Friendly Crews and Fellow Travelers

Every excursion steamer in those days had certain procedures or rituals.  I do not recall any fire drill, but I do remember the racks of round-bottomed pails filled with stagnant water and marked with a large "FIRE."  When we cast off there was always one man on the pier to lift the hawser, bow and stern, and a man on the ship ready to pull it in, hand over hand.  The captain was high in his curved-front aerie, with one hand on the huge wheel and the other shading his eyes as he peered below to shout orders.  Once we had come about and were headed downstream, he would pull the plunger that jangled the bells for full speed ahead.  We were off!

Then we would plunge below to see our friends - the firemen, the engineers, the deckhands, the mates, the purser, and the sandwich boy.  It was everyone's right to peer into the pit that held the furnaces and the glistening engines.  One smelt the galley, forbidden ground, and one caught glimpses of the uniformed cook.  The purser came round early to inspect our tickets and then disappeared until the end of the trip.  As we moved along, the deckhands busied themselves coiling ropes, brushing up the decks, moving around deck chairs, and entertaining the open-mouthed youngsters.  It must have been an easy life for them.  One could hardly call them sailors:  some we knew were anything but, for among the crew there was always some young man of our acquaintance who was employing his summer vacation profitably. But the captain and the engineer were the real thing.  

The vessels carried passengers in large numbers according to the season and the weather, and they carried also freight and mail.  At every stop the stevedores trundled their trucks to take on or to leave wooden packing boxes, burlap bales, and small stuff. It must have been a profitable business even though the season was short.  

Steamer Block Island, New London, Conn.
Friendly Crews and Fellow Travelers