Our gang had made its plans. We had decided that the time was now ripe for us to make a raid on Mill Creek Mine. It had shut down two or three weeks ago. We had been watching the place to see when everybody would finally be gone. The mine was now deserted. The time had come for us to do the job. There hadn’t been a soul around the place for a week now. Looking around an abandoned mine is great fun. We planned to go into the mine, and maybe we would even go to the face. The face was what the miners called the place was they actually dug loose the coal and loaded it into mine cars so it could be hauled outside to the tipple to be cleaned and loaded into railroad cars.
Smasher, Smokey, Joker, Wizzer and me were going on the raid. Mole couldn’t be with us today. He had been grounded for fighting with his sister. Those of us that had brothers or sisters understood just what he was up against, being grounded, and most of us had been in that same predicament at one time or another.
The shops at Mill Creek Mine had supplied us with many a steelie for our slingshots in the past. Now that it was closed, we had reason to believe that there were more steelies for our slingshots, and just maybe there would be some other things that we could cart away for our use as well.
When Wizzer and me met to go to our hideout, he was carrying his rifle. That set me back on my heels. When we had planned this job, nobody had said anything about carrying rifles along with us. Wizzer and me traveled through the woods to the hideout without saying much. I was thinking about not having a rifle and why we weren’t using our slingshots instead. Wizzer knew I didn’t have a rifle. He knew too that particular fact was bothering me so he wasn’t saying anything either. When we reached our hideout, Wizzer suggested that we try to sneak up on the guys in the hideout without them spotting us. We did. In fact, we snuck in so slick that we didn’t have to use our special signal to let them know that we was friends. We just lifted the camouflaged trap door and crawled into the hideout, startling the rest of the gang. Smasher got mad and started jawing at us about doing things in a proper manner.
“Why didn’t you guys use our signal? How’re we gonna scatter if you don’t? You two could’ve been somebody else that wasn’t supposed to be here.”
“If we had been somebody that wasn’t supposed to be here, you would’ve all been dead ducks sittin’ here on this log doin’ your quackin’. There’s supposed to be a guard posted when anybody’s gonna be here fer long. None of you didn’t even see er hear us sneakin’ up on you. We snuck in here as pretty as you please,” I smirked. That shut him up. The look that he gave me told me though that he was none too happy about what we had done. I looked around. Each of the fellows had his Twenty-Two rifle with him.
“What’re you guys doin’ with the rifles?” I asked. “There was nothin’ in our plans about anybody bringin’ their rifles.”
“Aw. We was jist figurin’ on doin’ some plinkin’ at tin cans n’ bottles if things don’t work out at the mine,” Wizzer said. “Squirt, you kin take turns with me shootin’ my gun.” The other guys held their peace. They knew that I didn’t have a rifle. One other time I had snuck away from the house with my older brother Zip’s rifle. For that trick, I had gotten my hide tanned from my dad and a good thumping from Zip in the bargain.
Joker spoke up then and broke the silence saying, “We better git goin’. We got us a full days work ahead of us if we’re gonna check the whole place out.”
“Squirt, since Wizzer n’ you done such a good job of sneakin’ up on us, you n’ Wizzer kin scout out the mine to see if anybody’s around. If the coast is clear, give our signal, n’ we’ll meet you down at the big oak tree.”
Wizzer and me snuck away from the hideout stealing our way down through the woods toward the mine looking and watching all the while. About a hundred yards from the mine there was a big Oak tree that was perfect for spying on the mine. I climbed up into the tree and Wizzer followed me. It was understood by both of us; Wizzer and me would whisper or use hand signals to talk to each other until we had checked to be sure the mine was deserted. We settled ourselves in notches of the tree and began our watch of the mine. The whole place was as quiet as a sleeping babe. Twenty minutes or so passed. Not a soul stirred. The place seemed deserted.
“It looks OK. Let’s call the guys in,” I whispered to Wizzer. He shook his head from side to side. He was telling me that we should wait and watch a while longer. Wizzer had eyes like a hawk, and he hadn’t seen anything. Yet, he still didn’t want to give the signal. He was afraid. He didn’t have to say so. I saw it in his eyes. So I let go with the signal, two short sharp whistles, and started down out of the tree. When I reached the ground, the guys were coming down through the woods. Wizzer climbed down behind me. He wasn’t happy that I had called in the other guys without his say so. The dirty looks he gave me told me as much so I let him tell the other guys that we hadn’t seen anyone around the mine.
“It’s clear,” he said, “There don’t seem to be anybody around. We better go slow though. You never know. . . .” He didn’t get a chance to finish whatever he was going to say. What Wizzer had suggested wasn’t Smasher’s way.
“If it’s clear, then we ain’t gonna go in there slow!” Smasher said. With that, he started at a good pace toward the mine office. It was padlocked. Smasher took one swipe with the hatchet he carried and the office wasn’t padlocked anymore.
Joker came up to him and said, “Smasher, you’re plumb crazy. There could’ve been somebody in there.”
