Behind “Tools of the Trade”


I’ve received emails asking about the history behind “Tools of the Trade”, my steampunk short story (from Leyfarers and Wayfarers) set in 1899 Kansas City, MO. When I created the story, I wanted as much historical accuracy as possible to make the Russian elf et al battling water demons more believable. Research was inevitable.
I’m answering the questions here, not really in any particular order.

Fiction: Sophie (the MC) and her brother Bruce were adopted as children and arrived in KC by train.
Fact: The Orphan Trains from the east coast carried hundreds of orphaned, abandoned, and parent-surrendered children west to be adopted. Some of their stories turned out well—the children were cherished and cared for by their adopted parents. Others didn’t fare so well, treated as little more than extra farm hands and servants.
Many of them processed through a church orphanage called “The Little Sisters of Mercy Asylum” in New York City. Nowadays, we often think of the word “asylum” in terms of mental institutions, but the broader meaning is a place of refuge, a shelter, a haven.

Fiction: One of the minor characters is taken to St. Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City while another is taken to a children’s clinic.
Fact: This hospital did indeed exist back then but at that point, it was called All Saints Hospital (est. 1885). It didn’t actually change names to St. Luke’s Hospital until 1903, four years after this story takes place. The shift of time is creative license.
The other clinic mentioned was founded by one of two sisters (Dr. Alice Berry Graham and Dr. Katharine Berry Richardson) who set it up to help children of those too poor to afford medical treatment. At the time, women doctors weren’t common and there was some (a lot!) bias about hiring them to work in hospitals, another reason for founding their own. A few years later, that clinic became Children’s Mercy Hospital.

Fiction: The elf cauterizes a wound with an “untinned” brazing bit.
Fact: “Untinned” means that it hadn’t been covered with the solder mixture of tin and lead which helps transfer the bit’s heat so the solder will flow properly to make a good joint. Essentially, the elf is using the equivalent of a bare-metal branding iron to cauterize the wound.

Fiction: The elf has an instrument called a dioptra in his toolbox.
Fact: A dioptra is an astronomical as well as a surveying instrument. Its earliest use dates back to about the 3rd century B.C. for astronomy, but the armillary later became the more favored instrument — greater accuracy, more detail. For surveying, the dioptra was later replaced by the theodolite. Because the elf in the story has a traceable lineage going back several centuries, he’s also inherited tools & instruments (even obsolete ones) from his ancestors.

Fiction: Sophie thinks “Wake up, prince” as she kisses the elf to disrupt a demon’s hold over him.
Fact: The elf character isn’t a prince, nor is Sophie particularly infatuated with him at this point in the story. But published fairy tales had been around for quite a while, and Sophie would’ve been familiar with them. The Brothers Grimm published their first volume of collected fairy tales in 1812 and a second volume in 1815.
A book of era sketches and photos showed the location of a Kansas City outskirts shantytown where Russian immigrants lived and dreamt of continuing westward with one of the many wagon trains. Kazimir became a Russian elf, but the Grimm stories didn’t have Russian tales, so Sophie doesn’t know about the particular water demon she’s seen.

Fiction: Sophie, Bruce, and Kazimir set out from the Kansas City Yacht Club building to battle the water demons.
Fact: Learning of the KCYC’s existence actually triggered the idea for the story. I was researching railroads running through KC for another project and had picked up a thrift store book of old local photos and newspaper sketches. In it, a sketch of a building with the sign Kansas City Yacht Club caught my eye. After some archive digging, I found it really did exist and had a lively membership among the local boaters. They held regattas and fish fries, and they even bottled their own beer. There were a number of smaller clubs in and around the city, but the KCYC seemed to be the largest.
The Kansas City Yacht Club was just too cool not to include in the story!

Leyfarers and Wayfarers is at \



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