Boiled over, in suitable attire

Approval of a recent Clevie Bickford story seems to warrant another - there are plenty of them. The time he hauled the cold cash from his wallet to buy an expensive snowplow hardly exhausts the subject. Clevie was contemporary with my father, but while Dad pursued the academics through the first term of high school, Clevie withdrew long before that to join his brother Theo in the pursuit of prosperity. Even when aged, Clevie and Theo were known as The Bickford Boys. I never saw Theo dressed up, but Clevie came to a funeral one time in a suit and necktie and nobody knew who he was. Their usual garb was farm and forest wear, and while they could put their hands on a good deal of money, quickly, if need arose, they went about town looking like two confirmed paupers heading for a soup kitchen. Some said they were the salt of the earth, and so did I, but others felt they were better as friends than enemies. Their word was as good as a bond, in any event. For many years, simultaneous with other affairs, they operated a portable steam sawmill, buying standing timber here and there and keeping a crew of choppers, teamsters, and sawyers on the payroll.

It happened that an early frost surprised them one fall, and the water pipe from the brook to the boiler ''caught.'' Today we might call such a melt-down. Some of the sawmill survived the explosion, but not the boiler. Clevie began casting about for a new boiler, and learned that a used one was available far down in Washington County - way the other end of Maine - and the bank that had a lien on it would probably welcome inquiries. So Clevie asked Doody Dunbar to drive him down east for a look-see. Doody had a hauling and moving business, with a truck just right for fetching boilers. Doody told me what happened.

On the ride down, Clevie had his usual puncheon of dinner, and he and Doody paused at a scenic spot to polish off the roast chicken, slices of ham, bread and butter, pickles, apple pie - and cry-baby cookies that Clevie's mother always topped off with. Then they found the boiler all right, Clevie made a good bargain, and without too much trouble the boiler was rolled onto Doody's truck and they were ready to start home. They spent that night in a hotel at Machias.

Next morning they were coming along slowly, as the boiler made a ponderous load, and as noontime approached Clevie said that breakfast hadn't seemed to stay with him and he was hungry again. The puncheon goodies were no more. So Doody kept an eye out, and somewhere between Franklin and Ellsworth he pulled the truck off in front of a little roadside restaurant that appealed. Clevie started for the restaurant, but Doody paused to check his tires and oil.

So when Doody came along, here was Clevie being restrained at the restaurant door by this frilled-up ostiary or head waiter, who was very important at his eighteen or twenty years with his first job. He was telling Clevie that this was a first-class place, and they couldn't have guests in the dining room except in tie and jacket. This was his way of calling Clevie a no-good bum. Clevie tried to explain that he didn't happen to have the niceties with him on a boiler hunt, but the young man kept pushing him away. Just as Doody came along the whippersnapper closed the door and braced a foot against it. ''There'll be another place up ahead,'' said Doody. ''Come along.''

Clevie said, ''I'm hungry and I feel like eating now. Wait a minute.''

So Clevie goes out around the end of the restaurant, finds a back door, and steps into the kitchen. Yes, the chef said, I own the place, and he looked Clevie up and down and shook his head. Doody said the dicker didn't take long. Clevie asked if the place could be bought, and the chef said anything can be bought. Clevie laid out the price, the chef wrote a bill of sale, and that's the story. Clevie hired the chef to cook steak and eggs, and with-its, for him and Doody, and he went through the kitchen into the dining room and fired the whippersnapper.

After dinner, they brought the boiler home and had the mill running the next day. Clevie never went back down east to see what happened to his restaurant, but he tacked the bill of sale to his office wall, and for a few weeks his cronies had fun calling him ''Cook.'' The price was $3,800, and the boiler was only $300.

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