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Steamboat Bertrand by Cathead - FINISHED - 1:87, wooden Missouri River sternwheeler

Steamboat riverboat sternwheeler Missouri River

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#1
Cathead

Cathead

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American western river steamboats represent a unique form of shipbuilding. Designed and built on the American frontier during the core of the 19th century, such boats rapidly evolved to fit the specific needs of the great inland river systems that drained inland North America. In this build I will replicate a typical specimen of this design, the steamboat Bertrand, trying to accurately duplicate the features of these fascinating vessels. I hope you’ll follow along, both to enjoy the construction, and to learn about this obscure but fascinating (to me, at least) part of maritime transportation history. These boats are almost, but not entirely, unlike an ocean-going vessel of the same period, in large part due to the demands of their specific riverine habitat. Below, my updated workbench with Bertrand profile on the wall for inspiration.

 

bertrand_1a.jpg

 

The “western” in western river steamboat refers to the landscape between the Appalachian and Rocky Mountains. Over the course of the 19th century, this area went from the mostly unknown wilderness of Lewis & Clark’s 1804 expedition up the Missouri River, to a land mostly settled and integrated into the United States by the dawn of the 20th century. Most of this landscape centers on the Mississippi River basin, including its major tributaries such as the Ohio and Missouri Rivers. This system drains over 1 million square miles (almost 3 million square km), covering parts of 31 American states and 2 Canadian provinces. Almost all the rivers in the system were navigable in the 19th century for most of their lengths, creating a vast trade and transportation network across the continent’s interior long before railroads appeared on the scene, when roads were all but non-existent (map below from National Park Service).

 

watershed.png

 

The Bertand, built in 1864 and sunk in 1865, was a wholly typical and unremarkable western river steamer, except for its rediscovery beneath a US Wildlife Refuge along the Iowa/Nebraska border in 1968. The boat and its cargo were remarkably well-preserved, due to quick burial beneath river sediment by the quickly changing channel of the Missouri River, and the anoxic environment thus produced. The Bertrand’s mint-condition cargo is now on display at a fascinating museum at the DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge, which also hosts a detailed large-scale model of the craft (shown below). The archeological excavation of the craft resulted in a plethora of information about period steamboat construction. In pairing with the later, but similar, discovery of the sunken steamboat Arabia along the Kansas/Missouri border and subsequent founding of a similar museum in Kansas City, the two wrecks represent a spectacular repository of historical and maritime knowledge and preservation. Below, the gorgeous large-scale model of Bertrand at DeSoto (FWS photo).

 

bertrand.png

 

I live and farm near the Missouri River, and have long been fascinated by the history of its steamboats. My first-ever attempt at wooden ship modeling was a scratchbuilt version of the Far West, perhaps the most famous of its class, a sternwheeler which ascended the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers to extraordinary distances, and carried General Custer’s troops to and from the infamous Battle of Little Big Horn. The Bertrand is a similar craft to the Far West, which was built to ascent the shallow, treacherous river to Montana, while the Arabia was a sidewheeler more typical  of the lower Missouri River below Omaha, Nebraska (and the Ohio and Mississippi). I had initially intended to build the Arabia next, but due to a lack of available plans, and my inability to make it to Kansas City to do research at her eponymous museum, I changed my focus to the Bertrand. Below, my model of the Far West for context:

 

gallery_17244_1008_24824.jpg

 

I’ve had plans for the Bertrand for several years, having purchased them at the same time as my Far West plans, and consulted them on that project. Now, the goal is a similar boat but at much greater detail: I would like to build the Bertrand frame-by-frame, just as initially constructed in the riverside yards at Wheeling, West Virginia. I have a shelf of texts on western steamboat history and construction, and several more detailed references on the excavation of the Bertrand on order through inter-library loan. I intend to leave one side of the hull unplanked, and possibly the same side of the superstructure, to show full detail throughout. Below, longitudinal internal section of the Bertrand from the plans I'll be using.

 

bertrand_1b.jpg

 

I hope you’ll join me on this (likely) wordy trek through a relatively unknown period of American maritime history and design. Few other steamboats grace this site, so I'd like to fill the gap a little with this project. I’ll try to interweave build details with explanations and demonstrations of why the boat was designed and built the way it was, to give context to this project and help share my love of these steamboats and their (my) home. This project is a significant undertaking for me, a serious step up from my previous Bounty launch kit and various smaller and less-detailed scratchbuilding efforts. I hope to be open to suggestion and advice, and I hope readers will be patient with the slow progress I'll likely make as I juggle this project with the summertime demands on my time, as well as the budget necessary to do this with my uncertain income as a self-employed farmer and writer. Welcome aboard, and unlike most boats of this type, we'll hope this one doesn't sink or blow up on the journey! 

