Dunstable, June, 1862
Jason groaned a little as he woke up. It was a Tuesday. It was the first Tuesday after his matriculation at the University. By rights, he should be looking forward to his first day of work as a lineman or a foreman at a manufactory. But mediocre grades and a non-descript family tree allowed no such guarantees. As he had learned all through grammar school and on school breaks, his only guaranteed work was cleaning the stables. Today he had a “bonus” – Eddie, the older dapple grey horse, had made it into a neighbors orchard. So this morning’s routine likely involved buckets and mops as well as the usual shovel and broom.
He donned work smocks and headed outside. He splashed water onto his face and trudged to the barn to survey his morning tasks. Someone had put extra straw in Eddie’s paddock last night so things were not as bad as he had feared. He led, Browne – a brown work horse, to the pasture next to the barn. Eddie he sluiced with water and curried him a bit. Not surprisingly, the horse seemed a bit listless and didn’t even flinch at the cold water. He then led the mopy and unrepentant creature to the pasture to join Browne.
Jason started the cleaning process of the stalls – first moving as much solid waste out to the manure pile as possible. The pile was used in spring time for fertilizer in the pastures and crop rows. He then began the process of washing the floor – hauling two buckets of water, splashing on the floor and then pushing the mixture to the center drain where it ran out the back into the pasture area. As he hauled the buckets, he worked out in his mind how a mechanical pump driven by the horses would allow him to avoid the hauling. But his Aunt and Uncle did not have money or interest in such labor saving devices. Especially, since he was doing it for free.
Job finished, he headed back to the house. He brought his fresh clothes and a towel to the shower stall. The outside shower used in summer had cool water he used to wash off the barn smell with lye soap his Aunt made. He then shaved carefully and got on his clothes for his new job downtown. It wasn’t much – a dishwasher position, but he needed money to repay the student loans immediately. His Aunt and Uncle, knowing he needed to pay off the loans, acquiesced to his taking paid work even though they needed another hand. They had managed while he was at school; they would manage now.
His Aunt Mary had left a bit of sausage, bread and jam. He ate that quickly with a glass of milk. He didn’t have time for tea, but then he rarely did. Jason hopped on the solid bicycle to head into town. The farm horses were for work and used for hauling loads rather than riders. The bicycle made for a quick if rough trip on the dirt road into town. And he did not get nearly as dirty riding as he might have walking.
He arrived at the door of the pub and sighed once more at his predicament. If only he had focused on school a bit more; if only he asked for a bit more help from others; if only he was wired for book learning instead of experience learning; if only he wasn’t a foster child to a dairy farm in a small town. All those, any of those and he might not be stuck in the town bar in a backwater town serving to louts who wouldn’t know a metric wrench from an English hammer. All of his learned skills were going to be applied diligently to sweeping floors, clearing tables or doing dishes.
But life hands out no “do overs” and the pub owner was a valued customer to his foster parents. The pub was well respected (at least in his town) and Stephan did not have to offer work to him. Money was needed to pay off loans and he would do his share as needs must. He squared his shoulders and strode in.
It was a bit dark with bad light and old wood. The heavy doors opened to a landing that was four steps above a sunken floor. He faced the bar which dominated one leg of the L shaped room. The bar was Stephan’s pride and the focus of the room. At the foot was a polished brass rail for propping boots. The bar itself was a massive construction of oak a bit more than four feet high. The wood was polished, oiled and varnished. Inlaid wood designs showed various scenes of the country life such as harvest, hunting, the market, and (of course) drinking. Those who could look closely rarely appreciated the fine carving. On top of the bar was a massive 30 foot slab of dark fine grained granite. The smooth surface cleaned easily and Stephan was known to slide a mug to prepared customers in a bit of show. Jason knew the granite was all the more amazing since there was no dark granite for 700 miles and was in one piece. How it was cut, polished and transported remained an utter mystery to him.
