Ch. 15 — Finding the Real “San Francisco 49ers”

With Claudia Allca in-house, and having the satisfaction of successfully voyaging with her husband to Virginia yesterday to verify the reports about Sgt. Richard Kirkland at the Battle of Fredericksburg, the family now gets a further request.

One DVD duly delivered to the Allca household the previous evening has whet the curiosity appetite for more history. This time it will be one in search of Americana, but first, Alex has further questions that have puzzled him.

“On Ethan’s visits, he mentioned that your family had been involved in the rescue at that coal mine in West Virginia. I have a query about that situation. How was it that you were able to find your way around and get into the underground area of the mine?” the philanthropist inquired.

“That was pretty easy,” Dianne pipes in. The teens’ mom had been the ‘driver’ on that occasion, and she remembers the trip very clearly. “We didn’t know where Paw Paw, West Virginia, was, but NNN had a series of maps it kept displaying on the TV screen and we just made a few notes from those maps and went with that. We later reached the simple conclusion that we could have found it more quickly with our satnav, but those were early days for us.

“Second, the System is able to penetrate solid objects. We were on a trip to an Australian Naval Air Station to see a special airplane, and our son, James, accidentally flew us right through the hangar wall and into the display area.

“We thought he had wrecked the portal, but it seemed to work afterwards without any apparent hindrance, and it has done so ever since. There was no damage at all to the building’s wall.

“That gave someone the idea of testing it on a large glass and metal sign, which it proved able to pass completely through without difficulty. No damage to the System or the structure.”

“In the case of the mine, we used the penetration capability James had stumbled upon, and, once again, followed NNN’s maps and ‘drove’ around until we located tunneling, lighting, then signs of life, and, once we revived them and got information from them as to where their buddies had been the last time they saw them, and presto! that was it.”

“Whoa, Whoa, Whoa! Did you say you had to revive some of the men you found in the mine?” asks Ethan Thomas. “Do you mean you had to resurrect them; bring them back to life? You didn’t tell us that before, and it didn’t show up in the video you gave us. Why did you edit that information out and leave it out of the story you gave me?”

“I’m sorry, ET. Right from the get-go we decided as a family that we would not use the System to change history.” Russell confesses painfully as to the case of the first three miners in the Paw Paw explosion. He continues, “The only reason we did that was because the kids thought that we were the only ones who knew the miners had died, therefore we were not changing a ‘known’ history for these men.

“We were uncomfortable with doing what we did, but the kids were kind of insistent, so we let them do it.”

“How did you know the miners were dead?” ET queries.

“Lyndsey is qualified in first-aid, and at one point she did extensive on-the-job training at a huge industrial facility that gave her unusual opportunities to be there when they were figuring out if people were either of the ‘quick’ or of the ‘dead.’ So, Lyndsey was the one who declared the three men dead.”

“So what had happened to them?” ET follows up.

“In the circumstances surrounding the disaster, Lynz didn’t know. She said there weren’t any signs of injury to the bodies, so we figured it would be easier for all concerned, if we just woke them up and got them to the surface.”

“How on earth did you ‘wake’ them?”

Dianne: “I shunted the System into a nearby solid rock face, then backward in time until a half-hour before NNN said the incident happened. I just moved out to where the three men were working and got them to come into the house. Before they were able to answer our question as to where the other twenty men were working; we found them ourselves; all still alive. So, we could take all twenty-three safely to the surface.

“Nowadays we would be able to get them in through one portal and out by way of another, since we now have a second large-screen HDTV that helps us to minimize the dwell time of people in our home.”

Russell: “We wanted to keep it to ourselves so that we wouldn’t get requests from people asking us to go back and restore people to life. If we did that, it could easily result in us changing history and that was exactly what we were trying to avoid.

“Can you imagine the confusion if we were to go back in time to before John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln at Ford Theater in Washington back in April 1865 and taken Abe out of ‘harm’s way’?

