Copenhagen, July 1636
The old longboat was what their forefathers had called a ship of twenty-six rooms for the twenty-six oars, lucky thirteen on each side. And twenty-six men on those oars. They all faced aft, where the Captain stood and shouted orders. Captain Olsen’s voice came loud and clear. “All together! Pull!” Eric Lange braced himself and put his back into the work of pulling his oar.
That is, except for Thorvald. Lange shook his head. Thorvald was always late. There was a sickening crunch as Thorvald’s oar banged on the end of the dock, and a startled Thorvald was thrown into the water while his oar shattered.
The rowboat was really big and solid. It worked as a tug in the harbor of Copenhagen. Eric Lange turned to his companions and said, “There’s got to be a better way, that’s the fifth time this month that Thorvald has got himself thrown from the boat.”
In this boat, there was a surfeit of Erics, and since they were friends, they worked on adjacent benches. There were three, so each had a unique nickname to avoid confusion. Lange was called that because he was tallest. Sharing his bench was Halbard. And that was because one evening he had fallen asleep at the tavern, full of beer. The young ladies, as a joke, shaved off half of his beard. Not the bottom half, like you would normally expect, but from the left half of his face. The right side was still bushy beard.
When he woke in the morning, Eric Halbard liked it that way, so for the last month, he’d shaved just the left side. It became an important part of his identity.
On the other bench, next to Thorvald’s empty seat, was the third Eric. He was called Krake meaning scaling ladder. Eric Krake was not the tallest, but he was definitely the thinnest. When he wasn’t working on the tug, he served as a harpooner on the fishing vessels that worked outside of Copenhagen.
Eric Krake said, “I have an idea, perhaps we could . . .”
Eric Lange glanced at the Captain, then held up his hand to stop the garrulous Krake. “Wait, let’s talk about this later. We need to get our job done now.” They all turned and glanced at Captain Olsen, who was glowering at them. So talk ceased, and the tugboat ground ashore. Then everybody leapt overboard, waist-deep in the water, grabbed hold of the rails of the boat and dragged it on to the gravel.
Captain Olsen rubbed his face. “Somebody throw Thorvald a line. Eric, get our towline on the winch and pull us into its berth.” The Captain never cared which Eric responded.
At the end of the day, it seemed harder to move the ships around. Thorvald and Krake joined the others, grunting and heaving. The ship they had pushed into the berth, a three-master, was finally secured against the dock. Even before Halbard could get it tied off, a large gang of stevedores swarmed aboard to unload cargo.
Back at the tugboat the crew began to drag their craft back into the water for the next tow job. It was all a typical day’s work. At least, Eric Lange thought, today the weather is good and the water is smooth. That was about as good as it ever got.
The three faithful companions met together in a little tavern on the harbor. The place was called the Northern Lights, and it was a very popular place that served food and drink. It was also where Halbard lost his facial hair.
The owner, an old ship’s cook, was said to have sailed the whole world. He served exotic drinks and made strange dishes. For all of the unusual food and drink, the prices were low, and the quality was high. The place had been open for years and was a favorite place on the waterfront.
The beer arrived, and it was quiet while they drank down the first round. Then Eric Lange pointed at Eric Krake as he swallowed. “Okay, Krake. You have an idea, something that’ll make the job easier?”
Eric Krake grinned. “It’s like this. I’ve been working in the harbor with you two for more than a year now. We were all there when the Swedes brought their warships into the harbor. We all saw how they worked, especially the ones called paddle wheels. I think we could build a paddle wheel too. How complicated could it be? If we did that, it would be much easier to move around in the congested harbor. We wouldn’t have Thorvald getting himself knocked overboard every other day because he can’t get his oar out of the way fast enough.”
Eric Halbard just chuckled. “Yes but that would eliminate half the fun of the job. It is always amusing to hear what Thorvald says when he is being pulled out of the bay. I think he has the largest vocabulary of cursing in the city.”
All three laughed because it was true. Then Eric Lange continued. “You know there might be something to this. We could start, not building a whole new boat but by using two long slim rowboats for supporting a framework, then put the paddle wheels, two of them between the rowboats. That would allow us to keep all the moving parts in the middle, away from anything in the harbor that could foul the wheel.”
Eric Halbard said, “Yes, and perhaps if we can run the paddle wheels hard enough we could push on a ship, rather than pull it, that way we wouldn’t have the problem of getting out of the way when the ship is being put up next to the dock, the more ships we can move the more fees we can take, putting more money in our pockets.”
Eric Krake pulled a much-folded piece of paper out of his shirt and laid it on the table. “I’ve been drawing and this is what I think we could do.”
