Renard Argente’: Chapter 3: Ohio Bound

In the days that followed, Cobalt made excellent progress on the construction of the boat.  The stars had aligned, and his work had sent him home to work remotely.  This saved many hours spent to travel, as he could quickly run over from his nearby home and get some work done.  Pudgy was also very glad and would bounce happily.  Though during the working hours, He was on a schedule and could not spend long.  Once he had finished his shift, then it was back over at the hedgehog’s home building site.  The hull was completed, with supports had been placed within the structure.  A small boiler was sourced, and now locked into place.  The way that the steamboat generated its power, was a large fire box would burn wood or coal to create heat.  The heat in turn would boil water and create steam.  That steam in turn was pressurized and fed through lines to a steam engine.  Similar to gasoline engines, the pressurized steam caused pistons to move up and down.  That in turn would turn a shaft, which drove the propeller blade.  It was the propeller blade that caused the boat to move forward in the water. 

The hedgehog was thankful that Cobalt explained it in terms he could understand, because like the space journey, he would have to operate the boat.  There were no computers this time, or a preprogrammed course, so the critter had more control over the boat’s movement.  To control the boat’s movement, there were 2 rudders that helped turn left and right.  The critter found a list of boating terms and was trying to memorize them.  The port side of the boat was left, and starboard was the right side.  The weekend soon approached, which meant the man had come over with his cooler of goodies.  Pudgy’s big meeting room, meant that he could spend the weekend with the hedgehog.  As the sun was high overhead on Saturday, he scampered out of his home and up to the boat.  Cobalt was inside of it, connecting copper pipes together, and soldering the connections.  A little rope ladder was hanging from the side, which the hedgehog started to climb up. 

As the critter reached the edge of the boat, he peeked over the side. “Hey Cobalt, when will boat be ready?”  The man laughed, “Hmm, I hope this weekend.  While I can rush things, I do not want to as we are risking a boiler explosion.  This boiler pressurizes water, and many people have been hurt when they are not built correctly.  I found this boiler from our friend at the antique store.  This used to be in a 1900’s farm tractor.“ Pudgy nodded, slid down onto the hull, and then scooted up to where his friend was working,  There was a big water tank, that had two lines that led to the boiler.  One was for cold water, and one was for steam that had condensed back to water.  Pudgy also saw a line running from the boiler back to the steam motor.  The smells of smoke and solder wafted in the air.  The critter scooted around, and stayed out of the way, to reach the front of the boat.  Finding a tiny ships’ wheel, he stood there and turned the wheel left and right.  

The hours passed, and the two friends continued to work on the boat.  The main propulsion system was completed, and now it was time for adding of the other components of the boat.  The pilot house, or where Pudgy was going to steer the boat, was in the front / bow of the boat.  Since this was going to be a long journey, Cobalt had enclosed it, and sourced glass panes to make windows.  Thankfully this was a river journey, which meant certain precautions for ocean travel did not need to be done.  It did not mean that there would be any less work done, unfortunately.   Pudgy scooted up underneath his human friend, and peeked up at him, “Pudgy hungry, can we stop for lunch?”  The man laughed and patted his friend on his head.  Picking up the hedgehog, he tucked him inside his shirt.  Standing up, he swung his leg over the side, and landed onto the ground.    Pudgy peeked up at his friend and wiggled and slide down through the shirt and out of the bottom.  He slid down Cobalt’s leg and reached the ground to scurry off to his home. 