“The whole family would really appreciate it, if, for now, you could avoid mentioning anything about bringing those miners back to life. Eventually people will be able to figure out for themselves that the possibility exists, but we would rather leave it until later.”

“All right, Russell; I can see what you mean. That’s a good illustration about Honest Abe. Your concern about the requests for resurrections becoming a reality is well founded. It’s a real likelihood and will probably create hardship and unnecessary pressure on you,” the correspondent acknowledges. “There shouldn’t be any problem with NNN releasing any information on the resuscitation situation.”

“Thanks for that, ET,” Russell speaks out of a sense of grateful appreciation.

“Well, it seems that we’re here, all dressed up and nowhere to go,” says the Philadelphian. “Can we try something else this morning?” he inquires.

“What did you have in mind, sir?” Russ asks

“Well, I came equipped with a few suggestions, if you’d like one of those,” Alex responds.

“Fire away.”

“Well, my family has long had a fascination for Americana, objects from or about United States history, especially those things that are valuable to collectors. Claudia shares that interest. For instance, the gold rush in California back in the nineteenth century. Would it be possible for you to use the System to take us back to Sutter’s Mill, near San Francisco, back in 1848 to see the first discovery of gold?” he asks.

“Someone here had the same thought a few days ago, when we were gathering suggestions for trips,” Pop Grover injects.

“That sounds pretty simple; it’s only a few seconds further back than the Civil War. Whose turn is it to ‘drive’?” Buckminster questions, eager to begin another excursion using the System.

Russell: “Pop, how do you feel about taking a turn at the ‘wheel’?”

Charles Grover, like Buck and Ladybuck, is a fully qualified baby boomer. Known universally as ‘Pop,’ he is fairly new at the portal and dealing with its idiosyncrasies. There is no question that he is thrilled to the marrow by this newfound discovery of his grandson, James.

He had ‘driven’ it earlier for a while, but he has expressed keen interest while watching his daughter, Dianne, and her husband, Russell, and the two children, maneuvering the time portal.

“Fine!” he says, accepting the remote control for the main TV. “But, how am I going to find the place in California where the gold was first discovered?”

“Well, we’ve got two ways of locating Sutter’s Mill. We can either go to a street address and then travel back in time; or we can do the time-travel thing first and then look for the location. Perhaps over coffee we can discuss the time and location and figure out the best way to get there. We can probably find details of the find on the Internet.

“Remember, that, like our trip to see George Washington crossing the Delaware River in 1776, the clock at the St. Pete’s newspaper office didn’t exist back in 1848. [Did you remember that the newspaper time/date began its initial display after the Civil War, which ended in 1865?] So it may be best to go to the coordinate location and then backward in time, using ‘the old watch on the rack’ trick.”


Later in the morning after a well-earned, and extended coffee break, the octet again re-convenes in front of the time portal and Pop takes his place with his wife, Jackie, at his side. Over coffee, the group has discussed the Sutter’s Mill destination; used the Internet to isolate some principle details, and covered the mechanics of the time-travel that has to be undertaken to complete this venture.

It is the general consensus among the eight, that there is little alternative other than to go to the destination using GPS location, and then ‘steam’ backward in time to get into the general vicinity of 1848.

With all seated in sight of the view of the newspaper’s office through the large-screen TV, and with Ladybuck doing the navigational honors, Pop takes about thirty seconds to change the scenery to a magnificent sunny view of the Pacific Ocean off the California coast.

Chuck heads inland about 120 miles until the group is located at a height of two miles above the ‘Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park’ in Coloma, California, located on State Route 49.

South and west of them, at a range of 35 miles is the city of Sacramento; further south and west of their present venue is the mega-city of San Francisco, some 110 miles away. The Pacific, at a distance of some 120 miles, is barely visible, even at a height of 10,000 feet.

Chuck has brought them to a point directly above the spot where James W. Marshall first spotted the tiny flecks of placer gold glittering in the tailrace of the sawmill he was constructing for Colonel John Sutter beside the south fork of the American River in Coloma, now a ghost town.