Krake said, “I was thinking that perhaps we could use something like a capstan, mounted on the side of the paddle wheel on each side. I mean we have one paddle wheel next to the rowboat hull on the left side, and one on the right. We could put the capstan inside the rowboat hulls and have men pulling on the levers to make the wheels work.”
Eric Lange looked askance at Krake. “Excuse me, but it doesn’t make much sense. At least not the way you’re telling it.”
Eric Krake pulled out his pencil and started to draw. Both his companions looked skyward for the blessings of patience from the angels. When Krake got like this, he was insufferable.
But Krake didn’t notice them. “No, wait, this is easy to see.” The discussion went on for several hours, through six mugs of exotic spiced rum, and three plates of exotic food.
Finally, because he thought of himself as the leader, Eric Lange stood up. “We’ve got to get home, and I have to think about this. If we can build a model or something like it, perhaps we can promote the idea to somebody with enough money to make it work.”
Copenhagen, July 1636
Eric Lange was getting tired of going to meetings. Many people were interested in the idea, but only a few were interested enough to spend money. Those people had formed an organization led by Josef Magnussen. The man leading the consortium was deeply interested in transportation, shipping, and most of all getting more work done for less cost.
At this meeting, Herr Magnussen looked over the drawings and gleefully said, “This is the way to make money. And making money is what we are all about.” The deal was drawn up, and the Erics signed, committing their lives and fortunes.
Now, the three Erics, armed with their patron’s money and boundless enthusiasm, had gone down and purchased two long slender hulls, and moved them to a space owned by Herr Magnussen. They threw themselves into the construction of their vessel.
Halbard had an uncle who ran a water-powered sawmill. The uncle was a great source of information for the water wheels. Krake had a friend that sold them the timbers required for the construction of the new vessel. Eric Lange oversaw the project. The most important thing about the vessel was that it be strong enough to do real useful work, but light enough so that it was not an impossible task to drive it through the water.
Weeks went by in the construction, the three Erics became more and more enthusiastic. Nevertheless the commentary from the rest of the harbor was ribald and extreme. Mostly the three young men were accused of wanting to set up a wheat-grinding operation in the middle of the harbor. So they were dubbed bread masters of the inner harbor. The onlookers made imaginative commentary on their work. However day by day, week by week, the work progressed, and finally Lange could see that the craft was finished.
Copenhagen, August 1636
Harbormaster Arne came to the work-site for the launching of the new craft. His white beard and moustache contrasted nicely with his deep black doublet. He looked over the unlikely contrivance, and said, “So you think this is going to work?”
Eric Halbard smiled. “Yes, I think so. We tried it sitting on blocks. Four men on each side pulling the capstan handles make the wheels spin quite easily. The wheels are even independent of each other and can be turned in opposite directions. We think that we will be able to have it pivot within the length of the boat. That will make us very maneuverable and it should give us the ability to work in very tight quarters.”
The harbormaster said, “Do you have a name for this thing yet? I know that most tugboats are not named, them being just rowboats. But this is something unique. I’ve never seen anything like this except for maybe those Swedish warships.”
Eric Lange said, “We are still thinking about that. I’m sure we’ll come up with something soon.”
Arne shook his head, then checked his paperwork. “Well, it’s your neck, I guess. The last thing I need to know is who is in charge here?”
They laughed, and pointed at each other, and said, “Eric is in charge!” Everyone in earshot dissolved into laughter.
Grunting and heaving, the whole crew wrestled the new craft into the water. Then everybody watched as the three Erics and Thorvald climbed into the craft and took their places, two at each capstan. They begin to pull on the handles of the capstans.
Eric Lange noticed it first. There was a lot more resistance in the water. “This is hard! I don’t how long I can keep this up.”
Eric Halbard said, “Well don’t quit now, not while they’re watching. Let’s at least go around in a circle and then back to shore before we stop.”
Very soon the four men were sweating like they’d been drinking all week. Gasping and grunting, they finally drove the craft onto the beach.
Josef Magnussen rushed up to the four men and said, “What do you think? Will it work? How soon can we get into business?”
Eric Lange said, “To tell the truth, there are a few small problems. Mostly it seems a lot harder than I thought it should be. We may have to put more men on the capstan to make it practical. But as you saw we can turn the boat within its own length by turning the two paddle wheels opposite directions. That by itself will make this much more useful than a rowboat with long sweeps.”
They wrestled with the problem for the rest of the week. The crew gradually increased to eight men, and even so it was not quite as effective as a rowboat with oars.
