The Christmas Doctor: The True Story of Dr. J. P. Weber

The Christmas Doctor: The True Story of Dr. J. P. Weber

by Tom Weber

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781491815601
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Publication date: 12/13/2013
Pages: 112
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.44(d)

About the Author

Tom Weber is a host for Minnesota Public Radio news and lives in St. Paul. This is this first book.

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THE CHRISTMAS DOCTOR

The True Story of Dr. J. P. Weber


By TOM WEBER

AuthorHouse

Copyright © 2013 Tom Weber
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4918-1561-8


CHAPTER 1

Peter Weber was trained as a butcher in Germany, but when he and his wife, Augusta, and their five children immigrated to the town of Creston in southwestern Iowa in 1885, he found work as a railroad laborer. Forty-three when he arrived in the United States, the short, hard-working man had a reputation for being thoroughly honest.

Highly intelligent and deeply spiritual, Augusta Menard Weber came from a family which owned a porcelain factory in Berlin. With blue, flashing eyes and smooth straw-colored hair, she was a beautiful woman. Augusta was a happy person, one who frequently burst into gay laughter and who could quickly charm even the most withdrawn of neighbors.

On Monday, May 14, 1888, the forty-four-year-old Augusta gave birth to John Peter at the Weber home on Elm Street in Creston.

Little Johnny's world was filled with the wonder of the many stories and recollections related by his mother. Every seam on her face held the key to a new and exciting remembrance. How lovely she seemed to Johnny! How talented, how all-knowing, how warm! Never would he forget her captivating smile, her wonderful creamy arms reaching out to embrace him.

One afternoon during the Fall of 1899, Johnny busily loaded canned fruit into the family cellar. As he stopped to rest, he sighted the town physician, Dr. Claybaugh, passing in a fine carriage, his dark suit impeccable, his black brimmed hat straight and proud on his gray-haired head. Johnny's mother had often spoken of the spring day in 1888 when Dr. Claybaugh came to the house to deliver him.

The old doctor cracked his whip over the flanks of the smartly galloping team, no doubt hurrying to a patient who desperately needed him. The air filled with the rattle of wheels on the sturdy brick road.

Leaning against the side of the house to watch, Johnny whispered to himself, "Someday I'm going to be a doctor."


After finishing the eighth grade, John, now five feet four inches tall and weighing 135 pounds, heard that men were being hired to construct railroad tracks across Montana and that the wages were good. Unable to afford a ticket, he decided to ride the rails hobo-style to the western state.

The young man soon learned there were difficulties with riding in boxcars. The conductors and brakemen who patrolled the freight trains always demanded money—ten cents, a quarter, sometimes half a dollar—or they kicked you off.

The alternative was riding the rods, the two narrow steel beams beneath a passenger car. But riding on the "lower berth" had its problems too. Hanging onto the rods with his forearms and legs, keeping his eyes shut to avoid the hot blinding cinders, John soon felt exhaustion setting in. It was all a fellow could do just to hold on, with the roadbed only inches below his back. And you didn't know how long it would be between stops.

At North Platte, a brakeman saw John duck under a car and stretch out on the rods just as the train was beginning to roll. He ran alongside the train cursing John's ancestry, pelting him with rocks as long as he could, but the young man was able to hold on.

That evening, the train was going at quite a clip when it began a twisting roller-coaster ride through the mountains. John's car was rolling and swaying like a ship in a storm as it tore down the hooking track. Jackrabbits scurried off in the dark at the side of the railbed, rattlesnakes jerked and wheeled away from the train.

John fought the force of the curves, his body jolting precariously with the motion of the train, wind swelling his clothes like sails. Cinders burned holes in his pants, grasshoppers and bugs filled his mouth and eyes and shirt while the knife-edged wheel buzzed at his arm.

The massive car pitched down the side of a mountain, shooting around the curves. Someone was calling for brakes while the brakeman yelled that the brakes were frozen. Then, as morning dawned, the train squealed deafeningly to a halt, and John rolled out from under the car to gaze at a glorious cathedral of trees. Someone said it was Montana.


It was a harsh land, one where the wind sometimes brought seasonal changes so suddenly that snow poured down on the open blossoms of lilac trees. For months John labored in all kinds of weather, saving most of his money.

Dressed in overalls, John was one of the graders whose job it was to build and level an elevated roadbed. Immense amounts of dirt had to be shoveled to make the grade while cuts had to be hacked out of hills with picks to make the roadbed level. Only the hardiest of workers could sustain a long day of digging and moving dirt and rock.

Once a section of railbed was completed and the ties laid, John and two other workmen would pick up a thirty-foot section of rail using tongs and drop it in place on the ties. Each rail weighed 560 pounds. Spikers with sledgehammers drove seven-inch spikes into the ties to hold the rails in place.