Cobalt entered the big meeting room for Pudgy’s home and sat down on the banquette seating.  He opened the big cooler, taking out a can of pop and a sandwich.   The hedgehog popped his head out of the living area’s small door and bounced.  “Cobalt, how much more work do you need to do?” The critter asked timidly, as he nibbled on a biscuit.  The man smiled, “Well, I had a punch list of items left to build….” He trailed off, picking up a sheet of paper and read aloud, “Pilot house, steering system, power plant safeguards, propeller shaft and propeller, fire box guards, deck planking …”  The hedgehog frowned, “still that much to do?  Pudgy need to leave soon.”  Cobalt smiled, “I will get it done Pudgy, but I want you to travel as safe as I can make it.  Once we get you to the Youghiogheny river, then it is a different type of travel situation.”  Pudgy scurried up and sat on the concrete floor looking up at his friend. “Pudgy reading all about the locks and dams on the river.”  The man nodded, “Yes, that is a concern.  I need you to keep doing your homework, and planning.  Pennsylvania is a higher elevation than Louisiana, which means the river has a series of locks and dams.” 

Pudgy beamed with pride as spoke excitedly, “It is a big box where ships go in, and then the water goes up and down to allow travel between each section.  There are 3 locks that Pudgy will need to pass through to get to Ohio.  There are 27 in Ohio, 8 in Indiana, and one in Illinois that Pudgy will have to navigate.”  The man smiled and took a bite from his cheese sandwich. “Good, glad you read that article I sent to you.  I found a VHF radio, used for boats.  With the steam boiler running, the alternator hooked to the drive shaft will charge the batteries to run the lights and radios.  The barge traffic is going to be a concern though.  The coal barges are huge, and sometimes 9 to 12 are hooked up to the tugboat.  You’re going to have to steer clear of them, skirt the side of the rivers. “The two friends nodded, and ate their lunches, enjoying each other’s company in Pudgy’s home.  After a time passed, and the two had finished eating, Cobalt stood up and exited the home. 

He resumed working on the boat and worked long into the night.  Despite it being spring, there was a chill in the air.  As the human worked on the boat, Pudgy was busying baking food for his journey.  He was making a big supply of hardtack, graham crackers, biscotti, and other foods that would store well.  The hedgehog worried about Lord Doomcock, as it has been a couple weeks since anyone had heard from him.  The shows were still going on online, though his followers were growing concerned.  The Darlings were holding group chats, trying to figure out what was happening.  Pudgy wanted to tell them, but Cobalt had told him not to as it would cause a panic.  Not realizing how quickly time had passed, Pudgy looked outside and saw the light had dimmed to twilight.  He poked his head out of the front door and saw the pilot house had been built at the bow of the shift.  One rudder was installed, and the second one was laying on the ground.  Cobalt looked up at him from under the boat, “The second rudder assembly was not working Pudgy, so we’re going with a one rudder system.  But the second rudder will be in the boat, should you need to replace it.  I also have a second propeller blade as well.  In case of damage, you can pull into a dock and begin repairs.” 

The hedgehog bounced out, and scampered through the brown leaf covered ground, and saw the big propeller blade mounted.  The rudder sat in front of it, with a distance between each, as to not interfere.  Cobalt had wired running lights, and spotlights at the bow and stern of the boat.  The smokestack that was over top of the firebox and boiler was starting to puff with a fine white smoke.  “Cobalt, are you testing the boiler?”  The hedgehog asked, with a big grin and scurried over to the rope ladder.  As he climbed excitedly up, he saw that the interior deck planks had been installed.  There was a long space, easily 3 feet wide by 5 feet long of space.  The boiler was in the center of the boat and had now been wrapped in protective wood straps that surrounded the circumference of the boiler.  This way Pudgy would not get burned if he brushed up against the boiler.  He bounced excitedly up to a small rectangular door, with an antiqued latch.  Opening the door, he found Cobalt had made a small banquette seat with table, as well as a platform where he could set up a bed to sleep.  Three stairs led to the control area, and the tiny wheel was in place, along with a throttle.  Switches were installed with black and white plastic labels stuck on that said: “Running lights, Radio, Bilge Pump, and Harpoon.