[In case you were wondering, the tailrace is a fabricated channel, usually constructed of wooden planks where the fast moving water that drives the sawmill mechanism exits the mill after use, and drains out. The unit often clogs with mud and other debris, and frequently needs cleaning.]

All this has been gleaned from the Internet concerning the January 1848 event, and now Pop needs to make a substantial adjustment to the group’s whereabouts in the stream of time.

First, Pop lowers the System down close to ground level to establish the exact location of the Marshall gold find. They note the position of the State Park’s plaque and isolate that as the space to watch. Then back to the ten thousand foot altitude that gave them the spectacular views of the ‘Golden Gate State.’

With all in the rec room sitting with their eyes as if glued to the scene of the first strike of the California Gold Rush, Pop keys the button that reverses them to the moment in time they hope will allow them to see, if not meet, James W. Marshall.

He holds the button down for just a shade over five seconds, a value the whole group had earlier agreed upon; the watching parties see the scenery change drastically, as the townships quickly shrink down to nothing. The forestry again becomes lush and green, as trees cut down in years past and turned into firewood and furniture are repositioned at their original venues. Mountains, ripped and clawed by both man and machine for their mineral riches, are healed in a split second from the trauma of having been exposed to the wily ways of humankind.

As the time-travel jaunt draws to its conclusion, a full five seconds later, Charles Grover lifts his digit from the ‘reverse’ button. He needed to back up the exact amount of 5 and one-quarter seconds, however it is not a serious problem to ‘back up’ or ‘drive’ forward an additional month or so.

Beneath the portal, the view has changed drastically. Not a single highway can be seen; nary a house; the sky is clear of smoke. Looking at DJ’s ancient watch, Pop is able to alert the others in the party that they have arrived at November 25, 1847, which is too far into the past by about seven weeks. Pop has held the button down a little too long.

What seems to be a ramshackle workshop appears below them beside a small rivulet.

ET: “Pop, could you drop us down onto the ground behind that shack? Let me hop out and if I can find anyone at home, I’ll see if they can assist us with the date.”

Pop dutifully lowers the System down to grade, permitting our NNN anchor to step through the portal onto the soil where gold will first be discovered in the great California gold rush of 1848. “Alex, would you come with me,” says our chief negotiator.

Once again, our young Philadelphian gingerly takes a step into times-gone-by as Ethan takes his arm to steady him onto the ancient terra firma.

The multi-billionaire looks around the third-world version of the United States of 167 years ago. A few deep breaths and he cannot help but exclaim, “Wow! Get a load of that fresh air!”

As the pair steps over to the side of the American River, they are much impressed with the clarity of the water. Each reaches a hand down to scoop up a handful and carefully smell it. [Remember, you cannot be too careful about eating foods, or drinking liquids you have not checked out]. Then, like the 300 men of Gideon’s army, both reach down to scoop up another handful of water. They raise the cupped hand to their lips and drink. It tastes so good

The two men, having satisfied both their curiosity and their thirst at the river’s edge, begin to walk in the direction of the rustic workshop, when Dianne calls out to Ethan, “ET, Alex, could you fill me a couple of jugs with that water?”

Already they have almost forgotten that they are the middle of the nineteenth century courtesy of the System, which continues to follow close behind them.

At her call, they reverse course and, reaching out to the portal, take the two glass containers that Dianne is holding out. They take the few steps back to the river’s side, fill the jugs and hand them back to the lady of the house. Dianne puts both into the kitchen refrigerator then returns downstairs to the scene of the ongoing action in Coloma, California.

By the time of Dianne’s arrival in the rec room, ET and Alex Allca are already at the neglected building back around 1847, which is the raison d’être for their extra-vehicular activity today.