The railroad construction workers lived in tents. Each morning they filed into a large tent that served as a mess hall and arranged themselves along a lengthy table. The front line of men then sat on a bench before tin plates that were nailed to the tabletop. An attendant walked alongside the table and sloshed a meal of meat, beans and potatoes onto each plate from a large pot while the hungry men picked up their forks and quickly devoured it. When finished, they filed out of the mess hall and the server, carrying a bucket of water and an old mop, swabbed out the plates and dipped the forks, filthy with incrustations dark and deep, briefly into the pail. Each succeeding line of "diners" was so famished it ignored all concerns for sanitation and quickly devoured their portion of goulash as it was slopped onto their plates. The procedure was repeated at noon and each evening.

John's foreman, George, had served as an infantry commander in Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American War. Over six feet tall and possessing an iron demeanor, he used physical force as his primary managerial tool. George would walk up and down the line barking orders at the sweating workmen, brandishing an ax handle, making no allowances for human frailties. Apparently no one had told him the war was over.

One day the men were hard at work, rhythmically swinging picks and shovels, engraving a necklace of steel across the State of Montana. George suddenly pulled out a pistol and began snapping slugs at the heels of a man he considered a laggard. Another time, he used his bullwhip on the backside of a worker who was loitering.

Men sometimes collapsed from heat stroke or dehydration. There were days when rattlesnakes were so thick the men spent more time killing them than laying track. Working on the railroad was good survival training—if you made it through the course.

George always wore dark funereal clothes. There was the hint of a long-forgotten part in his lengthy black hair. It may have even been fully combed at one time. The grave foreman seldom gave the hint of a smile, but when he did it was only a short time until the habitual furrows of disgust got his face back under control. Whenever he got down to inspect the men's work it looked like nothing so much as a long cockroach crawling between the tracks.

Tree stumps and large rocks had to be cleared from the roadway. Because of his exceptional dexterity, John was chosen to drill holes in them and insert blasting powder. Although he appreciated being honored for his steady hands, the young man found tamping explosives into rocks with a crowbar and igniting the fuses to be a rather frightening business.

One evening early in October, John sat in his tent after supper and took off his boots. His feet were blistered and bleeding. Red tributaries crossed the divides of his toes and trickled to the floor.

The temperature had dropped below freezing. George opened the flap of the tent and announced that the rail gang would be laying track until midnight. He didn't sound in a mood to excuse anyone from work.

A gale-force wind razored through the mountain passes. Even the rocks on top of the railbed were moving. Dirt-caked men labored without speaking in the eerie glow of lanterns and guttering torches.

George stalked the grade, spitting out orders, his narrow face crimson with cold, his hair rimed with ice. He was really crazy tonight, out of control, roaring at times with rage.

John forced himself to perform the grinding, monotonous pick-and-shovel toil, panting, sobbing, finally slumping to the ground in exhaustion, the pick slipping from his frozen hands. General George saw him attempting to start a little fire to warm his hands, and began hitting him with a club.

That night, John collapsed into his bedroll, rubbing his bruises, weeping. He had a thought, brought it out and examined it. He turned it over and looked at the underside. No worrisome fins or scales were evident. Early the next morning he started hiking westward.

CHAPTER 2

The highest chimney of the town's smelter went up like a great darkened vase above the huddled houses. Mining operations on the hill had smoked everything into a brown dinginess. Even the sky looked as if it had come out of the stacks.

Storefronts on each side of Granite Street looked like worn playing cards stuck into the dirt. Some of them weren't saloons.

John's left foot came out of the manure with a loud "sock-sock-sock." Around the corner swung a large brewery wagon pulled by four horses, nearly burying him in a moving wall of slop. Welcome to Butte.

The sidewalks were somewhat varied. Planks thrown carelessly across mudholes in some places, they were full boardwalks in others. Many of them tilted dangerously sideways on inclines, but mostly they were non-existent.

Getting across intersections took enterprise, with running livestock often crowding the road. Oxen wallowed belly-high in the soupy mire while burly men wrestled barrels and crates from wagons onto dry land.

Clusters of streetlamps tried but failed to penetrate the swirling smoke, even at midday. Lanterns or torches were carried by some wary pedestrians. John worked his way up the sidewalk toward a barber shop not by what he saw but by following the hacking cough of his forerunner.

The place was crowded with miners waiting for a haircut. John took a seat on the corpse of a sofa and pulled a sheet of paper from his pocket. Spiders and roaches stalked across the floor while bugs buzzed a symphony around his head.

Red-eyes miners sat wheezing, snorting, sneezing and sniffling. Their coughs barely shook the windows. The room resounded with talk of cave-ins, fires, black lung, cage falls, and rocks landing on miners' heads. Waiting his turn, John penned a letter to his parents, warning his mother of the envelope that nothing crawl out.

His hair stylist may not have graduated first in his class from barber school. The large jug-eared man liked to take nips of bourbon while he worked. By the time John escaped the palsied coiffeur he wasn't sure whether he'd had a haircut or surgery.

He picked his way up the boardwalk through the choking ether. Every man he saw was armed. Some looked like walking arsenals.

The bulk of a large building loomed out of the murk to his right. He squinted into the smoke. There was a sign on the front.

He drew the sleeve of his jacket across his eyes to wipe away a layer of brown film. Blinking, he moved closer until he could make out the sign: "Mining Jobs."