Pudgy turned the ships’ wheel, which resulted in a loud noise. “OUCH! DARN IT PUDGY!” Cobalt was still under the boat, and the rudder had smacked him in the head.  Pudgy turned the wheel back, and scampered out of the cabin, and back towards the stern of the boat. Cobalt peeked at him over the edge with an annoyed look from his gray eyes, “Don’t do that again. Pudgy, what do the boiler gauges say?”  The man asked as he stood up and walked around to the port side of the boat. The hedgehog frowned, “Pudgy sorry, didn’t know under boat.  …” he trailed off as he scurried up to the boiler.  The gauges were all showing not green, but in the white are in the middle.  “300 PSI Cobalt, is that good?”  The man nodded, “Yes, it is, it means there are no leaks anywhere.  The gauge goes up to 600, and that is catastrophic.  If it gets that high, you need to abandon ship and get as far away as possible. I have pressure gauges on the main boiler, the supply line to the steam engine, and another one on the return line.  There is a possibility you will need to refill the water tank.  The tank feeds the boiler, remember you need water to make steam.  Steam powers the boat, and to keep a steady supply, you will need to keep the boiler going.”

As the boiler continues to pressurize, Pudgy scurried up to the pilot house, and looked back at his friend.  “Ok Pudgy, half throttle,” Cobalt said, while looking over the boat.  Soon the exposed steam motor started to rotate, and the pistons moved up and down.  The big propeller blade started to turn, causing a bit of wind to shuffle the leaves around behind the boat.   Pudgy pushed the throttle to full, which caused the propeller to spin faster.  And worked the ship wheel, causing the rudder to turn port and starboard.  The man smiled, and watched the steam engine roar, with a stead metallic sound.  There was a faint hiss of steam escaping, which was to be expected, as the system was not 100% sealed.  But, given the nature of the equipment he was using to build the boat with, it was performing flawlessly.  “Ok Pudgy, throttle down to half.” The hedgehog nodded and throttled down then scurried out to the stern of the ship.  He watched Cobalt wrap the steam motor with a wooden covering.  There were slots between the boards, to allow the steam to escape.  This was meant primarily to safeguard Pudgy, so he would not get hurt.  “Pudgy, we are done with the main assembly.  I need to get the radio, and other safety equipment.  I will install that tomorrow, as well as get you a load of woof for the boiler.  How are your provisions coming?”

Pudgy bounced, “all set, just need to pack and load the boat.  Or do we call this a ship now?”  The man nodded, “Yes, we are far past the point of a hobby boat, so a ship is a better term.  Plus, since you are this ship’s pilot, you are now Captain Pudgy.  Which means, you need to sound the steam whistle!”  Pudgy excitedly took off, and back into the pilot house he went.  There was a big yellow button labelled whistle.  Pushing it, the steam valve opened, and a torrent of steam escaped from a brass colored whistle at the top of the boiler.  The shrill but familiar sound of the whistle filled the woods far and wide with its sound.  Pudgy noticed another gauge on the controls was now showing a drop in PSI. He scooted down the steps and peeked his head out of the cabin door.  “Cobalt, the gauge went down?”  The man nodded, “Yes, that is to be expected Pudgy.  The steam, that powers your engine, also powers the whistle.  Be aware that you should use the whistle only when necessary, as it will affect your boat’s speed and performance.  There is no reverse also, you can only go forward. I was not able to find a transmission to be able to do that.  You will need to circle around.” 

The hedgehog nodded, and then bounced, “Can you put Pudgy back on the ground?  Pudgy want to pack the ship!”  The man smiled, and scooped up his furry friend, and then set him down on the ground softly.  The hedgehog started to scamper in and out of his home, starting to stack up supplies by the rope ladder.  The man smiled and help pick up and place onto the deck boards the various food supplies that the hedgehog had prepared.  Cobalt was also fine tuning some of the drive systems, and finishing writing the boat.  After several excited trips, the hedgehog wanted back into the boat, which Cobalt obliged picking him up.  After a quick hug, he sat the critter back into the ship.  The ship was now 4 feet wide by 8 feet long.  Cobalt was also very glad that after he had finished the hull, he was building on a boat trailer.  That would make transporting it to the boat launch possible.   The man laughed as the excited critter moved in and out of the cabin, packing away his supplies.   The glow from the firebox filled the deck boards with a soft orange light, as the flames danced on the fuel inside.  The boiler’s gauges were all dropping in pressure, as the amount of wood loaded as not enough to keep up a sustained throttle open position. 

