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

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Masterful work Eric.

 

I’m right there with you. Adding cargo and other deck details really starts to pull the whole thing together. 

 

I like the technique of using the masking tape to give the chimneys that “hammered” look. If I had known about this sooner I would have definitely incorporated that into my build. 

 

-Brian

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Very nice model !  The addition of the detail really makes it come to life.

 

Now, with a bit of trepidation, but in the spirit of helpfulness, seeing the care you've taken to research and to ensure the accuracy and quality of this interesting and important build, I'd like to offer a couple of comments, which you are, of course, free to ignore. They aren't offered as a criticism, but only to share some knowledge and experience which may be helpful.

 

1.  Masking tape isn't an archival material. The stuff has a bad habit of drying out and, well, just going to crap, sometimes in surprisingly short order. If it's well sealed and painted, it might survive, and it might not. 

 

2.  While the use of masking tape, nicely painted and weathered, may well represent "tar paper," the fact is that "tar paper" wasn't likely to have been used as a roofing material in Arabia's construction in 1853, or even later.  The first historically documented use of rudimentary tar paper was during the California Gold Rush which would place it sometime in the early to mid-1850's. It was used as a temporary water barrier on temporary buildings which weren't expected to survive beyond the time it took the surface mining in a given area to "play out." These were basically shacks, and nothing more. Being exposed to the elements, it did not last long and was frequently replaced as needed until needed no more. To my knowledge, it was never used alone as a roofing material on any vessel. Keep in mind that asphalt or bitumen, available only from surface deposits such as the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, CA, was a somewhat limited commodity at that time. Some was locally available in California then, but it was not until 1859 that oil was extracted from a drilled well in Titusville, PA. (Spelling the end of the whaling industry and the beginning of the petroleum industry.) Oil did not really come into its own as an industrial material until after the Civil War. 

 

"Roofing felt," however, which came along at the same period, was used as an intermediate water barrier on small boat decks and cabin tops of not only vessels, but also, quite commonly, railroad passenger coaches. It was never, however, the exposed surface of the roof to be covered. "Irish felt" (also called "ship's felt") was not a paper, as "tar paper" was, but a true felt, made of linen rag material. It was laid over a wooden tongue and groove roof or cabin top. It was then covered with canvas duck bedded in white lead paste spread over the felt which was copper tacked at the edges and then shrunk in place with boiling water. The wet canvas was then painted. This created a lasting waterproof surface which only required regular painting to maintain the watertight integrity of the system. Properly maintained, this sort of roof would last for twenty years or more before requiring replacement. 

 

The appearance of a canvassed roof or deck would be that of a smooth surface with the texture of painted canvas. (The more paint that was applied over time, the more the weave would be filled with paint and the smoother it would become, although it retained some texture because the paints of the time would chalk in the elements and slough off.) The canvas would be stitched in panels before being tacked down and, IIRC, the standard bolt width was 54", which would yield about a 48" panel, allowing for three inches on each side to permit a doubled, rolled stitched seam.

 

3.  While the archaeological artifacts may prove me wrong, I would hazard to guess that the cabin tops would never have been painted black, or the color of tar paper, but rather would have been painted light grey, as was the custom of the time and long afterwards. (Black and white were the two least expensive paint pigments at that time. when paint was mixed by painters from raw materials at the time the paint was applied. Colors, more expensive, were reserved for trim.) Grey would be preferred over white, as white would create a glare from the sun that would be hard on the helmsman's eyes and actually can create a type of "snow-blindness" for crew working on it. Black would not have been used because of its heat-absorbing quality. They had cabin stoves to keep warm in the winter, but there was no such thing as air conditioning and a black cabin top would have rendered the accommodations below uninhabitable in the summertime.

 

Note the "color" of the cabin top in the below photos.

 

Image result for sacramento river riverboats

 

 

6185a7d7-5663-4f8d-af77-a780ba6177fe.jpg

 

SPS1978-000443.jpg

 

 

Take it for what it's worth, or not. Hope it's helpful.

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Bob, I'm grateful for your feedback. I hope I'll always be open to constructive criticism and the opportunity to learn more.

