We always knew that if anyone could beat Them, it would be Howard Taylor.
When he found out how much the power company would charge to electrify his fox farm, deep in the Adirondacks, he said no thanks, he would build his own power plant.
This was before the '20s, I think: In those days a person who did stuff like that was not considered a radical or even a conservationist, but just a typical rawboned endependent pioneering tinkering American. We used to believe that a lot of us Americans were like that, but in fact there were only a few, and Howard was one of them.
When Iknew him in the '30s, the stream had long since been dammed into a fine lake 100 yards across with a long grassy bank from which you could catch bullheads . Spindly wires sagged from the powerhouse to the big old wooden frame farmhouse, and inside, the wires traveled, still looping slightly, from one room to another, culminating in bare bulbs.
When you turned on the lights, they were so weak you could look right at the filament in the bulbs.
When you turned on the lights, they were so weak you could look right at the filament in the bUlb.
As soon as we reached the fox farm, late one Saturday night after TAYLOR, From B1> driving all day on winding forest roads, Howard went over and tapped the ammeter on the bareboard wall, and then he got a wedge of toothcurling Oneida County cheese that we had brought up with us, and stood in front of the huge fireplace of blackened stones.
My Uncle Nick, who lived at the farm and took care of the foxes, told him about the noises the generator had been making.
Howard gazed off into space , his long jaw chomping slowly up and down, his lean, weathered face somber with thought. He looked like a cross between Will Rogers and Henry Ford Sr.
Next morning, by the time I was done with a massive country breakfast of plate-sized wheatcakes, stewed tomatoes and a fried slice of illegal venison. I learned that Howard had been working in the powerhouse since dawn.
It was no bigger than a walk-in closet, with a steep shingled roof thickly mossed and windows gone white with dust and cobwebs. Inside, it smelled like an icehouse: sawdust and mould. Howard had pulled up the floorboards and stood in the hole. Only his head was showing. He wore tan rubber overall wadews, and his hands were coverd with grease, and his fare was smldged.
Peering down into the hole, I saw that he stood hipdeep in rushing black water and tugging with a large wrench at some unresponsive-looking iron machinery. Even at age 9 I could recognize a perfectly happy man.
It turned out, Howard muttered at lunch (which he ate standing in front of the fireplace as always, spooning up a dish of maple syrup along with his cheese), that a small eccentric gear had broken and a new one would have to be specially cast in Utica. For now he would whittle a wooden one. He did, too.
But the lights still shone orange, and Nick still kept a battery flash-light in his bedroom, so about the time Howard announced his plan for a new and bigger dam.
Howard Taylor's dam. It didn't get finished until I was through college, and by then it was famous from Utica to Malone.
The first thing was the derrick. With his homemade hydraulic mining appratus, he had scoured a basin for the new lake but had uncovered several immense boulders, some as big as cars. He bought an old Model A pickup in Utica and designed a derrick to go on the back. A local machint shop custom-made it for him.
On the summer morning that it was completed and bolted into the truck bed. Howard took off from his job with the family law firm and headed for the mountains.
Got as far as the railroad underpass at Barneveled. Found the derrick wouldn't fit. Had to drive all the way around to Syracuse and up the Watertown road, a hundred miles or so. Forgot to check the oil and burned out a bearing. He was three days on the road.
Eventually the derrick served its purpose and was parked behind the hay barn to sink gradually into the landscape.
After another decade (he wasn't rich) Howard got to the point of pouring concrete for the actual dam. A state highway crew working nearby offered to help, But no. He had to do it himself. Dumped concrete by the wheelbattowful. Started pulling down the forms after only 24 hours, going by his own calculations instead of what the highway crew advised, which was 48 hours. Stood watching in silence while the whole dam cracked, bent, blew out and washed downstream.
So he built it again. The redesigned dam held, and soon water was backing up into the alder thickets where I once caught a 14-inch trout in a brook no more than two feet wide. The lights burned white at the farmhouse. The Rural Electrification people stopped coming around. Howard might even have smiled once or twice.
Then one day a couple of men from Albany showed up with polished shoes and briefcases. The new lake, it seemed, was too big. Had backed up onto state land. Had flooded a nuisance and would have to be abated.
So They got him in the end. The dam was breached, and soon after that the frmhouse burned down, and then Howard died, and Nick too, in a Malone nursing home, and I don't know what the place looks like now. It's probably a suburb. They got him, but it sure took Them a long time.