With graphics from the collection of
|I am so indolent, & all forms of study
are so hateful to me, that although I was several years constantly on
steamboats, I never learned all the parts of the steamboat. Names of parts
were in my ear daily whose office & locality I was ignorant of, &
I never inquired the meaning of those names. For instance, I think I never
saw the day that I could describe the marks on a lead line. I never knew
what "in the run" meant--I couldn't find the run in a boat to-day,
& be sure I was right.
- Notebook #20, reprinted in Mark Twains Notebooks & Journals, Vol. II (1877-1883)
Next, instead of calling out a score of hands to man the stage,
a couple of men and a hatful of steam lowered it from the derrick where it
was suspended, launched it, deposited it in just the right spot, and the whole
thing was over and done-with before a mate in the olden time could have got
his profanity-mill adjusted to begin the preparatory services. Why this new
and simple method of handling the stages was not thought of when the first
steamboat was built, is a mystery which helps one to realize what a dull-witted
slug the average human being is.
- Life on the Mississippi
|When a pilot "calls for the lead"
he gives the command with a signal from the whistle or bell. Soundings
are taken from either side of the boat, and when necessary from both sides.
One signal from the pilot house sends a leadsman to the starboard (right)
side, two signals to the larboard (left or "port" side). The same signals
from the pilothouse recall the leadsman from his post. Soundings are taken
at the discretion of the pilot, when making a crossing, going through
seldom used chutes, or at any time when there is doubt regarding the depth
of the water. When a leadsman is at work the pilot expects to be informed
of the depth of the channel about ever hundred feet. Throughout the leadsman's
chanting, pilots listen hopefully for "No Bottom." To them this is the
leadsman's sweetest song. When a boat can be kept in deep water the danger
of going aground is avoided.
- Steamboatin' Days - Folks Songs of the River Packet Era, Mary Wheeler. Louisiana State University Press, 1944.
Quarter Less Twain - ten and one-half feet
Mark Twain - twelve feet (two fathoms)
Quarter Twain - thirteen and one-half feet
Half Twain - fifteen feet
Quarter Less Three - sixteen and one-half feet
Mark Three - eighteen feet (three fathoms)
Quarter Three - nineteen and one-half feet
Half Three - twenty-one feet
Quarter Less Four - -twenty-two and one-half feet
Mark Four (or Deep Four) - twenty-four feet (four fathoms)
No Bottom - over twenty-four feet
far forward in the bow as to crowd the unguarded edge of the deck, a scant
two feet above the water, the "leadman" took watch with his
weight. In monotones he shouted the depths to the watch on the hurricane
deck. Louder but equally monotoned the deck repeated them.
So they shouted, minute upon minute. I cannot translate their Mississippi-River English. Mark Twain's name in the mouth of the flat-nosed Ethiopian down there? Whatever did the name of the American humorist have to do with the muddy bottom of the Mississippi? Timidly I ventured the question to the captain.
"Two fathoms," said he.
it modest of Mr. Clemens to sign his books with so shallow so superficial
a nom de plume!
For quotes on the Mississippi and life as a pilot on the river see the following quotations at this site: