This Man's Town
A tale from the town that Mungo Dodd built to the glory of iron and the persistent pioneer
BILL WINANS, who does intelligent things with valuable mining properties, which are reflected months or years later upon the exchanges of three cities, came to Montreal the other day to tell me this story. He must have had other business, too, but that is unimportant, and in any case, I do not know what it was. For me, the incident began as we sat in the club talking of this and that.
“I ran into a queer thing up North. It might make a story.” He blew smoke rings, one inside the other. “What was it about?” I asked him.
“Is, not was. It is about a man.”
“One man. An old man, and a town. Only there wasn’t any town, just a lot of buildings. So the man went cuckoo, sort of. Anybody would.”
I looked at him. He was quite serious. Therefore I said no word, and after a moment in which he blew more smoke rings, he spoke again.
'“PHERE are three parts to this story—a beginning, a middle, and third period which is the happy ending—or so I hope. As I said, it has to do with a man, and the man is a Scot, who was a pit boy in the Old Country, like Harry Lauder, and afterward a puddler, or some such violent thing in the Newcastle mills. His name is Mungo Dodd, and when he came to Canada in 1900, he had been all his life bound up with coal and iron and steel, so that he knew more about these three elemental things than about anything else in the world; and he had come to love them in a dour sort of fashion, as lonely, single-minded men often come to cherish their harsh, bitter, exacting taskmaster occupations. This is something which it is difficult for softer, urbanbred people to understand, but prospectors know about it, and soldiers, and engineers and farmers—all those whose lives are hardly cast in remote and solitary places.
It would seem that Mungo Dodd had no love in his life other than his affection for this trinity of stern materials in which he had labored, until those things happened of which I am telling you. I do not know how it came about, but it is true that the year 1903 found him toiling, neither in a coal mine nor in a steel mill, but laying rails as one of a construction gang which was pushing a branch railroad through the then uncharted Northern Ontario country above Sudbury. Likely, circumstances forced him to accept the employment which first came to hand; and at least, in this occupation he was handling steel.
The legend of him is that even in those days he was a man alone. Sundays, when the rest of the gang might be amused with cards, rough horseplay, or whatever pastime they could invent in that wild territory, Mungo Dodd would vanish into the bush about some strange business of his own, of which nobody knew the nature. He fiercely resented questions, and especially the rude teasing to which he was sometimes subjected. Once or twice he thought it necessary to administer physical punishment to brash clowns, and thereafter he was let be.
This went on for the best part of a year, and then one Sunday, Mungo Dodd returned to camp on mid-afternoon, long before the hour of his customary appearance. He said no word to any of the men, but shook the foreman out of his after-dinner nap, and spoke with him for a time. Later he appeared, changed his working clothes for slightly more civilized apparel, heaved a handcar on to the rails, and pushed off down the line. The construction gang saw him no more.
“Let’s have a look at him.”
ON THE next afternoon, in Toronto, the personal and private staff of the president of the railroad for which Mungo Dodd had been working, wasted many valuable minutes in efforts to prevent a large, powerful and determined Scot, with grimy and calloused hands, and a face wrinkled and tanned like a walnut-shell, from forcing an entrance to the sacrosanct inner shrine occupied by the Big Chief. Faint echoes of a disturbance reached the ears of that personage, an old-time railroad man who had fought his way from the bottom to the top in the days before railroad presidents took to wearing spats and employing manicurists. Agitated secretaries tendered apologetic explanations, but the Big Chief said:
Mungo Dodd wasted no words, but spilled from his pockets upon the polished mahogany surface of the Big Chief’s broad desk half-a-dozen rough lumps of greyish-black rock. The railroad president gazed at these exhibits curiously, and remarked:
“Interesting. What is it?”
“Iron,” said Mungo Dodd.
“You don’t say so. Tell me about it.”
Then Mungo Dodd told him crisply that this was iron ore of extravagant quality, which he had chipped out of the side of a cliff rising sheer from a lake about six miles north and east of the railroad’s construction camp. He said:
“It’s the finest iron in the world. Man, it’s almost pure pig as it stands. There never has been anything
like it. I know iron, and you may take my word for it, that’s a fortune lying there on your table.”
In this strange fashion Pig Iron Bay was discovered Days afterward, mining engineers and geologists tramped the country behind Mungo Dodd’s broad back, and chipped samples and made tests, and held intellectual conferences filled with difficult technical words. Drills were thrust remorselessly into the face of the tortured rock, and long round cores were tenderly packed for shipment. Later two tanned men of vast importance in the affairs of the railroad travelled to New York, where they lived in a suite at the WaldorfAstoria, and invited many ruddy and expensively appetited individuals to share lavish meals with them. The end of this was the appearance in the newspapers of notices announcing the incorporation, according to law, of the Foley Northern Mines, Limited.
The fashion in which Mungo Dodd made his terms with the railroad is illuminating. There is a stupid tradition that Scots are a grasping folk, anxious only for money, but Mungo Dodd sold his claim to the Pig Iron Bay property for very little wealth, and a sentimental satisfaction which to him was tremendously important. It was written in that odd agreement that the name of the camp, which would of necessity arise near the Pig Iron Bay mine, must be Doddstown; that the lake must be called Mungo Lake, and that for as long as he lived Mungo Dodd should remain on the payroll of whatever corporation might be formed.
FOUR ACES FOLEY was the new owner of Mungo Dodd’s cliff of iron ore and president of Foley Northern Mines. A large, bold-voiced, irascible, sudden individual, in the course of a variegated lifetime he had made and lost a dozen vast fortunes because he was never afraid to take a chance. It was his custom to declare with emphasis that he hated two sorts of people, liars and pikers, and that of the two pikers were the worse. They explained Mungo Dodd’s contract to him, and his laughter boomed until the silver inkwell danced on his desk; but when he came to establish his camp at Pig Iron Bay he spent money like water.
Surveyors drew charts, and streets took form and substance. Builders, carpenters, plasterers, bricklayers, stonemasons, blacksmiths, machinists and laborers swarmed over the camp site like shadflies around a street lamp in midsummer. Neat wooden houses grew beside plank sidewalks, but the office, the manager’s residence, the assembly hall, the school, the hotel and the stores were extravagantly constructed of imported brick upon foundations of native stone. On the cliff’s crown, shafts were sunk and machinery installed. A tiny power plant sprouted to make electric light, and beside it a pumping station to lift water from Mungo Lake. The railroad ran a seven-mile spur, connecting Doddstown with its branch line.
Through all this febrile activity Mungo Dodd moved as a man might move who lives in a splendid dream come true. His position was never very clearly defined, and he worked at such tasks as were allotted him, but every hour of his spare time found him sharply on patrol, watching to see to it that his town would be worthy of his name. He quarrelled with artisans whose efforts failed to satisfy his exacting demands, and he scolded executives without fear. A man, Rivers by name, leased the hotel, and chose to name it the Rivers House. At him Mungo Dodd stormed and ranted, until at last the browbeaten innkeeper, for the sake of peace, gave in and rechristened his establishment the Doddstown Hotel. To the tidy shed which served as a station, the agent nailed a newly painted sign which displayed in big bold capitals the single word:
Thereafter it was Mungo Dodd’s pleasure to have business at the station as often as possible. He paced
the platform up and down, tugging his beard with gnarled fingers, while his eyes took in the visible evidence of his accomplishment, hung therefor all mentosee. He was Mungo Dodd; and Doddstown washiskingdom.
“DIG Iron Bay and L Doddstown and Foley Northern wrote ten years of mining history before doomsday cracked. To mine iron with profit, coal must be reasonably accessible in large quantities. There was no coal at Doddstown, nor for many hundreds of miles west, and more than a thousand miles east.
The company battled grimly over that decade for a market.
Carloads of Pig Iron Bay’s exceptional ore rattled down the line.
Salesmen begged and cajoled and schemed in scores of different steel centres on behalf of their magnificent wares. To Four Aces Foley the venture was a challenge, and he fought with stalwart courage to set it securely upon its feet; but opposing him was a problem of inexorable mathematics, as stout and implacable a thing as that two and two make four.
If he shipped in coal and made steel at Doddstown, his potential profits would be absorbed by his overhead. When he shipped out ore, the price he was compelled to ask was higher than the mills need pay, by a larger margin than the admitted superiority of the Pig Iron Bay product over less costly grades. Foley Northern’s iron was exhibited, admired, even marvelled at, the world over; but it was not sold.
In September, 1914, Four Aces Foley sat in his office on lower Broadway and frowned angrily at the black headlines of the afternoon paper clenched in his tight fists. Across his desk sat the resident manager of Foley Northern. To him Four Aces Foley said:
“Close the d---thing down.” The resident manager sighed, then shrugged. “I suppose so. Everything?” “Every d----thing.”
