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Steamboat Arabia 1856 by Cathead - FINISHED - Scale 1:64 - sidewheel riverboat from the Missouri River, USA


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I've had nothing with bad luck with the MS boats.  I hope you have better luck.   You might look at the Master Korabel boats.  They're at 1:72 if I remember right and largest one with a bit of modifying might just work for you.  

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  • 2 weeks later...

Well, the boats are done; you can read about that journey at the separate build log. Suffice it to say I'll never buy those kits again, but I got a workable result that looks good enough on the Arabia. They're not quite an authentic Ohio River yawl, but they're closer than a bluff-bowed ship's boat or a two-ended whaleboat. Here's one installed with its tie-downs; the davits will be added soon.

 

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In order to letter the port wheel housing, I designed a stencil layout and had a friend's tech-savvy teenager make it on a 3D printer. This was a cool mini project and a fun way to involve someone else in the build. Here's the stencil taped on and ready for use:

 

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I did some tests first on scrap wood. My initial plan was to use paint, but I couldn't get it to look right, so tried colored pencils and loved the result. So here's the hand-colored final version with red letters and black shading:

 

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I think I could have made the lettering a bit larger, it looks too small on the final model although it seemed right during the design process. But I love the way the colored pencil gives an inherently weathered look.

 

Finally, I settled on a stand design after some experiementation. I liked the idea of a sediment-filled base to look like the river bottom, but none of my attempts at sieving natural sediment produced something that looked right to my picky geologist's eye. So I went back to the basic wooden stand idea, based on the one Kurt used for his Chaperon, and came up with what I think is a nice result. This is a Eastern Red Cedar base with Walnut trim, all wood harvested and milled here on-farm. She's now screwed onto the base, awaiting the final details, mostly rigging the davits and grasshopper spars. Really getting close now.

 

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4 hours ago, Cathead said:

But I love the way the colored pencil gives an inherently weathered look.

Yes it worked very well, another idea to tuck away for later. She is looking very good.

 

On a different point - I assume these vessels needed to be reasonably manoeuvrable. But with a fairly shallow draught (and rudder) I wonder how they achieved it. Could the paddle wheels turn at different speeds? 

 

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Keith, great question, and you're correct. Here's the engine layout from way back in this build:

 

Arabia_7z.jpg

Each wheel has its own engine, which could be controlled independently. For really sharp turns, one could even be reversed while the other stayed in forward, almost spinning the vessel in place.

 

This was a major advantage of sidewheelers over sternwheelers. On the other hand, the paddlewheels were a lot more exposed on sidewheelers, so took more damage from debris (sternwheeler hulls were more likely to deflect debris before it reached the paddles). Sidewheels were also less effective at backing the vessels off sandbars (when stern wheels were reversed, they sent a strong wash of water under the hull, helping free it). For these and other reasons, sternwheelers became more common on upper rivers or anywhere the channel was narrow and/or shallow. So it's especially impressive that Arabia made it deep into Montana since its design wasn't optimal for those conditions.

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Eric, a lovely trip on the making of Arabia. Lots of learning done, enjoyed every bit of it. Thanks for sharing and the journey

 

Have you thought about the material used to make dioramas for your sediment base? Like pigments, and such. That might just give the result you are looking for. Try "mud diorama" in google, gives some fascinating possibilities

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Thanks Carl, as a former model railroader I definitely considered ordering some "ballast" or other scenic material to use instead as then I could control the particle size, shape, and color. But I ended up liking the natural wood look, especially as all the wood comes from my property. Perhaps I'll make a sediment base for a future model.

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You all know she's not done yet, right? Lots of rigging still to go. Here's yesterday's progress on the port side:

 

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I'm making all the rigging temporary until it's all done. Too much interaction between parts to trust myself to glue in knots until everything is balanced. Plus I've already found two cases where my original plan was wrong and needed to be amended. So there's going to be a forest of clothespins hanging off her for a while.

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Sharp eyes might have noticed I added a bell to the front of the hurricane deck, with a line run back to the pilothouse.

 

Stick with me, we're getting there. Thanks for all the support, it means a great deal as this 2 year 8 month project rolls on.