In the center of the structure was a doorway. John stepped toward it and turned the knob. Hinges creaked as the door opened.

He stepped inside, letting his eyes adjust to the cavelike darkness of a hallway. Something small scurried across his shoe.

John's footsteps thumped their way down the hall. Just around a corner, an old codger wallowed on a bench, spitting tobacco, his features partially hidden in shadow. Reading John's mind before he could say anything, he motioned over his shoulder with a thumb like an umpire signaling a runner out. John hurried up the flight of stairs the man had gestured toward.

A long counter crossed the heart of the office. A few feet behind it hung a pale curtain.

John tapped a bell on the counter and waited, looking up at the water-stained ceiling. Outside the window, smoke streamed from the seven stacks on the hill.

He rang the bell again. No one was home. Hiring offices could be as slow as a girl getting ready for a date and just as full of excuses.

There was the sound of footsteps. A shadow clawed at the curtain. The cloth parted and the shadow became a tall man with a long brown beard that was crimped as though he'd been sleeping on it.

"Name's O'Farrell. What can I help you with, boy?"

"Mr. O'Farrell, I am looking for work. I helped lay the tracks across—"

"Where you from, boy?"

"A little town in Iowa named Creston, sir."

The man slumped into an easy chair. The remnants of a recent meal nestled in his beard. His eyebrows could have been used as whiskbrooms.

"Well, what do you think of our fair city, boy?"

John hesitated. "Well, sir, I haven't seen enough of it to decide." He was lying. He had.

"To tell you the truth, boy, mining is a great career. There's a wide variety of jobs. You could be a nipper. Them's the guys that take supplies down into the mine. You could be a mucker. You could help pull cinders out of the furnace."

A loud whistle blew. John looked out the window. Across the street, a shift had ended. Mud-smeared miners bubbled up from the cages.

A well-missed spittoon sat in a corner of the room. The hiring officer turned his head to one side and spat a long stream of tobacco in its general direction, then wiped his lips with the back of his hand.

This was some job interview. "Yeah, boy, we pay good. You'll never have an empty lunch pail." O'Farrell gagged and spat another stream of tobacco juice. "Beats shoveling horse manure in the street."

Things were moving in his wildlife-habitat beard. "There's plenty culture in this town, boy. We've got dog racing, horse racing. Some of the taverns have rooster fights. Of course, during winter you'll have to buy your whisky by the chunk."

The man began cackling ridiculously. His breath constituted a threat to the neighborhood.

"Mr. O'Farrell, what qualifications do I have to have to work here?"

O'Farrell turned and spat a tangled mass of brown fiber and juice toward the spittoon. This time it actually went in, landing with a sickening plop.

"Well, the only thing young boys like you have to do is prove they can handle a little Michigan Hay." He pulled a chaw of fine cut from his shirt pocket and stuck it at John.

Backing away from the counter, John said, "Well, sir, I'll have to think about it." As the young man walked from the room, Mr. Clean resumed his insane cackling.

John walked down the stairs into the hallway. He felt unclean. The old man was still lounging on his bench. Staring at John, he grinned. Tobacco juice ran down his cheek knowingly.

John groped his way through the dark corridor toward the door. The caps and overalls of miners hung from hooks on the wall, like the bodies of men.


John headed down a walkway that was splintery and wobbly, smoke searing his throat. Loud music from a dance hall filled the air.

A patch of color darker than the mist moved up the street toward him. A breeze made haze waver in front of him, and the figure split into two blobs moving side by side, then merged back into one.

Fascinated, John stopped, letting the swimming sensation pass. He noticed he had just walked past a bank.

There was the liquid swish of a silk dress on boards that were broken and rotting. Two feminine boots penetrated the thick vapor, boots fit for proper paving.

The blob slowly resolved itself into a gorgeous blue gown trimmed with sparkling jewels, then the comely lines of a stunning figure. Coral cheeks against a dark edge of fur spoke eloquently of youth and health. Mounds of soft ashen hair swayed behind perfect red lips and a graceful neck. A dainty derringer was slung to the charming waist.

Mouth wide open, John stared. She was slightly bent over, clutching the tops of her stockings which were full of silver dollars.

The young woman smiled at him. "Honey," she said, "come over to the Pay Day in a few minutes and buy me a drink." Then the radiant face moved past him, disappearing in the cold smoke.

The boardwalk soon ended and John moved into the street, pushing his legs through knee-deep mud. People and animals meandered their way through the muck ahead of him, gradually taking on the color of the road. It got so the only way he could distinguish a living creature from the mire was movement.

Slogging a course around yellowish puddles that reeked of urine, John passed a livery stable, a Chinese washee-washee house, a general store. To his left, children in their patched clothes peeked under the batwing doors of a saloon into a forbidden grownup world.

It was becoming quite dark as he approached the outskirts of town. A thin scrap of moon hung in a gap of the mountains like a lemon slice in a tall drink. John drew a bead on the Big Dipper and headed for the handle. The thrill of hopping a chugging train on a hill had become alluring to him.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from THE CHRISTMAS DOCTOR by TOM WEBER. Copyright © 2013 Tom Weber. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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