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[p. 99]


In the early days of ship-building, work in the yards began with sunrise and ended at sunset, with allowance of time for meals. In later times the work hours were from 7 in the morning until 6 at night with an hour's nooning. Usually about sixty men were employed building a ship. They were the ship-carpenters, the calkers, the outboard and inboard joiners. The wages received were $2 per day, apprentices receiving $40 to $50 per year and board; many of the apprentices boarded with the proprietor of the yard. To build a 1,000 or 1,200 ton ship required about six months. In early times the timber was obtained in the neighborhood— then in New Hampshire—from where it was transported via the old Middlesex canal to Medford and drawn by ox-teams to the ship-yard. It was a sight in winter to see these teams go by—creaking, squeaking, the oxen with frosted backs and icicles hanging from their mouths.

Much might be written about the building of a ship from the laying of the first timber to the finishing touch, but that must be left for another time.

To be in the yard watching the varied processes going on in the ship's construction was the acme of delight to the interested boy. Oftentimes a few pennies were earned by some errand or by tending the steam-shed fire. ‘Looking in at the open door’ of the blacksmith shop never lacked in attraction for the children. In early days matches were unknown, and old Mr. Lapham, the blacksmith, would be seen daily coming up the street from his house with his fire-brand to light his forge fire. What a supply of ‘chewing-gum’ for the children there was in those big kettles of tar where all were permitted to help themselves without spending a cent!

The great day was the day of the launch. The neighborhood poured out—old ship captains came [p. 100] from far and near,—the ‘school-marm’ and her flock of boys and girls. It was a sight—grand, impressive, to look at the great ship that had been building so many months, now awaiting, in her dress of black and green, the incoming tide, when, the last block knocked from under, she would slide into the Mystic.

I remember while awaiting the high tide at a launch at Foster's yard that the ‘Great American Traveller,’ Daniel Pratt, located himself, with the aid of the boys, on a post at the river-end of the yard and began one of his rhapsodies on ‘that famous ship-canal from Medford to Chelsea, wherein great vessels should float to the sea,’—that about in the middle of his remarks the launch took place and the water displaced rushed inward over the yard, leaving Daniel on the post surrounded, his audience being fleeter of foot having escaped inland. The flood soon subsided, and folding up his manuscript, which he always carried, Daniel was helped down and departed.

The impressions of boyhood last. Especially indelible are the pictures of the ship-yards upon memory, although the yards are grass-grown and scarcely a timber marks the spot. The daily procession of toilers to and from the yards, and the rhythmic clank, clank—clank, clank, of the calkers, still are seen and heard.

Of all the buildings in all the yards but one stands today—an old building in Foster's yard. A slight depression near by on the edge of the river marks the spot where the last ship was launched,—the ‘Pilgrim.’ The tides come and go as they always have. Old Ship street with its ships has passed into history. No shipbuilder is now living. Their sons and daughters are still with us.

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