 

UPDATE: Build completed and index available.

I finished this project in January 2016, and compiled an index of the general steps involved, with links to each one. You can review the build index here, in a post at the end of this log.


Edited by Cathead, 09 July 2016 - 01:35 PM.

  • cog, mtaylor, ccoyle and 15 others like this

Current build: US Revenue Cutter "Ranger", Corel, 1:64

 

Previous builds:

Naval: 18th century longboat, Model Shipways, 1:48; Naval gun kits from Model Shipways; Bounty launch, Model Shipways, 1:16

Missouri River craft: Missouri River steamboat Bertrand, scratchbuilt in 1:87;  Lewis & Clark barge, scratchbuilt in 1:48;
Missouri River keelboat, scratchbuilt in 1:87; Missouri River steamboat Far West, scratchbuilt in 1:87


#2
dgbot

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Sounds like an interesting build as well as a labor of love I think I will be looking in on your progress if you will have me.  Several years ago I bought the plans for the Beaver which was the Hudson Bay's trading vessel and will like to build her when I get the chance.  Go for it.

David B


Edited by dgbot, 22 April 2015 - 08:05 PM.

  • matt.s.s. likes this

Work in progress USS Maine in cardstock.http://modelshipworl...rd/#entry220003

Completed Blockade runner Teazer http://modelshipworl...ck/#entry175967

Completed  The Monitor Lehigh http://modelshipworl...el/#entry203680

Completed Kingston Class MCVD http://modelshipworl...gs-in-progress/

 


#3
ccoyle

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Steamboats played a significant role west of the Rockies, too.  Many of the rivers that drain into the Pacific were navigable far upstream from their mouths, especially in the days prior to large-scale dam construction.


  • mtaylor, avsjerome2003 and matt.s.s. like this

Chris Coyle
Greenville, South Carolina

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#4
Omega1234

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Hi Cathead

What an interesting subject for a build!

I'm in.

Cheers

Patrick

#5
Chuck Seiler

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I built the FAR WEST about 10 years ago. It is here in my office at work and I gaze upon it as we speak. As part of doing research, I was amazed at where those things could go. While the Mississippi boats and Missouri boats has a lot in common, it was two different worlds.

The interior passenger areas were pretty luxurious (for their day) but with limits. Note the two "rest facilities" at the aft end of the upper deck, just forward of the paddlewheel. Two seats, no waiting!!!
  • mtaylor, avsjerome2003, Omega1234 and 1 other like this

Chuck Seiler
San Diego Ship Modelers Guild
Nautical Research Guild

 
Current Build:
Continental Sloop PROVIDENCE
Continental Gunboat PHILADELPHIA (1/2" Scale Model Shipways Kit)
Colonial Schooner SULTANA (scratch from Model Expo Plans)


On Hold:
Colonial Pinnace VIRGINIA (1607)(scratch)
18th Century Longboat (Model Expo Kit)
 
Completed:
Missouri Riverboat FAR WEST (1876) Scratch
1776 Gunboat PHILADELPHIA (Scratch 1/4 scale-Model Shipways plans)


#6
Cathead

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Steamboats played a significant role west of the Rockies, too

 

Oh, no question, all along the West Coast. I've explored the wrecks of several steamers along the banks of the Yukon, where the northern climate preserves them quite well. There are some great stories about early steamers on the Columbia running the rapids and proving the river was navigable farther than originally thought. But as far as I know, all those boats followed the basic designs first developed in the Mississippi basin, which is why I find these early steamers so fascinating: they're like watching evolution in progress. 

 

Note the two "rest facilities" at the aft end of the upper deck, just forward of the paddlewheel. Two seats, no waiting!!! 

 

Nothing like having the sternwheel right there to bury the evidence!


  • mtaylor, Chuck Seiler, Omega1234 and 2 others like this

Current build: US Revenue Cutter "Ranger", Corel, 1:64

 

Previous builds:

Naval: 18th century longboat, Model Shipways, 1:48; Naval gun kits from Model Shipways; Bounty launch, Model Shipways, 1:16

Missouri River craft: Missouri River steamboat Bertrand, scratchbuilt in 1:87;  Lewis & Clark barge, scratchbuilt in 1:48;
Missouri River keelboat, scratchbuilt in 1:87; Missouri River steamboat Far West, scratchbuilt in 1:87


#7
Canute

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I've been interested in the Brown Water naval activities of the American Civil War for years. This steamboat is a good project, since a number of those ACW boats were converted transport types. I applaud your choice and will follow along, too.


