Junior Steamers

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Taken from Holmes' Fourth Reader, 1870, showing father and son working on mechanical matters. See the story of 'The Two Thinkers.'


The following article is taken from Holmes’ Fourth Reader
published in 1870 by the University Publishing Company, New

We think it is quite interesting and has a vital lesson in it
for all. -Elmer

In one of the villages of the Newcastle coal-mining region was
the humble dwelling of a very humble man. The little, old-fashioned
kitchen was the home and study of a poor man, of whom the world
then knew nothing, but has since known a great deal. He worked in a
coal-pit. He never learned to read or write till he was eighteen,
and then only went to school three evenings a week. But he had
eyes, and what he saw with his eyes he thought upon. He carried it
home, worked it over in his mind, and when occasion called, could
use it in a manner that astonished his neighbors. I will give you
an instance.

One of the coal-pits was flooded with water. The engine had been
fruitlessly pumping for nearly twelve months, and came to be
regarded as a total failure. The pit ‘was drowned out?

One Saturday afternoon he went over to examine the engine more
carefully than he had done before. One of the men asked him,
‘Weel, George, what do you make of her?’ ‘Man,’
said George, in reply, ‘I could alter her and make her draw: in
a week’s time from this I could send you to the

‘What do you know about engines?’ cried the men,
scornfully. But the superintendent, hearing of it, determined to
give George’s skill a trial.

In three days he had altered the engine, and in two days more
the pit was cleared of water and the workmen sent to the

How did he do it? He was not bred an engineer. He had no books
to teach him. It was because he was a thinker. He had seen engines
just as the other men had; but he did what the rest did not. In his
spare moments he set his mind at work about how they were built,
with all the whys and wherefores. In this way he saw the cause of
the difficulty and how to remedy it.

Look at him. He is planning and drawing and studying, instead of
spending his time at ale-shops and cock-fights. See the wheels and
cogs and axles and bits of machinery about the room. He has no
books to guide him. The knowledge of other men is beyond his

His little son is interested in all that interests his father,
and his father explains to him pretty much all he knows. Robert
goes to school. At thirteen his father sends him to the academy at
Newcastle. There is a library at Newcastle. Bob hunts up all the
books which tell about machinery. If he could only carry them home
to his father! But that is against the rules. What did he do? He
took the pains to copy all the pictures and diagrams of machinery
which he thought would interest and help his father, and when he
went home on Saturday he explained them to him.

While Robert was still at school, his father proposed to him
during the holidays that he should construct a sun-dial, to be
placed over their cottage door. ‘I expostulated with him at
first,’ said Robert, afterwards, when he had become famous,
‘that I had not learned sufficient astronomy and mathematics to
enable me to make the necessary calculations.

‘But he would have no denial. ‘The thing is to be
done,’ said he; ‘so just set about it at once.’ Well,
we got a ‘Ferguson’s Astronomy,’ and studied the
subject together. Many a sore head I had while making the
calculations necessary to adapt the dial to the latitude of

‘But at last it was done, and we made a very respectable
dial of it; there it is, you see,’ pointing to it over the
cottage door, ‘still quietly numbering the hours when the sun
shines.’ The date carved upon the dial is, ‘August 11th,

Would you know what all this led to? It laid the track of the
first railroad and built the first locomotive. The man’s name
is George Stephenson, who drove the first steam-horse the world
ever saw; and his son is Robert Stephenson, who planned the largest
bridge in North America, that over the St. Lawrence river at
Montreal, called the Victoria bridge; – two names that the world
will not soon let die.

No beginning could have been less promising than that of George
Stephen-son. Born in a poor condition, yet rich in spirit, he was
from the first compelled to rely upon himself. Whether working as a
brakeman or an engineer, his mind was always full of the work in
hand. When a workman, he put his brains and labor into his work;
and when a master, he put character and conscience into it.

You may go to school, boys, and read ever so many books, but
unless you learn to think, you will never be able to turn your
knowledge to any good or great account. It will be at loose ends in
your mind, never ready for use, adding little or nothing to your
efficiency or excellence.

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