At first Mungo Dodd refused to believe this incredible disaster. He argued, raged, and at last begged, tears making his frightened eyes bright. The resident manager said for the thousandth time:
“I’m sorry, Mungo. Honestly, I’m sorry; but there is no coal.”
What else could he say?
Doddstown, born overnight, died as rapidly. Men dismantled machinery at the mine, while women in the village packed cups and saucers in barrels. Children gossiped with shrill boasts in the school yard of the marvellous adventures which awaited them outside. Family councils discussed plans for a future far away from Doddstown. Young bachelors went to Sudbury to enlist, and old bachelors pondered the problem of new jobs; and all the time trains carried people southward.
The resident manager, captain of this sinking ship, was the last to leave. Mungo Dodd stayed. That had
“I’m sorry, Mungo. If only we had coal.” The train swallowed him, while the engineer waved a sympathetic hand from his cab. Mungo Dodd stood on the platform below the big sign, alone.
been planned. It was Mungo Dodd’s preference, and it fitted the company’s wish to have some trustworthy individual on the property as caretaker. This was explained to Mungo Dodd and he nodded a dumb acceptance. Fate had stricken him. He was at that time barely fifty years of age, but he had the appearance of an old and broken man. Awaiting his train, the manager observed him pityingly and thought to himself that in a few years the company would have to find a new caretaker. He shook hands in farewell, as he might have shaken hands with one bereaved beside a bier, and said again:
I JOINED the Foley people in 1924, and that summer they sent me north. There had been exciting talk about Rouyn, and Four Aces Foley’s fingers itched. I was to go in by way of Sudbury, and they told me to stop off at Pig Iron Bay and take a look-see at Doddstown. This, they explained, was a dead village owned by our people, and inhabited only by a queer duck of an oldtimer named Mungo Dodd, who was acting as a sort of caretaker, because of an old contract and Foley’s stubborn refusal to abandon the enterprise
entirely. There was, it seemed, iron there, but no coal, and the venture was impossible commercially. My immediate chief was inclined to be apologetic. The inspection, he said, was just a formality, a gesture to satisfy Four Aces, keep him good-humored.
I made Doddstown at sundown and was greeted with suspicion by Mungo Dodd, until I explained my errand. Then he said eagerly:
“Will they be opening up my town, now, do you think?”
My town. I didn’t have the brutality to tell him the truth. We talked after supper, smoking in the open door of his cabin, for the weather was hot. From a shelf in a corner he brought samples of the rich, useless iron ore, and fondled them as a collector of rare gems might fondle crown jewels. Times without number he told me that in all the world there was no finer iron ore than this, and all there was for me to say was that it was too bad there was no coal.
He spoke pridefully and at great length upon the Doddstown that had been in the old days. He had not been entirely alone, it seemed, for northward were workable timber limits, and men of the lumber crews had passed through the deserted village, going in or coming out. A fine set of rascals they were, too, and a great lot of trouble they gave him, ripping up the plank sidewalks to build fires, and wanting to bunk down in the company houses. But he stood no nonsense from them. Many’s the time he’d run them off with a shotgun, and he would again, too. They couldn’t play their fool tricks in his town.
Garrulously he gave me with many repetitions the minute history of Doddstown when it was alive; the tale of his first discovery; his odd contract with the company; his triumph over the long departed innkeeper, Rivers; his ten-year search for some signs of the non-existent coal. It was amusing and pathetic, and eventually I was bored.
YAWNING, I unrolled my sleeping-bag beneath an open window in the cabin, for the sake of what breeze might be stirring, and found sound slumber immediately, as one does in that country after hours on the trail.
Then wet raindrops stung my eyelids, and the crash of thunder brought me to my feet suddenly. It was daylight, although hurrying clouds obscured the sun. I moved quickly to close the window against the beating rain.
This window, as is usual in such cabins, was made with the upper sash fixed and the lower loose, but without sash weights or cord. When you wished it open you pushed up the lower sash and propped it with anything that came handy—a piece of wood or a book.
A slab of rock, roughly oblong, supported the lower sash. Shaking the moisture from my face I yanked it out and let down the frame. Beneath my fingers the stone had a queerly familiar feel. I brought it up to the light.
Two minutes later I had shaken Mungo Dodd roughly from sleep, and was holding the rock before his bewildered halfshut eyes. In my excitement I shouted at him:
“Where did you get this?”
He rubbed gnarled knuckles into his eyebrows, and said angrily:
“What in time’s got into you, waking me up this way?”
I sat on the edge of the bunk because my knees were trembling, and went about the matter in more orderly fashion.