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19 hours ago, Cathead said:

Each wheel has its own engine, which could be controlled independently

I should have remembered that. But it does beg the question how she coped when one engine was being maintained. Short circular trips probably.

Rigging looking like it will make for some interesting posts - looking forward to watching it develop.

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The starboard rigging went a lot faster this morning, likely because I'd spent much of yesterday figuring out how to do it on the port side, whereas this time I just had to copy what I'd done before. I feel like photos really struggle to capture rigging because the lines are so thin and the three-dimensional framework doesn't translate well into a flat photo.

 

Overhead view of the spar rigging. Two lines lead to the tip of each spar, controlling how it moves around the deck:

 

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Here's another view of this:

 

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The loose blocks hanging off the spars are for rigging the grasshopper poles and for general cargo use. These will be rigged next.

 

Starboard boat rigging:

 

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All of this is still loose (hence all the dangling weights). I think I have it the way I want it, meaning I can start gluing in knots, but likely not until tonight or later as I have other things to do this afternoon. So here's your chance to comment if something doesn't look right!

 

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Eric, I take it that the grasshopper poles are going to be rigged in the ready position? You have some line on the bow pole(term ?) that would make it difficult to stow them (grasshopper poles ) on that cross brace. You would have to poke the end of the grasshopper between the line and the bow pole. Just wondering, your model looks great.

Steve

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Steve, good eye and good question. Yes, I want them rigged vertically as if she's navigating in the middle-upper Missouri and needs them at a moment's notice. I think you're referring to the jackstaff (tall pole on the bow), and I agree that the rigging lines I have there there would get in the way of resting the grasshopper poles on those jackstaff crosspieces. But it seems that different boats stored their poles in different ways. Based on past discussions in this thread, the Ben Campbell seems to have rested them horizontally on crosspieces on the jackstaff, like this:

 

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In this approach, you're right that any rigging on the jackstaff would get in the way. But the Mary McDonald didn't have a cross-wise brace on the jackstaff and had rigging lines running along it. Instead, she seemed to simply tilt the grasshopper poles back a bit and rest their ends on the deck. See below:

 

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I'm not sure what she did if/when she needed to use the spars as loading cranes, maybe just set the grasshopper poles on the deck or something, or maybe they just swung out with the spar. But as I'm using the Mary McDonald as my closest reference, and I want the grasshoppers displayed deployed, I went with this arrangement.

 

One difference between these arrangements might be the area of operations. The higher up the Missouri you go, the less likely you're going to be handling heavy cargo with the spars and the more likely you're going to need the grasshoppers. In addition, the higher winds and less cover mean you need more rigging to support things like the jackstaff. So to me, the Mary McDonald looks like she's set up to be an upper-river boat emphasizing regular use of the grasshoppers, while the Campbell looks like it's mostly operating on the lower river and has grasshoppers stowed for occasional use. I want my Arabia to look more like the former, so will emphasize grasshoppers at the ready. This is all just my theory, but it seems plausible to me.

 

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4 hours ago, Cathead said:

Starboard boat rigging:

 

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Eric,

 

Beautiful job on the work boats, the rigging is progressing at breakneck speed.

 

Quick question. I ran into the dilemma on my Chaperon build with how the davits were attached at the bottom. I studies numerous photographs of how they were set up, but none were close enough to get a good idea on them. Finally I ended up just rounding the end of the davit and making a block with a concave socket for the rounded davit end to pivot in. In looking at your photograph above, is this what you did? I tried zooming in a bit but still couldn't make out how it was done.

 

By the way, love the base. The western red cedar looks great with the colors of the boat and the darker border adds a nice contrast to it all.

 

-Brian

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Brian, that is indeed what I simulated, except I didn't make a full socket. They're actually mounted on wire pins inserted into the block below. I wouldn't be surprised if they were actually on hinges (to minimize sideways movement) but I don't know, wasn't sure how to simulate that accurately, and this was good enough for my purposes. I wanted them to move so I could adjust them to a final tension, so needed something flexible (not just glued in at a certain angle). As you said, it's really hard to figure out and I just went with modeller's license on this one.

