The Sandman: His Ship Stories  by Willliam J. Hopkins

The Ship-Building Story

O NCE upon a time there was a wide river that ran into the ocean, and beside it was a little city. And in that city was a wharf where great ships came from far countries. And a narrow road led down a very steep hill to that wharf, and anybody that wanted to go to the wharf had to go down the steep hill on the narrow road, for there wasn't any other way.

And because ships had come there for a great many years, and all the sailors and all the captains and all the men who had business with the ships had to go on that narrow road, the flagstones that made the sidewalks were much worn. That was a great many years ago.

The river and the ocean are there yet, as they always have been and always will be; and the city is there, but it is a different kind of a city from what it used to be. And the wharf is slowly falling down, for it is not used now; and the narrow road down the steep hill is all grown up with weeds and grass.

A great many years ago, when the ships still came to that wharf, a man used to go down the narrow road very often, for, although he had no business with the ships that came there, he liked to look at them and to be near them. And at last he thought he would be a ship-builder; for he had studied the building of ships and he knew how.

So he looked all around for a place that would be good for ship-building. He had to have a place that was pretty level and pretty smooth, and it must be beside the water, and the water right next to it must be wide enough, so that the ships, when they were launched, would not go slam-bang into the show on the other side; and it must be deep enough, so that the ships would not stick in the mud at the bottom.

At last, when he had looked at a great many places, he found the right kind of a place for ship-building. It was a great meadow, all smooth and flat, beside a wide river. The men who had owned it had used it to cut salt hay from; for it was not very far from the great ocean, and the tide came up and went down there, and sometimes the meadow was all covered with water at high tide. So this man, who wanted to build ships, bought the meadow and paid the men money for it, and it was his.


Then he began to make it ready for building ships. There wasn't very much to do to it. First he built a blacksmith shop in one corner, near the road. And what the blacksmith shop was for is told about in the Blacksmith Story.

While the men were building the blacksmith shop, other men were building a shed on the other side of the meadow. A part of the shed was all open in front, with only posts there, to hold up the roof. The other part had a wall all around. The open part was to put logs in, so that they would dry enough, and for the men to work in when it rained. In the part with the wall all around was a furnace and a boiler. And from the boiler was a pipe that went out through the wall at the back and into a long wooden box. Then, when a fire was built in the furnace, the water in the boiler got hotter and hotter until it boiled and turned to steam; and the steam went through the pipe into the long wooden box. You will know, pretty soon, why they wanted steam in the long wooden box.

That was all there was to do to the meadow to make it a shipyard, and the master of the shipyard didn't do anything more to it until he began to build a ship. Then, one day, two men came to see the master. One was Captain Jonathan and the other was Captain Jacob.

"We have decided to have a vessel built for us," said Captain Jonathan. "It will be a brig, and we shall call it the Industry. We should like to have you build it."

The master was very glad to hear Captain Jonathan say that, and he said that he would build the brig Industry  for them, and he would make it very strong and very safe, so that it could sail through any kind of a storm and not be hurt. So Captain Jonathan and Captain Jacob and the master agreed about the brig Industry, and Captain Jonathan and Captain Jacob went away.

Then the master of the shipyard sent for a lot of men who knew how to build ships. And some of them he sent away to find trees that were the right kind. He wanted all the trees to be live-oak, and some of them he wanted to be straight and some crooked. So the men went where those trees grew, and they picked out a great many live-oak trees. And some of the trees were straight and some were crooked; and the crooked ones were all kinds of shapes that were right to go in a ship. And they cut those trees down and they cut off the branches, so that the trees were nothing but logs. It was winter, but no snow was on the ground, for snow does not often fall where those trees grow.

Then the men went to work with a great many yoke of oxen, and they hauled those logs to the river that was nearest, and they loaded the logs into a vessel that was waiting there. They couldn't load them on railroad cars, for they did not have railroads then. And when the vessel was all loaded so that it couldn't take any more, the men got on and they sailed away out of the river and over the great ocean until they came to the wide river that the shipyard was beside. And they sailed up that river until they came to the shipyard, and they tied the ship with great ropes to a wharf that the other men had built while they were away getting the live-oak logs. And they took all the logs out of the vessel and put them on the ground, not in a pile, but each one by itself. And the logs, put that way, each by itself, nearly covered the ground, so that there was hardly room to walk about without walking on the logs.