Behind the bar, a huge mirror framed in more carved oak allowing the bar keep to keep watch of customers while mixing or cleaning. The called liquor lined the bottom of the mirror like fancy dress soldiers. Stephan was behind the bar tallying last night’s receipts as Jason walked in. He glanced at the clock on the wall. “A little early – a good start. Head into the kitchen and Jolene will get you sorted. “
Jason went through the double doors into the kitchen area. The town had gotten a gas line about five years ago and Stephan had invested in a connection to supply the kitchen and lights for the bar and dining rom. So the kitchen was clean and not excessively warm or smoky. Two large cast iron gas stoves with ovens underneath dominated one side of the kitchen. The work bench filled the other. Jolene was in a white smock and had been working on the sauces for the night’s fare. She covered the huge pots, wiped her hand and came over.
“Welcome aboard. I’m Jolene. Stephan speaks highly of you”
“Thanks. I appreciate the job. “
“We’ll try to keep you busy”, she said with a wink. “As the new guy, you start with cleaning – college degrees don’t count for much here”. There was a touch of defensiveness in her voice.
Jason opted not to challenge the statement. “I’ve been doing cleaning work most of my life. So that’s good as anything and getting paid for it will be a change.”
“Great – test your experience on those dishes at the sink. Get them cleaned and dried. Grab an apron from the closet and there is hot water on the boil”.
The sink was piled high with pots, pans, cutlery, and preparation utensils from Jolene’s morning routine. Jason donned the apron, rolled up his sleeves and surveyed the mess. The sink had an indoor spigot but was a hard pump. He quickly filled one basin with cold water and set the utensils soaking. He filled a second basin with more water and fetched the kettle of boiling water. He started another pot of water on the stove. And so began his routine: wash, rinse, rinse and dry. The work was mindless as he managed his way through the pile of dishware. Occasionally he might briefly consider one item to try and guess its use if he didn’t know. He looked at the sink arrangement – could he make it more efficient? Was it possible to increase the flow in the pump? Could he use the gas in the building to heat the water directly? And the dishes were done , replaced, and the process repeated itself.
After what seemed an eternity, the noontime chime rang. Jolene shouted “Break” and the pub crew assembled in the main room. Stephanie, the owners’ daughter, had set out samples of the day’s special for the staff. The remainder of the crew got portions of last night’s left overs. Stephanie went over the assignments, specials and some reservations for a dinner party. Stephan went over issues around table bussing and drink serving (the tables were getting sticky – the bus staff better clean the tables properly or tips would be cut). Then he introduced Jason.
“We have a new hire today. Jason O’Neill of the Johnson dairy outside of town. Some of you may know him. He just graduated from Engineering School. He just spent the morning applying his hard won skills to Jolene’s pots and pans.”
That sense of humor could get old thought Jason.
“Let’s have a go round and everyone introduce themselves. Jolene you’ve met. “ Stephan nodded to his daughter to start.
“Good to have you on board, Jason. Maybe we’ll keep up with plates now”. Stephanie said good naturedly. They knew each other since grade school.
“Hey, I kept up. You guys just kept hiding piles when I finished them. I’m Rob and I had your job until you came along. I was behind you 3 years at school” Jason recognized Rob (it was a small town) but did not know him personally.
Moving around the table, the two drink servers. In a bit of marketing genius, Stephan had managed to convince both the Amos twins to work at his place.
“I’m Kimberly. Try to keep the mugs coming.”
“I’m Candace. Let me know if you want the secret to keeping Jolene happy. We all started there. “
“I’m John. I am one of the waiters. Good to have you on.”
‘I’m Susan. Try to keep up on the plates and everything will be great.”
Jason did not know John or Susan who apparently had arrived while he was at college. He was going to have ask what drew them to this little corner of nowhere. John seemed friendly enough but he suspected Susan would be very demanding with that comment.
“I snuck in while you into your elbows on the sauce works. I’m Peter and I am the prep chef. I try to meet Jolene’s exacting standards”. Peter was still in his white smock which was now a bit stained from the morning’s prep work.