 

Technically the base wood is eastern red cedar, which is really a juniper species rather than a proper cedar. It's everywhere here and you must have a bunch in your neck of the woods, too. The base woods are finished with wood oil, and I agree I really like how the cedar color complements the red/brown tones of the model. The swirling coarse grain and knots evoke river water, too, at least I think so.

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Eric,

 

 Thank you for steering me in the right direction. I don't know where my mind was when I said western red cedar. I guess I was thinking Western Rivers and got turned in the wrong direction. My compass may need a calibration.

 

You are also correct about the the Cedar/Juniper trees out here. I would say that about one third of my property is covered with them (I'd say at least a couple thousand of them). One of these days I would like to get a small sawmill and start harvesting some for projects around the the house. Too may other projects right now though.

 

As for the davits, the sockets seemed like a viable design. I figured that when lifting the boats, the deck hands would pull the ropes at an angle away from the bow and stern of the boats. The weight of the boats would be used to counter the angle of the ropes thus keeping the davits pretty well balanced in their sockets. Sounds good on paper anyway. But like you said, "modelers license" was applied in this case..

 

-Brian

 

 

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Starboard rigging is done. This took quite a while, as there were so many details to work out regarding just how some of the lines should be run. I also had to make a lot of little rope coils.

 

Final arrangement of starboard yawl:

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Final arrangement of starboard spar and grasshopper pole:

 

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Below is a diagram showing how all the lines work. I thought this might be of interest since (a) they’re hard to follow in photos and (b) it might not be obvious to many folks. I can’t promise this arrangement is “right”, but it’s based on looking at lots of photos and working out for myself what might make sense operationally. Anyway, as already determined, there was no one way of doing almost anything on these boats, so there’s a lot of modeler’s discretion. Note that I added the capstan as well, which would be needed to operate many of these lines.

 

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  • Green: Lines controlling the spar/boom. Adjusting these allows this to be raised, lowered, or swung. One line goes from the tip of the spar to each side of the superstructure, crossing in the middle. Note that the port spar isn’t fully rigged yet, so ignore the lines leading there as they’re not tightened or finalized.
  • Red: Lines for a cargo hoist. Lower end is a dangling block with a cargo hook, currently hooked into a ring on the post closer to the central stairway. Took this idea from a drawing of the Far West and the previous discussion regarding having a way to move regular heavy loads around. This runs up to a block hung from the spar, then down to the cleat near the firewood pile. Can be run over to the capstan if needed.
  • Yellow: Lines suspending the grasshopper pole from the regular spar. These let the grasshopper pole be raised or lowered while dangling from the spar. Runs from a cleat on the deck through several blocks. Should be used with the capstan.
  • Blue: Lines allowing the boat to be hoisted over a bar using the grasshopper pole. Currently rigged from the capstan through a block on the deck, then up to the top of the grasshopper pole. When this is tightened, the whole boat can be lifted on that pole.

 

I have this rigged with the grasshopper ready to deploy, hanging from the side. The lower end could be roped or chained in place; I liked the look of a chain. I found a note in Steamboats on the Western Rivers stating that the poles were "usually carried in an upright position on the main deck at either side just forward of the upper works", as done here.

 

Using the grasshopper system would involve the following steps. It's my impression that both grasshoppers were used simultaneously, presumably by wrapping both lines around the capstan, but I'm not 100% sure of this.

  1. Swing the pole(s) over the side (green lines) if not already dangling there, as it is here
  2. Let pole(s) drop to river bottom (Ioosen yellow lines), presumably not very far if the bow is grounded on a sandbar
  3. Tighten blue lines using capstan. This hauls the whole bow upward since the pole(s) is(are) jammed into the river bottom
  4. Put engines on full forward, forcing the boat forward in a lurching up, sideways, down motion, like someone swinging over the top of crutches.
  5. Repeat as necessary until far enough over the bar that the engines can drive the boat forward. A given cycle might only move the boat forward a few feet and need to be repeated many times to get over a bar.
  6. Stow the pole(s) again by reversing steps 3-1.

 

Steamboat hulls had to be very flexible for this to work; a hard keel like that on a sailing ship would snap during this operation, but the long steamboat hull could flex in multiple directions like a snake. This was one purpose of the iron hog chains running along and across the hull; these braced the hull and allowed for such flexing.

