The Bow Flume Cable-Car

Notes on the text

by David Page. The page and line numbers below refer to the Authorised Edition of Abaft the Funnel published by Doubleday and Page, New York, in 1909.

[Page 185, line 2] Market Street cable-cars Market Street is still one of the principal streets in San Francisco.

There were four street-car tracks in Market Street, two of which were for cable-cars.

A larger version of this photograph is to be seen at
the Rootsweb site

[Page 185, line 11] his cheek was distended with plug-tobacco he was chewing a piece from a stick of plug tobacco where the tobacco leaves had been compressed into a stick or block. It was also possible to smoke plug tobacco in a pipe by shaving slivers off the stick, but personal memory recalls that it was distinctly strong! Navy Plug was one popular variety.

[Page 185, line 14] Bow Flume

This seems to be an imaginary place, though clearly it was modelled on one of the early gold-rush towns.

A flume was an artificial channel used for carrying water, frequently used in the gold-mining process, particularly the hydraulic mining employed in California from the mid-1850s to 1884. [See the excellent Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum web-site]. Bret Harte’s “The Luck of Roaring Camp” gives a splendid feel for what life was like in a Californian mining camp.

[Page 186, line 3] Mission Dolores among the sandhills was founded in 1776, and located in what became Dolores Street, about three city blocks from Market Street.
An 1896 map shows it to have been on the edge of the city then, just to the east of the Twin Peaks.

Bret Harte (1836-1902) in “The Adventure of Padre Vicentio: A Legend of San Francisco” begins the story with:

One pleasant New Year’s eve, about forty years ago, Padre Vicentio was slowly picking his way across the sandhills from the Mission Dolores.

[Page 186, line 10] The Sacramento River in California, U.S.A. on which the city of the same name stands. It is the capital of California. The river flows on and into the sea at San Francisco Bay. In From Sea to Sea, chapter XXVI, Kipling describes riding past it in a Pullman car on his train journey from San Francisco to Portland, Oregon. The names he mentions are from various Bret Harte stories.

By the time I had discovered that a profusion of nickel-plating, plush, and damask does not compensate for closeness and dust, the train ran into the daylight on the banks of the Sacramento River. . . . At six in the morning the heat was distinctly unpleasant, but seeing with the eye of the flesh that I was in Bret Harte’s own country, I rejoiced. There were the pines and madrone-clad hills his miners lived and fought among; there was the heated red earth that showed whence the gold had been washed; the dry gulch, the red, dusty road where Hamblin was used to stop the stage in the intervals of his elegant leisure and superior card-play; there was the timber felled and sweating resin in the sunshine; and, above all, there was the quivering pungent heat that Bret Harte drives into your dull brain with the magic of his pen. . . .

A girl came out of the only other house but one, and shading her eyes with a brown hand stared at the panting train. She didn’t recognise me, but I knew her—had known her for years. She was M’liss. She never married the schoolmaster, after all, but stayed, always young and always fair, among the pines. I knew Red-Shirt too. He was one of the bearded men who stood back when Tennessee claimed his partner from the hands of the Law. The Sacramento River, a few yards away, shouted that all these things were true. The train went on while Baby Sylvester stood on his downy head, and M’liss swung her sun-bonnet by the strings.

[Page 186, line 10] Saloon bar or public house (pub.).

[Page 186, line 15] bug-juice the late Mr. W. H. Hazard wrote: ‘In the 1880’s it was current slang, meaning liquor of poor quality, but high potency, not much used by adult educated people.’ [ORG]

[Page 186, line 18] unreasonable inventorman an inventor of a variety of devices that were not always as successful as he believed them to be.

[Page 186, line 23] Bourbon probably the best known whiskey made in America. It must be made from a minimum of 51% corn or maize with the remainder usually being wheat, rye and malted barley.

[Page 187, line 2] ’Frisco San Francisco.

[Page 187 line 8] in the cage in jail or gaol.

[Page 187, line 12] cuspidors (U.S.A.), spittoons (England), or spitkids in the Royal Navy. See NRG notes to “The Bonds of Discipline”, page 57, line 5.

[Page 187, line 13] Way Down the Swanee River is by Stephen Collins Foster (1826-1864), U.S. song writer. The title of the song is “The Old Folks at Home”, and the first line should be ‘Way down upon the Swanee River’. In 1883, Kipling had written a poem “Way down the Ravi River” which was published in Echoes in 1884, and Prof Bill Dillingham in a letter to the Kipling Journal No.291, Sept 1999, pointed out that it was significant that Kipling had omitted the word ‘upon’ on both occasions.

[Page 187, line 23] cañon canyon or gorge.

[Page 188, lines 20- 21] squirling gold the only dictionary reference I can find to ‘squirl’ relates to an ornamental flourish or curve in handwriting. Thus, Bow Flume could have been flourishing its gold. Another possible, though unsupported, suggestion is that ‘squirling’ is short for ‘squirreling’ in that they were collecting up gold as a squirrel does with nuts.

[Page 188, line 21] nary shanty ‘nary’ is a dialect word for not one, never a, etc.; ‘shanty’ is a low-cost dwelling place, usually meant to be temporary, that has been built up from whatever materials are available.

[Page 189, lines 6-7] graded the road levelled the main bumps and hollows, removed large boulders, and generally made it a suitable surface for laying a track for the cable-car.

[Page 189, lines 7-8] run a rope in a little trough in the middle see the headnote for “The San Francisco Cable-Cars”.

[Page 189, lines 14-15] threshing machine used on farms to separate the grain from the stalks. The actual threshing machine was usually driven by belt and pulley from a stationary steam engine. [Nowadays reaping and threshing are carried out in a single operation by a mobile “Combine Harvester”.]

[Page 189, lines 15-16] elevator ram an hydraulic ram that originally pushed up the elevator car directly, but later lifted a number of sheaves through which the hoisting cable was rove, and thus raised the elevator car indirectly.

[Page 191, line 5] The grip has got snubbed on the rope the grip on the moving cable could not be released. See the headnote for “The San Francisco Cable-Cars”.. This version of the word ‘snub’ derives from the nautical term where a ship, for example, is brought up short by anchoring or passing a hawser around bollards, thus fixing it in position.

[Page 191, line 21] bluff cliff with a precipitous face.


©David Page 2006 All rights reserved