At the man’s direction, Pudgy throttled down to full stop.  The throttle was labelled for the various positions, with flank speed being at the full position open.  Pushing the whistle button, he made the whistle go off, with a big drop in boiler pressure.  As the fire died out in the boiler’s fire box, the glow diminished, and the boat became quiet.  Pudgy was having trouble seeing as it was so dark out now.  Cobalt laughed, and picked up his friend once more, and headed into the underground home’s sitting area.  As Cobalt stooped to push the light switch, the home’s lights turned on, he sat down tired onto the banquette and set Pudgy beside him.  “Tomorrow Pudgy, after some minor additions, we will be able to get your ship launched, and you can start your journey.”  The hedgehog nodded, and tapped his leg with his paw, “Pudgy saw button labelled Harpoon?”  The man nodded, “Yes, I put a harpoon gun in the front of the boat.  You will have a limited range, but you can fire onto something, and use the boat to pull.  I don’t know if you will need it, but better safe than sorry.” The hedgehog yawned and snuggled up against his leg.  The day had been exciting, but very tiring.    

Cobalt smiled, and gently shook Pudgy.  I will say good night Pudgy; you go ahead and go to bed. “The man hugged his friend, and then sat the tired critter down onto the concrete.   Pudgy waved, and then scampered into the living area of his home.  After locking the doors and windows, he climbed into bed, and immediately fell asleep.  Cobalt grinned, and after dealing with a matter prior to bed, went back inside, and rotated the dials to shut the big doors.  He had brought over a backpacking pad to sleep on, and some blankets.  Sleeping in the “big” room was doable, though for one night only.  The night quickly passed for Pudgy, as he slept silently and like a log.  Cobalt tossed and turned and realized that spending the night at Pudgy’s house was not doable.  He did manage some sleep, before waking in the morning with an exited bouncing hedgehog hugging him.  Laughing, “Good Morning Pudgy,” he said while hugging back gently.  The little critter was so excited, he was soon to go on another adventure. 

Cobalt nodded, “I need to go back to the house, to get the remaining supplies, so I will be back.  Keep an eye on the boat and have breakfast Pudgy.”   Pudgy opened the big round doors and let his human friend exit the home.  Watching him walk off into the forest, and up the hill, Pudgy waited till he was out of sight to return to his home.  The hedgehog made a big breakfast of cornmeal pancakes, with maple syrup.  Realizing he may not get to eat like this for a while, he ate more than he normally did.  With a nice full belly, the hedgehog cleaned up and prepared his home for an extended absence once again.  The sound of a car motor could be heard moving through the forest.  Cobalt had driven back with his red vehicle and turned around backing up to the trailer.  After parking the vehicle, he hopped out of his car to lock up the trailer hitch to the trailer’s tongue.  He wrapped the chains around, securing it into place.    As he opened the back-passenger door, he opened a box labelled Garmin.  Moving back and forth from the car, Cobalt wired up the marine radio, and a 6-foot black mast antenna with a bright red tip to the pilot house’s cabin wall.  Placing in a marine grade battery into a box nearby, the radio crackled as it turned on.  The orange display showed it was set to channel 16.  With some minor securing using black cable ties, the boat was read to go. 

“Pudgy, are you ready, we need to stop one place before heading to McKeesport.”  The man watched the big round doors swing shut, and a click as they were locked.  The underground home grew dark, and Pudgy scampered out with his backpack full of supplies, and little tools clipped to them.  He had his spiffy hat on once more and locked his front door.  Waving he scampered up to Cobalt, “All set Cobalt!” The man smiled and started to strap the ship down with flat yellow trailer straps, that ratcheted tight on each side of the boat trailer.  Once the ship was secure, Cobalt picked up Pudgy, and put him into the front seat of his vehicle.  Once the man got into the car, and buckled his seat belt, he started the engine.  Slowly pulling out, they travelled through the forest.  The going was much slower as the trailer was not meant for off road travel.  Though after some tense moments passed and much doctor who level language being spoken by Cobalt, they made it to the road.  Pulling out, the two friends drove down the road.  Cobalt smiled and patted his friend on his head. “Ok Pudgy, we need to go to the home store where I buy your supplies.  I ordered a cord of wood.”  Pudgy bounced, not realizing what that meant.  Within minutes they had reached the home store, with its big orange sign labeled home something.

