As second clerk, I was early taught to hold my own with the pirates who conducted the woodyards scattered along the river, from which the greater part of the fuel used on old-time river boats was purchased. There was a great variety of wood offered for sale, and a greater diversity in the manner of piling it. It was usually ranked eight feet high, with a “cob-house” at each end of the rank. It was the rule on the river to measure but one of the end piles, if the whole rank was taken, or one-half of one end pile if but a part of the rank was bought. For convenience, the woodmen usually put twenty cords in a rank, and allowed enough to cover the shortage caused by cross-piling at the ends. Being piled eight feet high, ten lengths of the measuring stick (eight feet long) equalled twenty cords, if it were fairly piled. Woodmen who cared for their reputation and avoided a “scrap” with the clerks, captains, and mates of steamboats, usually made their twenty-cord ranks eighty-four feet long and eight feet high. Such dealers also piled their sticks parallel to each other in the ranks; they also threw out the rotten and very crooked ones. When the clerk looked over such a tier, after having run his stick over it, he simply invited the owner aboard and paid him his fifty or sixty dollars, according to the quality of the wood, took him across the cabin to the bar, and invited him to “have one on the boat”, shook hands, and bade him good night.
It took the “pirates” to start the music, however. When only scant eighty feet were found in the rank, with rotten and green wood sandwiched in, all through the tiers, and crooked limbs and crossed sticks in all directions, it became the duty of the clerk to estimate his discount. After running his rod over it, he would announce, before the first stick was taken off by the deck hands,