The drive over to Biggs Fabrication didn't take long in Erin's pickup and we soon pulled into the yard of an obviously busy metal working company. Apart from the fact it was racks of steel and aluminium stacked on the racks, it reminded me of Dad's work place. So okay the wood yard was bigger but you get the idea. Off to one side was a slightly run down house out side of which Erin parked the Chevy.
“Hey guys, you made it” Diane greeted us, descending from the house to where we were exiting our transport.
“Hi Diane, yeah we had to drag Gaby out of my shower, oh yeah, I don't think you know Maddy here, Gaby's cousin.”
“Hi Maddy, you sure you two aren't twins?”
“Not unless someone dumped one of us,” Mad grinned.
“Well let's go find Derek, he's itching to give you the dime tour.”
Diane led the way back across the yard to what looked like a tin shed, with a flourish she opened the door and announced,
“Welcome to Biggs Fabrication!”
The three of us filed past her into the slightly warmer surroundings of the shed where we found Derek fussing with something.
“er hi guys”
„Derek, Gaby's twin here is Maddy.“
“Hiya Derek, I'm hi-er cousin actually.”
“Hi Maddy, you were at the diner the other day?”
“Uh huh” Mad confirmed.
“Well its nice to meet you, I don't suppose you ride?”
“This is the one I was telling you about last week Derek” Drew mentioned.
“Dang, you English girls!”
“Derek” Diane chuckled.
“Oh right. Um I hope you don't mind but I sorta got this all planned up for a visit in a couple a weeks by the Chamber of Commerce, we're hoping to expand and they‘ll hopefully be fronting some funds.”
“Get on with it Derek” Diane prodded.
Our guide looked at his prompt cards.
“Er hi everyone, no skip that bit, nuh nuh nuh.”
Mad let out a little giggle.
“Here we go, welcome to Biggs Fabrication, the home of all things metal in Grottoes. With over twenty years experience we are the first stop in the Valley for everything from wrought gates to hi tech fabrications. Hmm that's that” he changed cards, “When John Biggs borrowed five hundred dollars from the bank in 1979 it was to set up an auto shop but his skill with metals soon saw him in demand for other stuff, have to re write that bit, nuh, oh right, if you'd all like to follow me.”
By now both Erin and Diane were struggling to contain themselves too and I was smiling too. Derek seemed oblivious as he led us into a second area.
“Um okay, right here we go. Since those early days Biggs have tried to support the local economy for services and by employing local people. The current workforce is six strong and is currently an out shop placement for two Augusta High students studying metal shop and CAD design. The proposed expansion will provide four more full time posts and two part time as a start.” He looked up at his audience with a shy smile.
“You're doing fine Derek” Erin encouraged.
“Thanks Erin. Um where was I?” he checked his prompt cards again, “oh yeah, jobs. Hmmm, okay, the area we are in now is our main fabrication shop…”
My mind wandered as I took in the small shed we were stood in. it looked a bit like a dirtier version of the metalwork lab at school, all the tools were stowed on wall boards, only the part built construction on the floor marred the appearance. Well that and the motor sport calendar, coffee mugs and unpainted floor.
“… the drawings. The new extension will double our floor space and allow us to install a powder coat booth. Currently everything has to go to Harrisonburg for finishing where we have no quality control besides adding extra cost. So besides improving delivery we can up the quality.”
“What is that?” Mad asked pointing to the strange pile of tubes.
“It's a race frame,” Diane advised.
“Race frame?” I queried as confused as Mad.
“One of our prestige customers. It's for a local based Nascar team, we build the roll cage then they strap the body, engine and wheels on at their base.” Diane told us.
“So they're not real cars?”
“I'm sure they use proper cars at home,” I mentioned.
“Well no Ford sedan could survive five hundred laps on the ovals”
“They never said when we went last week,” Mad stated.
“Well I guess they don't make a big thing outta telling folks,” Diane concluded.
“You guys ready to move on?” Derek enquired.
“Lead on Macduff” I told him which got a strange look.
“If you follow me, we'll trace the process.”
The next stop was a small office crammed with computers, a drawing board like we have in TD and loads of other odd bits of equipment.
“This is our nerve centre,” a more confident Derek started. “We generally work to customer drawings but we can also offer in house design if required. Lets follow a job through the system.”
We gathered around him as he sat at a computer with a huge screen.
“I think this will interest you guys,” Diane mentioned.
