The Six Hundred Dollar Man…

19 Jul

Next up on the GSP Legends Promo is Steven R Southard.



Growing up in the Midwest, Steven R. Southard always found the distant oceans exotic and tantalizing. He served aboard submarines and now works as a civilian naval engineer. In his stories, he takes readers on journeys of discovery in many seas and various vessels. Steve has written in the historical, science fiction, fantasy, horror, and steampunk genres. 

    Visit Steven’s new website at:

HIs book we are highlighting today is The Six Hundred Dollar Man



Sonny Houston, cowpoke. A man barely alive. “I can rebuild him, make him the first steam-powered man. A darn sight better than before. Better, faster, and a heap stronger, too. I’ve got the know-how.” A century before any bionic man, a doctor in the Wyoming Territory attached steam powered legs and an arm to a man trampled in a stampede. Get ready, Pardner, for a rip-roarin’ steampunk adventure!


Doctor Rudolph Wellburn looked up from his workbench as Red dragged the trampled man through his door.

“I brung him as soon’s I could, Doc,” Red said, looking around the office. “Whereabouts should I—”

“Set him up on the table over there.” Doc pointed and rushed to assist. “Don’t unstrap him. Just lift the whole thing.” The man had been bound with ropes to three tree limbs lashed together. From the way the ‘foot’ end of the limbs had been worn smooth and stained grass-green, Doc figured Red must have dragged the tow-haired young man for miles behind his horse. Blood had run down the logs in a dozen places. Together they lifted the stretcher onto the table.

Doc leaned over the patient’s chest and listened.

“Reckon he’s alive, Doc?”

“Barely alive.” Doc sighed. “He’s the Widow Houston’s boy, isn’t he? What in tarnation happened?”

“Thunder spooked our cattle and they started in to stampedin’.” Red was still breathing heavily from his ride. “Sonny lit out after ‘em a’fore we could stop ‘im. Then a lightnin’ flash spooked the herd agin and they turned right into Sonny, poor devil. Can you fix ‘im up, Doc?”

“Can’t rightly tell, yet.” Doc glanced up from his examination. “Go fetch the Widow.”

After Red left, Doc worked by the light of oil lamps, untying the ropes, stripping off interfering clothing, and cleaning the wounds. He kept checking to ensure the young man still breathed and had a heartbeat. So many bones had been broken in the stampede, Doc knew he’d have to amputate three limbs. Only the patient’s head, torso, and right arm remained uncrushed.

“Sonny, you messed yourself up something awful,” Doc murmured, pausing to wipe his brow. He sighed and gazed out the window. The earlier storm had passed and now the moon bathed Cheyenne with a dim, silver light.

He glanced over at his workbench with its pile of papers showing drawings of pistons, crankshafts, flywheels, and boilers. Should Sonny be the one, the very first to get it?

“Looks like this stump has started in to healing, too,” Doc said as he peered at the knob where Sonny’s left arm had been. Doc sat in a chair next to the straw-filled mattress on which Sonny lay sleeping.

The interior of the Houston’s shack looked plain, but clean and well kept. A single room served all purposes, with a wardrobe and dresser near two straw mattresses, a table and chair along the back wall, and a coal stove for supplying heat and cooking food. Liberty Houston sat at the table, looking at Doc, her brow knitted with worry. At thirty-nine, she’d weathered almost as many years as Doc, but her gray, wispy hair made her look older. Only a tough woman can deal with the death of a husband and the crippling of her only son.

“I’ve got to talk to you, Libby.” Doc began putting instruments back in his black case. It had been a week since he’d amputated three of Sonny’s limbs. Sonny spent more time awake each day now, though he still winced a lot from the pain. His mother had cried a good deal, and fretted over her son, and asked Doc how she was supposed to work the farm and care for Sonny by herself. “I might be able to make Sonny walk again,” he said, “and have the use of two good arms.”

Libby’s eyes filled with hope. “How?”

“There’s a chance I can rebuild him. I can put new limbs on him to make him a darn sight better than before. Better, faster, and a heap stronger, too. I’ve got the know-how to fix him up.”

She frowned. “You gonna give him someone else’s legs and arm? Like that monster Doctor Frankenstein made?” She shuddered.

“No, Libby, no.” Doc shook his head. “I can strap a steam engine to his back and use it to power mechanical legs and an arm.”

“A steam engine?” Her face showed puzzlement and shock. “Like a . . . like . . .”

“Like a Union Pacific locomotive, that’s right.” Doc nodded and turned his chair to face her better. “Only this engine would be much smaller.”

She looked about to swoon.

“Stay with me, now, Libby. Stay strong for Sonny.”

She breathed deeply, fanned herself, and appeared to recover. “Steam powered,” she murmured, then looked up. “You ever heard that song, ‘The Steam Arm,’ Doc? The one about that feller got himself a steam powered arm? That arm went plumb crazy. The feller ended up tearin’ his house down, hurtin’ his wife, and clobberin’ policemen. What if—”

“Now don’t you worry,” Doc said. “Sonny’s iron limbs would be under his control and will only do what he wants them to.”

Her worried look returned. “It sounds plumb expensive to me. How much does such a contraption cost?”

Doc knew the parts would cost close to six hundred dollars, and also knew Libby couldn’t pay, not with the farm just getting by. “Don’t you fret. I’m not fixing to charge you a penny. I wouldn’t build it for the money.”

Her eyes widened in curiosity. “Why on Earth would you do this for us? For Stephen?”

Doc frowned, his memory dredging up horrific scenes too ingrained to forget. “Back in ’63, I was an Army surgeon with the Union side. At Gettysburg, scores of lads were getting limbs blown off. All I could do was saw their bones, patch up their stumps, and tell them they’d never walk again. Even so, plenty of those fellers died. They hauled all the wounded men off in a steam train. As I watched it chug away, I got to thinking.” He squeezed his eyes shut but his mind’s eye still saw each wounded soldier. “I’ll build this for Sonny because of all those boys at Gettysburg whose limbs I couldn’t save. Maybe someday when someone loses a leg, they won’t end up crippled; they’ll be made better.”



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