1636: The Chronicles of Dr. Gribbleflotz – Snippet 49

1636: The Chronicles of Dr. Gribbleflotz – Snippet 49

Chapter 8

Dr. Phil Takes the Piss Out Of Grantville

November 1631, Grantville

Tracy sat at the kitchen table of her home and idly played with some small pale blue pills.

“What’s that you’ve got there?’ Ted asked as he walked over to the table.

“It’s a test sample of Dr. Phil’s version of aspirin.”

Ted picked up one of the pills. “Why’re they blue?” he asked as he examined it.

“He insisted that they had to be blue, because blue is a calming and cooling color.”

Ted raised a brow suggestively.

Tracy smiled in response. “Yeah, I know. It’s a load of crock, and the color is going to make it hard to get Americans to buy them.”

“Nah, if they want their aspirin, they’ll buy them. Anyway, I just need to collect my bike and I’ll be off.”

“Off?” Tracy asked.

“Yeah, Jonathan Fortney’s got to deliver one of the APCs up north, and he’s agreed to take me and a load of urine as far as Jena.”

It was Tracy’s turn to raise a brow this time. “He’s allowed to do that?”

Ted shrugged. “He seems to think so.”

Tracy shook her head slowly. “What time do you think you’ll be home?”

Ted shrugged. “Late afternoon probably. I want to check up about that canvas you ordered. What are your plans for the day?”

“After breakfast Belle’s coming round to collect Justin and Terrie, then I’ll drop by Nobili‚Äôs Pharmacy and see what Tino thinks about Dr. Phil’s blue aspirin . . .”

“He’ll agree with me,” Ted said.

Tracy glared at Ted. “And then I’ll finish off the last of the order for tents for the Refugee Commission.”

From the road a truck horn sounded.

Ted hurried to the window and looked out. “That’s my ride,” he said as he kissed Tracy goodbye. “See you this afternoon. And in the meantime, stay out of trouble.”

Tracy swatted Ted on the buttocks. “I won’t have time to get into trouble.”

She handed Ted his coat and followed him to the door, where she stood watching as he loaded his bike and cycled down to the waiting modified coal truck. She waved until the truck was out of sight, then turned and returned to the kitchen. She had to get things ready for when Belle arrived to pick up Justin and Terrie.


Jonathan Fortney was a tall and lanky twenty-one year old West Virginian male. Like a lot of West Virginian males, he’d been a bit of a shade tree mechanic back up-time, but unlike most of his contemporaries, he’d worked mostly on diesels. That was the influence of his father, who’d had a lifelong love affair with diesel engines. His experience with diesel engines had proved a godsend when it came to finding employment after the ROF.

Back up-time he’d been training to be a collision repair specialist, but post ROF there wasn’t enough demand, and certainly the Army wasn’t employing any collision repair specialists, but they did need diesel mechanics. So he became a mechanic with the Mechanical Support Division.

Today he was taking an APC — actually a 1986 Mack RD688S tandem rear axle coal truck with steel plate welded onto it in strategic areas to provide protection from down-time muskets while the back was enclosed with quarter-inch plate — back to its parent unit. The armor added a lot of weight, but not enough to be a problem for a vehicle designed to haul up to twenty tons, so, naturally, he’d asked around for anyone needing to move a bit of cargo north. Ted Kubiak had made the best offer — a full cargo as far as Jena.

Jonathan pulled up outside the entrance to Ted’s place and sounded the horn. While he waited for Ted to arrive he gazed at the house. If he remembered correctly the property had belonged to a coal company executive who’d sold up when the coal mine on Dent’s run was mothballed, and it looked it. He had to wonder how the Kubiak’s had been able to afford such a flash new house. He shrugged. It was none of his business, but it was an impressive house, nestled as it was into the hillside like that.

He saw Ted cycling down the drive and called out to him when he got to the road. “Tie your bike to the rack at the front.”

A short time later the door opened and Ted Kubiak hauled himself up and in. “Morning, Jonathan. Do you know where to go?” he asked as he laid a scabbarded rifle on the seat and dropped a saddlebag at his feet.

Jonathan nodded. “Though I can’t imagine why you’d want to ship urine to Jena,” he said as he got the truck moving.

“Dr. Gribbleflotz uses it to make Spirits of Hartshorn.”

Jonathan turned to look at Ted. “What’s that?”

“Ammonia. He needs it to make baking soda and baking powder.”