“Welcome aboard Jason. Talk with me after lunch and we’ll talk your other duties and job particulars” Stephan finished. And so the break dissolved into small conversation. The waiters and Stephanie took notes on the night specials with Jolene. Rob, Kimberly, and Candace seemed to be joking about a bad set of customers. Jason was enjoying his free leftovers of chicken pasta and green beans.
“This must feel a bit of a letdown after University. All that training and here you are washing dishes.“
Peter was eating a beef sandwich and the same green beans.
“I can’t say it was what I expected, but it is a job and I need the money”. Jason was quite sure he did not want to navigate this minefield just yet. “Tell me how you got here”
“Oh I was probably similar to you. I went to University and got a second in Literature. You can imagine the job opportunities. I moved in with some cousins in the area and started here. I had done some pub grill work at the U and Jolene needed help. The rest is history.”
“How do you like working for them?”
“The pay is fair. Jolene expects a lot but she expects a lot of herself. Stephan can be gruff and harsh, but he runs a good business and Christmas bonuses are good if you work out. I am hoping to open a book store here”
“A book store?! Haven’t lost the literature bug yet?”
“I like cooking, but I don’t live for it. Besides this a pub. Nobody in this town want the fancy stuff Jolene and I could do. “
“Stephan must do pretty well. This is a big place. “
“Stephan does well and we keep the place busy so it keeps doing well. I understand he came in with a fair size stake at the beginning so he didn’t need any bank money. I am sure that helped. “
Jason finished his chicken pasta. It was good, but hardly exotic. Peter was right – the food was solid, tasty but not adventurous. Looking at the menu brought to mind “comfort food”: pastas, meat and potatoes, chicken stew. This was a pub and that is what people go to pubs to eat.
Once the food was finished and the plates were gathered, Jason headed to the sink to get them ready for tonight.
“Those’ll wait. Follow me” commanded Stephan. Jason obeyed and followed Stephan into the cellar. The cellar held the pub brewing facilities. The pub featured lager, ale and a stout. The beer was brewed in small batch and held in large steel barrels. “I’ll be casking a batch o’ lager and I’ll be needin’ some assistance.” Jason follow Stephan who went into the adjacent building. It was much smaller than the pub, but was still 20’ long and deep as the pub. The windows etched so no one could peek inside. Stephan used a key and said “Wait here”. Stephan went inside the door and did something with a box on the wall and then shouted “Ok…it’s safe to come inside”
“What was that about?”
“Nothing you need to worry about. Just a little somethin’ ta’ discourage burglars. Grab an apron from the rack, you’ll find a bucket and sponges next to rack. Meet me at the masher. “
Jason looked around the room. It was full of complex tubes going from one vessel to the next. The masher Stephan had pointed to was in the back. Next to it was a tall copper kettle and that fed into a tin vat. Then lining the wall were several 10’ tall steel barrels with taps at the bottom. These were the fermenting vats. Stephan had a series of small kegs that he was lining up next to a middle vat.
“I’ll be casking this batch o’ lager. While I’m doing that, I need you to start cleaning the masher, the kettle and the cooler. “ He pointed at the three objects in the back of the room. “Now before we start, this work is extra. You don’t haf to do it. You’ll be paid your normal wage plus 50% if you want. We’ve got about 2 hours’ work today. “
“Sure. I can use the money. Who made all this equipment? “
“Some I bought and some I made. Now start washing. Rinse first. There is a pump in the back as well. There is also a large kettle for you to rinse with hot water. Use a splash of bleach with each bucket of water. That sanitizes the equipment and the water. “
Jason used the hand pump to fill the bucket and put a small splash of bleach in and then went over to the masher. Off to the side, he could see bags of the gristed malt – barley ground to a powder which would be mixed with warm water. This concoction was stirred in the masher tun which Jason was cleaning. The tun was large vat with dashers or rakes that continuously mixed the malt with the warm water. Jason splashed water on the dashers and scrubbed. Then he went back for more water to rinse. He repeated the process for the sides and bottom. He could see that the tun had a pipe that ran to the kettle and had a gas flame underneath. That seemed a new thing, but meant that Stephan could keep the mixture warm while the mash was being worked. The dashers were still hand cranked and Jason wondered if a combination of the gas heating, plus some machinery could automate that process.