Smasher just laughed. “You dumb cluck. What do you think they done, crawled out of a window er something to put the padlock on the door? Let’s go inside now n’ check things out.”
There wasn’t all that much to see in the office. Dirty, Army green file cabinets stood against one wall. Another wall was covered with a blackboard just like the ones in the schoolhouse. When Smasher saw those blackboards, he let out a whoop like he had struck gold. His hatchet was out of his belt before any of us could blink.
“Stand back boys. This here is work for the Smasher,” he shouted. Smash! He destroyed one slate, sending chips flying around the room. Lines streaked outward from the gash that was made where his hatchet had hit that board. Smash! Smash! With three swipes of his hatchet he had turned those three slates of the blackboard into what looked like giant spider webs that no self respecting spider would ever consider crawling over. He turned toward us. With a smile on his face like one of those little Angels that you see on valentines, he said, “I wish I was in the school house right now.” If Smasher had been in the schoolhouse just then, I wouldn’t have given half a nickel for every blackboard in the place.
Joker attacked the file cabinets. They were padlocked. He took a swipe at one of the padlocks with his hatchet. Zing! The lock went winging across the room like a bullet and smashed a window. He opened the file cabinet, showing us that it was stuffed full with a bunch of papers. We weren’t looking for paper right then. But if we had to start a fire, those papers would make a good bonfire, especially if we could find the naphtha that was used to fill the bug lights. Bug lights didn’t really have anything to do with bugs. The miners used them to test for methane gas in the mines. The proper name for them was flame safety lamps. Something that every coal miner’s kid learns about almost before he can walk.
Smasher took a quick look around, a survey of the office. “We kin save this place fer later. There ain’t much of nothin’ here. Let’s see what else we kin find.” Out the door he went like a shot. The rest of us followed. We all knew this: Smasher was doing what he did best, namely, he was smashing things. Knowing that Smasher was bent on destruction, we all followed. None of us wanted to miss a thing.
“Will you look at that!” Smasher pointed at the motor barn. It wasn’t really a barn. What it was, was a building that looked like a dirty, coal covered greenhouse somewhat like the ones that I had seen in the gardening magazines that Godpap kept in his cellar. The whole building, from the walls about three feet above the floor up to and including the roof, was made of little panes of glass. When the mine was working, that building was where they stored and repaired the electric locomotives that the miners used to haul coal out of the mines. It was no small building! There was room in it to park six or eight big motors, which is what the miners called the locomotives. Big or not, that building was doomed. Smasher had seen it.
Smasher grinned at us and hopped up and down as though a bunch of ants had crawled up his pants legs. His eyes darted around and shone like a crazy person’s. He spied a piece of steel pipe that was about a half inch in diameter and about eight feet long. That piece of pipe couldn’t have been put in a better place for Smasher’s intentions. Smasher raised his hands above his head, clasped them together, and danced in front of us like a victorious boxer with a crazy-wild grin flashing from his teeth to his eyes. Then he grabbed that piece of pipe and gave us this order.
“Stand back boys. I am about to become the one n’ only all-time chaaam-peen glass smasher of Chestnut Valley.”
Crash! Smasher jabbed one end of the pipe through one pane of glass. We were all disappointed. Any one of us could have smashed that single pane quicker than a snap of a finger. We was expecting a whole lot more action than that, and we told him so in no uncertain terms. Smasher turned toward us and grinned. “Boys, I have not yet begun to smash. Watch this my friends. I am about to make history.” He turned back to the building and swung that piece of pipe like a scythe. With a smash, crash, and tinkle, five or six feet of broken glass and framework fell to the ground. Busted. He walked around the building swinging that pipe like farmer busy cutting hay. Smash, crash, and tinkle. Broken glass and pieces of smashed frames fell dead and ruined on the ground behind him. We all watched, jaws hanging, while Smasher smashed every pane of glass and every frame in the bottom row of the building. Yet, things still weren’t happening fast enough to suit Smasher. He grabbed a two by four plank about six or eight feet long and jabbed the center of one of the frames in the second row of windows with the butt end of it. Glass fell everywhere around him. A whole section of panes had busted. Smasher didn’t care. Twenty or thirty panes of broken glass fell twinkling like a fallen Angel’s busted halo splintering around him and the ground at his feet. Twisted, splintered frames hung in snaggle-toothed holes. Smasher was in his glory. We all watched, fascinated. This was better than the movies. Smasher went about the job of completing his destruction. When he had finished with his wrecking job, every pane of glass on the walls of the motor barn was broken. Blood dripped and dribbled from small nicks and cuts on his arms and face. Smasher paid the blood no mind at all.
Smasher turned away from the destroyed building and walked toward us with a grin on his face. That lunatic look was gone from his eyes. I figured that even Smasher could get too much of a good thing. I was wrong.
“Do you suppose them fools that ran this place could’ve left any dynamite in the powder magazine?” Smasher asked none of us in particular. “Let’s go down there and find out.”
To find out if the gang finds dynamite and what happens if they do, read Part Two.