1634: THE BALTIC WAR – snippet 6:



            Chief Kruz had toured the coal gas plant, several times, since a fire here was one of his biggest fears. Still, he really didn’t know much more about it than most people did—including, unfortunately, most of the people working in the plant itself. The drive to expand industry in Magdeburg in response to the war with the League of Ostend was forcing people to take shortcuts and use makeshifts everywhere. His fire crew was actually quite exceptional in having had the time to be trained properly. Most of the factories in the city were being run by half-trained people, with foremen who often had little more training than the men they supervised.


            Quickly, he looked toward the area of the plant where the vats of pitch and other flammable materials were stored. But they seemed to be apparently safe, not being very close to the furnace. He breathed a sigh of relief that his worst fears were not realized.


            “What’s the problem, Thorsten?”


            “I’m not sure. But I think the gas main is blocked and the gases are backing up into the furnace. It’s starting to break on the inside.”


            “Show me where it’s blocked.”


            Kruz followed Engler into the furnace room. Once inside, they walked around to the other side of the furnace, and Thorsten pointed out a big wrought iron tube, the upper half of it glowing red against the dim light. “You see? That’s the main. It’s got to be clogged. The gasses are backing up into the furnace.”


            The fire chief wasn’t sure what to do. He’d been trained to deal with open fires, flames. This…


            “What can we do to help, Thorsten?”


            Engler ran fingers through his thick black hair. “We have to stop the fire and cool the furnace, before there is any more damage. This plant is providing gas to light the street, to heat and run several factories here. It is important!”


            “Yes, fine, but what’s the best way to do that? Thorsten, we can’t pump water over the furnace, because we can’t keep it from hitting those metal doors.” He pointed at the doors to the retorts which, like the gas main, where glowing dull red with heat. “The water could well cause them to crack.”


            Exasperated, Engler shook his head. “You’re right. And it wouldn’t put out the fire inside the furnace anyway. We have to put that out first and let things cool down.”


            They hurried back around to the front, where the smoke from the left smokestack was, if anything, increasing. One of the plant workers was already there. Another of Kruz’s neighbors, as it happened, the crane operator Eric Krenz.


            “There! The air is drawn into the furnace over there!” Krenz was pointing to a smokestack on the right. His finger moved over. “And the smoke is coming out there. We change the direction every ten minutes. We need to pump water in both.”


            Finally having clear directions, Kruz nodded vigorously. “You three, set up the pump,” the chief instructed his men. “You two, run a canvas hose down to the river. We’ll pump water from there.”


            He looked over the situation. Pumping water there seemed reasonable. It wouldn’t hurt to try. “That furnace is very hot. Stand well back!”


            Within three minutes, his men had set up the pump, attached a hose from the river and two hoses to the pump, and had the steam engine up to heat.


            By now, a small crowd had gathered outside the plant, and were watching them. Kruz took a quiet pride at how his fire crew was holding up under pressure. Two men were holding each fire hose, one was stationed at the river to control the hose there, and another man reported to the Chief: “We’re ready.”


            “Start up the pump,” Kruz directed.




            The Marine sergeant at Mike’s side leaned over toward him. “Is there anything you want us to do, Mr. Pres—ah, I mean, Prime Minister?”


            Mike had to fight down a little smile. The sergeant was an up-timer, and like most such was still getting used to peculiar “foreign” titles like Prime Minister instead of the familiar President. Not surprising, of course. The United States of Europe had been in existence for less than three months.


            “No, sergeant. The firemen are here and they seem to know what they’re doing. We’d just be getting in their way.”


            He almost ordered everyone to go back to the barracks, but…


            Didn’t. The problem was that Mike knew full well just how desperately under-trained most people were in Magdeburg’s new industrial plants. The capital of the new USE was also rapidly becoming both its largest city and its major manufacturing center. Those were both developments that Mike was encouraging every way he possibly could. Grantville was simply too small and too isolated in the Thuringian hills to serve as the center for the new society coming into existence in central Europe. Nor, even if its location had been better, could it ever grow very big because of the surrounding terrain.


            He’d been very cold-blooded about it all, willing to accept the risks for the benefits. However diplomatic he might be, most times, and however much he was willing to tack and veer in the requisite political maneuvers, Mike never lost sight for a moment of the fact that what he was really doing was organizing a revolution. And one of the lessons he’d taken from the voracious reading of history he’d been doing since the Ring of Fire—with advice from Melissa Mailey and his wife Rebecca, who read even more extensively than he did—was that revolutions were greatly assisted by having a big capital city that doubled as a nation’s industrial center. The role that, in other revolutions in another universe, had been played by cities like Paris and “Red Berlin” and St. Petersburg, Mike intended to be played in this one by Magdeburg.


            But nothing came free, and the price they paid for that explosive growth was inevitable. Everything and everybody was stretched very thin, and they weren’t so much “cutting” corners as lopping them off with an ax. With his own extensive experience in coal mining and stevedoring, Mike knew full well just how dangerous that could be.


            So, he decided to stick around for a bit. True enough, the firemen seemed to know what they were doing. However, that could simply mean that they were efficiently going about their work, but the work itself wasn’t what they should be doing.


            It was hard to know. The sight in front of him, mostly in darkness with a soft snowfall obscuring everything still further, was a pretty good summary of the whole situation in Europe as the year 1633 came to a close.