Friday, September 5, 2014

They made WHAT from WHAT?????

In book 1 of The Dreamland Series, Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland, Trixie wonders if she’s been left to die underground until Danny Jefferson turns up unexpectedly.

“Do you know where we are, Danny?”
“Sure. We’re in the tunnels.”
“What tunnels?”
“Mr. John told me about them. A long time ago during a war…you know, the war about having slaves…”
“The Civil War.”
“Uh-huh. Dreamland wasn’t here, but there was an old mine. Lots of bats were down here, and the soldiers made gunpowder out of their poop.” His voice died away. “Sorry.”
“No, go on, Danny. I didn’t know all that.”
“Mr. John said so.”
“Are there any bats down here now, do you think?”
“Mr. John said they’re all gone. I never saw any.”
“You’ve been here before?”
“Sure. We walked all the way through a couple of times.”
“All the way through. So there’s another way out of here?”
“You’ll be surprised, Trixie. There’s a door in the building where Miss Letha and Miss Stella have their shop.”
“In my building? In the Quimby Building?”
“Yep. Want me to show you?”
Trixie took a deep breath. “I want out of here, don’t you?”
“Uh-huh.” Suddenly a beam of light popped out of nowhere.
“What’s that?” Trixie hugged the wall again.
Danny laughed. “You’re funny, Trixie. You know it’s a flashlight. I always have one in my pocket.”
“You’re amazing, Danny.”
“Mr. John said to always be prepared. That means ready.”
Trixie stifled a smile even though it couldn’t be seen. “That’s good advice.”
“Rudy bought me the flashlight in case I was ever out on my bike at night and needed it.”
“Good for Rudy.”
Danny held out his arm. “You hold onto me, Trixie.”
Trixie didn’t have to be told twice.
“Don’t be scared, Trixie. I’ll take care of you.”
She swallowed the lump in her throat. “Thanks, Danny. I feel better already. How far is it?”

Danny tells Trixie how during the Civil War, the Confederacy used the dung left behind by bats to make much-needed gunpowder after the Union blockade cut off supplies to the South. But bat guano (the word ‘guano’ comes from the Quechua language spoken by a group of South American Indians) became highly prized for just that purpose as early as the mid-1800s. Caves in Peru had abundant supplies of the stuff. Within 35 years, however, the intensive mining had almost decimated that and other sources throughout the world.
I first heard about the use of bat guano for gunpowder while touring the Longhorn Caverns near Burnet, Texas, with my boys in the 1980s. The guide relayed the story about the use of the main room as a production site for gunpowder—and later a dance hall and nightclub in the 1920s! However, research reveals that the common soldier did not manufacture his own gunpowder. There were (Confederate) government kilns at New Braunfels in the Texas Hill Country as well as farther northwest in Travis County, which used the extracted nitrates for the vital black powder for the South’s guns. As might be expected, these “gunpowder mills” became prime targets for destruction by the Union forces.
 Today, bat guano is highly valued as fertilizer because it contains nitrogen, phosphate, and potassium, three nutrients needed for plant growth. The dwindling supplies have driven the price up accordingly.
 It amazes me how many tiny details I’d filed away long ago will come to mind just at the right time when I’m writing a story. I still remember the guide turning off the lights and explaining that we were experiencing total darkness—the can’t-see-your-hand-in-front-of-your-face variety. Shut up in a place she couldn’t fathom, Trixie had to struggle with an all-consuming fear, too. But Danny Jefferson knew where they were and how to get out. He became Trixie’s unlikely hero—and mine, too.

The Dreamland Series is available as a boxed set or as individual volumes.

Visit my website, Someday Is Here, for more information.

And don’t forget…
…it’s a good clean read!

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