Stephen Meader

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  I wish I had known Stephen Meader's books when I was in high school!
At that time, long ago, I was sort of drifting around, mentally.  Maybe I'll be an engineer, whatever that is, or ... many other things.  In fact I was many other things; carpenter, programmer, bookseller and musician stand out from many others... but all were more or less unplanned.
   Many of Meader's tales are about some young man figuring out something real that he can do in life.  In Bulldozer, 1951, a young man hears about a bulldozer abandoned at the bottom of a lake, recruits an older friend just back from Korea to help, and they get it out of the lake, rebuild it, and build a successful business of doing bulldozer work around the rural community.  Chapter 3, in which they are just managing to get the dozer up off the bottom and across the ice, was exciting!  I'd done things something like that, perhaps less massive, and it had me on the edge of my chair -- and was soon looking for more Meader....  In Everglades Adventure, 1957, a boy hanging around a trading post in late 19th century Florida helps guide a scientist into the Everglades and finds himself moving toward a dual career of biology and photography.
    In high school my favorite author was Howard Pease. I still like him very much!  I found his books to be real page-turners; but his idea of life seemed to be to go to sea, sign onto the black gang on some beat-up freighter, and see what happened. I still like his books a lot - and it is sort of what I did with my life.  Meader may have opened more, possibly better, doors for other young people.  
   It is not as if Meader's books were dull; they are almost comparable to Pease, or another favorite, Joseph Altsheler.  In fact, chapter 3 of Bulldozer, getting the tractor out of a frozen-over lake, struck me as about the most exciting chapter of any book I ever read -- this as an adult; and I was holding my breath through most of it!
  Blueberry Mountain follows a mountain kid step-by-amazing-step from picking wild blueberries to sell by the roadside to being a successful entrepeneur with 15 acres of berries (that is huge in blueberries); Again it is the earlier chapters that grabbed one the most: Buck finds the berry-picking thrilling rather than tedious. I also greatly enjoyed picking fruit as a teenager, did many many 50-hour weeks of it -- but never figured out how to collect more than pennies, although there were a hundred trees on the family farm, near the big commercial orchards.  What set our hero apart were his ideas on expansion; financing without resources, brilliant salesmanship, use of the county agent, etc.
  In the sequel, Snow on Blueberry Mountain, the business continues and is doing fine, but the boy decides to put in a commercial ski slope on the stump-covered hillside they own; with friends and family they cut out the stumps, eventually manage to swing the financing to put in an engine and ski tow.
   Their cheerful entrepeneurism is something that never occurred to me as a youth.  Of course this boy does everything. One might think a large berry patch would be a full time job, even if one weren’t in school at the same time, playing varsity basketball and football, catching robbers and finding the time and money to become an excellent skiier.  So it is in the end very much a fantasy... nevertheless enlightenng.
   There ought to be a kind of book award for being useful while entertaining.  Meader would have won several.

   His adventures set in history are more adventure than history; enough research to make things seem okay to the unfamiliar. i.e., in 1805, in Down the River, someone plays Turkey in the Straw... only a few decades early... in the Keep 'Em Rolling, 1966, an Indian attack on a wagon train on the plains, in the early 40's when there were none... on the sea-faring adventures, a light gloss over shipboard technique.  For more solid history, see Joseph Altsheler's novels; for better looks at the sea in sailing-ship days, the last four of the Treegate series by Leonard Wibberly. Or  Patrick O'Brien.

   Everglades Adventure , 1957 . Ar splendid tale from Meader.   I didn't read it for years: "What does Meader know about Florida?" I said - my mistake.  The answer is, enough to write this excllent tale, awash in naturalistic elements.  Set in South Florida in the 1870's, when the town that will become Miami is half-a-dozen houses, it follows a young man's exploration in a matter-of-fact way as his curiosity and clarity sets him on track to being a well-known naturalist and writer.  I like the way Meader sometimes opens the future for young men, and this is a fine example.

The Long Trains Roll, 1944.  An Appalachian mountain boy lives in The Gap, part of a railroading family. The Gap is one of the few places where railroads cross the Appalachian chain, four rails side-by-side, and in wartime they were busy hauling munitions from midwest factories to Atlantic ports.  Our hero is a mid-teen boy on one of the pick-and-shovel gangs that are at constant work repairing the lines, packing the gravel and replacing rails; but he discovers that spies want to sabotage the entire thing.  Meader's gripping story-telling ability is good as ever, and the whole book is helped a bit by italicized historical/factual paragraphs at the head of each chapter. i.e., Goebbels told the German people, "...transport of war munitions will never get started in America. Our network of sabotage is too strong."  He didn't figure on boys like Randy. And a nice Utopian pitch in one of the insets ends "And so the vicious circle must continue until all peoples join to make a final end to wars."

Clear for Action! 1940.  In 1812 a Maine boy ships aboard a cargo schooner bound for Cuba. Soon the ship is stopped and searched by a British frigate, which takes four young men and impresses them into service.  A year after war breaks out, the two boys escape onto an uninhabited island, where they find treasure and eventually contrive their rescue... formulaic;  Meader wasn't strong on research. Life aboard ship in 1812 is much more vivid in the Treegate novels by Leonard Wibberley.  One nice image, the British frigate on convoy duty, like a sheepdog herding the group of struggling merchant ships.  

