, but I’m going to start a scholarship fund to cover his university costs when he gets there.”

“Consider that the force will match everything you put into the fund. A few thousand dollars instead of millions is a bargain. And I bet you can get him into one of the union scholarship programs. Maybe we will be lucky and he will have an interest in law enforcement. It would be kinda cool if he was to wind up in one of our uniforms one day.”


Rod was happy with the performance. He had never sounded so eloquent as he had in telling the people of Stone Ledge about their heritage and history. The river was small and shallow here, less than knee high, and only about 100 people at a time would be able to enter the water. Therefore he had done two talks, one for the elders, and another more passionate one for the young people of the reserve. After all, one part of River’s mission for him was to connect with the young people and let them know that they had a future.

Afterwards, he met many of those young people, and was astonished at how they hung on his every word. There were about 30 who had already signed up to travel away for high school, mostly to Thunder Bay, Sault, or Sudbury, but three all the way to Ottawa. Many expressed interest in changing their location to St. Mary’s, and Rod told about the town and all the new things that were happening there. One girl asked if it would be possible to change their plans, and make St. Mary’s their destination, and several others nodded in agreement.

“I really don’t know the answer to that,” Rod said. “You should ask your teacher from last year. She would know.” The reserve had a two-room school for students from Grades 1 to 8 in split classes. It appeared that most of the grade nine students wanted to switch to St. Mary’s, while the older students were split, with a few interested in changing, while most wanted to continue at the high schools they had already attended.

After the ceremonies in the river, and the lengthy meet-and-greet that followed on the riverbanks, the people of Stone Ledge retired to prepare a feast for their visitors. Ria, Marilyn and Shelly had sung beautifully, and as local boys erected their tents for them Shelly commented: “I feel like a rock star. Everyone is treating us as if we are something special. I think at least 20 people were begging for us to stay at their homes. Luckily we had planned on sleeping in the tents: it made it easier to turn people down.”

“It also means that we will be able to pack up and leave early in the morning. I had planned three days to walk to Ice Springs, but the elders say it can be done in two days. Especially since some of the boys have asked to join us and carry our gear. We will leave the canoes here, and anything we don’t need, like dirty clothes and the like. The trail is good and we should be able to walk in before dusk on Thursday. There is no road to Ice Springs, everything normally comes in by air. Or foot, like we are doing.”

“It must be a small place,” Marilyn noted.

“Yeah, fewer than a hundred people I think. Less than half the size of this place. But they are of the people, and we need to sing and talk to them too.”

“Well I like doing this,” Shelly said. “Compared to what I was doing a month ago … I mean, then I was treated like dirt, but here people respect and admire us.”

The walk to Ice Springs was hard, and the river was not able to help as much as it did canoeing to Stone Ledge. When Rod or the girls got tired, they found wading in the inches-deep water would restore them, so they often waded from one side of the river to the other. The young boys along with them were amazed at how wading in the river could restore them. Normally it was too cold to wade in, although all of them had stood in the water for over an hour to listen to Rod talk on Tuesday night.

They spent Friday in Ice Springs, and discovered that there were only nine high school students there. Two others, who had dropped out were inspired by Rod’s story to go back to school, and in the end seven of the 11 were interested in transferring to St. Mary’s. The other four all promised to make a pilgrimage to the river at some point over the next year. The plane into the reserve was from Terrace Bay’s airstrip, so they thought they might be able to make a side trip to the river. Most of the adults also promised to make a trip to the river when they could, although for many leaving their reserve was something that only happened every few years.

The other part of River’s reasons for the trip was to find out about skills that the local members had that might help fill the shelves of the new store, and several were identified. There were no canoe builders since the river up here was not navigable, but two were skilled at building dogsleds, and three more did snowshoes. Most of the women did Makizins, and one was very skilled in beadwork for ceremonial dancewear. Rod and the girls gathered samples to take back to River.

The trip back to Stone Ledge took all of Saturday and Sunday, and the small group was happy to be back in the lands that the boys recognized again, meaning they were close to the reservation. About a mile out, Shelly crested a hill and froze. About 300 feet in front of her she could see the body of a young girl, hanging on a rope from a tree. Shelly screamed, drawing the attention of Rod and the others. Then they noticed that the girl was twitching. She was still alive. All bags were dropped, and they ran towards the girl.

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