Sunday, October 12, 2003

River has its own language

Is there a doctor aboard? Yes, but ...

Here are few steamboat terms to toss around during Tall Stacks:

Back around - Turning the boat, like backing a car into a driveway and pulling into the street.

Barge - A vessel designed to be towed. On the Ohio, towing is done by pushing rather than pulling. A group of barges cabled together is called a tow.

Boiler deck - The second deck of a boat, above the boilers.

Bucket planks - The paddles of the paddle wheel.

Cabin - The enclosed portion of the boiler deck.

Capstan - The spool-like steam powered winch on the head of a steamboat, used for pulling lines.

Doctor - A pump that feeds water to the boilers.

Fantail - The deck alongside the paddle wheel.

Firebox - The boiler room.

Forecastle - The forward end of the main deck.

Guy - Any line used to hold a boom, mast or smokestack firmly in place.

Handy line - A throwing line made of soft rope used to reach a distant shore. A large knot, called a monkey's fist, is tied in the end.

Head - The front end of the boat. Not the restroom.

Hog chains - Iron rods that form a truss system that holds the ends of a boat up and the middle down.

Hurricane roof - The lowest of the boat's various roofs.

Lazy bench - The bench in the pilot house where everybody but the pilot sits.

Levee - To river men, a graded wharf. On a river, high embankments to prevent overflow of high water.

Packet - A river steamboat designed to carry freight on its decks and provided with cabins for passengers. An excursion boat carries passengers only, but has no cabins. A tourist boat carries passengers and provides staterooms.

Pitman arm - Similar to the connecting rod on a locomotive, it transfers engine power to the paddle wheel.

Ringbolts - Large iron rings on a wharf that a steamboat ties mooring lines to.

Stacks - Smokestacks. Never called funnels.

Stage - A gangplank or boardwalk, 40-60 feet long, swung out ahead of the boat, worked by a mast and boom and lowered at landings. Most Ohio boats had one stage. Mississippi boats had two, one on each side of the forecastle.

Steersman - Apprentice pilot.

Swing guys - The guys (lines) used to swing the stage to the side of the boat.

Texas - The top deck, on top of the skylight roof and surmounted by the pilot house.

Wharf - A sloped, stone landing where riverboats tie up.

Wharf boat - A boat used as a floating wharf for riverboats.

Yawl - A rowboat belonging to a steamboat.

Source: Pilotin' Comes Natural by Fred Way Jr. (New York; 1943)