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

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Here's my take... there's nothing definitive except the mule was tied to some sawmill equipment.  I doubt that the equipment would be at the very stern.  There's no photo evidence, just a painting.   Both types of sterns were used.  I think you should go with what you feel is "right" or at least pleasing to your eye.   If there's evidence that builder mainly did "stern type a" or "stern type b" that might help with the choice.


There's always the fallback plan... flip a coin.

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Something I read or maybe when I was at the museum and talked with the one brother that I seem to recall something about the mule being at the stern.  I think that at that point (the museum was just opened and a lot more has been put on display since) there might have even been some sort of placard or indication of the spot evidence of the mule was found.

I might be totally wrong but this is my recollection.




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The unanimous vote for a stepped stern means you'll all be pleased; even Mrs. Cathead voted for that option. I was initially leaning toward the other version, in part to maintain the appearance of the painting and in part because I'd seen more photographic examples of that design. But the more I thought about it, the more I liked the visual appeal of the more complex stern. Also, the Arabia was an upper-river boat where it would be exposed to high winds and shallow water, so even a little bit of lower-profile superstructure would have been beneficial. So here's the latest progress now that that hurdle has been cleared.



The final layout of the boiler deck. As I might have mentioned earlier, I decided to build this off-model as one integrated part for greater structural integrity and quality. I wasn't sure I could build a flat deck with complex curves in place on spindly vertical supports. This guarantees I've got a smooth and solid base for laying the next deck, and that the aft walls will be square between both decks. Technically this should have been built in two layers, thicker longitudinal beams below and lots of thinner lateral deck beams on top. But it'll be barely noticeable on the finished model and I'm a lot happier with the structure this way from a practical point of view.



I built a few walls off-model, too, again to ensure they were straight and square. The upper one is the aft-most wall (facing the last bit of the exposed stern) while the lower one is its counterpart in the other direction, right at the aft edge of the paddlewheel boxes. The idea is to separate all the lower superstructure aft of the wheels into an isolated cargo area, leaving the area between the wheels as engineering space. I have no idea if this is how they did it, but neither does anyone else. I need to put hinges and handles on these doors but I like how they came out.




Changing subject slightly, here's the updated boiler assembly, with the smaller chimneys attached. Looking closely, you'll also see that I solved the safety valve problem by adding a valve on each boiler and running a single line over to vent into the right-hand chimney. This matches a drawing by Alan Bates and I like how it looks.


In other news, we had a rare warm & sunny day on Valentine's Day, so Mrs. Cathead and I fired up her present (a new electric chainsaw) along with my regular gas saw and did some much-needed tree work. It's the first time I've been able to do such work since hurting my shoulder two months ago, and it felt really good. The joint was a bit sore that night, but it's recovered since. Sigh of relief.


Thanks for reading. Next up, I need to do anything else necessary before permanently attaching the engines, boilers, and other deck fittings and starting to build upward.

Edited by Cathead
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This past week has been one of the worst of my adult life. On Sunday one of our good friends was killed by a driver fleeing the scene of another accident; she was 37 and an absolutely wonderful person, the kind who made everyone around her better. Subsequently, a whole series of other things have piled on that I don't really feel like explaining. Nothing else as permanent as losing a friend, but collectively pretty crushing. Just one of those stretches that hits everyone sooner or later, I can think of only one other week like this in the last 15 and I had hoped never to repeat it.


Haven't had much focus for anything this week, work or recreational. I just did some basic filling-in of boiler deck beams because it didn't take any thought, mostly while listening to an audio book to take my mind even further away. Here's how she looks now; the center-aft areas where the beams are further apart are areas that won't be directly visible, so the beams are just there for support and I decided not to waste time and material filling the rest in.



Not sure when I'll get back to this. Probably reasonably soon, but I need to be able to focus to be sure I don't make any mistakes once I start doing permanent things. Luckily Mrs. Cathead and I are really close and draw a lot of strength from one another. Don't really mean to dump on you all, but sometimes semi-anonymous communities are easier to talk to than people in real life feeling the same losses and stresses. So thanks for reading, as always, and hopefully the next update will be better.

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I know the feeling, the most important reason I do not celebrate my birthday, I lost a close friend that day whom got shot for the keys of his second hand car. It's so useless, and, although, people say life goes on, which is true, it can be quite joyless, at least for a while. Besides, everyone needs time to learn how to give such pain a place, possibly without forgetting. Eventually you'll pick life up where you left off ... it doesn't make it any easier to deal with. My sincere condolences ... I wish you strenght and the wisdom to cope with it, and hope she shall remain in your memories as the person she was to you.

Edited by cog
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I'm so sorry to read of the news of your good friend. Some years ago a good friend and work colleague of mine was killed by a drunk driver, so have some idea of what you are going through as you process this senseless loss. My condolences. Please don't feel that you are 'dumping' on us, Eric.

