And yet, at favorable stages
of water in the fickle Ohio, the levee at Pittsburgh shows most
animated scenes. A stranger reaching the city during a state of
water favorable for boating—say four to eight feet of water in
the channel—would be treated to a most interesting sight on the
Monongahela Wharf, between that many-piered and venerable structure
the Monongahela Suspension-Bridge and the "Point." This scene
is especially characteristic when witnessed from the upper or
"hurricane" deck of some big 1000-ton steamer. The observer is
reminded of nothing so much as of a freshly disturbed ant-hill.
This simile is born out by the action of the double stream of big
black "rousters," i.e., colored boat hands.
As these pass in opposite directions
over the gang-plank, each biped ant bears, not a milk-white egg,
but a fat sack of bran as to the out-goers, or a box of glass or
bar or steel as to the incoming procession.
This double process
goes on until the great hull has exchanged its St. Louis freight for
Pittsburgh's products. And so skillfully is this same hull fashioned
and adapted to the precarious channels of Western rivers, that,
with a thousand tons of freight aboard, a Pittsburgh and St. Louis
passenger and freight boat will scarcely "draw" four and a half feet
of water. And in this way, during the first three months of 1880,
10,000 tons per month of the varied products of Pittsburgh's
fiery-hearted furnaces were wafted by steam and current 3500 miles
toward the setting sun. Kindly showers thus washed away 30,000 tons
of freight from the railroads.
But the magic wand which most
potently transforms the river-front of Pittsburgh, which brings
intense energy out of apathy, which turns day to night and silence
into a Babel of sounds, is the sudden advent of a "coal-boat" stage
of water, i.e.