The mobile pair knocks on the door of the workshop, but, receiving no reply, is forced to enter uninvited. The sound of working tools draws the two to the far end of the building. Not power tools, such as would exist in a modern atelier, rather the tools are those powered by the human hand, arm and foot. Saws, brace-and-bit type drills, hammers, chisels and punches can readily be picked out of the cacophony of sound.

Soon it becomes obvious that the neglected nature of the edifice is such that the workers actually benefit from missing sections of the roof: As a result of the damage, they have enough daylight on their work pieces, enabling them to be able to see what they are doing in order to carry on their craft.

Thomas and Alex spot a man who appears to be a foreman, or lead-hand. “Where can I find Mr. Marshall,” the anchor inquires of the individual.

“He’s gone to see Colonel Sutter about the saw mill we’re building for the Colonel.”

“Could I trouble you for the date?” the NNN personality asks.

“Why do you need the date? It hasn’t changed since this morning,” the overseer joshes.

“To tell you the truth, we traveled non-stop over the mountains and it took us longer than we calculated, and we’ve lost track of the date. We’d appreciate it if you could fill us in,” the chief negotiator responds.

“Sure; it’s November 25. I suppose you know it’s still 1847!” Ethan, with a hand concealed behind his back, gives a thumbs-up sign to indicate success.

“Of course! Thanks. We’ve heard of the saw mill that Mr. Marshall is constructing here. Could you identify the exact site for us?”

“Well, it’s supposed to be right here, beside the American River; but this is still up in the air. I’m waiting for Jim to get back from his meeting with the colonel to find out what they have decided as to the precise location.

“I would like to tell Jim that you were here inquiring about him. May I ask your names and what is your interest in the saw mill?”

“Certainly; my name is Ethan Thomas. I’m with National Network News as a chief correspondent. My colleague is Alexander Allca, who represents an American investor from the Philadelphia area. He is looking into properties out here that could be worth supporting, and recommending to his principals back east.” [Oh, wow! Is this guy good, or what? Keep your eye out for Ethan at the Oscars; he’s sure to get one after this!]

“Could I ask your name, sir?” ET queries.

“Je m’appelle Michel Racine. I’m called Michael Racine,” the middle-aged French-Canadian man responds, providing his own instantaneous translation service.

“Actually, Mr. Racine, we read about the saw mill in a newspaper recently and thought there might be an opportunity for Mr. Allca to recommend to his client the purchase of some land in this area for real estate development. What would you suggest?”

“I don’t think it would be a very good place to make investments. It’s a dump. There’s nothing here worth putting money in. California will never get to be a state because it belongs to Mexico, not the United States; there’s just the ocean to the west and the mountains to the east, and nothing worth more than four bits in between.”

[Of course, we all know a certain Hollywood actor, and a former Olympic athlete of Austrian heritage who would definitely take exception to Mike Racine’s negative expressions.]

“I know what you mean,” Alex confided, “but, don’t forget, things have a habit of changing overnight. Just imagine how California would change if some inventor out east made a flying machine. Say he wanted to fly it to Australia, where would he stop to pick up extra coal so that he could complete his journey?”

“Have you heard about someone creating a flying machine? When will it come here?”

“Not yet, but someone will do that one day. It may be a long way off from now, but, at some time in the future, flying machines carrying eight or ten people will fly across this country and California could become a major stop on the way to the Far East.” Alex had his own way of convincing people, as you can see.

“Oh no! I can’t see that happening. A machine with even two people inside it would weigh too much to ever get off the ground.”

Alex looks at Ethan and ET casts an eye over to the System to where Russell and his wife and their in-laws are anxiously awaiting the outcome of this endeavor to get the date.

Russell shakes his head to express his disapproval of the unspoken request relayed to him by the glances from the two temporary field representatives. He pats his right thigh to show his reason for nixing the suggestion.

Racine is packing a Paterson Colt on his right hip. Russell can easily picture in his imagination the chaos that could come from an angry man with a loaded revolver.