Then the master of the shipyard came and looked at each log carefully, and decided where it would go the best in the ship, and he had the men pile the logs in the open shed in order. And three of the largest and straightest logs he picked out for the keel of the Industry. For the keel is the very bottomest part of a vessel, so that it has to be laid first of all; and it must be very strong, for all the ribs are fastened to it.

So the men took their broadaxes and their adzes and went to work upon the keel logs, making them square and smoothing them off. A broadaxe is like a common axe, but it has a broad blade; and an adze is like an axe turned a quarter way around, so that it cuts like a hoe when it is used for weeding, except that it is sharp and heavy. And the sound of the adzes and of the axes on the live-oak logs was a pleasant sound, and the master of the shipyard liked to hear it. And the men talked with each other while they worked.

While the men were making the keel logs square and smooth, the master of the shipyard looked to see where was the best place to lay the keel so that the Industry  would slide off nicely and easily into the water when it was all done and they were ready to have it slide off. And he decided where was the best place; and when they had finished making the logs square and smooth, and had fitted them well together, they got out the old oxen. For there were two yoke of oxen that belonged to the master of the shipyard. And the oxen put down their heads and the men put the yoke over and the bows under, and they hitched a great heavy chain to the yoke. And the old oxen started, and they walked slowly along, and the driver walked beside them; and the great chain dragged along the ground.

When the oxen had come to the largest of the keel logs they stopped, of their own accord. And the men lifted one end of the log with bars, and they slipped the chain under that end and fastened it. Then the driver of the oxen said: "Gee up, there!" And the oxen pulled and strained at the yoke, and at last the log started. And they dragged it along the ground, slowly, until they came to the place for the keel, and there they stopped. And the men unfastened the chain and the oxen went back for another log.


They dragged it along the ground, slowly.

Then other men put that log in its place, and set it up on blocks of wood. The end that was nearest the water was to be the back end of the keel and the stern-post would be fastened to it. The stern-post is another log that has been smoothed off, and it sticks almost straight up; or that is the way that they built vessels then. Now they make the stern-post slope a little. And they made the keel slope a little towards the water, so that the ship, when it was all done, would slide into the water stern first. Why they make ships go into the water stern first is a mystery, but that is the way they do. It seems a strange way, for a ship never sails backwards as long as it lives, after it has once got into the water.

When the men had set the first keel log in its place, they set the second log, that the oxen had dragged over, next to the first one, and when they had got it straight and in line with the first one, they fastened the two logs together with tree nails. Tree nails are round sticks as big around as your wrist and as long as your two arms. And they bore great holes that are rather a tight fit for them, and they soak the tree nails in water, so that they will go in easily and then will swell up until they are very tight in the holes, and they drive them in with great mallets, or wooden hammers. And when they had the second log set in place, they set the third one in the same way, and blocked them all up with great pieces of wood.

Then the keel was all ready. It got gradually narrower toward the bow, or front end, until, at the very front end, it was not much wider than a brand new pencil is long. To this end the men would fasten the stem. The stem is a log that curves a little out, and it is set up sloping a little out. That is the part of a ship that goes first in the water.

And then the men were very busy, getting the ribs ready, and the stern-post and the stem. And the master of the shipyard was very busy, finding what logs would do for ribs, for each rib curves differently from the others, and he had to find logs that curved the way the ribs ought to curve, and only needed to be smoothed off. And when the master had found the right logs, he told the men to smooth them off with their adzes and their axes. So, from all over the shipyard came the sound of the axes and the adzes, and the sound was so pleasant to the master that he was smiling all the time.

And the stern-post was set up, with a framework of sticks to hold it, and it was fastened with tree nails; and the stem was set up, with more framework to hold it, and that was fastened with tree nails. The framework of sticks they call a scaffolding. And the ribs were set up, each one in its place, and they were fastened together at the top by sticks to hold them in place until the ship should be so far done as to hold itself together. And they were fastened to the keel by tree nails.