  • Omega1234 and matt.s.s. like this

Ken

 

Started: MS Bounty Longboat,

On Hold:  Heinkel USS Choctaw paper

Down the road: Shipyard HMC Alert 1/96 paper, Mamoli Constitution Cross, MS USN Picket Boat #1

Scratchbuild: Echo Cross Section

 

Member Nautical Research Guild


#8
gjdale

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This looks like a fascinating project - think I'll pull up a chair too. A stern wheel steamboat is on my bucket list of builds.
  • Omega1234 and matt.s.s. like this

Grant
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Current builds:

 

1949 Chris Craft 19' Racing Runabout - Dumas - Radio

 

Previous builds: Bomb Vessel Granado, 1742 - Cross Section - ScratchbuildHMS Victory (Mamoli 1:90), Cutty Sark, Armed Pinnace, Bounty, Santa Maria

At another place: Stephenson's Rocket (OcCre 1:24) (click the title to follow the link)

 

 

In the Gallery: Lancia Armata 1803, Bomb Vessel Granada, 1742 Cross Section


#9
Cathead

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The hulls of western river boats are quite different from those of ocean-going ships, and this presents the first challenge of this project. For example, the Bertrand has no keel, meaning I will have to work out a new way to lay out the hull’s framing without an external keel to anchor everything on.

 

There are good reasons for this oddity. While early river boats were built like regular ships, with projecting keeps and deep hulls, it was quickly determined that this didn’t work on the shallow, fast-flowing, curvaceous rivers of the region, for several reasons:

 

1)      Keels provide resistance against leeway. This was not only unnecessary for steam-powered boats, it was actually a detriment to the maneuverability needed to handle the sharp turns and shifting currents of the rivers. Riverboats were amazingly nimble, and large keels just got in the way.

 

2)      Keels strengthen the hull longitudinally. This, too, quickly proved to be a detriment under western river conditions. While the long, narrow hulls of steamboats were very prone to hogging, they also needed to be flexible for the inevitable need to scrape over sandbars or even rock shoals. It has been claimed that steamboat hulls needed to flex two feet vertically to handle the river conditions they were subjected to; an overly strong keel could break the back of a steamboat like a ship on a reef, rather than allowing it to slither over shoals. We’ll explore the steamboat designers’ flexible solution to hogging later in the project.

 

3)      Deep hulls provide stability and cargo capacity, but shallow channels made this impossible. Steamboats quickly evolved to barge-like hulls carrying all their machinery and most of their cargo on the deck; their long, flat-bottomed hulls provided all the buoyancy they needed. The Bertrand was only about 14 feet shorter than USS Constitution at the waterline, and almost as wide on deck, but with about 10% of the draft and displacement.  Bertrand would have lasted mere minutes in the open sea, but Old Ironsides couldn't have made it thousands of miles upriver to western Montana carrying tons of cargo.

 

 None of this would matter much for the model if I intended to simply plank the hull; in that case I would either cut bulkheads or shape a solid block, and just plank over everything. But I want to show off the unique internal framing of the craft, and so have to work out the best way to assemble it in place.

 

bertrand_2a.jpg

 

The Bertrand has something like 60-70 internal frames, including some cant frames in the stem. Above, you see examples of a typical midsection frame. These aren't curved the way a ship’s are, just a straight floor joined to two straight futtocks at an angle. There were  multiple ways to make this joint; on the Bertrand this was a cocked-hat chine in which the two pieces were simply butted together at the turn of the bilge and braced with a triangular timber.  I will need to make about 40 of these assemblies, plus 20-30 more that slowly change shape with the curve of the bow and stern.

 

You’ll notice that my frames are a bit thicker than the scale plans imply. This is intentional, as I feel that truly scale timbers would be extremely difficult to work with. They need to be strong enough to hold their shape against fairing and handling, and I don’t think would have enough surface area to hold glue joints properly in some of the unusual arrangements I’ll need to do. This is especially true as I intend to leave a large section unplanked, such that the frames need to hold their own. When the model is completed, I don’t think the slightly overscale timbers will be noticeable, but the model will be much stronger. 