 

Steamboats on the Western Rivers also notes that one boat in 1867 had to set spars 132 times on a downriver voyage from Montana to Missouri, with the crew in a state of near-mutiny by the end. At least the Arabia had a steam capstan; before this development grasshoppering involved lots of crew turning the capstan by hand, rather dangerous given the huge tension on the lines.

 

 

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Crikey, Eric, you've certainly come a long way since I last looked in.  Can't wait to see the completed model.

 

Thanks very much for your detailed explanation of the use of the grasshopper poles. Such arrangements weren't used on our river boats, so I didn't have a clue about them.

 

John

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Wonderful work on the Arabia Eric.  She's is looking very nice and I think your decision on the support base was a good one as the simple design keeps the viewer focused on the model itself.  I love all the cargo details and they provide an authentic atmosphere.  As John has stated above, I too appreciate your last post detailing the workings of the grasshopper poles.  I knew how they worked in theory, but couldn't envision how it was actually done.

 

Your log has been such an interesting read into the history of these riverboats.  I had no idea how many variations on the basic design were used for different river conditions - stern vs sidewheel and so on.  It's the history and story behind any given craft that brings a model of it to life.

 

Looking forward to the final photo shoot. 

 

Gary

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Port rigging is done:

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Bow view:

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I added a few final details. For example, there should be a series of posts hung from the sides to protect the vessel. These are similar in function to the tires commonly used by more modern tugs and other vessels. It was common on more busy waterfronts (like St. Louis) for steamboats to line up shoulder-to-shoulder, making these barriers necessary. Photos show a variety of setups, from posts integrated into the hull to those hung loosely from lines. I opted for the latter; you can see the lines tied off to structural posts if you look closely. A spot of glue at the lower end of each post holds it in place as these aren't dense enough to hang right on their own.

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For example, here's a view of the St. Louis levee in 1852 from the Steamboat Times website:

 

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For the final detail, I added a flagpole and flag to the sternmost part of the hurricane deck, rigging it using a small block. This is the 31-star flag used from 1851 to 1858, following the admission of California to the Union. As Arabia was built in 1853 and sank in 1856, the choice of flag was clear. I printed it on bond paper as a single front-and-back image that could be folded over itself with glue between. I did this with a line carefully inserted along the seam, then rubbed some grey pastel on to dull the paper. I think it has a good texture, and between the weight of the paper and the glue, it takes and holds a decent wavy bend. Notice MSW on the laptop in my home office, set in the opposite corner of our small living room from my workbench.

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Here's the contemporary drawing I based the flagpole on, from the UW steamboat photo database:

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Those are all the final details, save one: I want to redo the lettering on the wheelhouse. Something had been bugging me about it, and I finally realized that it came out smaller than I intended. I compared the 3D-printed stencil with my initial paper test print and found that the stencil was quite a bit smaller than it was supposed to be. Can't believe I didn't notice up front. Somehow the design shrank in the transfer from my graphics program to the file used for printing. So I contacted the neighbor's teen again and he's going to ensure that the final design is scaled properly before printing a new one. So once I get my hands on that, I'll paint over the original lettering and redo it. Then she'll be done.

 

This might take until next week, so not sure when I'll do a final photo shoot. I want to do one here under the right outdoor lighting conditions (not too sunny) and I also want to take a walkaround video. My final goal is to take the model down to the Missouri River and do a photo shoot with her natural habitat in the background. Also not sure when I'll get to that; the best place to do this is at a conservation area about 45 minutes from me. Stay tuned just a little bit longer. Thanks for all your support, comments, and likes.

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Keith, I do have my next project selected, but am keeping it under wraps for now until I can truly declare this one done. Some may be disappointed to learn that it is not another riverboat; after 2.5 years of this complex scratchbuild, and under the higher level of stress I'm currently under for various reasons, I needed something simpler that someone else wrote directions for. Will reveal once I'm ready. I think it'll be fun. In the meantime, anyone looking for a new riverboat scratchbuild should head on over to Brian's just-started USS Cairo, which promises to be fascinating.

 

John, that sounds really cool and I'd love to follow along. When you get started, feel free to drop a note in here so we can all be in on it from the beginning.

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