Ethan recalls the photograph of the A-380 that had so captivated Alexander the Great during his visit to the rec room on their recent escapade to Jerusalem.

He leans over to the System and asks for the framed photograph to be passed out to him. Buckminster obliges; ET shows the photo to the Californian. “This,” he explains, “is a picture from a collection of things forecast for the future. As you can see this is an artist’s impression of a very futuristic flying machine that it is hoped will be able to carry hundreds of people for great distances.

“Two men in Ohio are going to be carrying out a lot of research on how to develop a machine that will fly. Finally, they could succeed in flying a small aircraft that can carry its driver over a distance of one hundred and twenty feet.” [ET had to do a bit of mental acrobatics to convert the flight’s 36 meters into numbers that would mean something to the man.]

“That’s awesome,” Racine allows. “Listen, out here in California, we live sheltered lives as far as news is concerned. I hadn’t heard anything about that invention. I wonder if Mr. Marshall knows about that; I must remember to tell him.”

“It takes a while for news to circulate sometimes,” ET allows.

”Mr. Racine, did you say James Marshall will likely be building Colonel Sutter’s sawmill on this site?” Alex was beginning to get a little impatient with the ongoing banter with the western craftsman.

“That’s right, sir.”

“Ethan, perhaps we’d be better off coming back in a couple of months, next time we’re in this area,” the billionaire said, lending credence to the journalist’s earlier information.

“Yes,” ET added, “we’re scheduled to be here again on January 19, 1848, so we’ll hunt you up to get you to introduce us to James Marshall.”

“Sure, that would be a pleasure, Mr. Thomas.” Ethan is amazed the man remembers his name. The artisan turns and heads back to his work.

ET and the Philadelphian return to the System without further incident.

“Pop, we need you to move us forward in time until the chrono shows January 24 next year,” Russell directs his father-in-law.

Pop Grover raises the System a couple of dozen feet off the ground, and once more the time-travel button is pressed and the portal moves cautiously forward and Jay helps him to keep a close eye on the timepiece.

Russell: “Take it easy here, Pop,” as the watch shows they are getting very close, and his father-in-law eases off the button.

As January 24, 1848, turns from darkness to dawn and then to broad daylight, the System ceases its movement through time and the group is able to see the work in progress on a much less-rustic building that looks as if it has been newly constructed. This must be the new sawmill that James Marshall is constructing for Colonel John Sutter.

They finally arrive at the momentous day that will change the future for both California and the United States of America.

Back down to terra firma, and Alex and ET both disembark onto the ground of the Golden Gate state, and on the very same day that the 1848 gold rush would have its beginnings.

Due to their prior meeting with Michael Racine, they have a good idea that they are going to receive a warm welcome, which causes them to walk into the new building with a measure of confidence. Although it is still winter, it is northern California after all, and so there is a little spring in their step.

They have already seen photographs of James Marshall on the Internet, and so are familiar with his appearance. However, the bearded man who now approaches them has a similar look to the carpenter, but is dressed in clothing that definitely would not qualify as ‘Sunday best.’ It is obvious however that here is ‘the man’ they had come to see.

“Who are you men?” he asks, in a not-unpleasant tone. Guests are infrequent in this area of the woods.

Both men take note of the Colt revolver stuck in Marshall’s waistband. He won’t be getting into the house either!

“Good day, Mr. Marshall. My name is Ethan Thomas, and my colleague is Alexander Allca. We came to see you here about two months ago and were received by Michael Racine. He was very helpful to us and we told him we would be back in this area today.

“I explained to him that, as a reporter, I had heard of the saw mill you were building out here and how I had wanted to write about it for my news organization. Could you give us a brief tour of the building, sir?” [Ethan always remembers that, ‘Civility costs nothing; appreciation goes a long way.’]

