Search the Community
Showing results for tags 'missouri river'.
Found 2 results
The Arabia as envisioned by artist Gary Lucy; used with permission of the Arabia Steamboat Museum As a resident of rural Missouri, not far from its eponymous river, I've long been fascinated by the less-well-known steamboats that worked the “Big Muddy” from the river’s mouth at St. Louis all the way to the head of navigation at Fort Benton, Montana, an astounding 2,300 river miles. Most modern impressions of interior American steamboats are of the large, highly-decorated “floating wedding cake” craft of the lower Mississippi River, which represent a small fraction of the full diversity of steamboat design and use. Those craft are, to my eye, too gaudy by far, the equivalent of overbuilt Disney cruise liners; I don’t care for them, and I really don't care for the highly inaccurate and toylike models that most kits claim represent American riverboats. I prefer the smaller, leaner steamboats of the upper rivers, those designed to risk the rocky ledges of the Ohio River (such as the Chaperon) or fight their way up the narrow, shallow, ever-changing treacherous channels of the Missouri River. By the 1850s, their design had been nearly perfectly adapted to the unique conditions they faced, changing little for decades to come, until railroads finally cut them off at the knees. Two of the most well-known and well-documented steamboat wrecks from this period are the Bertrand (a sternwheeler that sank in 1865 and was rediscovered in 1968) and the Arabia (a sidewheeler that sank in 1856 and was rediscovered in 1988). Both boats now have excellent museums displaying their highly diverse and extraordinarily well-preserved cargo; the Bertrand at a wildlife refuge north of Omaha, Nebraska, and the Arabia at a museum in downtown Kansas City, Missouri. I began researching the Arabia in earnest in spring 2017, writing about and documenting my research and sources for information in a separate thread, but am now ready to begin building the actual model. The text above is copied and rearranged from that thread, but I felt it provided an important introduction to this project and so should be repeated for those who may not go back and read the research thread. Although I am far from a master modeler, this will be my third scratchbuilt Missouri River steamboat. I built a rudimentary version of the Far West when I first became interested in wooden ship modeling, and later tackled a fully-framed and interior-detailed version of the Bertrand. Both of those were built in 1:87, a comfortable scale for me as a former HO model railroader. However, for this project I wanted a new kind of challenge, so decided to build the Arabia in 1:64. The model will be around 32 inches (81 cm) long, allowing for more detail to be added overall. At the same time, though, I've decided not to recreate a fully-framed hull and interior as I did with Bertrand, for several reasons. First, that was a lot of work and material and would be even more expensive at 1:64, and I've already done that style now. Second, creating a framed model of Arabia would be both redundant and speculative; the museum preserves her stern intact for anyone to see, while the rest of the hull wasn't well-documented by the salvage team, so I'd be guessing more than I did with Bertrand (which was meticulously documented by an archeological team). Third, I just like the idea of a complete exterior model this time, trading a bit less interior detail for more focus on the overall appearance and higher detail allowed by the larger scale. Basically, this is just what I feel like doing this time, and doing a project the way you want to is part of what makes it engaging. Although my initial plan was to develop a full set of blueprints for this project, that effort has stalled. It just isn't working for me to spend that much time on a computer, which I already do professionally as a freelance science editor. I'd rather spend my downtime working with wood than with pixels. So I stopped after developing a basic outline of the project and will just dive in, holding the design in my head and in various rough sketches and notes. This is, in fact, an authentic way to proceed, as riverboats in this era weren't built from printed blueprints either (one reason few construction records exist) but were simply laid out and built by artisans on the frontier shores of the Upper Ohio River. So any mistakes or quirks I may build into my Arabia as I proceed from the seat of my pants will be, at worst, a tribute to the real vessel's construction. Above are my loose outlines of her design. The real Arabia was about 170' long and 30' wide (hull, not including the wheels) and drew about 5'. And the sketches from which I'm getting started. There is no definitive information on the shape of her hull, other than the stern-most portion, which I've based on photos and measurements I took at the museum. So for the rest I've adapted a representative hull profile for the era from Alan Bates' The Western River Steamboat Cyclopoedium. The wheel and its supporting cylinder timbers are drawn directly from measurements I took at the museum. Centered within these drawings is the central internal bulkhead/keel I've laid out. These riverboats didn't have external keels the way normal ships did; their bottoms were generally perfectly flat with a stronger internal keelson instead. In this case, I'll be laying out horizontal bulkheads against this longitudinal one, just like a regular plank-on-bulkhead build. Hopefully now that I've laid the keel, so to speak, I can keep progress coming steadily. Thanks for reading, and for offering any ideas, suggestions, and criticisms that come to mind. I'd sure appreciate it if anyone points out concerns or problems that I can either explain or correct as I go along, as again I'm not a master modeler, just an ambitious one. Table of Contents Below I link to posts starting various portions of the build. This is intended to help folks looking for information on specific aspects of steamboats or their modelling, or just those wanting to catch up on a certain section. I'll try to keep this updated as I go along. Framing the hull Guards and main deck framing Planking the hull Cylinder timbers & engines Planking the main deck Paddle wheels Boilers Main staircase & chimney breechings Framing the boiler deck & superstructure design Boiler pumps & other main deck details
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. 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). 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). 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: 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. 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.