“We'll take this order, it's for one of our bike frames.”
I found myself perched on a chair paying close attention as Derek explained the process of changing the set of measurements on the order form into a drawing on the screen of a bike frame. At some point Diane must have left as she appeared with a tray of cups emitting the aroma of hot chocolate. Even Mad was fascinated when the special printer produced a detailed drawing of the frame complete with a materials list. Impressive.
“So we then take the drawing to our cutting shop where the tube is selected and prepared.”
We followed Derek into a garage sized space with a large steel topped table taking up a lot of floor space and racks with all sorts of tubing lining one wall.
“The standard steel and aloominum is stored outside, we keep the higher grade and expensive stuff inside” Derek mentioned.
I reflexively grabbed the pipe Diane tossed at me.
“6020 tee eye that we use for down tubes” Diane proudly mentioned.
You don't usually get to hold just part of a frame and I was suitably impressed by the lack of weight in the tube I passed on to Mad.
“Wow! I wish my bike was built of this,” she stated.
“You and me Mad” Erin grinned.
“Well for the bike frames the tube goes next door to the small fabrication shop.”
Once more we followed our guide and Diane took over.
“So guys, in here we put the frames together.”
We gathered around something she called a jig that held a nearly finished frame. The loose tubes now actually resembled a bike frame and Diane explained all about ‘tacking', ‘aligning' and ‘getting a constant bead'. She then handed me a full frame ready for finishing.
“This is seriously light Diane, I thought my frame was pretty good but this must be half the weight.”
“Two point six pounds without forks, an ally frame is typically four four right Erin?”
“The CAAD six is three eight.”
“This is still well light.”
“And strong Gab. This stuff is stronger than steel or aloominum, doesn't corrode and is more comfortable to ride than carbon.”
“I'll have to take your word on that” Drew sighed, “maybe I'll get one one day but even Mum's team bikes aren't this good.”
Diane's eyes flashed a look at Derek.
“Well maybe you can test ride one while you are over, and you Maddy,” she added.
The grand tour was now forgotten as everyone including Mad got into a discussion about bikes and kit, Diane was a Shimano freak and I'm staunch Campag, which produced a lively debate on the various merits. It ended up with a calculator and the catalogues to put together the ultimate super light road bike. I had a cheesy grin etched on my face when we finished – my ten-speed Campag Record equipped Biggs was nearly fifty grams lighter than the nine-speed Dura Ace set up Diane worked up! Hah, Campag wins again!
It was dark outside when we finally left the ‘factory' for the walk to the Biggs house where we were going to eat.
We were still talking bikes when the phone rang.
“Diane Biggs…oh hi Jessica…yeah they're still here, waiting for the pizza…sure…uh huh…okay I'll tell Erin…nine? Oh I see…fine, if Erin can't me or Derek will…yeah sure, bye for now.”
“Problem?” Erin asked, “I heard my name mentioned.”
“Not really, that was Jessica Bell, apparently the Walters and her are eating over at Sandy's so they want us to hang on to the girls till later”
“Well I don't mind but I need to go check that Don locked the store up properly at some point.”
“Hey we can watch the game Diane” Derek suggested.
“Maybe the girls don't want to”
“You two ever seen a game?”
“He means football.”
“Didn't think you played it over here” Mad stated.
“Not soccer Maddy, football” Erin put in.
“There's a difference?”
“I think they mean American Football, all those blokes in loads of padding.”
Erin chuckled, “that's the one Gaby.”
“It's the playoffs today, Redskins versus the Philly Eagles.”
“Who came up with those names?” Mad enquired.
Derek looked a bit affronted.
“I'm sure no one will mind if you have it on Derek, maybe the girls can get some tips from the cheer squads” Diane grinned.
“You girls cheer?” Derek asked.
“Well not very well” Mad allowed.
“Top class bike riders and cheerleaders, is there no end to your talents?”
“Never” I did my best Churchill, (it's pretty crappy really). So okay it's an English thing.
So that's how we ended up sat on Diane's sofa eating pizza and watching but not understanding American Football. The Redskins won which apparently set them up for the Superbowl, sort of like the cup final back home. All the commentary and stuff was pretty inane but Derek seemed to enjoy it although Erin used it as an excuse to go check on the Cyclery.
“Might see ya out on Wednesday Gaby” Diane mentioned.
“Hopefully, thanks for showing us everything.”
