At last the crucial hour came, and at about the same moment each gentleman received a little note from Mr. Mather, conveying to him the tidings that to him had been awarded a contract sufficient to supply his works to their utmost capacity. They all rushed with a common impulse to the hotel lobby where they had been accustomed to meet, each bent on displaying his note and commiserating his unsuccessful rivals, only to discover that each had a contract for all he could do, and that each had been actually bidding against nobody but himself. Great was the hilarity which covered their chagrin when they met and compared notes and looked into each others’ faces. However, all were happy and satisfied. But it may be said in passing that these amiable gentlemen all united subsequently in one company, which has had a highly satisfactory career, and that we paid a more uniform price for our subsequent purchases of ships after the combination had been made.
With these ships ordered, we were fairly at the beginning of the ore enterprise. But we realized that we had to make some arrangement to operate the ships, and we again turned to our competitor, Mr. Mather, in the hope that he would add this to his cares. Unfortunately, because of his obligations to others, he felt that this was impractical. I asked Mr. Gates one day soon after this:
“How are we to get some one to run these big ships we have ordered? Do you know of any experienced firm?”
“No,” said Mr. Gates, “I do not know of any firm to suggest at the moment, but why not run them ourselves?”
“You don’t know anything about ships, do you?”
“No,” he admitted, “but I have in mind a man who I believe could do it, although when I tell you about him I fear you will think that his qualifications are not the best. However, he has the essentials. He lives up the state, and never was on a ship in his life. He probably wouldn’t know the bow from the stern, or a sea-anchor from an umbrella, but he has good sense, he is honest, enterprising, keen, and thrifty. He has the art of quickly mastering a subject even though it be new to him and difficult. We still have some months before the ships will be completed, and if we put him to work now, he will be ready to run the ships as soon as they are ready to be run.”
“All right,” I said, “let’s give him the job,” and we did.
That man was Mr. L.M. Bowers; he came from Broome County, New York. Mr. Bowers went from point to point on the lakes where the boats were building, and studied them minutely. He was quickly able to make valuable suggestions about their construction, which were approved and adopted by the designers. When the vessels were finished, he took charge of them from the moment they floated, and he managed these and the dozens which followed with a skill and ability that commanded the admiration of all the sailors on