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Mark, I know what you mean on the "like" button. I tend to think of it as a "support" button instead, in that it's ok to hit it when someone posts a mistake or a frustrating part of a build. I feel like it lets me say "I'm reading, I'm interested, and I support you in this project". Though I'm obviously not offended when someone doesn't "like" a post like the one above.


Carl, thanks for sharing that, what a particularly awful memory to have. It's so easy to be angry about stupid things like this. Sounds like this guy had been involved in hit-and-run aggressive driving incidents before and was still driving! Not only that, he was released from police custody and is now missing with an arrest warrant out. WTF?


druxey, as I said for Carl, thanks for sharing. Life is stupid and awful sometimes and it's the rare person who hasn't been through something like this sooner or later.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Once again, thanks for all the kind thoughts. We'll always miss our friend, but life does move forward overall. This build got put off even longer by a last-minute trip down to Arkansas to help out my in-laws for almost a week, but I finally made some progress on an important step: permanently installing the wheels and machinery:


I took some photos outside since the weather is finally sunny and pleasant. Our region has not gone above 65 °F (~18 °C) for 138 straight days, which is a record going back to the start of data in the late 1800s. Most of that has been cloud, too, our solar panels have been performing well below last year's production. We may finally stop this streak next weekend, but it's not certain.


Everything you see is now there to stay. Hopefully I didn't (or don't) screw anything up.


Sharp eyes may notice that I didn't include the metal u-bolts that hold each paddle bucket (the horizontal planks) to the frame. I experimented off-model with various ways to do these and couldn't get anything to look right. I finally decided they'd look better without them rather than with crappy, out-of-scale ones. Plus, it'd be a ton of detailed work since there are two u-bolts for every spoke, i.e. 6 per plank, 12 per spoke x 18 spokes just for one wheel. You get the idea. I decided that only experts would notice their absence.



Now that this is done, it's time to go back to working on the boiler deck and getting ready to install it. That'll change the look of things dramatically.


Thanks for reading, and apologies for the slow progress and intermittent updates.


EDIT: Forgot to mention, if you haven't seen this yet, Kurt Van Dahm now has his full series on building the sternwheeler Chaperon available on CD. I ordered a copy and it looks really neat, lots of good info and photos. Even if you're not planning on that specific kit, it's a good resource for learning about building steamboat models in general. I strongly recommend getting a copy.

Edited by Cathead
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Looking good Eric. Glad to see you back at the build.


FYI - I got my copy of the Chaperon CD from Kurt the other day and it is great. Really wish I had it from the beginning of my build. I agree, it would be a terrific resource for anyone building not only the Chaperon kit but any other river boat where a bit of authenticity is desired. Some of the other kits out there are pretty far off when it comes to accuracy.



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  • 3 weeks later...

I've quietly been working on developing the main deck superstructure in relation to the boiler deck. The downside to pre-building the latter is making sure everything fits just right when it's finally attached to the main deck. I've been doing a lot of measuring and test-fitting. Below are a few images of the current state. This is all test-fitted, not attached permanently (except the wheels and engines), but it gives a nice hint of where the model is going.




In the last image, you can see proof that this is a test fit, because the internal stanchions down the center-line are clamped to the boiler deck but don't reach the main deck (and are at a cock-eyed angle)! This is because the former was built flat but will flex with the slight sheer of the main deck once it's installed for good.


Before I attach all this permanently, I need to be sure I've got any details I want installed on the main deck. For example, I haven't built the various ancillary pumps that go with the boilers. I will also need to install some of the piping connecting the boilers with the engines.


The current plan is to deal with that stuff, take a deep breath and attach the boiler deck, then fill in the rest of the superstructure between the two decks. Progress has been and will continue to be slow. With spring here (compare the outdoors conditions in my last post, three weeks ago, with these) and there's a lot of competition for my non-work time between needs (orchard pruning, final firewood cutting and splitting, fence repair, etc.) and pleasure (spring birding, seasons underway for American soccer & baseball). Thanks for reading, and for patience with my slow progress and intermittent updates.

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Thanks, all.


John, Mrs. Cathead and I are very much on the bird-watcher end of the spectrum. We have only basic camera equipment that we rarely use to try to photograph birds (more often wildflowers and things that don't move). We could easily get sucked deeper into photography, Mrs. Cathead in particular, but we've never really dedicated the budget to it and are generally happy to appreciate others' efforts in that regard. In a parallel way, though, Mrs. Cathead really enjoys recording and analyzing bird vocalizations and has been building up a nice library of "audio photographs" if you think about it that way.


