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Cathead

Steamboats and other rivercraft - general discussion

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Note: I altered the title and topic of this post later on, to be more inclusive of rivercraft from all parts of the world. I'd started it as a topic on river craft of western American rivers in the nineteenth century, because that's what I know most about and what most of the models here seem to be of. But the burst of interest in other regions and periods led me to think it'd be best to open this up to a broader set of interests. Below is my original starting post.

 

Many unique and interesting watercraft developed along the interior and western rivers of the United States, especially the Mississippi River system and its major components such as the Ohio, Missouri, Arkansas, and Red rivers. The most recent issue of the Nautical Research Journal (spring 2016) has several good articles about early, unpowered craft on these rivers, like the keelboats, flatboats, and barges that were poled/rowed/sailed up the rivers and floated down again. Once steam power developed in the 1830s, a unique class of steamboats developed along these river systems.

 

There seem to be a number of folks with an interest in western river craft on MSW, judging from the interest in recent projects like my own sternwheeler Bertrand (1865), ggrieco's sidewheeler Heroine (1838), gerhardvienna's USS Cairo (1862), chborgm's Mississippi riverboat (1870), and so on. It's easy for general questions and discussions to take over such build logs, so I thought perhaps we should have a discussion/question forum for this topic in general. Perhaps it'll take root, perhaps not. I'll kick off with two topics.

 

One, I was delighted to see the articles on keelboats and such in the latest NRJ, as a few years ago I build models of a Missouri River keelboat and Lewis & Clark's barge when I was first getting into maritime modelling. As a Missouri resident and river buff, I never expected to see my inland maritime empire so prominently featured. Here are the models I built based on the research I was able to do from home:

 

post-17244-0-25795700-1462026239_thumb.jpg

 

post-17244-0-32820700-1462026274_thumb.jpg

 

I thought some folks who read the NRJ articles might be interested in seeing models of the subject matter.

 

Two, although steamboat wrecks were exceedingly common in western US rivers, very few boats have ever been found, recovered, and studied. Thus, there was some great news recently when the team that excavated the Arabia (and displayed its cargo in a beautiful museum in downtown Kansas City, Missouri) announced its discovery of the steamboat Malta in central Missouri. The town of Malta was named for the boat, as the wreck was well-known when it happened in 1841, but the location was long-lost as the river's course shifted dramatically over time and left the wreck buried somewhere beneath miles of farm fields, as was the fate for many such wrecks. Here's a news story about the discovery; this should be especially exciting because we have almost no information about early steamboats from the 1830s and 40s; the Heroine is a rare exception. If this team does end up excavating Malta, we'll have a lot more information about this period. I drive through the town of Malta whenever I go to Kansas City, and it's really neat that its namesake craft has been found.

Edited by Cathead

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I've enjoyed what little research I've done on riverboats.  It seems that the Mississippi boats were mainly for passengers but carried cargo as well, whereas the Missouri boats were for cargo but carried passengers.  Was this true or is it just my imagination?

 

Bob

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Bob, good question. I'd say you have to drill down a bit deeper to answer, though as a very broad characterization you wouldn't be wrong. The lower Missouri (especially Omaha or Kansas City or St Louis) had a fair amount of passenger traffic and regular packet service. There was even service up a few of the larger tributaries, like the Osage and Gasconade. The upper river certainly focused on hauling freight to Montana and gold/furs back, with only primitive passenger accommodations.

 

We tend to see photos of the floating passenger palaces on the Mississippi, but they obscure the existence of lots of regular cargo/work boats, too, hauling cotton and other agricultural products downriver to New Orleans and lots of imports and other stuff back up. Then there's the question of what era we're talking about, which influences the question, too.

 

But, yeah,to me the "typical" Missouri River boat was essentially a pickup truck with cramped quarters while the "typical" Mississippi boat was a tricked-out SUV with some cargo space.

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But, yeah,to me the "typical" Missouri River boat was essentially a pickup truck with cramped quarters while the "typical" Mississippi boat was a tricked-out SUV with some cargo space.

 

That is how I've always felt.  I like the workboats.  One of my favorite pictures is of THEALKA.  I hope to build her someday.

 

Bob

 

post-513-0-14242900-1462032328_thumb.jpg

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Yeah, I agree, Bob. Much prefer the pickups to the palaces. There are a few obscure boats, like yours above, from the Osage and Gasconade rivers that would be really interesting scratch projects too. The oddballs are just so interesting!