 

I made these by first cutting an internal wooden pattern to the exact shape of the mid-hull, as taken from the plans. The pattern is from slightly thinner stock than the frames. I then cut and lay out the three pieces, with a small dab of wood glue in the two joints, with the pattern holding them to shape. When the glue is tacky, only a few minutes, I spread more on top of the joint and lay two broader pieces at an angle across the joint to create the “cocked hat” brace (this is why the pattern needs to be thinner, so it doesn’t get glued to the brace). When the assembly is dry, I use a sharp knife to carve away the excess, including the plank-width area at the outside turn of the bilge. One broad plank will be used here between the side planking and the bottom planking, as on the prototype. While it might seem that making 40+ of these would take forever, each one takes only a few minutes. I simply make one, set it aside, and work on something else. Doing this in the background means I’ll have them all done by the time I work out the rest of the hull plan.

 

As for how to assemble all these, my current plan is to make a building board with parallel grooves at the spacing & depth of the hull frames. I can then set all the frames into this pattern while attaching them as on the prototype, with a variety of internal stringers and a strong keelson. This, incidentally, is another reason to use my slightly over-sized stock: it’s the same width as my table saw’s dado, making this process very convenient.

 

In the next installment, I’ll explore the bow area, and how I plan to tackle the framing in that area. In the meantime, I’ll be making a lot of hull frames! In the meantime, any comments, questions, and suggestions are quite welcome. 


  • cog, mtaylor, gjdale and 7 others like this

Current build: US Revenue Cutter "Ranger", Corel, 1:64

 

Previous builds:

Naval: 18th century longboat, Model Shipways, 1:48; Naval gun kits from Model Shipways; Bounty launch, Model Shipways, 1:16

Missouri River craft: Missouri River steamboat Bertrand, scratchbuilt in 1:87;  Lewis & Clark barge, scratchbuilt in 1:48;
Missouri River keelboat, scratchbuilt in 1:87; Missouri River steamboat Far West, scratchbuilt in 1:87


#10
cog

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Another chair taken. I like the story behind the build, and I'm intregued by this type of vessels


Edited by cog, 25 April 2015 - 08:11 PM.

Carl

Builds
Kit Wood
Dolphyn [Corel] 1:68, Higaki Kaisen [Woody Joe] 1:72
Kit Plastic

IJN Musashi [Tamiya] 1:350

 

Finished builds

Scratch: Sea Witch 1:109


#11
Jim Lad

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This looks a very interesting build.  Surely without an external keel these ships had some sort of internal keelson and stringers, which will solve your framing lay-out problems.

 

John



#12
Cathead

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Surely without an external keel these ships had some sort of internal keelson and stringers, which will solve your framing lay-out problems.

 

 

From the second-to-last paragraph: As for how to assemble all these, my current plan is to make a building board with parallel grooves at the spacing & depth of the hull frames. I can then set all the frames into this pattern while attaching them as on the prototype, with a variety of internal stringers and a strong keelson. This, incidentally, is another reason to use my slightly over-sized stock: it’s the same width as my table saw’s dado, making this process very convenient.

 

The trick is, using just internal stringers and keelsons, the hull has to be assembled right side up. I've only done upside-down hulls on a mold, where it's easier because you fix the keel in place and attach everything else to it. I haven't thought of a way to fix an internal keelson in place in the same way; am I missing something?


  • cog and matt.s.s. like this

Current build: US Revenue Cutter "Ranger", Corel, 1:64

 

Previous builds:

Naval: 18th century longboat, Model Shipways, 1:48; Naval gun kits from Model Shipways; Bounty launch, Model Shipways, 1:16

Missouri River craft: Missouri River steamboat Bertrand, scratchbuilt in 1:87;  Lewis & Clark barge, scratchbuilt in 1:48;
Missouri River keelboat, scratchbuilt in 1:87; Missouri River steamboat Far West, scratchbuilt in 1:87


#13
Jim Lad

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As the floors are flat, I think I'd be inclined to line the frames up on a base board and hold them in place with small spacer blocks; then it would be simply a matter of fixing the internal framing to them.  You'd obviously need to be careful about the positioning of the frames, but once that was done, the rest should (hopefully) fall into place.

 

John


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#14
Cathead

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Well, John, that's pretty much what I proposed by making my building board (see quote above), except I thought that parallel dados in the board would hold the frames more consistently than lots of spacer blocks. Am I missing something?


  • Chuck Seiler likes this

Current build: US Revenue Cutter "Ranger", Corel, 1:64

 

Previous builds:

Naval: 18th century longboat, Model Shipways, 1:48; Naval gun kits from Model Shipways; Bounty launch, Model Shipways, 1:16

Missouri River craft: Missouri River steamboat Bertrand, scratchbuilt in 1:87;  Lewis & Clark barge, scratchbuilt in 1:48;
Missouri River keelboat, scratchbuilt in 1:87; Missouri River steamboat Far West, scratchbuilt in 1:87


#15
Jim Lad

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Not at all, mate.  Carefully cut dado should work well.