We are not twitchers in that we don't care all that much about obsessively building up a life species list, and we're far more interested in observing, studying, and appreciate birds and other flora fauna than we are about listing them. We're reasonably skilled birders and are quite active in our local Audubon Society, editing and producing its newsletter, leading field trips, giving programs, etc. In fact, we're giving an "Introduction to bird vocalization" talk in a few weeks over in Kansas City (a few hours from our rural location). We consider ourselves serious amateur naturalists who are interested in ecology as a whole over any given aspect of it (i.e., we pay attention to wildflowers, mushrooms, insects, native plants, mosses, etc.). We keep a loose life list as it's interesting to know what we've seen, but we consider birding just one aspect of our overall interest in ecology rather than an end unto itself.

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The next mini-project involves the two main pumps next to the boilers. These have to be finished and installed before I attach the next deck. The big on is the "doctor" pump, which draws river water to feed the boilers and for any other major water needs. The odd name comes, supposedly, from the fact that its invention cured a variety of problems in riverboat boiler/engine development. Here's a reminder of what Arabia's doctor pump looked like:



As with the other machinery, I knew that (a) I wouldn't be able to craft a perfect replica and (b) it wouldn't be fully visible anyway, so my goal was to craft a reasonable representation of the general idea. There's a lot of stuff going on with this pump, but after some rummaging and head-scratching, my scrap box and other sources around the house turned up some good-enough material.



I started by making the main flywheel, for which I used a ring cut from a length of PVC pipe left over in our barn. It's not quite to scale but it was the closest ring-like item I could come up with. I then carefully made the central axle and spokes, not trying to mimic the beautiful swirled shape of the original because I felt it would be beyond me. I used a hollow section of styrene tubing for the central part so I could string this on a piece of wire, making it easier to assemble the whole thing later on. The supporting stanchions are more of the same styrene, drilled to accept the wire "axle". The parallel pump "handles" (not sure just what those are actually called) I shaped from two pieces of wood, then filed and drilled a dowel to hold another piece of wire that would, again, make these easier to mount.


So here they are loosely test-fit on a base. I think with some sanding, painting, and finishing detail, they'll blend into a fairly decent representation. This will only ever be seen from the side through parts of the superstructure, in partial shadow. Not sure if I'll get any farther this weekend, got a variety of commitments coming up, but I'd like to get back to more regular updates so figured I'd show this much.

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  • 3 weeks later...

So much for regular updates, but at least I now have meaningful progress to report. I finished the doctor pump (photos further below) as well as the little hand-operated feed pump. The latter sat on the starboard side of the boilers and was used for several purposes including priming the boilers when sufficient steam wasn't raised to operate the larger doctor pump, and any other small-scale water needs. Here's the original (displayed at the museum):



And here's my version, first as-built using scrap wood and styrene, then painted.



Here's the original in context on the wreck, then a similar view on the model (note that I also made a rough human figure for scale):



I clearly cut a few corners in terms of absolute detail, but I think it captures the spirit of this machinery quite nicely and am very happy with how this turned out. At this point, I've permanently installed the boilers and both pumps on the main deck. Here's a closer view of the finished doctor pump with the original:



I also installed the steam lines running from the boilers to the engines. Right now these are hanging in space, but they'll be supported from the overhead deck beams once that deck is installed.


At this point, the model has reached the limit of what is known for sure. This essentially represents what remained when the wreck was excavated; everything beyond this is conjecture. So I took a few special photos to commemorate this point in the build, pairing them with original wreck photos from similar angles:






The next step requires some significant planning and thought, and I'll have a post up asking a few questions about this, but am not ready for that yet. For now, I like thinking of the current model as representing the wreck brought back to life for all of us, rather than the few lucky folks who actually walked her decks in that deep pit.


In other news, you can partially blame birds and weather for the slow progress. It's been an unusually nice spring here, leading to many outdoor projects and hikes in the evenings and weekends. This morning we took birding walks before and after breakfast and observed nearly 50 species each time. Between that and various sports it's hard to find time for modeling, but as summer turns uncomfortable I'll be spending more time indoors. This build is just past the 1.5 year mark and I sure hope I can finish this within another year but there's a LOT of fussy detail coming in the upper decks.


Also, assuming that anyone reading this is interested in American riverboats, please go check out this new build log of the Chaperon, the only accurate kit available in this genre. Brian's doing a great job with her (some poor advice from me notwithstanding) and it's well worth a look. Thanks for reading.



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When I showed this update to Mrs. Cathead, she commented "You know, you could just stop there and have a really nice model of the wreck."


I have to admit a corner of my mind was intrigued and observed that this would highlight the machinery better (which will mostly be obscured on the final model. It does look pretty cool as a display piece right now. To which she commented "You could just stop there with this one and start over on a new one. Why not both?"


That earned her a dirty look.

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17 minutes ago, Cathead said:

When I showed this update to Mrs. Cathead, she commented "You know, you could just stop there and have a really nice model of the wreck."


Nah. Yours looks too good, CH. I think you would have to drop it a couple of times ... mebbe kick it against the wall some.


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