Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Pratt Stories-Henry Bartram's Bridge III

Continuing from Sloane's book

" 'Setting timbers in place' and 'driving the joints home' were well-known procedures in the days when men built their own barns. The complete skeleton of any building was laid out upon the ground and fastened together with wooden nails (called tree-nails or ' trunnels') before raising the sections up and fastening them together.
The drawing shows how Izaak Blake put together two king-post trusses, ready to be erected into the final bridge. The beams were pounded into place on the ground with a very heavy hammer called a 'commander' or 'beetle', and then the wooden pins were inserted and hammered into place. Nowadays we assume than people once used wooden pins because it was too hard to make nails or spikes. But metal nails would either have rusted away or split the wood, so wood against wood made a much better fastening. It breathed with the weather changes and finally welded itself together into the best possible union. Even today you may find oak trunnels fastening together two barn beams that are solid and firm after two centuries, while a spike would have rusted away and rotted the wood next to it.

22: Spent the day in the forge barn fashioning trunnels for bridge. Did forty.
23: Rain and wind. We worked in the garden sewing pease (peas) and beans.
24: Rain stopped and brook is down. Prepared the beams and put them in place for Saturdays work.
25: Mr. Toms came by with a new rope from his walk. I have seldom seen so long and white a rope.
26: Rain again. Too wet to work in garden but we thinn'd brush, and we pruned the woodlot with hooks..."

"Mr. Thom's ' walk' was the place where he made his rope. Rope-walks were sometimes a quarter of a mile long, they were usually at the edge of town where traffic would not interefere with the business of rope-winding. In the early days, for example, New York's main street, Broadway, ended as a rope-walk which extended uptown for about two thousand feet and into a meadow.
The rope-spinner had a large bundle of fiber gathered loosely around his waist; he pulled out strands from this and wove them into cords, walking backward along the rope-walk as he worked. Another man wound the twisted cord into rope.
It was once the custom for rope-makers to rent rope for special purposes, so we might presume that Mr.Thoms rented Izaak the rope for raising his bridge. A backwoods farmer seldom had use for such great lengths of rope. Moreover, the expense made good rope a rare thing around a farmyard".

NEXT: The bridge is erected.

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