 

Regarding the masking tape, I'm hoping that the combination of wood glue below and paint above will seal it in pretty well. When building models, I get a lot of satisfaction from making do with what I have on hand; I don't like keeping or purchasing a large stock of specialty items. It's a personality trait that one could argue holds me back from making higher-quality models, but it improves my enjoyment of the work. I can see how it might be frustrating or worrying to wonder whether that degrades the longevity or value of a model like this. I'll certainly keep your concern in mind for future reference, but it's far too late now for this model! I used masking tape without glue on my Bertrand; that model is now four years old, displayed under fairly variable temperature conditions, and showing no signs of concern (I realize the hopeful life of a good model is much longer than that). So crossed fingers, I guess.

 

Regarding the "tarpaper", thanks for the interesting history. I was apparently remiss in thinking that it was ok to follow the Chaperon's style for this vessel. My other references (like Hunter, Kane, and Bates) don't provide clear details on roof/deck coverings, especially for early boats like this. I suppose it would have been better to ask early and wait for advice, but I was excited to keep going and it never occurred to me to investigate further.

 

That being said, I think one can squint and decide that the current look could also simulate canvas? My strips are narrower, closer to 2.5' than 4', and they show up more than your suggestion for canvas's appearance, but it at least conveys the idea that these upper surfaces were treated differently than the lower decks by covering with some form of water-resistant roll. Regarding the color, I can try a new coat of lighter pastel to shift the tone a bit more toward true grey. Especially with western riverboats, there's always the escape valve that there were few standards and lots of eccentric innovation, so maybe Arabia's owners got their hands on some unusually narrow canvas for a bargain price and skimped on the white paint in the color mix as well. After all, we have no idea what it actually looked like above the main deck, so there's a ton of conjecture in this model already.

 

Overall, trying to keep up with the details necessary to make a truly accurate period model gets overwhelming. It can even be off-putting. I can point to a variety of other things on this model that I know are less than ideal, and that an expert would almost certainly notice (in terms of both accuracy and modelling quality). This model will win no awards at any model show based on the judging criteria as I understand them. These came either from my own mistakes, a lack of sufficient knowledge, or from compromises to keeping the building process fun and not exhausting (sometimes all!). I will have to chalk the roof covering up to that as well.

 

The good news, for me as for most of us, is that the vast majority of viewers will never know the difference. I hate to put it that way because accuracy is reasonably important to me, but it's also a coping mechanism to stay sane. I just don't have the time or resources to become a true expert, not at age 40 and with many other interests. Even were this to be displayed in a museum somewhere someday, it's close enough to inspire most viewers to a reasonably accurate understanding of the vessel. However, every model I built teaches me more and lets me build a better one next time, particularly with the advice and feedback from folks like yourself. Thank you.

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I was talking about this with Mrs. Cathead over dinner and she reminded me of something relevant. The last time we visited the Bertrand Museum, which has a huge and beautiful model of that vessel, I found a number of inconsistencies (at least, as far as I could tell) between the model and the plans/descriptions published in the book written by the archeologists who excavated and documented it. None of these detracted from the overall impact of the model on viewers wanting to understand what these complex vessels looked like overall, though it would be really interesting to talk to the original builder about various design choices given the information available.

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It's a cold day in hell when a model perfectly portrays its prototype and doubly so with historic models whose prototypes don't exist anymore. There are always compromises, extrapolations, wild-assed guesses, and conjectures along the way. We all set our own limits on our models. :D 

 

2 hours ago, Cathead said:

I just don't have the time or resources to become a true expert, not at age 40 and with many other interests.

Horsefeathers! You're already well beyond half an expert at the tender age of 40. Keep at it and you'll be twice as good at 80! :D

 

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Just got through binge reading your post on Arabia. Wonderful work!  Along with your Bertrand, your skills are truly exceptional.  I especially like your hull construction on both models.  Few people are willing to take a crack at models such as these. I can hardly wait to see the finished product.

 

LJP

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Spent the last two weeks working on various details. The railings on the boiler deck have been giving me nightmares, but I finally figured out a "good-enough" way that works at the level of the rest of the model (representative if not precisely accurate, don't look too close). These were really difficult to bend and shape, especially where they didn't extend between two decks for extra support.

 

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I left a gap on either side, forward of the wheels, to allow access to where the boats will be stored. Figured a chain was enough to keep passengers out; this was leftover scrap from a past model:

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These stern railings were especially tricky:

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Ladders up to the pilot house and various Texas cabins:

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A couple broader views:

 

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And here's one posed with the painting this model is loosely based on:

 

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It's getting ever scarier to handle this model as the fragile details go in. I'm so paranoid about bumping these railings, they were such a pain to do in the first place. And it's just going to get worse...