At the end of the week, Eric Lange gathered his partners and said, “It looks like we’ll have to have as many men as a regular rowboat, just to make it work. If we do that it will cost us more to pay those men and do the maintenance then it would just to have a simple rowboat. We need to think of something more efficient. Let’s tie up our craft and go back to the drawing board. Perhaps by Monday, we can come up with an idea that will improve our machine.”
The other three, Eric, Eric, and Thorvald, nodded in agreement. Thorvald said, “It is still better than getting thrown into the water all the time.” All four laughed and made their way to the Northern Lights.
Copenhagen, September 1636
By the end of the evening, everybody was well into their cups, and nobody had any ideas, except for Eric Krake. He was still scribbling and had had only about half the ale of his partners. He picked up his mug and drained it, then he said, “I saw a bicycle this weekend. It was a new and improved model. It had a link chain and sprocket gears to drive the wheel. The gear on the wheel was small and not quite a hand span across, but the pedals were mounted upon a gear that was almost an arm’s length in diameter. So the smaller gear went around many times for one rotation of the gear on the pedals. Perhaps if we did something similar, we could get more rotations of the paddles for less work.”
A great deal of discussion ensued. Finally Eric Lange said, “I think I understand how this would work. I think we could try it. What do we lose for the effort?”
Krake nodded. “One of the benefits is if we move the paddle wheels forward slightly, and the capstan slightly aft, it will make the tugboat track straight through the water.”
The next morning, in spite of headaches, the four men set to work and by the end of the week the modifications had been achieved. This time there were not nearly as many people standing around to watch as they launched their new model tugboat.
On the water, Eric Lange was thrilled to note that it was not nearly as hard to pull the levers around. The only problem was that they had to pull them very rapidly to move the tugboat at all.
Then it happened. Thorvald let his attention drift somewhat, and a lever from the capstan snagged his jacket, and lofted him into the water.
Everyone, Thorvald included, burst into laughter. Eric Krake said, “This modification helps a lot, but I still think that we cannot compete successfully with normal tugboats.”
They pulled Thorvald back in the boat, and looked around. Halbard said, “It’s dark, where are we? I think it’s time to quit for the day. Are we close enough to the Mermaid and Tiger? I want to go try that new chocolate recipe I heard about.”
They maneuvered over to a dock, and Eric Lange was last out of the boat. He watched his weary companions as they staggered along the waterfront towards the American eatery. Eric said, “I’m glad we are here. I hope it is not too crowded tonight.”
Eric Halbard said, “If you think this is not too crowded, I wonder what crowded really is?”
Thorvald said, “I think there is a table over there. Let us go capture it before someone else does. I can tell you what I want and you can go make the order.”
The three Erics looked at each other, and Eric Halbard said, “Which one are you talking to?”
Thorvald grinned. “Why, Eric of course.” Thorvald then beat a hasty retreat towards the open table.
Eric Lange surveyed the room. It had been converted from a warehouse by putting a wall and a counter across the back. A lady was tending the counter, and there was something different about her dress. She had pockets, so she must be one of the Americans.
On the wall behind the counter was a large chalkboard on which were written the items available for the day. Eric Lange said, “Let’s go to the counter. I want a better look at what’s on the list. At least we have a little silver left to buy our meal.”
Eric Halbard nodded. “I have heard several different things they make here that are said to be quite extraordinary. One of them is the sandwich, they take a roll of bread, place meat and cheese between the two halves and serve it to you on a plate. You can eat it with your hands.”
Eric Krake said, “I want to taste the new chocolate. That chocolate drink is something everybody is talking about. Some that I sailed with tried it in Spain, and said it is better than wine. I don’t know about that. They say it warms the blood, but has a bitterness. Every place has a different recipe with spices to it to make it taste even more exotic.”
As Eric Lange in his two companions approached the counter the woman said, “Hello, I am Reva Pridmore. This is my place. I don’t think I’ve seen you in here before so what can I do for you?”
When Eric Lange saw that both of his friends were looking at him, he found his tongue and said, “Frau Pridmore, it is a pleasure to meet you. We have heard extraordinary things about the food here, even including that exotic drink from the New World called chocolate. I have long thought that the person who prepares the food knows it best, so I ask what do you recommend for supper?”
The woman paused for a moment of thought. “We should keep it simple. Why don’t you each choose a sandwich, and what we call a Copenhagen cup. The Copenhagen cup is chocolate with just a few extras, mostly a little bit of sea salt to give it a distinctive flavor. On the board behind me we have a list of the breads, the meats, and cheeses. Pick what you want and I will tell you what it would cost.”