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Hello Cathead

 

Most interested, I`ll stay tuned..........

 

There were also very interesting workboats in Austria, as the "Bollinger Bagger" wich is shown in the Vienna Technikal Museum, a model in 1:8 scale. http://www.technischesmuseum.at/object/modell-bollinger-bagger-baujahr-1839

Would be a good scratch built for me, but there are no plans, not even in the museum :(

Regards

Gehard

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Wow, Gerhard, that's a new one for me. Recently, reading a book on the Ottoman Empire, I found a maddeningly vague reference to the British army using steamboats to transport troops and supplies up and down the Tigris & Euphrates rivers during WWI. Would have loved to know more. I really only know anything about American vessels, and only so much about that. So much history, so little time.

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Great idea Cathead! And from the quick feedback already, it looks like you've opened a real can of worms - in a good way. I think there is going to be a lot of valuable info flooding in. Thanks!

 

Glenn

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And if you feel that you'd like to widen the discussion even further, Australia has a rich history of steam boating on our inland rivers - especially the Murray-Darling river system.

 

Here is an old photo of mine of the PS 'Adelaide'.  She was built in 1866 and was a working boat until 1958.  She is currently one of the preserved steamers at the Victorian town of Echuca.

 

John

 

post-5-0-95751400-1462050632_thumb.jpg

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Hey, John, I sure don't mind if folks want to talk about riverboat anything. I set this up the way I did, in part because US boats are all I know, and because it seemed to be the focus of models here right now. But it's neat to learn anything that anyone wants to share, and I hope I didn't offend anyone by making it US-centric. Your photo of the Adelaide shows a really neat craft that's noticeably different from anything in the US. Thanks for sharing!

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The vast majority of Australia's river boats were side wheeler tugs - i.e. they towed a string of barges which carried the cargo.  There were a few, but not many, passenger boats, and most of these were later additions to the river fleet as the original passengers - owners and workers of the scattered rural properties along the rivers, would 'camp' on the tugs while travelling to their destinations.

 

The photo below if of one of the Murray passenger boats; the 'Ruby', built in 1907 and now restored and running regular cruises on the river.

 

John

 

post-5-0-29533600-1462065882_thumb.jpg

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My thanks also for getting this thread going. I took some time off this winter from my Niagara project and started work on the MS Chaperon kit. Of course this got me looking at the builds going on for other steam boats and has really peaked my interest in the whole time period. It should be a natural since I live on the Mississippi river in Iowa and periodically see steam boat replica vessels cruising by. Looking forward to the discussions sure to follow.

 

Bob

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Hi Cathead, I have been thinking about attempting a scratch built riverboat. Your thread has me thinking a bit harder about how I can take a riverboat and put my twist on it...lol. Thanks again for the thread, will be watching...:)

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When it comes to riverboat tugs, there is the Eppleton Hall, now located in San Francisco. She was sailing from England to SF in  1969/70, and was (is still?) at repair works in the SF shipyard, as Theodore Miles from the SF Maritime National Park Library wrote to me via mail in 2014. He attached a photo from the ship to that mail, I`m allowed to show. Dont forget, the EH had no steering house, but an open steering stand! There are good plans for free at the LOC  http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/ca1508/

 

post-24068-0-22673900-1462099413_thumb.jpg

 

Regards

Gerhard

Edited by Gerhardvienna
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John, Kurt, or other moderators: given the immediate interest expressed in riverboats worldwide, should we just change the title of this topic to something like "Steamboats and rivercraft - general discussion"? I'd be happy to edit my opening post to make it less focused on the US if we all think it's better to have this topic broadened.

 

Keith & leclaire, welcome to the steamboat addiction! To the latter, at risk of self-promotion, check out my build log for Bertrand. If I can scratch-build a steamboat, then I suspect many others can as well.

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Hi Bob

 

Here is a link to one more photo of the Thealka, mybe you did not know it

 

Although it does not show much from the ship, I find it interesting.

 

Regards

Gerhard

 

Thanks Gerhard, It does show the benches on the upper deck. 

 

And some more history:

 

Thealka is an unincorporated community in Johnson County, Kentucky, United States. It was created by the North East Coal Company in 1906 and was originally called Muddy Branch. In 1911, it was renamed "Thealka" after the steamboat known by the same name. Both the community and the steamboat were named after John C.C. Mayo's wife, Alice Jane Mayo, who was given the nickname "Alka".