The workers stood in amazement as Cobalt pulled up with a big red vehicle and a steamboat on a trailer.  The cord of wood was a full truck load, and cut into small sticks, easily fed into the boiler.  As He exited the car, and paid for the wood, Pudgy waved from the dashboard.  An elderly gentleman pointed, “Is that Pudgy?” Cobalt smiled and opened the door.  Pudgy waved to the orange clad workers, “Hi, my name is Pudgy.  Pudgy going to New Orleans!”  They laughed and helped Cobalt load the wood into the boat.  Soon a big pile of wood was inside, and securely strapped down.   Everyone waved at the two friends and watched as the boat disappeared over the distance.  Stories soon spread through the store, that Pudgy did in fact exist, and they were the source of his adventure’s supplies. 

Travelling carefully, Cobalt drove to the former steel making town of McKeesport Pennsylvania.  The shadows of the mills were apparent everywhere, with the hollowed-out factories being repurposes for a variety of mixed uses.  The roads were crumbled, and the bridges rusty, but it was a city with strong roots.  As they drove up Lysle boulevard, they passed the municipal building with his pastel green aluminum and plate glass front.  They crossed a short bridge painted blue, though clearly rusting.  The last time the bridge had been painted was when President Clinton was in office.  The roads had been paved when the first Bush was in office.   As they crossed the bridge, Cobalt turned on his turn signal, and then headed turned the car.  He followed the signs for the McKeesport access and passed a large field where the yellow school busses were stored for the school district.   Pudgy could see over the end of the car, the ramp that led down into the Youghiogheny river.   He started to bounce excitedly, drawing a laugh from his human friend.  The car circled, and then started to back down the ramp with the trailer.  Stopping just shy of the water, he put the car into park, and placed the parking brake on. 

“Ok Pudgy, time for you to get in the ship.”   The man said, picking up his friend, and hugging him tight.   Pudgy hugged back and held on as he exited the car.  Walking back, he placed Pudgy onto the ships’ deck by the boiler.  “Pudgy, I’m going to back down into the water, and I want you to start looking for leaks.  Leaks are bad,” he trailed off, as he undid the yellow straps that kept the ship secured to the trailer.  Nodding to himself, Cobalt headed back to the car.  Nearby a couple of older men were fishing and pointed at the display of the steamboat and hedgehog.   Pudgy felt the trailer shake, and watched the taillights of the car glow red, then the white backup lights turned on, and soon they were moving backwards towards the brown water.  The rains had sent a ton of mud into the water, which clouded the ramp below.  But soon as the ship’s stern reached the water, the ship started to float up.  The car’s lights turned off once more, and the man got out.  He stopped at the trailer’s tongue, and there was a large ratcheted handle, with a yellow cord.  Starting to crank the handle, the ship started to float out further into the river.  Pudgy waved, and looked around, finding no leaks whatsoever.