“But urine’s not all ammonia, is it?” Jonathan asked. “So why don’t you turn it into ammonia here before shipping it to Jena? Surely that would reduce the volume you have to send.”

“By at least ninety percent,” Ted agreed. “Unfortunately, Dr. Gribbleflotz doesn’t have anybody trained to do that, yet.”

“Ah, so you plan to do it eventually?”

Ted nodded. “We’d be silly not to.”


They picked up the full barrels of urine from a warehouse close to the Freedom Arches and headed for Jena, arriving there just over an hour later. They could have made the trip a lot quicker, but at speeds in excess of thirty miles per hour consumed considerably more fuel, and more importantly, increased wear and tear on the truck tires, the supply of which was extremely limited.

While the barrels of urine were being unloaded Jonathan wandered around the facility. To his surprise he found himself on his own in what was obviously a private laboratory — the fume cupboard and racks of laboratory apparatus gave that away — looking at the containers of chemicals arranged along a wall, “Hey, cooool!” he said when he spotted a jar of iodine. He checked out the rest of the rack, occasionally touching a marked jar in fond memory of the experiments he’d done with the home chemistry set his father had assembled for him.

It was only when he saw Dr. Gribbleflotz’ reflection in the fume cupboard’s sash window that he realized he probably shouldn’t be here. He turned quickly. “I’m dreadfully sorry, Herr Dr. Gribbleflotz. I know I shouldn’t be in here without your permission, but I noticed the jars of chemicals and was curious to see what you have.” He smiled. “You can do a lot of cool experiments with what you have.”

“How did you know that I understand English? Did Herr Kubiak tell you?”

Jonathan did a quick double-take. Firstly, he realized he’d spoken to Dr. Gribbleflotz in English, which given the quality of his German didn’t come as a surprise. But the second question raised the possibility that Dr. Gribbleflotz had been hoping to keep his knowledge of English from the Kubiaks. “No, Mr. Kubiak didn’t tell me. Does he know you understand English?”

“I was hoping that he and his wife were in ignorance of my English skills,” Phillip said.

“They might still be,” Jonathan said.

“Then why did you address me in English?”

Jonathan dropped his head momentarily in shame, then looked up and gave Phillip a rueful smile. “My German isn’t very good.”

“Herr Kubiak and his wife speak acceptable German,” Phillip pointed out.

“Yeah, but they get to practice it more often.” Jonathan shrugged. “Most of the guys in my department are Americans, and the few down-timers are all trying to learn English, so I don’t get to say much more than hello and goodbye in German.”

“I understand.” Phillip smiled at Jonathan. “So, you like my laboratory?” Phillip asked.

“What’s not to like?” Jonathan asked as he waved an all-encompassing hand around the laboratory, “especially when you’ve got iodine and ammonia.”

Phillip asked. “Don’t you mean Spirits of Hartshorn?”

“Yeah, probably,” Jonathan said with a smile. “Where did you learn? You know, to speak English?”

“I spent a number of years in England,” Phillip said as he wandered over to the rack of chemicals and lifted up the jar of iodine. “So, what can you do with this and Spirits of Hartshorn.”

“It makes a cool contact explosive,” Jonathan said.

Phillip hastily put the iodine back. “There is nothing cool about explosives,” he said.

“Oh, it’s not a real explosive,” Jonathan protested. “Mr. Morrison wouldn’t have been allowed to do such a cool demonstration with it in class if it was dangerous. It’s more sound than substance, rather like a kid’s cap gun, except that when it goes off there’s a big cloud of purple vapor.”


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6 Responses to 1636: The Chronicles of Dr. Gribbleflotz – Snippet 49

  1. VernonNemitz says:

    In Heinlein’s book Farnam’s Freehold, he describes nitrogen tri-iodide as so sensitive it explodes at a harsh look. The dry stuff, anyway; when you first make it it is quite wet and harmless. But after it dries out, look out!

    • Daryl Saal says:

      As a university student 40+ years ago I made lots of it and we used it for orientation week pranks. On reflection I’m surprised I didn’t get into even more trouble than the lot I did.

  2. Tweeky says:

    I wonder how long it will be before Dr. Phil learns about nitroglycerine and how to make it?

    • Drak Bibliophile says:

      Just remember his “there is nothing cool about explosives” comment.

      He’s been a military doctor and has seen what remains when people are too close to an explosion.

      IMO if he learns how to make nitroglycerine, he’ll treat it with the “respect” it deserves.

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