 

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Eric,

 

Beautiful job on the railings. I myself am spoiled to the PE ones my kit came with. This is definitely a tricky and time consuming part of the build doing it all from scratch.

 

As for moving your Arabia around, please handle with care. We don't want your beautiful build meeting the same fate as the real Arabia.

 

-Brian

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I managed two more steps this week. First was gluing in the chimneys, which was scary as now there's a much larger delicate feature to bump or snag. No photos of this because it doesn't look any different from past test-fittings. Second, I worked on the main deck stern railings. This was difficult because I needed the railings to hold the full curve around the stern without any other support as the boiler deck doesn't extend out over this. Here's an example of what I'm basing this on.

 

So what I did was build a basic jig that would hold the railings in the right curve while I (a) soaked and bent them and (b) painted them, as I've learned the hard way that painting makes thin strips like this lose a lot of their pre-bent curve.

 

IMG_0413.jpg.99fcaab1840575ecb8921c3b7335c87f.jpg

This worked really well. After the initial soaking and drying, I painted them in place. When that was dry, I took them off and painted the small bits covered by the clamps and jig; this wasn't enough to lose the curve. Then I mounted three thick posts on the main deck using small pins, one at each end of the railing and one at the very stern. When these were solid, I mounted the railings, then went back in and added smaller spacing posts. Here's the results:
 

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I think it came out nicely. Now I'm terrified of bumping the stern. Oh well.

 

I've also started thinking about the two yawls I'll need. These were a pretty distinct design used on the Western Rivers; there was some good discussion of these over in Brian's Chaperon build, such as here and here. Basically I need to build two 16-18' boats with a flat stern and a hard chine (no rounding between the bottom and the sides). In addition to the photos shared in the second link above, I found two relevant drawings of what these craft might have looked like, but these differ in one important respect and I'd like an opinion from the resident experts (look, I'm asking ahead of time for once!).

 

First, drawings of an Ohio River yawl from Howard Chappelle (sourced from Google Books). This has a fully flat bottom from side to side.

545615711_Screenshot_2020-04-02AmericanSmallSailingCraftTheirDesignDevelopmentandConstruction.PNG.4a650f728883d4adf3402130f217297e.PNG

Second, a sketch of a riverboat yawl from Alan Bates (photo from a book in my possession). This has an angled bottom from side to side:

 

IMG_0428.jpg.cba7ca03a0d0fa0a8344212d5c434932.jpg

I'm not sure about posting these images as it technically may violate copyright, but I'm also not sure how else to explain what I'm trying to work out about these two designs. Happy to take them down in a moderator thinks it's a problem. Meanwhile, I'd like to better understand the difference between the two and which version might be better for me (and/or easier to build). Any advice/input?

 

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No problem with the images - fair use applies.

As to what kind of boat - it's up to you as I have seen photos of just about every type of small boat used on riverboats.  John boats were common as were the type you show.  I have seen photos with a mix of boats carried on the same riverboat.  They were work boats meant to service the big boat.  Some of the more prestigious riverboats certainly had matching boats but the smaller guys used what was available to them.  I don't think you can go wrong with either of the two you show but if I was picking a boat to make that was easy to make I would go with a John Boat - no curves, flat bottom and easy to make.

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Eric,

 

Great job on the railing. Looks like the jig worked perfectly. I can see where you could get a little nervous when working around it.

 

I had the same dilemma with my work boats as well. I finally ended up using the britannia ones that came with the kit to place in the cradles on the sides, only I doctored them up a little. I also put together a spare kit that I had purchased from Model Expo some time ago. At Rogers direction, I looked up the Ohio River yawl boats and found several versions that closely resembled the kit that I had on hand. The only major difference was the bottom wasn't quite flat, but I think it looks just fine. I haven't updated my build log yet with pictures of it but I should have it done tonight or tomorrow.

 

This is the kit that I used. https://modelexpo-online.com/SHIPS-BOAT-KIT--2-58--LASER-CUT-WITH-STRIP-PLANKS_p_3427.html

 

-Brian

 

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Those kits look really handy, but I'm afraid they'd be out of scale at my 1:64 if they were right for your 1:48; MS doesn't give a scale. I've started dabbling with this but have yet to figure out an approach that works for me. It's harder than I thought to lay out and build a very small boat at this scale.