“Pudgy good Cobalt, no leaks!”  The man nodded, and kept sending the boat further out, with more cord, until he reached the end.  “Pudgy, remove the guide rope!”  The hedgehog nodded, and scurried to the bow of the ship, and then unclipped the trailer’s lead rope.   The man cranked quickly to retrieve the rope, and then got back into the car, to pull out of the ramp, and into a nearby parking spot.  As the man excitedly jumped out, he jogged over to the ramp, and watched the Hedgehog scurry about on the deck of the ship.  “Pudgy, turn on the radio, and then light the boiler!” The hedgehog nodded, and then went inside the pilot house.  It was about this time, the two older gentlemen with white beards and Steelers shirts approached, “Is that a steamboat?”  Cobalt smiled, “yes, it is, I built it for my friend.”  The two men laughed, and then watched as the hedgehog scurried about and was lighting the boiler.  Soon white smoke started to come out of the smokestack, and the boat was caught in the current.  While not strong, it moved the ship past the marina that was across the river.  Cobalt shouted, “Goodbye Pudgy, please come back safe!” The two older gentlemen waved also, then headed back to their fishing spot. 

Pudgy waved excitedly, and then scampered into the pilot house.  Unlocking the ship’s wheel, he started to steer the boat.  The first thing he noticed was that if he turned left the boat headed right.  This would be important, so he made note of it.  The Pressure gauge was building, and a soon as it would hit 200, he could engage the engine.   Pudgy sniffed the air, and a foul smell wafted in the air, and as the critter looked left a big sign said: MUNICIPAL AUTHORITY OF MCKEESPORT.  The sewage treatment plant was at the confluence of the Youghiogheny river and the Monongahela rivers.  With an eye on the controls, he opened the throttle to half, and the ship started to move forward quickly.  Steering starboard, the ship entered the Monongahela river, and off he was heading past the steel mills.  While the fronts looked like they had been repaired and modernized, the river side was full of rusted bulks.  The massive steel trusses, and the rusted blast furnaces were still present.  The orange iron oxide residue was still visible everywhere along the shoreline. 

Remembering what Cobalt said, he stayed along the side of the river, steering clear of deepest part of the river which was the middle.  The riverbanks soon grew steep on each side, and he approached a black steel bridge that was far overhead.  There was a blue bridge behind it, with many passing cars.  The boiler was starting to lose pressure, which meant Pudgy had to stoke the fire.  As he locked the wheel into place, he scurried back to the boiler, opening the fire box.  The wood had been burned quicker than he expected, so the critter started to ross wood into the fire.  What Cobalt had ordered was fireplace kindling, and the small sticks were easily burned within the firebox.  It was also manageable by the hedgehog.    Once sufficiently loaded, Pudgy secured the firebox, and then scampered back to the pilot house.  Resuming control of the ships’ wheel, he steered along the river bend.  Backing the throttle down a bit, he needed to figure out what the sweet spot was for travel speed and fire box usage. 

Within an hour, he started to see signs with directions for Lock and Dam #2 Monongahela.  The manual that Pudgy had read and kept on his cell phone that Cobalt insisted he bring with him this time, said that when approaching the lock, he was to fire his whistle once.  If need be, he can contact the lock master on channel 13.  The locks were set up for commercial traffic, and recreational traffic.  This lock was locked in the city of Braddock, another steel making place.  Across the river was the Kennywood amusement park.  This time of year, the park was closed, but the hedgehog saw the tall yellow towers from the new roller coaster that was built last year.   Pudgy steered the ship to the port side, and towards the lock labelled recreational traffic.  Tall stone walls started to approach on both sides of his ship, as two large metal gates blocked the river.   As He throttled down to full stop, the boat continued forward.  Pushing the yellow button, he fired his whistle.  The steam sent a terrific cloud of steam into the air, which drew a man in a United States Army outfit out, looking at the tiny ship. 

The lights started to flash, as the gates began to open, causing a wave to move his ship backwards.  Pudgy started the throttle again to running speed and headed into the lock.  Passing through the metal gates, he saw on each side the blocks were alternating white and black lines.  There were also numbers painted showing the dept of the water.  As the he reached the center, he throttled down to full stop, and watched as the steel gates sung shut behind him slowly.  Scampering out, the hedgehog went back to the boiler to reload the firebox.  He also waved at an officer dressed in digital green camo.  The Army Corp of Engineers ran the locks and dams along the rivers.  The solider waved back, smiling as he radioed the lock master to start the bilge pumps.  Pudgy scampered back into the pilot house, and felt the boat lowering.  The big lines started to appear one by one, black, white, black white, until finally the water reached the next level of the river.  The forward gates started to open, and Pudgy engaged the throttle to full speed. 