Thealka is in the 41240 ZIP Code Tabulation Area, which includes the nearby city of Paintsville.

 

Bob

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Cathead,

 

You can do it yourself.   Go to your very first post and hit "Edit".  Then at the next screen hit "Use Full Editor".  You can change the title there.

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Got a general question. How much wood does a paddle wheeler like the Herion use. 

 

I don't know about the Heroine but pertaining to later paddle wheel boats they did not use as much wood as much as you might think.  Years ago I read (don't remember where) the boats were built as light as possible in order to carry more cargo. The hull and decks were built of 3/4" thick boards, the walls on the main deck were 5/8" thick and the walls on each higher deck were reduced in thickness by 1/8".  Some of the wheel houses had walls as thin as 1/4".  So the riverboats were not built with the thick frames and planking of an ocean going boat.  Maybe that is why they were so easily sunk by running into snags. 

 

Bob

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I did a little homework to get a rough idea of the amount of wood a riverboat used.

I started with a cord of oak with 12 percent moisture

 

According to my MARKS Handbook a cord of wood is about worth 30,000,000 BTU

Also 1 Horsepower is equal to 2542. BTU per Hour

So a 500 hp engine would need 1,271,000 BTU per hour at 100% eff or 8,473,333 per hour at a 15% overall eff. (that’s from grate to output shaft) I have no idea if 500 hp is close, but with all the inefficient burning and heat loss through the pipes I don’t think the efficiency would be much more.

So if you need 8,473,333 btus/hr to get 500 developed HP then one cord of wood would last about 3.5 HRS  (30,000,000 / 8,473,333)hour 

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Got a general question. How much wood does a paddle wheeler like the Herion use.

 

 

I wasn't sure if you meant how much firewood was used to run a steamboat, or how much wood was used in construction, so here's my take on both. Good question either way.

 

Firewood (from Steamboats on the Western Rivers, Louis C Hunter): "Steamboats of the smaller classes burned 12 to 24 cords of wood every 24 hours, and the larger boats running at mid-century consumed anywhere from 50 to 75 cords per day."

 

Also, keep in mind that firewood quality varied tremendously along western American rivers, everything from well-cured oak with lots of heat potential to green cottonwood that was barely worth burning. Early boats (like Heroine) probably had to cut their own wood daily as they worked up-river (salvaging driftwood, dead trees, live when necessary), whereas woodlots began to proliferate along navigable rivers as traffic developed, meaning that boats could stop and buy wood daily instead, often finding better-quality stuff as woodcutters could stack and cure wood for later sale knowing that boats would be coming along. Especially on the Missouri River, this too changed along the route, as the river slowly left behind forested areas and extended into the mostly treeless plains and prairies of the Upper West.

 

Construction (from The Western River Steamboat, Adam Kane): "According to the 1880 census, the shipyard at Sewickley PA consumed 100,000 to 225,000 feet of oak, pine, and poplar in the construction of each steamboat hull between 180 and 260 feet long...this equates to approximately 20-50 old-growth trees per hull".

 

Early boats were built tough and heavy, simulating maritime construction, but builders quickly realized this wasn't the way to go about things, and starting building them lighter and lighter, using less oak and more pine & poplar, and using thinner pieces. American riverboats needed to be light and flexible, not hefty and rigid like an ocean-going ship.

Edited by Cathead

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Cathead thanks for the input.

 

The overall efficiency of the power cycle must have really been low. I consider just dry red Oak. Cottonwood green is 19. Million, and Pine is 17. compared to the 30 million for the red oak. On the efficiency, I checked my Mark Mechanical Engineers Handbook, and for engines of that era the engine alone efficiency was list around 10%. so when you consider the inefficiency of the fire and boiler heat lost through all the piping the overall eff must be in the low single numbers.

That easily give the number you gave.

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Keith, that's a really interesting model. Is there a specific prototype, or something whimsical you came up with?

 Hi Cathead, 

 

       It is just a fantasy tug, I usually start out by making some crazy hull and let the build process determine where I go.In this case I was already working on a hull then I saw your post, Eureka!  a steam tug,   lol.    Thanks for your comments. 

 

       Take care, Keith

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