Yellow Cedar and Cigarette Smoke

You’d smell it before you saw him, the smoke of American Spirits mixing with the sharp aromas of turpentine and yellow cedar billowing from the steam box. Clint had been called in like a mercenary to the frontlines of a war being lost. “Blue Peter” had a firm launch date in a little over a week and the stern of her hull was gaping open, in need of gross hulks of lumber and fine tuning, of twisting and finessing, of coarking and oakum, and after all that, paint. Management put me alongside Clint, to learn from a seasoned shipwright how big tough jobs were buttoned up quick. Clint’s voice was always being choked off, Years of smoking, of yelling, of breathing dust and toxins had the effect of wrecking his larynx. We’d be wrestling some cross section of a full grown tree, 30 foot long, 2 feet wide and I’d be shaking like a chihuahua under the weight and he’d be yelling over the roar of the power planer but his voice was cutting out and I had earplugs in and dust in my eyeballs, I went tumbling down with the massive timber in my hand, but it wasn’t even lunch yet, the day was young. You had to get up and get on with it. After the many hours of careful patterning, planing, cutting, saucing and steaming the plank was ready to twist and hammer home. The last task in this mammoth undertaking was to cut the butt just right so that it squeaked into place, driven home with an eight pound sledge. He showed me briefly the technique for achieving this flawless bit of carpentry and stood back to smoke nervously while he watched. The saw that screamed above my head was a Milwaukee 10 inch, weighed as much as a bag of russet potatoes and vibrated like a passenger plane taking off. I held it upside-down awkwardly above my head Because the hull curved in towards the keel there, I was on my knees being showered by sawdust, hot breath fogging my glasses and then the beastly saw started to bind. I wasn’t sure why it was binding so I took my finger off the trigger. Clint came over and yelled something which I could understand so I just said “O.K.” and finished the cut. To my great relief it fit perfectly. Smack, smack, SMACK! The sledge drove it home, wood to wood tight. “You’re golden!” He said and gave me a fist bump. On to fastening!

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