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Cousin Sam
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Sam has a riveting day
Ship building
View full size imageShip building

Sam sets off early to work on Monday morning. He has luckily got a job at Rennie’s Iron Boat Builders. He is an apprentice. Unluckily, it is a slack time for Rennie’s so he is helping the riveters today. Rennie’s has recently won an order for four lighters. They are glad of the work, but the lighters are nothing compared to the warships they built there a few years ago.

The lighters are made from large, flat, iron plates. The plates have holes all round the edges. Two plates are put side by side, with the holes overlapping. A rivet is put in each hole, to hold the two plates strongly together. Each lighter has more than 5,000 rivets.

The foundry
View full size imageThe foundry

A rivet is like a large metal bolt, but it has no thread. First, the rivets are heated in the furnace until they glow brightly. Sam picks up the red-hot rivets, carefully, one by one, with tongs. Quickly, he drops them into a leather bucket. He takes the bucket to the riveters. The rivets are still red hot.

There are four riveters. On one side of the metal plate, the first riveter skilfully places a red-hot rivet in a hole, with tongs. The second holds it firmly in place with a block of iron. On the other side of the plate, the third and fourth riveters noisily beat the end flat with sledgehammers. The rivet slowly cools. It shrinks enough to pull the steel plates firmly together.

When the newly-built lighters are completed, they will carry goods busily between ships and wharves, in and out of the docks and up and down the Thames. The lighters will travel slowly on the tides, or they will be moved quickly by the new steam-driven tug-boats. The lighters are well built, and they will surely last a hundred years.

The casting shop
View full size imageThe casting shop

When Sam has moved a 100 rivets in this way, it is 12 o’clock. Everyone gladly stops work for the dinner hour. Suddenly, the streets are full of people briskly going home to their dinners. Hungrily, Sam makes his way home through Thames Street and Horseferry Road. It takes him five minutes to get home to 27 Little Thames Street. He has 50 minutes to wash his face, and eat a very large plate of Granny’s delicious stew. Then he must run back to work. If he is even one minute late, he will lose money from his wages.

Some of Sam’s mates are not at work. They have been laid off because there is not enough work for them at Rennie’s. Sam’s friend Bill was laid off. Bill then had no money, so he went to Woolwich and joined the army. He joined as a part-time soldier. He will get food and a bed for three months, while he does his army training. Sam is glad that he is still an apprentice, and so he has not been laid off. But he wishes he could get back into the engine shop. He wants to learn more of his trade as an engineer.

He has already learnt how to work with steel, copper and brass. He has learnt to cast metal parts by pouring molten metal into moulds. He has learnt how to harden the castings in the forge. He has learnt how to mill and shape the parts so that they fit together.

The shipyard
View full size imageThe shipyard

Now he wants to learn how to put together the steel cylinders, the rods and the shafts, the cog wheels and the pistons, the brass pipes and whistles, and the copper tubes for the boilers, to make the engines.

If he works as an apprentice for four more years, Sam can be a ship’s engineer and travel the world. He knows that some ships built at Rennie’s are in Africa and India, working on great rivers which run through forests full of snakes and crocodiles. Sam dreams of working in distant lands. But today, Sam is tired of Greenwich and tired of doing boys’ jobs like carrying rivets all day. He would rather be in the army.

 

 
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