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Eric,

If you know how long you the boats, then you'll know for the kit.  MS makes some and so does MasterKorbel.  I think the MS would work just due to the design where the MK would be best for frigate unless heavily modified.   As for MS, if they don't have the size you need, if you have a scanner you can scan the parts and then scale them to the size you need.

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Mark, I meant the scale of the craft overall. I can know that I need a boat that's X long in inches, but depending on how the parts are scaled it may or may not look right. For example, a boat with parts scaled for 1:48 just won't look right in 1:64 even if it's the right "length". And I can't find any info on scaling from MS; need to check out MK. The scanner idea is interesting but then I have a boat kit I don't otherwise need. For the moment I'm going to keep stubbornly experimenting for myself but I'll keep your idea as a backup.

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I used MK boat (1/74 if I remember right) for my Licorne build.  I did rescale the plans and then cut the parts for boat.  

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14 hours ago, Cathead said:

Mark, I meant the scale of the craft overall. I can know that I need a boat that's X long in inches, but depending on how the parts are scaled it may or may not look right. For example, a boat with parts scaled for 1:48 just won't look right in 1:64 even if it's the right "length". And I can't find any info on scaling from MS; need to check out MK. The scanner idea is interesting but then I have a boat kit I don't otherwise need. For the moment I'm going to keep stubbornly experimenting for myself but I'll keep your idea as a backup.

Eric,

 

I don't think the Model Expo boats come in scales, just lengths. They leave it to the builder to get the correct size in relation to the scale of their build. One option you could go with if the scaling of features isn't right is to cover the boat with a tarp. I've seen this on several builds and it looks great.  The boat I used on my build I wasn't real happy with the way the insides looked so I just turned it upside down and mounted it keel up.

 

Just  a couple of suggestions. I'm sure with your expertise and inventiveness you'll come up with something that will definitely look great.

 

-Brian

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I have tried three different ways of scratchbuilding scale boats and none have worked. Feeling rather frustrated. I just can't get them to form right using pieces small enough to look in-scale; my skills just can't seem to handle detail work at that level and I don't have a feel for the natural shape of a hull. Even a simple john boat is escaping me.

 

I did make some other progress by installing some more details along the superstructure and setting up the rigging for the main chimneys (below). The two small chimneys down the centerline would lead to wood stoves. The two taller stacks are the steam vents from the engines.

IMG_0444.jpg.d99577f32e720307513742bee12ab8c8.jpg

Two shots of the chimney rigging (below). I used a basic braided line left over from some kit. To make the attachments on the chimneys, I glued some old parrel beads from my revenue schooner. To make the attachments on the deck, I made thin wooden "clamps" (these would have mirrored similar planks below the deck, clamping together over the beams) and drilled small eyebolts into them (also left over from my revenue schooner). The line was white, so once it was tied and glued in place, I painted it black, hoping that would help stabilize it.

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The knots came out a little coarser than I intended, but they match the overall quality of the build (don't look too closely). I know these are supposed to have turnbuckles but I couldn't come up with a way to simulate these at scale that looked better than leaving them out. I think the next step will be to start placing various details on the bow, such as the steam capstan and the "grasshopper" spars used to haul the boat over sandbars. Then she'll be getting pretty close to finished, other than those danged boats.

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The boats... hmm..... if anyone asks, tell them that some passengers were being difficult in the "gentlemen's room" and had to put ashore.  On the serous side, I do recall seeing someone use one the metal ships boats and they sanded it down thin and planked it.  Came out pretty good.

 

Here's a link to the boat I did for Licorne.  It's about 6" long and all I did was scale it up from the largest Master Corbell one.  If you like, I'll check and see if I have the Corel drawings still (I better have, or I'll be very angry) and can send them to you.   I could probably cut them if you think they'll work.  Here's a link showing mine "large" one installed on Licorne which is 1:64:   https://modelshipworld.com/topic/5339-licorne-by-mtaylor-pof-316-french-frigate-hahn-version-20-terminated/?do=findComment&comment=631117

 

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Mark, that's very generous, let me think about it. Another option is just to make a rough solid hull, plank over it, and cover the boat with a tarp. I've read in multiple locations that these were almost never covered, which is why I've avoided that option so far.

