The Time Travel Journals: Shipbuilder, Chapter 7

Chapter 7

June 1906–July 1906

If she had not already known where Harland & Wolff Shipyard was located, Casey could have found it by following the noise. Even in the midst of town, it was possible to hear a rhythmic banging coming from Queen’s Island. The sound increased with every step as she approached the gate shortly before eight the next morning. The yard was crowded with the second shift, hundreds of workers, several of them young boys, moving through the gate, or loitering as they waited to be hired for the day. They were all dressed as she was, in dark pants and shirt, with dark caps covering their heads.

I guess I look the part. Maybe this will work.

She paused when she saw a guard. “Casey Wilson, sir. I’m to report to Mr. Thomas Andrews.”

He looked over and nodded, indicating a big man heading in. “Follow Albright, there. Hey, Albright! Drop this lad off for Mr. Andrews. You’re goin’ that way.”

The big man gestured a “come on” without slowing down. Casey scrambled through the crowd, afraid to lose him. As they entered the building, the smell of burning coal made her cough, mingled as it was with grease, cigarettes, and superheated metal. The source of the banging wasn’t obvious, but it saturated everything, overriding the lesser sounds of boilers building up pressure for steam, generators providing electricity, the taps and clacks of a thousand hammers, pulleys, and chains, and the jovial shouts of men as they performed their tasks.

I guess I’ll get used it. No one else seems to mind it.

One thing for certain, the scale of everything in this place was simply huge. The building was cavernous and filled with machines and equipment, some of them reaching over twenty or thirty feet high. She couldn’t begin to guess the names of any of it. The cranes and gantries were visible from many points of town, and here, as she caught glimpses of them through doorways, Casey almost couldn’t tear her eyes away.

How can they do this kind of thing with their level of technology? These things are basically built by hand!

After a few minutes of walking through rooms filled with people, machines, and noise, Albright waved Casey toward a doorway. “He’s in there. Office in the back,” was his only comment as he rushed onward.

“Thanks!” Casey called after him, not sure if he heard.

Heart pounding, she stepped into the room indicated: a large, cathedral-like space with beams rising from the floor to arch over the high ceiling. Each beam alternated with a large skylight on the ceiling and a window on the walls. Even this early in the day, the room was filled with natural light. Row after row of long tables provided workspace for men to stand or sit, all of them sketching or measuring, or discussing their drawings. This was obviously the drafting department.

They pretty much ignored her as she made her way to the back, which she nervously took as a good thing. Can I pull this off? The first person I talk to is probably going to realize I’m a girl! Maybe I should just leave. Timid, she stepped through the door into the office. If no one’s in here, I’ll just run. Um…if I can find my way back out, that is.

Nearly gasping with relief that she didn’t see Mr. Andrews, Casey jumped as a head appeared from behind an open cabinet to the side of the room. The head had black hair, gold-framed glasses covering the eyes, and a pair of really big ears. When the eyes saw her, they lit up and a big grin split the face. The head was followed by a long, thin body in a dark suit, belonging to a young man who was holding several pencils and a cup. He tossed the pencils in the cup and came toward Casey, hand outstretched. “Mornin’! Ye must be Casey. Boss said to expect ye!”

Casey took his hand and tried to speak past her dry mouth. “Yeah. I mean, yes sir, I’m Casey Wilson. Are you Mr. Andrews’ secretary?”

“I am, I am. Thompson Hamilton is the name. Everyone calls me Ham, so’s not to confuse me with the boss!” This was accompanied by a hearty laugh that clearly said “Not bloody likely!” as Ham placed the cup on the desk and turned back to Casey. “Really glad you’re here, Casey. Mr. Andrews said he expects big things from ye. Ah, and here’s Himself, now!”

Indeed, the laugh heard from the other room could belong to no one else. Mr. Andrews could be heard commenting on a drawing and answering questions as he neared the office. Casey turned, certain they would be able to see her heart beating in her chest, it was pounding so hard. He spotted her immediately, and the laugh returned as he shook her hand with delight, noting that she was on time and had already met Ham. He wore a bowler hat on his head and a blue coat over his suit, every pocket of which was stuffed with paper and pencils.