“I’m sorry, Mungo, but this is important. Tell me, where did you get this bit of rock?”
“I don’t know. Just picked it up. I thought it was kind of purty, so I brought it along with me. Just fits the window. Storming out some, ain’t it? What’s got :nto you, anyway?”
“Good lord, man! Don’t you know what it is?”
He took it from my impatient fingers, and turned it over and over in his own hairy paws, peering at it shortsightedly. Then he shook his head.
“No,” he said at long last, “I don’t see nothing special to it. It’s kind of purty. I just picked it up.”
I said: “Man, it’s gold.”
He did not at first believe me, but sat there, in a heap of tumbled bedclothes, while he fumbled the thin slab of white quartz, seamed with globules, pin-heads, threads of visible gold. Words came, but slowly.
“Gold?” said Mungo Dodd. “Are ye sure of that, now? Gold?”
I told him, not without bitterness, “I thought you knew minerals,” and he bristled at the slur.
“Minerals. Aye, I know minerals. Coal I know, and iron I know, and steel I know, and none better, for did I not serve my time in the pits, and with the Armstrongs at Elswick; but how should I know anything about gold, for I never worked in it? Man, it wasna gold that I traipsed all over these hills for the last ten years. It was coal. You understand that.”
This was absurd. Yet, was it absurd?
This old man’s single fixed idea was to find coal. Lord knew how many fortunes he had tramped over and missed in his blind obsession ! I said, urgent to get at the heart of the matter:
“Never mind that. The thing is, where did you pick this up?”
He caught the contagion of my excitement and thought carefully, painfully, for minutes. You could see him thinking.
“It was in May,” he said finally. “It was late May, because the ice had just gone out, and there was still snow in the woods, and it was the first time I had been on a long trip this year, and I was away three days. Aye, it was late May, sure.”
“Where, man, where?”
“Why, now, it would be—let me see. It would be out on the ledges, about four, five mile beyond where the timber runs out. ’Tis high land, and bare. No coal there, just bare rock. Some bush in spots, but mostly bare rock.”
“How far from here?”
“ ’Bout fifteen, maybe eighteen miles. You work north and east through the bush away from the main line that cuts in toward the west about six miles north. I mind well now that it was on those ledges I picked it up. The frost was out, and it had split off.”
“Was there any more of it around? There must have been.”
“Laddie, I didna look. ’Twas plain to see there was no coal there, and it was coal I was after, you understand.”
We packed and moved out. A week later I was on my way south. Doddstown, which had started out to be an iron mine, was about to come back on the brilliant yellow wings of a gold strike.
'"PHEY made me resident manager, L which in such circumstances is a job demanding about all a man has to give twenty-four hours of the day. We sank shafts, and drifted, and brought up new machinery and men. Doddstown in its resurrection became a commercial rather than a mining centre—which was inevitable. When the news got out, there were neighbors numerously around us. I lived in a shack at the mine and had little time for Doddstown for many months, but on a Sunday, checking over accounts in the Doddstown office with Charley Ashton, who was a nice blond kid just out of McGill, he suddenly demanded what was to be done about old man Dodd. Until then I had almost forgotten Mungo’s existence, and now I asked in some surprise.
“What’s the matter with old man Dodd?”
There was, it seemed, a lot the matter with old man Dodd. He was raising Cain. He was a buttinsky, a pest, a common scold and an infernal nuisance. He expected to be consulted on every move that was made in town, and he had no respect for the authority of the company’s appointed representatives. He had quarrelled violently with Ashton because that young executive had effected certain leases without asking old man Dodd’s permission. He was bitter against the company for some unknown reason, and he had insulted every tradesman in town. Summing up, he was a cantankerous, interfering old coot, and if I didn’t give him a telling-off, Charlie Ashton would do it with enthusiasm.
I said I’d have words with Mungo, and this I did after supper. What young Ashton had said was true. The old chap had a grouch against the world. Nothing that had been done in the community since it had come back to life had been done properly. The town was full of strangers that had come in without a byyour-leave and ruined it. A lot of featherbrained young gowks parading up and down the streets with no proper respect for their elders. Had I, demanded Mungo Dodd, seen the clothes that the shameless hussies were wearing on the streets? Did I know that they were going to hold dances in the company’s assembly Hall? Was I aware that some misbegotten stranger had opened a poolroom and a bowling alley? What sort of a manager was I, anyway, not even in the town more than one day a week? There was much more and it was all evil.
