The Sheepskin Raft on the Yellow River
The Sheepskin Raft is also called the Sheepskin Raft on the Yellow River because it is popular only along the banks of the Yellow River.
The raft has a long history in China. According to Book of Waterways, it was first used in the troops as early as the Han Dynasty. Later on, used to carry people across the river, the sheepskin raft was popular along the Yellow river inside Qinghai, Gansu and Ningxia provinces, especially in the areas around Lanzhou. When New China was first founded, some of the rails of Baotou-Lanzhou Railway were carried by the sheepskin raft to cross the Yellow River.
As its name suggests, it is made of sheepskin. The first step is to skin a big sheep and shave the wool by soaking the skin into the salt water. Then apply rape oil into the four legs and near the neck so as to make it soft. Tie the skin into a bag with thin ropes and leave a small hole, through which air will be blown in. Seal the hole and bind several blown-up sheepskin bags onto a wooden frame. Then the raft is ready. The sheepskin raft is easily made. First, tie a dozen round crabsticks, which should be three to four centimeters in diameter, into an oblong frame which measures two meters wide and 3.33 meters long. Then arrange the prepared skin bags in order and tie them under the frame. In this way, a sheepskin raft is ready. Since it is easy and cheap to make and convenient for the transportation on the river, it is widely used in the folk society.
Sheepskin rafts vary in size. In ancient times, the biggest sheepskin raft was composed of over 600 sheepskin bags and measured 22 meters long and 7 meters wide. There were three oars in the front and at the back. Each oar was controlled by two people. With a carrying capacity of 20 to 30 tons of goods, it could run over 200 kilometers per day. The small raft was generally composed of about a dozen bags. Small and light, it had a shallow sea gauge and was therefore suitable for short-distance transportation. Besides, all its components could be taken apart and thus make it convenient to carry. Now that the raft could go downstream only but could not go otherwise, there was a saying that "When going downstream, you are taking a raft; however, you will have to carry the raft upstream. "
In summer and winter, rafters will take the fruits of other villagers to sell in Baotou and Ningxia along the lower reaches of the Yellow River. In order to carry more goods, they usually tie several small rafters into one bigger raft and thus the carrying capacity of this "big boat" would be increased by many times up to over ten tons. In fact, the bigger boat is stronger, faster and more stable in the rapids of the Yellow River. The "big boat" composed of a dozen or dozens of rafts is the called "the Sheepskin Raft Warship", which is well-known along the banks of the Yellow River.