THE PADDLE-WHEEL BOAT
More than a hundred years ago, two boys were fishing in a small river.
They sat in a heavy flat-bottomed boat, each holding a long, crooked
rod in his hands and eagerly waiting for "a bite."
When they wanted to move the boat from one place to another they had
to pole it; that is, they pushed against a long pole, the lower end
of which reached the bottom of the stream.
"This is slow work, Robert," said the older of the boys as they were
poling up the river to a new fishing place. "The old boat creeps over
the water no faster than a snail."
"Yes, Christopher; and it is hard work, too," answered Robert. "I think
there ought to be some better way of moving a boat."
"Yes, there is a better way, and that is by rowing," said Christopher.
"But we have no oars."
"Well, I can make some oars," said Robert; "but I think there ought
to be still another and a better way. I am going to find such a way
if I can." The next day Robert's aunt heard a great pounding and sawing
in her woodshed. The two boys were there, busily working with hammer
and saw. "What are you making, Robert?" she asked.
"Oh, I have a plan for making a boat move without poling it or rowing
it," he answered.
His aunt laughed and said, "Well, I hope that you will succeed."
After a great deal of tinkering and trying, they did succeed in making
two paddle wheels. They were very rough and crude, but strong and
serviceable. They fastened each of these wheels to the end of an iron
rod which they passed through the boat from side to side. The rod was
bent in the middle so that it could be turned as with a crank. When
the work was finished, the old fishing boat looked rather odd, with
a paddle wheel on each side which dipped just a few inches into the
water. The boys lost no time in trying it.
"She goes ahead all right," said Christopher, "but how shall we guide
"Oh, I have thought of that," said Robert. He took something like an
oarlock from his pocket and fastened it to the stern of the boat; then
with a paddle which worked in this oarlock one of the boys could guide
the boat while the other turned the paddle wheels.
"It is better than poling the boat," said Christopher.
"It is better than rowing, too," said Robert. "See how fast she goes!"
That night when Christopher went home he had a wonderful story to tell.
"Bob Fulton planned the whole thing," he said, "and I helped him make
the paddles and put them on the boat."
"I wonder why we didn't think of something like that long ago," said
his father. "Almost anybody could rig up an old boat like that."
"Yes, I wonder, too," said Christopher. "It looks easy enough, now
that Bob has shown how it is done."
When Robert Fulton became a man, he did not forget his experiment with
the old fishing boat. He kept on, planning and thinking and working,
until at last he succeeded in making a boat with paddle wheels that
could be run by steam.
He is now remembered and honored as the inventor of the steamboat. He
became famous because he was always thinking and studying and working.