“Yeah thanks” Maddy added.
“No problem, remember what I said?”
“Come on you two, it's a bit of a way to the Jones place” Erin started the truck.
It was indeed ‘a bit of a way'. Well it seemed like it going along the unlit lanes and finally turning into the Jones' property. Erin pulled up behind Mrs W's Forester and I could see Miss Bell's car too.
Erin led the way up to the door of what I can only describe as a mansion! This is where Rhod is staying? Kewl!
The door opened before we got there.
“I thought I heard a car.”
“Hiya Mary, two English blossoms as ordered.”
“I've got a couple here somewhere too, come on in girls. You want coffee Erin?
“I think I will, Diane ran out of milk.”
Mrs Jones led us inside to where the Walters, Miss Bell, Jules, Rhod and the rest of the Jones family were variously talking, drinking and playing with a small child.
“Come on Kevin, lets get you to bed, I'm sure Em will play again in the morning.”
“You bet Kev” Rhod added.
We got introduced to Mr Jones, and did a quick hi and bye with Kevin who is apparently Sandy's baby brother.
“You guys have just got to see the coach house” Rhod grinned.
“That alright Miss Bell?” Sandy asked.
“Just the dime tour, your Mom will be wanting to be shot of us.”
“Brill! Come on Mad” Rhod grabbed Drew and with the others trailing behind led everyone out of the side door.
“You are so lucky Sandy” Jules mentioned.
I thought Sandy's smile was a bit forced, “I guess.”
“What is this place?” the real Mad asked as we clattered up the wooden stairway.
“It's where me and Sandy live” Rhod enthused.
“I thought you were staying in the house,” Jules queried.
“Mom thought Em should stay with me out here” Sandy supplied as we all trooped inside.
Sandy's flat was well cool. There's a kitchen two bedrooms and a big living room. It's like the Fonz's place in Happy Days ! (Mum's got them all on video at home, I sometimes watch one when I'm bored.) There was something not quite right about the whole set up though, not sure what but it's like Sandy is a lodger but Rhod says Mrs Jones is definitely Sandy's mum.
“Mad” I whispered as we were regaled with an Em and Sandy story,” we staying swapped?”
“I know but…”
“Okay, but we'll have to change.”
“Madeline, time to go luv.”
So much for cutting the swap short!
“I guess we'll see you on Monday then Mad?” Deb enquired.
“I suppose so.”
Mad gave me a hug and after a round of farewells I went to find Miss Bell.
“Here she is, well I'll see you on Monday Mary.”
“Okay, bye Jess, bye Madeline.”
“Goodnight Mrs Jones.”
“You can call me Mary out of school Madeline.”
“um okay er Mary.”
I opened the car door and climbed inside, looks like I'm stuck as Maddy until school on Monday, I just hope Mad's okay being me. With a final wave, we left the Jones' to drive ‘home'.
“Your sister gave me these for you”
“Um thanks” I accepted my tub of iron tablets. Hang on, sister?
“Yes I know.”
“How? Well I must admit I would never have realised but for your earring.”
“Earring? We swapped everything, well apart from redoing our nails.”
“Well I thought you were acting a bit odd with Sam last night, especially after Tuesday but it was only when I saw you tonight that I got it. That extra piercing at the top, Maddy doesn't have it but Gaby does. Ergo, the girl answering to Madeline is actually Gabrielle. Am I right?”
I decided to come clean.
“Guilty as charged” I admitted.
“So what's it all about?”
“I bet Mad that I could convince you I was her all weekend, I guess I lost huh?”
“I guess so, what was the prize?”
“If I lost I have to stay as Mad all week, so I guess that's me.”
“That so bad?”
“I suppose not but I'll never hear the end of it.”
“And if you had won?”
“Well we just go back to normal.”
We drove in silence for a while.
“Well maybe I didn't figure it out Maddy.”
“Well I think a couple of days is fine but a week? You'd not be able to get a break from the Walters again; I know they can be a bit full on. If you need to have a break again we can manage a few days don't you think?”
We nearly crashed when I gave Miss Bell a fierce hug.
“No problem, our secret huh?”
“Uh huh. But why tonight?”
“Well I was expecting you to swap back today but I guess you called my bluff there”
“We were going to, but we didn't have time.”
Miss B smiled and just shook her head. These Brit kids, always doing the unexpected!
Maddy Bell 08.09.05 © 2005
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