1636 The Kremlin Games – Snippet 13

1636 The Kremlin Games – Snippet 13

Chapter 12

“We can’t do it,” Andrei Korisov said with disgust. “You don’t understand what we have to deal with. Less than half the service nobility can read, and just one person in three hundred is of the service nobility. Even with the occasional priest and overeducated Streltzi, less than one person in a hundred can read, even in the cities and large towns. In the countryside, probably less than one in a thousand.” He paused, allowing the translator to catch up, before adding: “This is not Germany. It’s not even Poland.”

Bernie listened with a certain amount of irritation. Not only because having a translator was a pain in the rear, but because Korisov was a generally irritating guy. He was very good at his job and more. The man was a master gunsmith who had taught himself to read and calculate ballistics. Through skill and hard work he had moved from the Streltzi to the service nobility. Not an easy thing to do in Russia, Bernie had already learned. Still, Korisov’s contempt for the average Russian was irritating to Bernie, and he wasn’t even Russian.

Meanwhile, Natasha spoke up. “Why isn’t it possible, Andrei Korisov?”

“Because they’re too complicated. No, it’s not simply that. It’s a combination of things. I could build a rifle like the American’s by hand. It would take me about a month and it wouldn’t be as good as his Remington model 7400, but it would work and it would fire a 30.06 round, if we had some to put in it. Then I could build another, and it would take me about a month again. And ten years from now, after Poland had invaded and taken Moscow, I would have made about one hundred and twenty rifles.”

Natasha just looked at him and Andrei blushed, then continued. “I’m sorry, Princess. But it’s hard to explain. To make rifles like Bernie’s, in any number, we need so many tools that we don’t have that I can’t even imagine them all. Most Russians are still spending all their time growing food.”

At this point, Bernie took up the argument. “It’s the ‘tools to build the tools’ problem, Natasha. We had the same problem in Germany, although apparently not as severely. Up-time we could do incredibly complex things, precisely the same way, time after time, very quickly by using a variety of machines, each of which did one simple thing. But to get there, you have to build a lot of machines. I think Russia can get there, and that’s what your brother hired me to do, help you get there. But it’s not going to be fast. And from what I’ve been hearing about the political situation, it’s not going to be in time to help you at all with Poland.”

“Well, can’t you build the machines you need to build the rifles quickly?” Natasha asked.

“We don’t even know what most of those machines are, much less how to build them,” Andrei Korisov said dejectedly.

Natasha nodded and switched to English. “Very well. Bernie, I want you to get together with Andrei, and try to figure out something that we can make. Something that will only take a few machines.” They had their marching orders, and if Bernie didn’t like them much, it was pretty clear that they didn’t thrill Andrei either.

Natasha looked around the table, then switched back to Russian. “Now, what’s next, gentlemen?”

“I have made a battery,” Lazar Smirnov said. “However, coils will take longer and I’m just beginning to study the theory of radio. It will be a while, Princess.”

After this, the people at the table began to discuss other projects. The Fresno Scrapers were ready to test, but the ground was still frozen, so that project had to wait. They also had a plow, but again, they would have to wait for the spring thaw.

Filip said, “I understand the steam engines. The principles behind them make sense. I’m not sure of their practicality because of the amount of work involved in producing even one.”

Filip was the translator, so Bernie interrupted him. “They’re worth it. Believe me, engines are worth it. I’m not a big fan of steam, but limiting yourself to muscle power is the wrong way to go.”

“It’s not that I doubt you, Bernie,” Filip said, “but we’re back to the tools to build the tools problem. We don’t know how much power we’ll get and they are going to be built by hand like Andrei’s handmade Remington that he is even now building for the czar. Granted, we don’t have to make bullets to go in it, but we do have to make boilers and, well, we’re a long way from anything useful.” He turned to Princess Natasha. “We’ll keep working on it, but don’t expect much progress soon, Princess.”

“The aspirin is not a problem,” said the apothecary, Anatoly Fedorov. “But the antibiotics are well beyond us. Certainly we’ll try for penicillin, but don’t expect much. We don’t even know what mold it comes from, much less how to process it to get the effect we want.”

Nikita Ivanovich Slavenitsky, who was there by grace of being one of Natasha’s most trusted armsmen, spoke up with a smile in his voice, clearly trying to lighten the mood. “Bernie has been teaching us about up-time football, which is played with a ball that is not round, and strategy games. So at least we’ll have an amusing winter, Princess.”

The princess gave him a quelling look, but Nick wasn’t noticeably quelled and Natasha turned back to the table. “What about aircraft?” she Natalia asked, but Bernie was shaking his head before she’d even finished the question.

“Not without some pretty powerful engines,” he said. “And I don’t know anything about aerodynamics. Nor is there anything in the books we brought with us.”

The meeting went on for a couple of hours, a disheartening mix of “not yet” and “it can’t be done,” with only a sprinkle of things they could do.

Disheartening, yes. But not that disheartening. It was early days yet and they all knew it.


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15 Responses to 1636 The Kremlin Games – Snippet 13

  1. Robert H. Woodman says:

    The aspirin is not a problem?

    Synthesis of aspirin is an elementary problem for chemistry students in the first course of organic chemistry, but it assumes SO much basic knowledge about chemistry. As backwards as Russia is at this point in time, I’m not sure that they can manage the synthesis without some pretty serious advances in chemical knowledge and technique. Perhaps I’m wrong, but “not a problem” seems far too cavalier a statement.

  2. dave o says:

    I just looked up the Fresno scraper. It looks like it might be within the reach of ordinary blacksmiths to build one. Although having a rolling mill for the sheet metal parts would make it a lot quicker. Rolling mills are existing technology, at least in Western Europe. I don’t know about Russia. It appears that the thing is probably made from wrought iron, or perhaps mild steel.

    The question I have is: how much good the scraper would do in Russia. The country is notorious for having lousy roads, especially in the Spring and Fall (mud months)? Yes the scraper would make it a lot easier to level roads. No, the roads wouldn’t stay level very long. Russia’s a big country and how many scrapers and two horse teams would they need to put the roads in decent shape and keep them that way. Major, MAJOR Capital and operating expense.
    Which leaves how much room for anything else?

  3. dave o says:

    Machines to build machines: Machine tools require large iron castings. Making the parts for any such machine has a few problems. The parts would be made using the sand-casting process, which can probably be researched to some extent in Grantville. However large chunks of cast iron tend to warp, because of uneven cooling. This can be limited, to some extent if you have skilled foundry men. Even so, before the parts can be machined to their final size, they are left to stand in what’s called a boneyard for several years. The craftsmen who make the patterns for a casting have to allow for the warping and machining. They also have to taper the patterns so that they can be removed from the sand without disturbing it. So two skilled trades which cannot be learned by books, and which have to be mastered by trial and error

    Machine tools also require high carbon steel. Tool steel would be better, and carbide better still, but the world got along for a long time with cast steel. In the canon, that’s now being produced in Germany. Russia would have to buy it there, or make it themselves.

  4. Cobbler says:

    @ 2 Dave O

    From a blacksmith assembling a Fresno Scraper I jumped to a blacksmith assembling a McCormick’s Reaper kit. All the fittings pre-made. All the lumber pre-cut and pre-drilled. Perhaps a wordless pictorial instruction for assembling the puzzle. Or a old fashioned tech rep to teach the assembly process.

    Then I thought; Nuts and bolts. They’d need lots of identical nuts and bolts.

    Then I thought; Lathe. A metal lathe is one of the tools you use to make the tools you need. It’s near impossible to make a metal lathe without a metal lathe. Is someone in Grantville making and selling lathes? Is Boris importing one?

  5. ET1swaw says:

    @2 dave o: Fresno Scrapers can be used for more than just levelling and building roads (think jobs for a mini-horsedrawn-bulldozer)!

    Literacy is extremely low. And that is probably in Russian with the then current Cyrillic alphabet (IIRC it changed a few times). Literacy, or even language skills, in English is probably scarce to nonexistant!

    Russia seems to be starting —way— behind the proverbial curve!! (and they haven’t even started on economic and political factors yet)

  6. dave o says:

    #4 Cobbler: Actually it’s quite possible to build a metal lathe without a metal lathe. It just won’t be stiff enough to do really fine work. For that, you need to make a large (3 foot or better) casting for the lathe bed. Some old tool catalogs advertise treadle powered metal lathes. They’re of small capacity, and I have no idea how well they work. Possibly well enough to make lots of bolts. Nuts, well cast steel is good enough to to make taps from. This would all be done one at a time.

    #5 ET!swaw: Fresnos were originally designed to dig canals and ditches. I’ve been trying to make the point about Russia’s technical backwardness vis-a-vis western Europe over the last several snippets. Perhaps I should have also been talking about it’s economic backwardness. But I repeat my point about the operating expenses of building roads. Horses are expensive, are expensive to feed, and tend to die if they’re overworked. Devoting enough effort to build even a minimal decent road system over Russian spaces is probably beyond Russia’s capacity.

  7. Blackmoore says:

    You only need large iron casting for large tools. Sand casting was done back into Roman times, but there are a number of improvements the uptimers would have known about. Still you dont NEED to know those to get started, and after a while some things (like the type and quality of sand) become clear.

    some of the “first” improvements can be bits and brace for drilling, made by casting iron, and heat treating the bit. not all that high tech, HUGE advantage compared to the “hand” drills in use at the time; and again you dont need steel to do that – but it will require more sharpening and replacement.

    this is why fresno scrapers are SO easy to develop and implement too. you dont need high quality materials to start.
    The plow will make a big increase in agriculture – as will other knowlege they could bring back from the grange about fertilizing, crops and rotation.