As the hedgehog exited the locks, he looked forward, the river grew wider and deeper.  He could feel the waved gently push his boat back and forth.  He was heading down stream, so even without the engine, he would be able to move forward.   The hours passed, and Pudgy passed steel mills one by one.  Some were still open, while many were closed and rusting.  Heavy industry was long the river, with big docks for the commercial barges to moor while loading and unloading.  Pudgy saw an empty set of barges approaching on the opposite side of the river, so he steered away from it.  The white tugboat was huge, but it had to be to move so many barges.  They were all tied and bolted together, so move in one giant block.  Since they were empty, they stuck up high out of the water.   Hours passed, and he weas already into a routine of load the fire box, check the boat, and pilot.  It would be very nice if he had a helper, but this was going to be a fun trip, which meant he would have to work accordingly. 

More hours passed, and the hedgehog had reached Pittsburgh.  The city of bridge was more than a nickname, as he passed under one bridge after another that was far above him.  The tops were painted yellow, though underneath was gray metal.  Massive stacked stone supports held up the bridges on each side.  They were painted with warning colors, and flood stage markers.  Signs shows where to go, and where not to, as well as various warnings.  Pudgy could see the docks for the gateway Clipper fleet, and the ships were docked for the day.  Several maintenance men waved at him as he passed, which Pudgy blasted the steam whistle once, as he waved back.  As Point state park approached on the starboard side of the ship, he watched as the fountain danced with pulsating water jets.  Spring had sprung, so the fountain was on.  It also meant the approach of the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers.  This was the birthplace of the Ohio river, and much more commercial traffic to contend with. 

Pudgy set the throttle to flank speed, as he needed to get into the Ohio river, and off to the side to get out of the way.  The little engine fired up, and the rhythmic sound of the propeller shaft spinning filled the boat with a soothing sound.  The boat was rocked back and forth when he entered the large confluence, and the boat struggled for a moment against the competing currents. Soon though, he was speeding towards the north shore.  The huge Yellow and white stadium for the Steelers appeared, as well as another big marina.  During the games, boat traffic would ferry people back and forth to the stadium.  There was also a restaurant there, which patrons waved as the little steam ship passed.  Pudgy waved back, locking the wheel.  Then returned to the fire box, to reload the fuel wood.  He also saw the extra supplies Cobalt had packed him.  There was an extra rudder, extra propeller blade, as well as a hedgehog manageable sized saw.  Forests grew along the river, so in a pinch, he could harvest wood for the boiler.  Pudgy also saw a paper roll tube stuck inside the one hopper.  As he retrieved the tube, he went back into the cabin, and opened it.  It was a map of the rivers, including the locks and dams. While the phone had downloaded maps, having a paper backup was best in case of no power or signal situations. 

Pudgy had a plan, to reach the Emsworth Lock, and get through it.  Though the locks ran 24 hours a day, he wanted to get through it, so he could find a cove or spot to secure the boat.  Pudgy could not run 24 x 7, as he needed to sleep at some point.  So, as he navigated the Ohio River, and its various large islands, he soon reached the Emsworth locks as the sun was starting to set on the south western horizon.  He again approached the passenger boat locks and signaled with one blast of his tiny whistle.  Again, an army officer exited, though this time he pointed to a sign that said channel 13. Pudgy scampered in and turned his radio to channel 13. Pushing the microphone button, “Hello mister army man, can Pudgy use the lock, over?”  The Hedgehog released the transmit button, and a gruff sounding man spoke. “This is Lieutenant Williams, Army Corp of Engineers, you have been flagged for inspection.  Please pull over to the red painted area, over.”  Pudgy pushed the transmit button, “Pudgy understand, over!”  As the hedgehog steered, he set the throttle to full, and eased back reaching the red area on the port side of the lock. 