Eric Lange felt a little bit overwhelmed. Still his companions had imposed leadership upon him, he would not fail them. Resolutely he said, “That sounds good. We need four cups of chocolate as you described, and four sandwiches. I think we will take a rye bread, a white bread, whatever sourdough is, and last a French roll. We all want pork, and good Danish cheese. How much do you think that would be?” The woman across the counter scratched a few notes on a piece of paper, looked up, showed them the paper, and said, “This much. You can see it’s not too much. We wanted to make this a place where people could come for meals frequently so we try and keep the cost low as possible. If you ever want to try something more exotic, you should try the dinner menu.” The woman pointed to the other half of the board behind her. There were listed exotic things, Eric Lange had never heard of. He wondered, for instance, about biscuits and gravy. What in the world could a chicken-fried steak be? Would it be chicken, or beef, or something else entirely?
The woman laughed as well. “Yes indeed, it’s hard to get them trained up enough before we eat them.”
Eric Lange frowned, and handed her some coins. Then the woman smiled and turned away. Lange felt a trifle confused. Then he heard the woman say, “Go ahead and sit down with your friend at the table over there. We will bring the order out to you.”
Thorvald had secured a table with four chairs, close to a window in the corner. As they approached, Thorvald said, “Over there in this corner, that’s where the man was murdered. Right here in this very shop it was during a fight. The fight didn’t kill him, but when the excitement was over, they looked in the corner and he was just dead. It all sounded very exciting.”
Eric Lange remembered hearing something about it, but he said, “Never mind about that now. Let’s just sit down. They say they’re going to bring the food out to us in a moment. We got you something called a sand-witch and a drink called a Copenhagen cup. I hope you like it, they cost almost our whole day’s wages.”
As Eric Lange sat down Thorvald nudged him and said, “Look over there at the table next to us. They all work for the Danish airship company. You can tell by those odd doublets. Ole told me that they call them jumpsuits or something like that. I don’t know what it is but they’re doing something at the table.”
Eric Lange looked over, expecting to see a game of cards or an argument. But his attention was riveted by the things the men were putting on the table. It was machinery of some kind. One piece went into the window, another was clamped down on the edge of the table, and they were fastening a piece of wood to a shaft that came out of the side of the mechanism.
Another man was standing next to Lange, and he tapped the man on the shoulder. “Do you have any idea what they are doing?”
The man laughed. “Not really, but they come in two or three times a week to do it. I think these are some models of what they are building out there for the airship company.’
The Erics sat down and watched the show. Everybody nearby was talking and laughing excitedly. Eric Lange watched intently as devices were connected to each other, adjustments were made, and instructions delivered with great precision and rapidity.
Then a man, an American by his accent, shouted across the room to Frau Pridmore. He said something like, “Hold my drink, Reva, and watch this!” Then he adjusted the valve and spun the wooden piece on the front.
The little machine coughed, then the wooden bar began to move on its own, slowly at first, then faster. It made a noise like chain shot hurtling through the air.
Eric had never seen anything like this. With the spinning paddle on the front, it really looked like one of the engines on the airship that launched last week. It was fascinating, the long wooden piece he found, was called a propeller, and as it spun the air began to move, blowing the hot humid air from inside the shop out the open window.
The girl came with a tray, and put a plate in front of each of the Erics and Thorvald. The food was different, with things stacked between slices of bread. Then she gave each a cup, steaming and fragrant. So before they sampled the sand witches, they each tried the chocolate.
They tasted, then closed their eyes and tasted again. It was sweet and yet bitter, smooth and yet spicy, calming and yet exciting. Never had Eric Lange tasted anything like it.
And the sand witches were interesting as well. They didn’t look like much, but there was a new experience with each bite.
Their attention was torn away from their repast when the machinery next to their table started hissing. The airship men all scrambled quickly to the machine, until it was completely obscured from sight. Then the American turned back to the counter in front, and shouted, “Nothing to worry about, we were just going a little too fast, and the safety went off. No problem.”
All the Erics and Thorvald were on their feet, and they crowded around the American, looking at the machine as if it were a live demon.
There was something forming in Eric’s mind, something that was really important, something about the propeller going in a circle. Everyone had gone back to the table, but Eric Lange was still standing in the middle of the floor, chasing the elusive thought. Then Eric had it. The propeller rotated like the paddle wheels, and it could push, maybe even hard, because the American would not let anybody close to the propeller, saying it might break their hands.
So before he sat back down to his excellent food, he touched the American on the sleeve. “I have a question, can this be made bigger?”
The American machinist said, “Well yes, but we are building this as the standard size. This one only has six cylinders but the shop standard engine has twelve, and is as strong as a thousand horses pulling together.”