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Am impressed, one of the best in awhile. Attention to details excellent Kudos on a masterful build.

 

If you made her a little bigger could have added cotton bales, cattle and Minstrels playing at the dock that would have been a real hair puller, all kidding aside 1st class build.:cheers:

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Thanks, John. All kidding aside, we actually know a lot about her cargo as it was almost all salvaged and is on display (or still being catalogued and cleaned) at the museum in Kansas City. She was carrying a lot of whiskey (hence all my barrels) and tons of crates of frontier supplies (nails, boots, tools, farm implements, etc.). She was heading upriver when she sank; any agricultural products would have been carried on a downriver trip. Some cotton was grown in central Missouri, along with other plantation crops like tobacco and hemp; this region was (and still is) referred to as "Little Dixie" given that it had the highest antebellum concentration of slaves and plantations anywhere in the state and was decidedly more Southern than elsewhere; you can still find huge plantation-style houses along the Missouri River in this area.

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Eric,

 

You are getting to the part of your build that I like most. I am one of those who love rigging. Something about it to me feels that it really starts to bring the model together. This is one of the only drawbacks of the steamboat era is that there is just not that much rigging. 

 

Beautiful job on the smokestacks. I really like the use of the parrel beads for the attachments. I wish I had thought of that on mine. I think they look much more realistic than eye-bolts. I'm real anxious to see how the grasshopper arms come out (no pressure).

 

By the way, don't fret the work boats too much. You still have plenty of time to come up with a solution. Look at what you have accomplished so far. Absolutely magnificent build!

 

-Brian

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As is often the case, what I thought I'd do next wasn't what I ended up doing next. Instead of the capstan and grasshopper spars, I focused on other details. For example, I added strips of wood sealing in the edge of the main deck. For the curves around the bow and stern, these were soaked, bent, and dried, then painted while held in a jig so the paint's moisture wouldn't undo the bend. Worked pretty well. It's hard to tell the difference in photos, but they really clean up the deck's edges in person.

 

IMG_0460.jpg.d44747ef081786818426e79c895d475f.jpg

I added other bow details, such as the jackstaff and the curved bit of wood extending above the deck around the bow (no idea what this is called). The latter was tricky and took several tries.

 

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I consulted various photos and drawings of different jackstaffs, then went within a design I liked. This would have been attached to an extention of the stem (coming out through the deck). Some were strapped on with iron; I chose to "bolt" mine on instead.

 

The jackstaff was not a flagpole but a navigation aid. The pilot could use this to as a reference point when sighting against faraway landmarks like ridges, bluffs, trees, and islands. The relative motion of the boat and jackstaff helped him judge the boat's actual movement in difficult navigational conditions. The red ball, called a "nighthawk", was placed roughly at the pilot's eye level as an additional reference point. Based on photos, some boats had rigging bracing the jackstaff and some did not. I added a bit, both for visual interest and for reasons explained after the next photo.

 

IMG_0490.jpg.1e27c7696c1e4fc5be1ba95ea7ef3e45.jpg

I also added support lines to the engine steam vents. As far as I can tell, like the jackstaff rigging, some boats did this and some didn't. I decided that Arabia, which navigated far up the Missouri River into the windy Great Plains (deep into Montana), would want the extra bracing in both cases. For similar reasons, I added "iron" bars bracing the vulnerable pilothouse.

 

IMG_0491.jpg.08283072c9a5b6aa3b3fea9ef85f3946.jpg

Finally, I rectified an early mistake. The lower posts supporting the boiler deck should extend through the deck just a little. I didn't do that early on, so cut a series of short "post" stubs and glued them on top. Looks pretty convincing.

 

Pretty soon I'm going to need to build the final stand, as I'll want to attach her permanently to that before doing the most delicate work (like the grasshopper spars). I have a lot of well-cured cherry lumber in my barn that I cut here years ago, and think I'll try to put something together with that.

 

I ordered a few last details from Model Expo (like a bell and two boat kits), so whenever those arrive they'll help add some more details. That order also included my next project, which I'm already looking forward to. Having it in hand will encourage me to finish this model.

 

Thanks for reading. The end is now in sight, though it's weeks away yet.

IMG_0488.jpg

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