She felt the tension in her chest ease just a bit, as he proceeded to talk about the plans for the day, unloading his pockets into neat piles on his desk, then refilling the pockets with other papers while telling Casey to just trail along with Ham, learn his way around, and help as needed. He exhorted Ham to “show Casey everything” and to get a good idea of what Casey knew how to do.

“He can read, write, and do arithmetic, but go easy on the algebra,” was the instruction given with a great laugh and a slap on Casey’s shoulder, as Mr. Andrews darted off to talk to the riveters on his way to his next meeting. By the time he left, Casey was grinning, and she noticed it was infectious: the grin had spread to Ham and the men at the drawing tables as well.

Later, as she reflected on the day, Casey was pretty sure those few minutes in the office were the last time she stood in one place. Ham did indeed “show her everything,” moving at top speed through the cavernous buildings and shipyard. Once they were out in the yard, the source of the banging was immediately apparent. Ham stopped to let her watch for a few minutes, explaining with noticeable pride what she was seeing. Men were swarming over the ships in various states of construction, with a lot of them lined up in teams next to the ships. Each team was placing a red hot piece of metal–Ham called it a rivet–in one of many holes in a huge metal plate and then ramming it home with a hydraulic hammer. Workers above the men were heating up and hammering the next rivet into shape and dropping it down to be caught by an extremely brave lad who hoisted it to the hammering team. They worked in a quick and rhythmic pattern, never slowing or pausing to rest. As they continued on their tour, Ham told her the riveters were like the gods of the yard. They had the respect and admiration of every worker in every department.

Part of Ham’s job was to collect orders and schedules from each department. This would be Casey’s biggest responsibility, because if Ham could eliminate the running around from his own duties, he’d be free to get to those duties left hanging. It meant that Casey was going to have to quickly learn her way around, and how to find the correct person in each department from whom to collect the paperwork.

It’s just too bad, it occurred to Casey a few minutes later, that I don’t know all about the future. I would’ve figured out a way to avoid this conversation.

The problem had started when Ham brought her into the plating department and hailed the foreman, a tall, lanky man with greasy hair and a handlebar mustache. His name was Mike Sloan and he’d taken a full half-minute to carefully look Casey over, his expression suspicious and haughty. He was the first person she’d met whose greeting was not a welcome.

“American?” was his disbelieving comment when Ham introduced her. “Seems like everyone in Ireland is tryin’ to go to America. Why are ye here?”

Casey wanted to glance at Ham for reassurance, but instead, she matched Sloan’s glare with a firm expression and a lifted chin. “Came to live with my guardian when my parents died.” She didn’t offer more information.

His stare was intense. “Are ye Catholic or Protestant, Casey?”

Her jaw dropped and “What?” escaped her before she could remember that his question, while confrontational and troublesome, was normal for this time and place.

Ham coughed into his hand, and Sloan’s eyebrows climbed up his forehead as Casey snapped her jaw shut. “’Tis an easy question, lad,” Sloan told her, his voice slightly milder.

She glared. “Protestant,” she admitted, wondering what he’d say if she said “atheist, “ which was closer to the truth. But she’d been in Ireland long enough to know the response to that, even in the twenty-first century: “Aye, but are ye Catholic Atheist or Protestant Atheist?

“Protestant” must have been the right answer, as Sloan’s expression morphed into one of agreeableness, and he clapped Casey on the shoulder. “Good ta meet ye, lad! Ye might be wantin’ to come to one of our meetin’s at lunch time, here in the plater’s shed. Meet more of the men that way.”

For some reason, it sounded ominous. “What kind of meeting?”

“E-van-gel-ical meetin’,” Sloan stood straight and proud as he said it, reminding her uncomfortably of a TV evangelist. “Read some scripture, pray a bit, talk about things.”

Casey felt her face twitch, but she tried to sound calm. “Ah. I probably won’t be interested, but thank you for inviting me.” She glanced at Ham, who was standing unhelpfully silent at her side. “So I see Mr. Sloan to collect the plater reports?”