Eric put his hand out to the American. “I’m Eric, they call me Eric Lange. I would like to know more about your machine.”
Around him in the tavern, other men rushed forward to speak. Everybody it seemed found the engine to be the solution for their problem; deals were being made, bargains struck, money was in play. It had been a good evening all around.
The next morning, all the Erics and Thorvald listened as the airship engineers explained. Apparently the engine could be made larger or smaller depending on how it was put together.
After careful consideration, Eric Lange said, “So that is how they make the wheels on the Swedish warships turn. This smaller engine, how much would it cost?”
All of the partners leaned closer to hear. Money was discussed, and possibly the cost of hiring an engineer to maintain the engine, or train their crew.
Finally Eric Lange stood up. “Gentlemen, thank you for your time. We need to check with our sponsor. But I think the purchase of an engine of the size you mentioned might possibly solve our problem. It certainly would be easier than pulling handles on a capstan.”
By the end of the day, Eric Lange was back in the engine workshop. He had spoken to the foreman, discussed payment, and set up a delivery time for the engine. Because this engine was assembled from stocks, a new one would only take two days to produce.
Thorvald was more excited than anyone at the news. “From now on, I stay in the boat!
It had been a week since the momentous night at the Mermaid and Tiger. The engine had been delivered, and was now mounted on a platform between the two paddle wheels. A chain drive left over from the hand-cranked bicycle experiment had been attached to each paddle wheel along with something that the American machinist called a reversible clutch for each wheel.
The controls were explained. There was a lever on a large valve called the throttle, which could move forward or backwards to increase or decrease the amount of steam from the steam generator. Each reversible clutch was a lever that had a central, forward, and reverse position that controlled its corresponding paddle wheel. Finally there was a long cord with the T-handle that was used to give the initial impulse to start the engine. All three of the levers had been routed back to the steering position. Conceivably one person could work the whole tug boat; however, it was much more rational to have a crewmen in charge of the machinery, a crewmen in charge of the paddle wheels and throttle, and somebody to steer with the tiller.
Everybody was ready. Eric Lange said, “Is the fire hot? Is there enough steam?” Thorvald had been given the responsibility of keeping the fire fed. He said, “If I understand this correctly, the gauges are telling me that we are prepared. You may open the valve when you will.”
Eric Lange was in command, Eric Halbard on the tiller, and Eric Krake on the mooring ropes. Lange stood up. “All right, get everything ready. We are about to back out. Thorvald, turn the engine over.”
Thorvald waved acknowledgment. Then he opened the throttle a crack, grabbed the T handle, and gave it a sharp tug. Everybody was intently interested as the machinery began to work.
Eric Lange saw Thorvald turn back to feed the fire, so he blew his whistle, opened his throttle control up a little wider, and then pulled the throttle open. Then he grabbed both paddle wheel control levers to move them into reverse. Majestically the wheels began to turn, and the tug boat backed away from the shore.
Eric Krake was scrambling to make sure all the ropes that held the tugboat to the dock were released. Lange closed the throttle and placed the paddle wheel controls in neutral; the tug boat continued to glide away from the shore.
Lange said, “Halbard, move the tiller so that we start turning the bow towards the open harbor. I want to see what this thing can do.”
Eric Halbard waved acknowledgement, pushed the tiller over, and the back of the towboat began an arc toward shore. Eric Lange waited a moment then opened the throttle a bit more, engaging both paddle wheels in the forward direction. With a thrashing confusion of foam, the wheels spun as the boat worked to change direction. Gradually the tug boat began to move forward, and out across the harbor. Eric Lange was entranced, every bit of his being focused on making the tugboat go where he wanted.
Then he heard Halbard. “Lange, I can’t hold it, it’s trying to veer off to starboard. Can you do anything to make it straighten out?”
Eric Lange considered for a moment, then he adjusted one of the wheel control levers just a bit. The towboat began to move straight across the harbor. From that point on the men experimented with their new craft. They found they could spin it in place, not using the tiller at all. They could make it back up, or go forward, even curve across the harbor in long shallow glides.
Finally Thorvald said, “Lange, We are running out of fuel. I think it’s time to go back before we have to row.”
From the bow, Eric Krake laughed. “Very true, Lange, if we have to row, Thorvald will end up in the bay again, and we don’t want that. Nobody likes a wet Thorvald.”
Halbard leaned on the tiller, and Lange sent the craft about, then they set off towards their mooring place. The wind was in their hair, and Herr Magnussen stood on the shore clapping his hands and hooting encouragements. Lange felt as if his chest would burst in pride at their accomplishment. The future awaited.