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The Footpad

(serial, part fourteen)
by Tom Carnegie

He was a new customer, maybe from out of town. Butch was tuning up his Model T coils on a hand-cranked coil tester as the customer looked on. As Butch spun the handle on the machine, a steady stream of sparks, 16 per revolution emanated from the pointer. The customer was intrigued and approached the machine, pointing to the ring where the sparks were landing. "Whoa! Be careful!" Butch's warning was enough to stop the man in his tracks. Butch continued. " If you get your finger too close to that ring the sparks could jump to you instead of the ring and believe me, that is not what I'd call a good time." Butch squinted at one of the recently adjusted coils and then said. "One of these would make a good weapon."

"What do you mean?" asked Joseph, who is the manager of the Model T garage where Butch is employed. "If you wanted to knock someone down or make 'em unable to attack you, you could just shock 'em with a T coil." "That wouldn't be too practical would it?" Joseph then continued. "And I'll tell you why. First off, you would need a big battery to carry around with you. Second is the issue of proximity. One would have to be very near their antagonist to use it on them." Butch thought for minute and then said, "Maybe you could have a pistol that shot out wires so you could shock a person from a distance." The customer was somewhat amused by this and joined into the spirit of the conversation. "Do you think a shock could actually incapacitate a person, especially a determined person?" Joseph and Butch looked at each other knowingly, as Joseph chuckled he said, "Butch, tell the man your footpad story." Butch looked puzzled. "Footpad story? What's a footpad?" "A highwayman." replied Joseph. "What?" Butch still wasn't tracking. "Tell him about you and Bettie and young George Mason and the robber." "Oh! A Footpad is a robber? I had never heard that before. Sure, I'll tell the story."

With that Butch continued to adjust coils as he began to relate the tale of the Footpad. "Me and Bettie liked to go out to that meadow just east of the Doon Fox Farm and have a picnic every so often on Saturday. I would hire the Mason kid, George junior, or Jar as everyone calls him and give him two bits to come along with us and play phonograph records on the Grafonola. I didn't know it at the time, but Jar was being punished and his punishment was to come with me and Bettie. His mom made him work for me because he had electrified the front door knob on his house with a T coil, and his father was not too pleased when he grabbed the knob to open the door after coming home from work one day. At any rate, Jar was irked going with me on a Saturday and having to help me unload the Grafanola. Bonnie's family has a big Grafanola, a floor model, not the table top kind. We would take it along with us so we could listen to music while we ate our lunch. Jar and I would hoist it into the back of the pickup box and then rope it down.

For some reason it also irked Jar that Bonnie had him change needles after each record was played. Bonnie can tell by the sound when a needle hasn't been changed, and she'd let Jar know if he slipped up. She always let him know so sweetly that sometimes I think he'd forget just to be called "dear" or "honey" or something like that by Bettie. I think his mom kept the two-bits that I gave him too, which made him even madder. So anyhow, me and Bettie have our blanket and basket about fifty yards from the T and we're eatin' sandwiches and drinkin' lemonade and listening to songs, which Jar is doing a good job of keepin' 'em playing. What I didn't know at the time was that the kid had a plan to "get" me. He had un-winded a T coil and inside is a bunch of real fine wire – probably a mile long or so. His plan was to stretch a piece of this wire between two tree branches, at about nose high, and when I walked into it, let me have it. He would put on a phonograph, then while it was playing he would figure out which coil would buzz as the spark lever was advanced. He'd put on another record, then string his wire. He'd put on another, then open the hood of the T and hook the wire to the spark plug. We weren't paying any attention to him. The songs were coming and the needles sounded fresh. We should have known something was up from the fact that the needles were fresh. Then, something was wrong. The first thing I noticed was that the song had finished, yet no new tune was put on. I was about to yell at Jar when I noticed the robber. He had a gun and was coming toward me and Bettie. I looked around for the Mason kid, but he was no where to be seen. Me and Bettie stood up and the robber ordered us to give him my wallet and Bettie's purse.

I didn't know what to do other than what he said so I started to walk toward him to give the stuff. He said "that's close enough, just drop it on the ground". I dropped it on the ground and started to back away. He walked toward the stuff and suddenly he reeled back and fell right over onto his behind, just like he'd been kicked by a mule. When he did, he dropped his gun, which I picked up. I told him to stay on the ground, which he seemed happy to do. He wasn't too happy when Bettie came over and kicked him in the ribs though. It sure enough surprised me at the time to see Bettie do this. At any rate, it seems that Jr was hiding under the dash of the T and right when the robber came in contact with the wire to his nose, which he didn't see, because it was so very fine, the kid pulled down the spark lever and walloped him a good one . We then roped up the robber and brought him back to town and let the police deal with him. Anyway, that is why I think a model T coil would make a good defensive weapon." The customer was obviously amused by this story. Butch continued to spin the machine as he made the final adjustment to the last coil. As the flywheel spun down, Butch straightened the machine on the bench. The customer was even more amused by Butch's reaction after accidentally contacting the spark-ring whilst straightening the machine.

(end of story)

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