So, in time, the ship took shape. And the brig Industry  looked like the skeleton of a ship, but the master of the shipyard was glad as he saw the vessel grow. And it was time to put in the great beams to hold up the decks, and the knees to fasten the beams to the ribs. Knees are shaped like a bent knee. And one part of the knee goes against the rib and the other part goes under the deck beam and holds it up. And the ship is held together this way, too, because the knees and the deck beams and the ribs are all fastened together. The knees are made of that part of a tree where a big branch grows, and one part of the knee is the trunk of the tree and the other part is the beginning of the big branch.


So, in time, the ship took shape.

So the men hewed out the knees and fitted them in their places, and fastened them to the ribs with tree nails. And they hewed out the deck beams and laid them on the knees, and they fastened them to the knees with tree nails. The Industry  had only one deck along the middle part of her, and two decks at the bow and two at the stern, and a little bit of a deck, that was no more than a floor over the bottom. And when they had done most of the deck beams in this way, they began to cover the outside of the skeleton ship with planks. For the ship was strong enough.

The planks for the outside were great thick planks of oak, as thick as a little boy's hand is long, and they were straight, while the outside of the ship was curved. And to make the planks curved so that they would fit on the ribs, outside, the men used the long wooden box and the pipe that went into it from the boiler. They put planks into the long wooden box, as many as it would hold, and they filled the boiler almost full of water, and built a fire in the furnace under the boiler. And the water got hot, and it began to boil, and steam went into the pipe and into the long wooden box and into the planks that were in the box. And when the planks had stayed in the steam for a long time, so that the steam had gone into them, they would bend into any kind of a shape, like a piece of lead. And if they were held in that shape while they dried, then, when they were dry, they would keep that shape. Little boys' hockey sticks are bent that way.

So the men put the planks into the wooden box, and, when they were all bendy, they took them out and put them on the ship where they belonged. And, when they had dried, they fastened them to the ribs with tree nails, and they drove in the tree nails with their great mallets that they swung in their two hands. These mallets are called beetles. And the sound of the mallets was a different sound from the sound of the axes and the adzes. The sound of the axes was a soft kind of sound because the axes cut when they hit; but the sound of the beetles was a hard sound.

And at last the ship was all covered with planks from stem to stern-post, and the decks were all done, and the beams covered with planks. And the men caulked the ship. That is filling all the places between the planks with oakum. The places between the planks they call the seams; and oakum is the fibres of rope all picked out, like excelsior. And when they had driven the oakum into the seams of the outside of the ship and the seams of the decks, they smeared it well with pitch, both within and without, so that water couldn't get in. And over the planks they put a sheathing of thin boards, and over the sheathing of thin boards they put thin sheets of copper where it would be in the salt water, and they fastened the sheets of copper with copper nails. For barnacles and weeds that grow in the water can't grow on copper, but they would grow on the bottom of the ship if it didn't have the copper, and they might grow very large, so that the ship could not sail fast.

They built the cabin and the galley, that is the kitchen of a ship, and finished the Industry  so far as the carpenters could finish it. And they hung the rudder, and they put in place the great bowsprit, but they didn't put in the masts. The riggers do that after the vessel is in the water. And they painted the Industry  within and without, and the outside was painted black, with two gold stripes around, where the deck is, and at the very top of the rail, where the sailors lean over. And around was a white stripe, and in the white stripe were black squares, to make her look like a warship; for warships, then, were like that, and behind every black square was a gun, and the black squares would lift up. But the Industry  hadn't any guns, and the black squares wouldn't lift up. They were only shams. And the inside of her was painted white.

Then, one day, when the brig Industry  was finished, even to the painting of her name in gold letters on her stern, Captain Jonathan and Captain Jacob came, and they stood beside the master of the shipyard and looked at her. And the master took them all over the vessel and showed them how strongly she was built and how well. For he was proud of his work.


And Captain Jonathan thanked the master for building the brig Industry  so well and making her so strong; but Captain Jacob said nothing. And the master answered Captain Jonathan, and said that everything was ready for the launching. How they launched the Industry  you shall hear in another story.

And that's all.