Pudgy exited the pilot house, and saw a rope drop onto the deck from above.  Pudgy noticed that Cobalt had put fisheye bolts all over the ship in various spots.  This was why, so he could tie the boat off.  He started to pull the rope through and moor the boat.  A human sized boat labelled coast guard pulled up beside the tiny ship.  The hedgehog waved as a tall man with glasses looked at the display.  “Ahoy there, who are you?”  The critter waved, “My name Pudgy, Pudgy going to New Orleans!”  The coast guard office laughed, “Oh is that so?  In your little ship?”  A younger officer with blonde hair smiled and leaned over the edge.  “My word, it’s steam powered!” The older officer approached also, causing the boat to lean. “This is a mandatory safety check, which is normal and customary for all river traffic.  Ok, Pudgy Hedgehog, where is your life preservers?”  The hedgehog scurried back, and pulled out a small orange one, that Cobalt had found online for pets.  The officer laughed, and read off a laundry list of safety equipment, which Pudgy thankfully had.  After the inspection was completed, the officer waved to the lock master.  “You can untie your mooring, please have a safe trip Pudgy.”

The hedgehog waved, “Thank you misters!”  He scurried over to untie the mooring line, and then tossed some more wood into the fire box.  The gauges were reading 400, which drew a look from the men in the coastguard boat.  Everything was clearly seen and could be inspected visually by an approaching boat.  River inspections are a common occurrence, which means that steps had to be taken accordingly.  As the metal gates started to sing open, Pudgy entered the pilot house once more.  Engaging the throttle, his boat started to approach through the gates and into the lock.  Soon he was joined by the coast guard boat, who was still inspecting his boat as it operated.  The officer was radioing the lock master.    As before with the Braddock lock, the water started to fall and the lines were seen growing white, black white black, white and black.  The front gates opened slowly with loud screeching noises.  Once there was enough clearance, Pudgy set the throttle to flank speed.  The little boat started to take off, drawing looks of amazement from the coast guard. 

As Pudgy’s ship exited the lock, he exited the cabin and waved at the lock master and coast guard men.  Then he scurried back inside, and continued his journey, which soon meant he would need to turn on his headlamps.  The hedgehog flipped the switches, turning on the running lights, and headlamps.  Which when he did, the coats guard men laughed, and headed back towards the dams to do an inspection.   Checking his gauges, everything seemed to be in order, though it was becoming very dark on the river.  Though illuminated in the distance was a huge concrete piling that was jutting up from the water.  There was a big sign, barges stay left.   Recognizing this area would be too shallow for the commercial traffic, Pudgy steered towards the piling, and found big metal mooring cleats on the piling.  This was a spot where they would park empty barges for the commercial traffic, which meant he could park the ship here for the night.  Navigating the ship to the piling, the hedgehog found ropes that had been packed by Cobalt, which allowed him to tie up the ship to the piling on the side labeled too shallow for barges.   

With the straps securely in place, the hedgehog locked the wheel.  He did have an anchor, but given the depth of the river, and the current, it would not work in these conditions.  So, after placing some rubber pads between the side of his ship and the pier, the critter checked the firebox, noticing it was soon to die out.  The river was cold, and made the ship bounce up and down gently.  It was dead quiet, save for the occasional sound from a crow sitting somewhere far above on the top of the pier.  Entering his cabin, he sat down on the banquette, and took out a biscuit to nibble on.  It had been a very busy day, and he was resting quietly.  The LED bulbs in the cabin kept a soft white glow to the cabin.  Pudgy yawned, and headed over to the small platform bed, and laid down, immediately falling asleep.  Tomorrow would be day two of his adventure, and who knew what mysteries the river would bring next?

By Cobalt

Cobalt is a normal guy that goes to work. Pudgy is his hedgehog friend who lives in a hobbit style home nearby, and goes on epic adventures. All Pudgy stories are copyrighted to Cobalt. Doomcock, Harvey Cthulhu, and Xanadoom is copyrighted to Overlord DVD.

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