This was awkward. I was puzzled to know what to do about it. I could be rough with Mungo Dodd, of course. Tell him in plain words that here was a Doddstown utterly different from the Doddstown of his earlier memories, because the world everywhere was altered. Order him bluntly to mind his own business. Put him in his place. Break his foolish, faithful old heart.
Could I? No, I couldn’t. There were pictures in mind. Pictures of old Mungo Dodd spreading his fabulous iron ore samples on the desk of that long-dead railroad president so many years ago; gazing pridefully on the sign which identified Doddstown to the wide world; alone with his thoughts in the ruins of his dream, fighting off mischievous lumberjacks; tramping the woods and the hills for ten years in a vain search for a mythical coal bed; propping up his window with a slab of white quartz veined in visible gold.
Here was a bubble which no wilful act of mine must burst. So I apologized profusely and pledged reforms. Then I walked into town seeking further enlightenment.
1 J 'HE townsfolks were resentful. ConT cerned with present problems, they had no patience with Mungo Dodd’s ancestor worship, and to them he was just a plain nuisance, as useful in the community as a boil on the neck. He had quarrelled with the eminently respectable postmistress because her hair was bobbed. The little cockney barber had imported a revolving pole as evidence of his craft, and Mungo had objected violently because his permission for this striking innovation had not been requested. Our only physician had built an addition on his house without consulting the old man, and had been in consequence publicly berated as a quack. The new hotelkeeper, successor to Mungo’s ancient enemy, Rivers, had heatedly forbidden Dodd the sanctuary of his lobby, after a violent scene concerning a strip of concrete path laid, without Mungo’s consent, in front of his main entrance. With other tradesmen he had battled unceasingly over the colors with which they painted their stores, the grades of merchandise they offered for sale, the manner in which they dressed their windows, and the signs they displayed.
“ ’E acts,” said the barber indignantly, “as if 'e thort ’e wos a blinkin’ H’emp-rer.”
“That,” I told him, “is exactly what he does think.”
“Well, ’e blinkin’ well h’ain’t.”
I went back to the mine and pondered things intensively for a week. Thereafter I spoke words with Doddstown’s only lawyer, a good man named Richardson, who was overseas with me. A week or so later it was necessary that I should go to New York, and I took Richardson
along. We held conferences and played golf with vice-presidents of Foley, Incorporated. When we returned we had a plan.
AT A fearfully formal meeting in my office we solemnly discussed momentous affairs with many long words that the company had decided that Doddstown was now far too important a community to remain a mere mining camp. It was to be incorporated as a town, and Richardson was shortly to leave for Toronto to arrange things neatly, according to law. Of course, it was impossible to conclude so tremendous an affair without Mr. Dodd’s aid. Would he consent to accompany Mr. Richardson to Toronto and lend his valuable assistance?
Visibly flattered, Mr. Dodd condescended that he would. At length he departed proudly, and for a week I neglected the mine while I talked earnestly with the citizens of Doddstown concerning the life and times of Mungo Dodd and the village which he had founded. I spoke to the point, and opposition to my views melted, for I had the company behind me. It was not a profitable thing to antagonize the company.
So, in the end, things came to pass as we had ordained. To a rather greater degree, in fact, but that was because a Toronto newspaperman discovered Mungo Dodd at the King Edward, and translated him in a full page of vivid adjectives on a certain Saturday. Therefore he became a hero, and overstayed his leave, which did not in the least matter. When at last he returned, he was greeted clamorously by a Welcome Home Committee with oratory, flowers, and something which the local citizenry optimistically described as a band.
BILL WINANS ceased speaking and looked at his watch so ostentatiously that I knew I was being kidded, and said so.
“I have told you,” said Bill Winans with the air of one who is unjustly accused of a major crime, “the story of Doddstown, its discovery, its coma, and its resurrection. I have only to add that at the present moment I honestly believe that Mungo Dodd is the happiest man I know.”
I mentioned bodily violence in dark words, and the big man reached into an inside pocket to withdraw an obese wallet. From its crowded interior he selected a large square of pasteboard on which type was crowded. This he handed to me and watched, while I read:
MUNGO DODD Mayor of Doddstown, Ont.
President, Doddstown Boosters Association.
President, Doddstown Chamber of Commerce.
President, Doddstown Real Estate Board.
President, Doddstown Merchants Club. President, Doddstown Health League. President, Doddstown Rotary Club.
“The mayor idea was mine,” said Bill Winans, “but I give you my word that the old chap thought up all the other notions on his own account. He collected them while he was being lionized in Toronto,”