Thursday, September 8, 2011

Beans in Blue

Durbin Bean Bake, September 4-5, 2011

Having an event on a holiday is always a bit different.  The Durbin Bean Bake was one of those different events.  Started sometime around the 1880s, this annual festival was originally organized by veterans of the 40th OVI.  As such, and since we were the only unit there, most of us dressed in blue.  A few of us stayed in gray to represent Confederate opponents, but since we had the option to go blue or gray, I did not have a choice but to go blue.  It actually only occurred on Labor Day itself.  Sunday, the day before, we spent the day for ourselves.

Sgt Mott put on Lieutenant blues and was the primary coordinator for the weekend.  Cpl Moore (Girth) assisted more on Monday, since he was pretty much the hometown hero—being on the Bean Bake Committee and all.  Sunday started pretty normal—I fried up my usual bacon and eggs, then went into some Euchre as the day proceeded, with no other expectations.  Around 11 am, however, Sgt (er, Lt) Mott started up a couple of simple games to pass the day.

The first game broke us into two groups of four, with both Mott and Pvt Winston abstaining.  They set up small ropes about two feet above two separate fire pit and gave each group a small and equal amount of wood, along with some char cloth, some kind of fungus useful for starting fires, a small piece of twine, and a flint and steel.  The object was to be the first team to burn through the rope.

My team consisted of Sgt Gary Shaw, Kevin Feeman, and Zach Carte.  We quickly decided that I would start and manage the fire, while Shaw would chop the single half-log into small pieces.  We also had a single nine inch 1x6 board he would work on.  Feeman and Carte would use knives to produce shavings from the few sticks we were also provided.

Winston and Mott were excluded because they both had extensive experience with building fires from flint and steel.  Other than that, any of us that had started a fire always cheated with fuel and a match.  My only experience with flint and steel was firing a flintlock. As we gathered the materials to start, I made sure to note where the sharpest part of the flint was.  At the start, I shredded up the twine, put a couple of shavings on top along with a little piece of the char cloth, then struck the steel with the flint.  I got a spark right away, but it took about three strikes to hit the char cloth.  I was surprised how quickly it produced a hot coal.  Within a minute I had some good flames coming from the tinder.  I glanced at the other team and realized we were well ahead of them.  But then I realized I had a problem—Feeman and Carte did not have enough shavings ready for me.  I had jumped the gun getting things started, and now I was rushing to assist in getting shavings added—but it was too late.  All the twine was now burned up and the fire was out.

Fortunately, I still had a good amount of char cloth and that fungus.  I couldn’t break up the fungus, so I just threw it in and got a hot coal on it.  A couple of times I looked up to see someone stopping to watch me and I had to push them to get more shavings.  We just kept throwing more shavings on the pile and I kept blowing on that one small hot coal, certain I would lose it altogether.  At one point Mott gave each team a splinter soaked in pine sap, but that seemed more trouble that it was worth.  With perseverance, we finally got a flame.  At that point it was simply a matter of getting all the shavings on the pile ablaze, then adding the kindling that Gary made of all the remaining wood.  I piled it up in a simple teepee fashion, stacking it as high and heavy as I could.

I again glanced at the other team, and it looked like they also had a fire, but I noticed they were stacking the wood strangely.  Instead of forming a teepee at the start and stacking on top of that with as small pieces of wood as possible, the and placed nearly all their wood flat.  Although they had chopped the wood smaller, they only produced about ten or so pieces. We probably had thirty or more.  And with the three last sticks, they formed a small pyramid.  I was confident.

Zach and I got into a rhythm blowing the flames until they reached well into the rope, then simply stepped back and watched it finish.  The other team accused us of stealing extra wood—and I guess the stack we had did look like a lot more wood than theirs, but it was the same amount—we had simply chopped up a lot more and smaller pieces.

It was a fun game, and the women had arranged some prizes for the winners.  Gary got some candy.  I got a harmonica.  I guess I am going to have to learn to play.

The second game brought Steve Winston on my side while Gary Shaw was excluded.  Gary was to be the judge.  We were given various food items, and the idea was we were to cook up a meal for Gary to eat.  It took about an hour to cook everything up. We made some Gumbo, with a vegetable side and fried apples for a desert.  I did not pay too close attention to what the other team made, other than the main course was a soup, but I did hear something about them caramelizing everything.

We finished up the day—except for more Euchre—with a three team tactical with three to a team.  Zach Carte and James Sturkler were on my team.  We all enjoyed it, but I think there were some kinks that need worked out for next year.  Each team was given five challenges, with the order than we had to respond whenever engaged in battle.  We got confused somehow in that the order of the challenges were to be first from Jen Mott, then Andrew Mott, then Jen Mott, then Andrew Mott, and finally Jen Mott—or at least that seemed to be the explanation to me.  Jen gave a Civil War trivial question whenever approached, while Andrew gave some kind of physical challenge.  The trouble was that after the first challenge—given by Jen—we started getting confused as to the order of things by first trying to return to Jen for the second challenge, who redirected us to Andrew, but then we somehow thought all remaining challenges were to come from Andrew.  Shaw’s team also experienced some kind of confusion—he told me they had a difficult time cornering Andrew since he kept moving around.  In that confusion somehow we skipped a step.

I know the Mott’s will probably read this, so I want to make sure they understand that we all had a blast, in spite of the issues encountered.  I am sure if time is taken to examine what did not work and what did, then these issues can be resolved for next year.

Monday was the actual Bean Bake.  We were a part of it since Mercer, Mott, and Girth are all from the area.  For most of the time we pretty much did a living history—although surprisingly with the weather dropping from 97 on Saturday to 60 on Monday, we had more public hanging around us to keep warm by our fire (the only one on the grounds) than anything.  Lt. Sharp showed up to participate as well-this time as a private in blue. 

In the early afternoon we set up a silly skirmish with three of us dressing gray to attack the rest of us in blue.  We seemed to have way to small an area to work with and somehow ended up doing more fighting among cars in the parking lot than in an open area, but it was fun.  A good opportunity to work out some more kinks for next year.

The last piece of participation for us was to stir the beans.  Most of us thought it was to be little more than a photo op to have us all up there stirring all the pots of beans, and then we would be done with it.  But time seemed to pass with little concern.  I do not know how long we were stirring, but my arms are still hurting—three days later.

We finished up the day with a challenge from JR for a speed shoot competition.  I blew any chance of winning early on when I forgot to ram paper and had to pick my first tube off the ground to shove it down the barrel.

The Durbin Bean Bake is a laid-back event that we look forward to, even though it really is not much of a Civil War event, and we have to go Federal.  It is only one day of living history, with the rest of the time entirely for us as we see fit to spend, far out in the country away from anything that could interfere (or interrupt).  I look forward to next year, and hope that perhaps the Bean Bake Committee seriously considers allowing us to invite a Yankee unit to expand the Civil War representation to the festival.

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