“Well, I don’t know who would be interested in a sawmill, but I can give you a fast tour if you wish.” The contractor leads the way through the half-finished building pointing out the highlights of his design; the huge cavity that marks the arrival point of the cut trees, the flat surfaces where roller beds transport those trees in the direction of where the saw blade would be spinning. He shows with pride the artisanship that has gone into the paddle wheel that hangs into the race he has built into the American River. The heavy-duty paddle wheel drives the saw blade.

The mill is also equipped with a smaller paddle wheel that powers a petite pump that insures a constant stream of water to cool the blade to prevent it from overheating. Saw blades can get hot enough to permit the stress of operation to bend or even shatter the teeth.

The river water running through the mill-site’s race is clean and pure at the entry point; but when it exits at the tailrace, after the mill has had its way with it, you surely would not risk drinking it.

“At the tailrace,” Marshall explains, “the dirty water is expelled as effluent back into the river. I have to check it out every morning to make good and sure that the mud and silt and other junk from the mill have not combined to cause a blockage and a backup into the mill itself.”

“Could you show us, Mr. Marshall, exactly how you would go about doing that.” [Could this be the very moment of discovery? Hey, you wish!] ET is eager to have the discovery of gold actually take place in the presence of the entire group.

James Wilson Marshall responds by taking a shovel by its handle and moving it from side to side to loosen the minor buildup of mud and silt, sawdust, wood shavings, and pieces of bark that accumulates in the rugged wooden framework.

“I just have to poke around in here until the silt and mud crumble into chunks that are small enough to be carried off by the rush of water and can easily exit the race.”

The long rectangular box forms the mill’s departure point for the enormous quantities of water that will eventually pass through it over the course of its lifetime.

The California resident pokes and scrapes at the layer of muck that lines the bottom of the tailrace. Both ET and Alex watch with great care as the shovel travels its dirty path.

Then, without warning, a tiny glint as Marshall rakes to and fro.

“Stop, sir.” It is Alex’s voice that is heard above the noise of the rushing water and the sound of the shovel’s movements. Marshall quits his poking around and withdraws the shovel and turns to Allca to find the reason for his cry.

“Mr. Marshall. In the mud, there, sir! There’s something in there. I saw it shining just now.”

“It’s probably nothing, or a bullet someone dropped,” the craftsman says. He kneels down at the wooden case and begins fishing through the remaining silt. The water feels very cold to his hands, but Allca’s insistence makes him keep trying.

He sloshes around until his fingers hit something small, but hard and sharp; something like that did not belong in a tailrace, he thinks to himself. It was a near-miracle that he locates it as his hands are all but frozen.

He lifts the object clear of the water and realizes it is shiny. Small, yes, but definitely shiny; metal, too. He walks it over to where the clean water is entering the mill and washes the tiny metal item clean. He takes a knife from his belt and tests the hardness of the metal. The knife can cut it easily. He puts it between his teeth and bites down on it, instantly realizing that he can bend it that way.

“Can this be ‘fool’s gold’?” he queries. “I don’t think so. ‘Fools gold’ only looks like real gold, but does not have this consistency. It’s much harder and crumbles under pressure.”

“Do you think you could have discovered real gold, Mr. Marshall?” ET asks.

“I’ll find out soon enough!” Marshall exclaims. “I have a chemical kit and some reference books at my hacienda and I can check it out that way.”

“I’ll fish around in the tailrace and see if there’s any more of this stuff in there.”

Now with a greatly renewed interest, James W. Marshall returns to the long wooden structure and starts to search for other gold fragments.

Our heroes bid him a good day and take their leave, climbing back aboard the System to a warm welcome from the family waiting patiently in the rec room.

“I’m starved,” ET declares, “that’s hard work!”!”

“I’ll get lunch,” Dianne laughed. “It won’t be long!”

“Pop,” Russell asks his father-in-law, “could you please get us over to the newspaper and set the System back to real time.”

Dutifully, Chuck Grover does as requested, and, well within one minute flat, the through-the-screen view of the Sunshine Herald edifice shows the same information as the calendar on the wall and the family’s clock.



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