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Colour of riverboat hulls?


vossy
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Hi all. I have very nearly finished the second planking of the Sergal Mississippi Riverboat. I understand that this model isn't a depiction of a real vessel, but I bought it because I fell in love with the box art really. Having said that, whilst the box art depicts her with a varnished hull, having looked at my Way's Packet Directory, and read some comments from other riverboat logs, am I correct in saying that most hulls would have indeed been painted?

 

If so, what colour would they most likely be? Would they be like many vessels with a two tone, above and below waterline scheme? Any advice greatly appreciated.

 

Chris

 

 

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Chris:

Riverboats were painted.  A lot of white paint was used for the superstructure and hulls but many hulls were black.  The hull is hardly visible on most riverboats so this isn't very important - pick what you want.  Decks were commonly red, brown and some green.  The roofs were covered with tar paper so they were grayish black to black - the older the grayer.  There are some great riverboat builds here - do a search for "Chaperon by Blighty"  "Chaperon by Ron Grove" "City of Monroe by cborgm" "Steamboats and other river craft - a general discussion" andChaperon Sternwheeler Steamer 1894 by Mike Dowling

These build logs will show you colors used and discussions about colors.

Kurt

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Chris:

As far as I know it was just paint as many hulls were white.  I think white might have been used more than black actually.

 

I have never actually read anything about hulls or decks being caulked.  All sources I have read say the hulls were fitted with smooth tight joints between the planks as well as the decks.  Decks did have camber for water run off - which would only be rain as riverboats were not likely to get their decks wet otherwise in the protected rivers.

 

You have my curiosity aroused and I will be contacting some nautical archaeologists about this issue of caulking.

 

Kurt

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Over lunch I skimmed through all my riverboat references and could not find a single reference to caulking or any other treatment of the seams between deck planking on American riverboats. Even the archeological report on the Bertrand didn't say anything about this, and they documented the location and dimensions of every single plank on the main deck.

 

It's an interesting question. As Kurt notes, the only real threat would be rain, and most of the main and boiler deck areas were covered by higher decks eventually capped with tarpaper, such that the only real deck area clearly exposed to the weather without tarpaper or other covering would be the bow area and the outer edges of the main deck. The guards (if present) certainly wouldn't need caulking as they didn't cover any hull area. So my guess would be that caulking either wasn't used or was done only in the bow area of the main deck.

 

On the other hand, given the potential intensity of rainstorms in the Mississippi Basin, a riverboat deck could easily be awash in minutes from driving, blowing rain, and many boats had open cargo areas on the main deck with minimal superstructure to block wind-driven rain. So it's not hard to imagine a thunderstorm dropping multiple inches of rain in short order that could blow/leak down into the hold, causing potential problems for cargo stored there. But my guess that this just wasn't enough of a problem to warrant caulking; a competent crew would simply not store any water-sensitive cargo far forward in the hull (the only place really potentially prone to meaningful leaks from above) or use basic tarpaulins as necessary. I'm interested to know what Kurt finds out from his sources.

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Eric:

I went over the Bertrand info too with the same results.  Also checked info on the the Arabia and the original data on the Heroine - but as Glenn Greico explained several times in his build log Kevin Crissman was routinely digging up facts as Glenn built the model.  I also checked Glenn's build log and there is no evidence that he simulated caulking anyplace on the model and his models contain all the known details.  I will be surprised if any info comes back showing that caulking was used.

Kurt

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Kurt, Eric, thanks so much for your research on the topic. I don't think I will simulate deck caulking now. I am very new to Riverboats but I have very definitely fallen in love with them. I got the Way's Packet Directory for my birthday not long ago. What an undertaking that must have been to write!

 

Chris

 

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I'm pretty sure the boats were painted white on the bottom. The roof area on the wheelhouse decks were coered in heavily painted canvas. Roof walks were made to keep foot traffic off the decks. I researched and built a 1/48 model of a snake river boat run by the Union Pacific railway. I visited the Sicamous in Penticton BC which is a steel hulled boat but wood above. Also an acquaintance sent me numerous photos of the Klondike which is a retired Klondike river sternwheeler.Yu may want to google these ships to see how they were built in the latter days of sternwheelers.

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Hey Eric, your Bertrand is truly beautiful. Haven't actually read much of your log yet, just mainly looked at the pics. Am pretty sold on the idea of painting the hull white now. Bit of a shame to cover the lovely wood, but perhaps if I thin the paint a bit the grain will still show through somewhat. I really like your little people figures in your build. I have been trying to source some for this build in the right scale (1:50), and time period, but I haven't really had much luck. Any suggestions would be most appreciated.

Chris

 

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Chris,

 

1:50 is very close to the model railroad O scale (1:48), for which there are a variety of figures available. If you like for "old-time" or "western" style figures, you'll be in roughly the right time period (mid-late 1800s). Here's one example I found with a quick search. Just be careful about European brands like Preiser, their prototypes tend to be European and you could get some very strange uniforms and styles for a riverboat on the American frontier.

 

As for color, I definitely feel that white is the correct choice. It was by far the most common color and thus will "feel" authentic. As you suggest, shoot for a thin coat of paint that lets the planking show through; it would have been visible on the real thing. You really can't go wrong with a white hull and superstructure, dull red/brown main deck and wheel(s), and dark grey/black tarpaper covering on the exposed upper decks.

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Eric, those are exactly the sort of figures I am looking for, however these appear to be in HO scale, which if I'm correct is a lot bigger than O scale??? If this is the case I reckon these maybe too large. Certainly O scale at 1:48 would be acceptable, but not sure about HO scale.

 

Chris

 

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Oops, you're right. I searched for O scale figures and didn't double-check that Google returned the right scale. HO is actually about half the size (hence Half-O scale), at 1:87, so those would actually be midgets. But here's an example that should work. Overall, your best best is still to search for model railroad figures with a western, old-time, or steam-era theme, making sure they're American or at least not blatantly European. The company I linked to there, Walthers, is about the biggest retailer of model railroad products in the US and a good starting point for a search. I have no idea if/how they ship overseas, but their catalogue will at least give you a sense of what's out there.

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