A Ten Pound Bag
Chapter 116: St. Charles
Copyright© 2020 by Emmeran
Uneventful and tedious. That about fully describes the boat ride down. We saw settlements and the occasional minor trading post sweep past. None worth our time to stop and dally at. Next year we’d have a diplomatic mission to create relationships up and down the river. For now, we had a winter quickly approaching and we needed a lot of equipment in short order to accomplish our preparation.
The truth is, we wouldn’t have had a problem this winter if it had just been our original crew. Even the first three additions of Holder, Amos, and Esther wouldn’t have posed a serious problem. The moment the community started to grow, though, we had to expand and expand fast. That meant building; building meant tools; getting tools always seemed to add people. And so here we were.
Well, where I was, happened to be a riverboat. I was learning a lot even on this quick trip. My next journey would be back up to Fort Dickinson, which would teach me about their upstream work. From everything I’d heard thus far, it was basically a brutal battle with the river, the entire way. I could see that with my own eyes, in the boats we passed going the other direction. They became more frequent as we approached the towns.
The first thing I noticed was that they only cooked food at camp after a long day’s work. Being a river boatman had to list near the very top of any hard labor list. Over-worked, under-paid and under-fed just started the story. Part of the problem was that it was a young man’s job that you aged out of quickly. Once you passed 35 years old, you had to move on, because your body just couldn’t take it anymore. That got me thinking that boats needed propulsion and needed it soon. At least the boats that I used. I’d loved the idea of sticking one of the diesel motors into a boat, but I’d obviously have to find a way to camouflage it as steam and distill my own diesel if I could find the oil. My research had shown me it was nearby. You can’t just chug into St. Louis under diesel power without attracting the wrong kind of attention. So the answer had to be steam and I didn’t know much about it yet. That fact would need to change quickly.
Until I got to that point, I just needed to pony up the money for a larger crew. The crew approach was the obvious first step and probably the easiest. I could offer them their own homes and year-round employment. The river was unpassable north after October, which created hardship for them, particularly if they had a family. I could have them clear roads and chop wood all winter long. We’d provide them with a house, fuel for warmth, and food to eat. Timmons agreed that I had something there. Most of these guys enjoyed this life for a while, but then burnt out and had to survive off constant short-term work.
We agreed to double the number of deck apes to twenty, among them I wanted to add a second mate and a permanent shipwright. We weren’t trying to turn a profit right now. Rather we just needed to get things done, and doing the crew right would be a good start. Food was the top of the list and we’d work on other things from there. It might cut back on our load size a little, but I wanted an upgrade for these fellas and I wanted people to stand in line to work for us. However, I would have Timmons start boat shopping while we were down here. He was also charged with recruiting family types for the crew; stability was also one of my prime goals.