Finished he moved on to the kettle. The kettle was a large copper vessel that looked like an upside down champagne glass. It was very wide at the bottom and only rose 2 or 3 feet up before it quickly fluted to a venting shaft which went outside. Gas acted as the heater again. A wide door opened giving him access to nearly the whole kettle. He splashed water and bleach in and scrubbed in the strong smelling vat. Bits of caramelized mash, or wort as it was known, stuck stubbornly to the bottom as he scoured with a brush. Finally, everything came up and he gave a final rinse down.
The hop cooler was next and last. The mixture from the kettle is warm when it enters this vat. The vat itself was a large open pot with a valve at the bottom. Hops are added here and the mixture cools down. Mixing was done by hand and then allowed to sit for an hour or two. The hops added flavor and a bit of bitterness. Beers with a lot of hop flavor were often called bitters. This was the easiest chamber to clean – there were no giant paddles and it had easy access. Jason made quick work of this large pot and then went over to Stephan. He had a tube running from the tap on the large barrel to the smaller barrel. He would open up the larger tap wait until it was nearly full and then close the tap, remove the tube and slam home a bung in the hole. Jason moved to the tap and indicated that he could turn on and off the flow as Stephen required. Stephan nodded and they continued to work. Soon the last of the kegs was filled and sealed. Twenty in total had been filled.
Jason said, “I think there is a fair amount you could do to make this run faster.”
Stephan eyed him, “Do ya’ now?”
“Well for example, a bit of machinery might make the dashers in the Masher tun work automatically. This bit here we might able to have a machine do the bung. And you need a lot more hot water. “
“I’ve got a boiler for that. It’s over in the corner. “
“Hmm… I wonder if we could arrange it so we could get the water where it was needed? Gravity?”
“Jason, do you like me beer?”
“Urr… well yes. It’s probably the best I’ve had. The college pubs were no match. “
“And you want to mess with that formula?”
“Well, when you put it that way..”
“Lad, I know a bit about machinery myself and none of what you see is by accident. But get some of your ideas together and we’ll talk about them. I probably won’t do anything with them, but it can’t hurt to see what you’ve got up your sleeve. Now you have about an hour and half before we need you back at the kitchen. Take a break and a walk and we’ll see you then. “
He stepped out onto the street. He took the time to walk about the town. It had been awhile since he had been in it. Looking right, was the center of town. It was a small park and was dominated by shops around the park. Houses in this area were closer together, but fancier than the houses to the left. Dunstable was a train town where goods were gathered before they were shipped to London. Recently a manufactory had opened close to the track that was making wheels for carriages. He had tried to get a job in design and maintenance there but the job went to some of the Mayor’s family friends.
Jason headed towards the park and wandered around. There were more shops than he remembered. There was the sewing shop that Kimberly and Candace’s mother ran. There were the standard butcher, baker and cheese shop. His Aunt and Uncle regularly sold their goods through the cheese shop. A new store had appeared selling furniture. He wondered what happened to the old carpenter shop and shrugged. He sat in the park and watched. There was little foot traffic at the moment. One nanny was pushing a pram around the park. Another older couple were talking and stepped into the tea shop. Jason relaxed and pulled out his notebook and started sketching some ideas for turning the masher. He needed an energy source. Stephan had gas, so he could create a boiler and then use step to power a machine driver. He might even be able to use that steam power to heat the kettle in a more controlled fashion. He began sketching some ideas into the book and making notes of what to research on the side.
Soon the hour and half was nearly done and he headed back to the pub. He headed into the kitchen where Jolene said, “Good, your back. You weren’t scared off by the work or Stephan.”
Jason answered, “I still need the money and he seems pleasant enough despite the gruff face.”
Jolene laughed and said, “If you don’t do the work, you’ll see how gruff that face can be.” She switched to a business tone, “Now tonight won’t be as busy so it is a good one to start. Keep up with the dishes, silverware and especially glasses. You don’t need to dry – just set them on a towel wet and one of the busboys will come back and take what is needed. If there is a lull, work on pots and pans. Peter and I will try to stack them in order of need. If we need something cleaned, it takes priority. If you really feel behind, we’ll get a busboy to help. They know this job. Keep your area clean. When dinner slows down, we’ll start walking through close down process.”
“I’ve no doubts about you, Jason. I know how you work at the farm and I know what you did to get through University. Just keep your head and the night will soon be over.”
“Thank you, ma’am”
“If you ‘ma’am’ me one more time, I will have special close out duties. Get washing.”
Jason started on the pile of glasses because they seemed to be the priority. Since it was a pub, this was hardly surprising. At school he had been a busboy and that was lower than dishwasher, but here the hierarchy seemed to switch. He grabbed glasses from the soapy water and washed them, rinsed them and rinsed again with hot water. He made sure a kettle was always warming while he was washing. Glasses done, he switched to the plates which went fast. When he turned around, half the glasses were gone and a new batch had shown up on the dirty rack. He did silverware next which washed hard but rinsed easy. The clean glasses were gone and a bigger pile waited his attention. He started over. The cycle continued for the next hour. In a short break, he drained the dirty water and filled it again. The dishes held steady until about 7PM when things really went crazy. He washed as fast as he could. At this point, glasses were every other batch. He was sweating hard and wondering what a busy night was like. Someone shouted “Bowls please!”, and he had realized he hadn’t done bowls since he started. Quickly he washed 8 bowls and put them out. He went back to glasses and plates and cycled bowls in more. But that was slowing him down. Jolene shouted, “Rob, get in here and start helping with dishes.”
Rob arrived and joked, “Things a bit fast?”
Jason looked forlorn, “This is a slow night? One person can’t keep up.”
Rob changed to serious, “No, they can’t. You did right well for a first night, but one of the busboys always has to help at some point. Now make some room and I’ll work on glasses and you work on bowls.”
The two continued working in silent concentration. Peter came over with a set of knives and said “I need these quick.”
Rob took them, soaped them, wiped them and rinsed them twice and put them on the towel. Jason said, “I could of have done that.”
Rob said, “You need to work on glasses, plates, silverware and bowls. I’ll handle the strange stuff tonight.” The burden started to lighten up a bit and Rob went out and cleared more tables and brought more dishes in, but the crush seemed to have ended. Jason continued working. He glanced at the clock and the time said 8:30. The glasses never seemed to stop, but the plates were slowing down. Finally, even those seemed to slow enough that he was almost caught up.
Jolene came over and said, “Take a short break and then we’ll start on pots and pan clean up. You can step outside in the back for some fresh air. Don’t’ go into the main room.”
Jason stepped outside and breathed in the evening air. It was still light so close to summer equinox. A couple of patrons were walking down the street laughing. He was tired but generally pleased. Not the career he had hoped for, he thought a bit wistfully but with all the hours today, he should get a nice check at the end of the week.
He headed back in. He worked on pots and pans. He cleaned the stove. He wiped down counters. He cleaned more glasses. He mopped. Around 10PM, Jolene said, “I think we’ve worked you enough for the day. Sign yourself out. Will we see you tomorrow?”
“As I said…Jolene, I need the money? What time should I be here?”
“Be here about 10:30 for morning cleaning and set up. That is usually 2 hours, we break for lunch and then you have the afternoon off until 5PM. Stephan may take you into the brewery, but that is extra pay and a bit higher grade, so I can’t think you’ll complain.”
“Nay, I appreciate the job.”
“Remember to stop by when you get that fancy engineer’s job.”
“I don’t know about that, but thanks for the confidence. “
He took off the apron and found his bike and made his way home. He got to the house about 10:30 PM and the lights were already out. He washed down a bit and headed up to his room. He pulled out his notebook and inked in some more notes on his idea. He decided the first purchase he would make would be some drafting paper and pens. With that, he doused the lamp and headed to bed.