Puffs of smoke billowed from the stack. Rods pushed back and forth, pistons jumped up and down. The wheels of the heavy locomotive seemed hesitant to move. Finally, the engine lurched forward and whistled its warning, signaling the train’s departure.
Two travelers, each with a pair of saddle bags tossed over his shoulder, hurried to jump from the platform onto the moving train. Jostling their way down the center aisle, each man made a silent perusal of the other passengers.
Hannibal Heyes passed seats near the back of the car, each of them occupied by groups of two or three. He spotted an available seat, glanced at his partner and tipped his head toward the seat in question.
A young mother was cooing to her sleeping infant. “Sleepin’ at the moment, but for how long?” thought Kid Curry. He gave a slight shake of his head.
Two women, knitting needles clacking busily, smiled invitingly in the direction of Heyes and Curry. The blue-eyed man smiled too and lifted a finger to his hat in greeting, but behind him, the memory of Crazy Lorraine still fresh, Heyes gave a casual greeting and pushed his partner past them.
The last available open seat was near a young man, more of a boy they realized, as the teen looked up. He quickly removed his feet from the seat across from him. “You gentlemen looking for a spot to sit?” he asked. “You’re more than welcome to join me.”
The Kid glanced back over his shoulder toward the knitting women. Their needles had fallen momentarily silent as each lady watched the reforming outlaws stroll by, but the moment Curry looked, their eyes returned self-consciously to their tasks and the needle clacking resumed.
Heyes abruptly nudged his partner into the seat across from the boy. “Thanks,” he said, then attempted to squeeze in next to the Kid. “Move over, would ya?”
“If you’d’ve listened to me,” Curry muttered, staking a firm claim to his fair portion of the double chair, “and left the hotel when I wanted to, we would’ve gotten a seat with more room.”
“If my watch hadn’t stopped…” Heyes’ sentence trailed off as he removed his pocket watch from his vest, shook it, then held it to his ear.
The teen set down the book he had been reading. He looked from one of his irritated seat mates to the other. “Gentlemen,” he began, hesitantly, “maybe I can help.”
“Help?” asked Heyes.
The Kid eyed the young fella. “Help with what?”
“With the watch.” The boy held out his hand. “I’m pretty good at fixing them.”
Heyes shrugged and relinquished his watch.
The youth proceeded to remove a small set of tools from his vest pocket and set to work, talking all the while. “You know, back home, folks are bringing me their watches all the time. Seems I just have a knack for figuring out how things work, or fixing things that are broken. You gentlemen ranchers?”
“Nope,” said the Kid.
“Friend of ours is,” Heyes replied. “A Texas rancher. In fact, we just finished driving his herd to Kansas City.”
“Ah, the Chisholm Trail,” the boy remarked. “Not meaning to be rude, but you two don’t look like cowboys.”
Curry’s interest was piqued. He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “How’s a cowboy supposed to look?”
“Sorry.” The boy paused to glance at both Heyes and Curry before his eyes returned to the watch. “Nothing at all wrong with being a cowboy and I meant no offense.”
“But?” Heyes prompted.
“But…” The boy studied the eyes his two seat mates before continuing. “You gentlemen have the look of men who want more out of life than breaking your back for a dollar a day.”
Heyes and Curry exchanged a look before Curry spoke. “You got a point there, kid. But even a dollar a day’s better than swift kick in the pants.”
The youth chuckled. “That’s true enough, I’m sure. But all the same, if I were a rancher, I’d pay my cowboys twice the going rate. Two dollars a day at least.”
This time Heyes spoke up. “Then you’d be on your way to the poor farm twice as quick.”
“That’s where I think you’re wrong.” The young man’s eyes took on a glow. “See, if ranchers and cowboys were to work together, they could improve their mutual quality of life tremendously. The cowboys, taking greater pride in their work, would be worthy of a higher wage. The ranchers, paying a higher wage, would attract the best and most qualified cowboys. And in turn, those cowboys earning a higher wage would have more expendable income, consequently making purchases of items exceeding the simple necessities of life, beef, for instance, resulting in higher profit to the rancher. You see, the economy is a cycle. By paying the cowboys at my hypothetical ranch more, I would, as a hypothetical rancher, hope to reap the benefits of their higher wages when my cowboys are able to purchase more beef than beans. A fair day’s work deserves a fair day’s wage–That’s my theory.”
Kid Curry rolled his eyes.
Hannibal Heyes bit his silver tongue.
The young man finished repairing Heyes’ watch just as the porter called out the next stop and the train slowed. “Good as new,” he said, and held the watch out to Heyes as he stood up. “This is where I get off.”
Heyes stood too, and flipped his watch open to hear its solid, steady tick. “You fixed it!” he exclaimed, somewhat surprised. “Thanks a lot, kid.”
“The name’s Henry,” the young man stated, holding out a hand to Heyes, then to Curry. “Henry Ford.”
Alone on the train, Kid Curry stretched out on one seat, hat pulled low over his eyes. Hannibal Heyes stretched out on the other seat, looking out the window.
“Ya know, Kid, I been thinking.”
Curry pushed the brim of his hat up with a finger and opened one eye. “Ain’t that usually my line, Heyes?”
Heyes ignored the question, and continued. “A lot of what Henry said makes sense. The kid might even be a genius, only no one’s ever going to be bold enough to put his plan into action.”
“Don’t you mean no one’s gonna be crazy enough to put his plan into action?”
“You know what they say about genius and crazy, huh, Kid? That the two go hand in hand.”
“You can say that again, Heyes.” The Kid chuckled and lowered his hat again. “But one thing’s for sure and certain.”
“If Henry Ford ever owns his own hy-po-thetical business, I’m applyin’ for a hy-po-thetical job.”
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
Historical characters are used fictitiously.
Quote from Wikipedia about Henry Ford:
His father gave him a pocket watch in his early teens. At 15, Ford dismantled and reassembled the timepieces of friends and neighbors dozens of times, gaining the reputation of a watch repairman.
Henry Ford, inventor of the assembly line process used in building automobiles, became the father of the blue-collar worker in Detroit.
Assembly line workers, finding assembly work boring, often quit their jobs. But in January of 1914, Ford Motor Company announced a new $5.00 a day wage for workers. This was more than double what assembly line workers had been making.
Manufacturers thought he was crazy, but the very next day ten thousand workers applied for jobs. Turnover dropped drastically, and Detroit workers were able to afford to buy the cars they built.