Ham pushed his glasses higher on his long nose and nodded. “Aye, he’ll be the one.” His tone gave Casey no hint to what he was thinking or what was expected of her, but he gave Sloan a curt nod. “Thank ye, Mike. I’ll be sending Casey around on his own in a couple of days.”

Sloan gave a wave of his arm and stepped back to his work as Ham turned to go. Casey hurried after him, uncertain if she should say anything.

After a few seconds, he glanced at her, looking apologetic. “Don’t worry about the meetings. He’ll probably ask ye a few more times, but most of the men don’t attend. Mr. Andrews would never make anything like that mandatory.”

Casey stopped, feeling sick to her stomach. “Does Mr. Andrews attend those meetings?” If she sounded incredulous, it couldn’t be helped. The thought of that kind and happy man thinking of ways to discriminate against Catholics was more than she could comprehend. But Ham shook his head.

“Lord Pirrie–he’s Chairman of the company––tolerates ’em in the interest of worker contentment. So Mr. Andrews tolerates ’em, too. He shows up once in a while to keep a gauge on the temper of the men. If there’s going to be trouble in the yard, it usually starts there.” He tilted his head, blinking owlishly at her. “Mr. Andrews would also never tell ye that ye couldn’t attend the meetings if ye wanted to. But he’ll be happy to know ye don’t want trouble.”

Casey shrugged. “We’ll never be perfect in America, but I’m more used to religious differences being under the radar. I think it’s such a waste to spend time fighting with each other over it.”

Ham stopped, his look puzzled. “Under the radar? What are ye on about?”

“Oh.” Casey bit her lip. Idiot! Radar hasn’t even been invented yet! “Just something a friend used to say. It means underneath the surface; can’t be seen.”

He accepted the explanation, but she saw him mouthing the words “under the radar” as he led her to the next department.

***

Sloan extended his invitation twice more over the next week, whenever Casey showed up when work was at a moderate pace. Both times, she managed an evasive “no thanks.” Nervous about the temper of Belfast during this time, Casey wanted to discuss it with Sam, but his illness was worse and she didn’t want to worry him. So she was left to deal with it herself, and she was pretty sure that her final solution, later in the week, was not well thought out.

The horn for lunch had rung as Casey finished following Tom Andrews and Ham around on a ship called Adriatic, while a Board of Trade inspector conducted a review. They ran into Sloan as they descended the gangplank.

“Afternoon.” Sloan was courteous as he tipped his hat to Tom. “Have time to drop into our meetin’, Sir?”

“Ach, not this time, Mike.” Tom seemed truly sorry. “Ham and I are having a working lunch, as it is.”

Sloan nodded, apparently unconcerned, and glanced at Casey. “Be nice if you could attend, Casey. Men would like to know you better.”

The presence of Tom Andrews made her reckless. “I’d like to know everyone better, Mr. Sloan,” she said. “But see, even though I’m Protestant, I’m an atheist, and your religious meeting just doesn’t seem like an appealing way to spend the lunch break.”

They all stared at her. Oops, she thought in sudden despair. Can I get fired for being an atheist? She glanced guiltily at her boss. He looked just as shocked as Ham and Sloan, but something in her expression made him grin, and he slapped Sloan on the shoulder.

“Give him a break, Mike. You know how Americans are about religion.”

“Well…” Sloan looked confused but Casey could tell he didn’t want Tom to see that. “I’ve heard things, Sir, but…”

“Ah, but I’ve talked to many Americans on my trips, Mike.” Tom was reasonableness personified. “Trust me, they’re good, religious people. They just approach it differently from us.”

Sloan nodded, still doubtful, but he tipped his hat again, this time to Casey. “If ye change your mind, lad, ye know where we meet. We’ll keep ye in our prayers.”

He left and Tom turned to Casey. “Can you type those notes up after lunch, Casey? I’ll need to get the inspector’s comments out to all the foremen this afternoon.” He motioned to Ham. “We’ve got to hurry, Ham. Carlisle’s waiting for us.”

They left with waves to Casey, who acknowledged the waves and the meaning: nothing else would be said on the subject. But as she hurried to drop the notes off at the office, she wished she could figure out what Tom Andrews was thinking.

Chapter 8

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