  8. zakryerson says:

    What about the first pair of tongs?

    In Avot (“Ethics of The Fathers”) one Rabbi adds that to Ballam’s Ass and the Pit that swallowed Korach.

  9. ET1swaw says:

    @6 dave o: And that period of Muscovy/Russia may not have major use for canals. They are cut off from the Baltic (while sharing Lake Ladoga and Lake Onega and retaining most of the important tributaries (major exception of Neva River)) by the Swedes; cut off from the Black Sea by the PLC and Ottomans; cut off from the Caspian by Ottoman and Safavid; and have not yet reached the Pacific. They do “own” the White Sea; shared the Barents with Denmark/Norway (now part of Kalmar Union; most of ice-free ports are Norway’s though); and declared the Northeast Passage (eastern Barents; Kara Sea and east) an almost no-go zone (even for the Pomors).
    Horses may have been more prevalent in Russia than you think (not monster draft animals but more along the lines of pit ponies that seem to go forever and live on goat food).
    Don’t think so ambitiously; a road network like the USE, KLC, etc. are developing is light years beyond what Russia could develop IMO. (If for no other reasons than the area to cover and the starting point) The PLC might have larger territory ATT but they also have a much better start point. (Why “we are not even the Poles” is a part of the Russian lexicon of comparisons)

  10. dave o says:

    #8 ET1swaw: I had a power outage in the middle of my latest comment. So this is a repeat. I only mentioned canals because this was one of the original uses of Fresnos. On reconsideration, they might be useful for internal trade, assuming Russia has or wants to develop internal trade. I didn’t and don’t imagine that Russia need a road network like western Europe. However they do need some roads that don’t turn into bottomless mud twice a year. If this were not the case, why would they be interested in Fresnos at all?

    I’m no expert on horses, but I recently reread William Bartram’s book and he mentions repeatedly how his horses (indian ponies) became exhausted. I’m not claiming they’re identical to steppe ponies. It’s obvious that pulling a Fresno is heavy draft work. And even steppe ponies need to be fed. A comment from someone who knows what he’s talking about would be welcome.

  11. qcqc says:


    even if they don’t have ASA, they can still make the tree bark extract that aspirin was designed to replace

  12. To make aspirin, they need the ingredients, and those ingredients are relatively easy, and they need a decent still. They do not need any basic knowledge they need something now lost from even large Chem and Chem Eng libraries, a handbook of useful recipes.

  13. dave o says:

    #7 Blackmoore: According to R.A.Salaman, braces were unknown in Europe until the 15th century. They didn’t replace Augers until much later. In fact Augers were still being made and used well into the 20th century. The earliest braces were wood-framed (very fragile) Wrought iron and steel braces were used in specialized trades (carriage-making) where stronger tools were required. I am quite sure that metal braces were blacksmiths work, NOT CAST. Bits are another matter. I suppose it’s possible to make bits from wrought iron (not cast iron,-too fragile), but I’ve never seen or heard of an example. Every bit I own (about 200) is crucible steel. You are right about their efficiency for middle-range boring, about 1/4 ” to 1 1/2 “. Augers for larger holes, a range of other tools for smaller ones.

    Unless Grantville had a foundry, and a pattern maker’s shop, which it did not, there is no uptimer
    who had hands-on experience. The skills can be learned by trial and error. Just not overnight.

    And by the way, Machine tools, especially for industrial production are quite large.

  14. Terranovan says:

    Just for the sake of simple arithmetic, less than half of the service nobility being literate and only 1 in 300 being in the service nobility means only 1 in 600 is literate (not counting the nobility above the service nobility, who are probably rare enough to make their numbers meaningless in this calculation).

  15. LMWatBullRun says:


    Early augers were hand forged from wrought iron with steel welded onto the cutting edges at the tip, just as was done with plane irons and any number of other woodworking tools like hatchets, axes and adzes. Until the advent of the Bessemer converter and commercial production of steel in large quantities, wrought iron was the black metal of choice and cutting tools were VERY expensive. It would have been possible to make a cutting tool from wrought iron and case harden it to get a good cutting edge, but each sharpening would remove the very thin layer of steel and require redoing the case-hardening, which is why steel cutting edges were welded onto wrought iron.

    Once more modern high production methods of steelmaking were perfected, along with modern mass-production methods, the cost of steel cutting tools dropped dramatically. Handmade wrought iron items were replaced virtually en masse by a flood of better and much cheaper steel tools and the inferior iron ones were probably recycled into something else, like carriage or wagon bolts. Wrought iron is better suited than steel for fasteners and other items exposed to the weather, while steel is better suited for tools, being more homogenous and in higher carbon grades more readily heat treated to optimize the desired properties.

    One item I have not seen discussed is metal files. Making a good file is extremely challenging, and having a good set of files is essential for virtually any sort of precise metalworking. If I wanted to become a wealthy man in that era, I would start a file making factory and perfect mass production of files and rasps.

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