The Muddy Road to Glory, 1963.  A well-written Civil War novel, based in part on Pullen's history of "The Twentieth Maine".  Another tall handsome hero... Meader might have written just one book for someone short, maybe with acne?

Keep 'em Rolling, 1966.  Meader also turned out potboilers - that's probably a given for someone who had 44 novels published. This one, set at some uncertain early time on the Oregon Trail, has items that historians might choke on, such as an attack by Ogalalla Sioux near the Platte River --  The date is apparently sometime before news of the 1847 loss of California by the Spanish.
(Extraneous fact: ... In 1845 the US Dragoons, 220 strong, which patrolled the trail at the time, gave demonstrations of cavalry movements and cannon fire for the massed representatives of the plains tribes who had been invited to a meeting on the plains, and was told that if they attacked any trains, they would be exterminated.  There were zero attacks east of the Rockies for the next ten years.)
This could also use a little more about how the child of a mountain man, Jeff Barlow, who is the volunteer guide and savior of their little wagon train, also became a successful commercial artist back east...  After passing Chimney Rock, they have a little dance; a fiddle, previously unmentioned; and someone brings out an old banjo, (old? when was it invented?  (1838).. popularized by minstrel show performers in the early 1840's...  And, when did it first reach the Oregon Trail?  The first one to show up in California was 1850...) and they play Sweet Betsy From Pike (1858, written by John Stone)   When did their guide, savior, meat provider, parlayer with the indians, scout and adviser, get the time to make those sketches of the wagon train that are his reason for showing them the route for free? .... Plenty to quibble about, but nevertheless a pleasant story... if not as delightful as the more carefully selected scenes in E S Lampman's "Tree Wagon."  The Barlow Cutoff (no relation, Sam Barlow) was built in 1846, so this must be '45 or before.

   It may seem that I come down very hard, critically, on Meader.  Well, I was an historian, graded a lot of papers, and his history is shaky -- but don't let that detract from the prominent fact: all his novels are exciting!

    Meader wrote a lot. In order of writing: What's your favorite?
   The Black Buccaneer (1920)
   Down the Big River (1924  Young Tom is on his way by flatboat down the Ohio with a pocketul of money, sent from his father in New Orleans. Captured by the gang of pirates at Hole in the Wall, but thanks to his maturity, brilliance, daring, and quick choice of the right friends, eradicates them.
   Longshanks (1928)  Tad sets off down the Ohio, bound for New Orleans, and makes it through many dangers thanks to his new friend Abe - ( Lincoln).
   Red Horse Hill (1930)
   Away to Sea (1931)
   King of the Hills (1933)
   Lumberjack (1934)
   The Will to Win and Other Stories (1936)
   Trap Lines North (1936)  A true story based on the diaries of 18-year-old Jim Vanderbeck and his brother, the winter they had to take over their father's traplines north of Thunder Bay in Ontario, Canada; with photos.
   Who Rides in the Dark? (1937)  Stagecoach days in old New Hampshire, dark roads and lonely inns (or was it lonely roads and dark inns?) and highwaymen of the night.
   T-Model Tommy (1938)
   Boy with a Pack (1939)
   Bat, the Story of a Bull Terrier (1939)
   Clear for Action! (1940)
   Blueberry Mountain (1941)    (See essay above)
   Shadow in the Pines (1942)
   The Sea Snake (1943) – A teenager from the Outer Banks of North Carolina finds himself captured and a prisoner in a German submarine.
   The Long Trains Roll (1944)
   Skippy's Family (1945)
   Jonathan Goes West (1946)  (See the critical essay above)
   Behind the Ranges (1947)
   River of the Wolves (1948)  Dave and three young friends are captured by natives at the outbreak of the French and Indian War, soon living with them...
   Cedar's Boy (1949)
   Whaler 'Round the Horn (1950)
   Bulldozer (1951)     (See essay above)
   The Fish Hawk's Nest (1952)
   Sparkplug of the Hornets (1953)
   The Buckboard Stranger (1954)
   Guns for the Saratoga (1955)
   Sabre Pilot (1956)
   Everglades Adventure (1957)  (See above)
   The Commodore's Cup (1958)
   The Voyage of the Javelin (1959)
   Wild Pony Island (1959)
   Buffalo and Beaver (1960) Young Jeff Barlow spends a winter in the Rocky Mt. wilderness in 1827, and becomes a Mountain Man.
   Snow on Blueberry Mountain (1961) (See above)
   Phantom of the Blockade (1962)
   The Muddy Road to Glory (1963)
   Stranger on Big Hickory (1964)
   A Blow for Liberty (1965)
   Topsail Island Treasure (1966) Finding Captain Kidd's treasure? - and a logical explanation for how Kidd was mis-charged with piracy and why the treasure was buried.
   Keep 'Em Rolling (1967)
   Lonesome End (1968)
   The Cape May Packet (1969)

more coming....