Uncle Henry has been ordered by his doctor to take a vacation from his Kansas farm to Australia. He and his niece Dorothy Gale (this is the first of the Oz books in which the reader learns her last name) are aboard a steamship traveling there when they are caught in a fierce storm and separated. Dorothy is tossed overboard in a large poultry crate along with Billina, a yellow hen that was also on the ship. Dorothy and Billina wash ashore and pick something to eat from a lunch pail tree. She guesses that they are in a "fairy country" because lunch pails do not normally grow on trees and animals like Billina do not talk, but it's not Oz because that country has no seashore. They come across a message inscribed in the sand: "BEWARE THE WHEELERS"! Soon they meet these gaudily dressed, loud-yelling creatures who have wheels instead of hands and feet, and roll around on all fours. Dorothy and Billina climb a rocky mountain to escape them and find a door carved into its side. Having found the key by the door, they open it and find Tik-Tok, a round copper mechanical man whom they activate by winding up all three of his clockwork motors (one each for thinking, motion and speech) with the key like a wind-up toy.