 

John


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#16
Canute

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Cathead, check out Gene Bodnar's build of USS Cairo, an ACW brown water ship, here: http://www.modelship...wtopic.php?5406

Another almost flat bottom (well, it does have a keel) build of a War of 1812 row galley, with an interesting build gantry idea: http://www.modelship...wtopic.php?4335


  • matt.s.s. and Cathead like this

Ken

 

Started: MS Bounty Longboat,

On Hold:  Heinkel USS Choctaw paper

Down the road: Shipyard HMC Alert 1/96 paper, Mamoli Constitution Cross, MS USN Picket Boat #1

Scratchbuild: Echo Cross Section

 

Member Nautical Research Guild


#17
dgbot

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This should prove to be an interesting build making the hull the way you intend should prove to be a learning experience for all.

David B


Edited by dgbot, 26 April 2015 - 03:26 AM.

Work in progress USS Maine in cardstock.http://modelshipworl...rd/#entry220003

Completed Blockade runner Teazer http://modelshipworl...ck/#entry175967

Completed  The Monitor Lehigh http://modelshipworl...el/#entry203680

Completed Kingston Class MCVD http://modelshipworl...gs-in-progress/

 


#18
Cap'n'Bob

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I'm glad to see a Missouri riverboat being built.  I've been fascinated by the sternwheelers for years and prefer the workboats of the Missouri to the fancy boats of the Mississippi. The first ship model I built was a scratch build of the Shawnee, A pool boat at the Pittsburg locks.   She was built at the Howard ship yard ( the oldest continually operating shipyard in the country) in southern Indiana on the Ohio. I followed the drawing in the book by Alan Bates and I also added all the framing in the hull.  So I'll be following your build with much enjoyment.

 

Bob


  • tarbrush, Chuck Seiler, Omega1234 and 1 other like this

Every build is a learning experience.

 

Current build:  Two Edwardian launches

 

Completed builds:  US Coast Guard Pequot   Friendship-sloop,  Schooner Lettie-G.-Howard,   Spray,   Grand-Banks-dory

                                                a gaff rigged yawl,  HOGA (YT-146),  Int'l Dragon Class II

 

In the Gallary:   Catboat,   International-Dragon-Class,   Spray


#19
Cathead

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Ken,

 

Those are great links, thanks. I'm intrigued by the rod-based building jig and may tinker with that. 

 

The Cairo link is particularly fun to find, as I visited that myself in Vicksburg a few years ago and have some nice photos. Also on the brown-water front, we visited Shiloh this spring and enjoyed standing on the river bluffs there imagining Grant's steamboat fleet filling the river and desperately shelling the shore to disrupt the Confederate advance. Have you been there?

 

Everyone else,

 

Thanks for your support and interest! I fully expect to rely on your expertise to help figure out some of the fiddly bits on this build. I'm still working through some of the implications of the plans and will likely have a few questions to group-source before I proceed much farther. For example, the plans show twice as many floors as futtocks, and I can't decide whether this is accurate or whether half the futtocks are left out for some reason. Some other riverboats (like the Cairo Ken linked to above) are framed so closely they're nearly solid. Yet if I do that here, you won't be able to see into the hull much to observe the interior framing. Will update more when I have a chance to take photos and lay out the design questions more visually, rather than in a text dump.


  • cog, mtaylor, Omega1234 and 2 others like this

Current build: US Revenue Cutter "Ranger", Corel, 1:64

 

Previous builds:

Naval: 18th century longboat, Model Shipways, 1:48; Naval gun kits from Model Shipways; Bounty launch, Model Shipways, 1:16

Missouri River craft: Missouri River steamboat Bertrand, scratchbuilt in 1:87;  Lewis & Clark barge, scratchbuilt in 1:48;
Missouri River keelboat, scratchbuilt in 1:87; Missouri River steamboat Far West, scratchbuilt in 1:87


#20
Canute

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Cathead, thanks. All my ACW in-person viewing has been in PA, MD, VA & NC. Need to check out the West.

 

I would think that since Cairo was built as an ironclad from the keel up and meant to be used occasionally as a ram, the hull was over braced, with all the extra frames. For a transport, I'd surmise the frames were much further apart.


  • cog, mtaylor, Omega1234 and 1 other like this

Ken

 

Started: MS Bounty Longboat,

On Hold:  Heinkel USS Choctaw paper

Down the road: Shipyard HMC Alert 1/96 paper, Mamoli Constitution Cross, MS USN Picket Boat #1

Scratchbuild: Echo Cross Section

 

Member Nautical Research Guild





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