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

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 This is an interesting subject you are building.  I will want to follow along.  Ironically, I grew up near Fort Benton MT and now live south of Kansas City. I someday would like to pursue building a model of a Missouri river packet someday.

 

Scott

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Eric:

I just got a new listing of towboat and riverboat plans available from John Fryant of Paddlewheels & Props.  He now has the Alan Bates plans available - I was worried that these plans were lost to us when Alan died.

I thought I would share them with you and the other riverboat fans following your build log.

Kurt

PADDLE WHEEL - PROPS - FRYANTS- PRICE LIST 11-17.pdf

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Cool! I hope you'll post that in the Riverboats general thread, too.

 

Also, welcome, Scott! Nice to see another local on here. If you want to try a Missouri River boat, Kurt's link above contains plans for two very good ones, Far West and Bertrand.

Edited by Cathead

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I've completed the other half of the hull framing and done a preliminary fairing. As one might expect from a hand-cut set of  bulkheads, there are places I need to shim or fix, but it's no worse than I've experienced in certain kit models. Below is the hull as it stands; there's an optical illusion making it appear to warp inward toward the center, but that's just because I didn't bother about lining up all the braces between bulkheads. It's actually quite straight along the sides.

Arabia_2i.JPG.550656791a4d915f52c57439f40a72c6.JPG

And views from fore and aft:

Arabia_2j.JPG.59db350807cfdcf6bd377ad59438b33a.JPG

Arabia_2k.JPG.26a04e45f0e4e2603991c3f62d2c9edd.JPG

I need to keep working on the fairing to be sure I've got it right. I'm amused that, as a whole, the hull right now looks quite like I'm building a waterline battleship in a different scale. It's going to change dramatically once the deck framing begins.

 

Apologies for slow progress and updates, other commitments just keep getting in the way. Thanks as always for reading.

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Adding the guards: Part I

A quiet holiday weekend finally allowed me to make significant progress. With the hull reasonably faired for planking, the next step involved installing the guards. These are lateral extensions of the main deck that can nearly double the deck's width relative to the hull (see this cross-section for an example). On a sternwheeler, these were often either non-existent or relatively narrow. On a sidewheeler, they were far wider in order to accommodate the wheels themselves. Below is an overhead view of Arabia's hull during excavation, in which you can see the guards curving out from the stern to envelop the port paddle wheel. These guards were supported by timber extensions attached to the main deck timbers (i.e. the main deck was supported by different beams than the guards).

Arabia_excavation_2.jpg.99c47ddf7116ff0e6f96798cf46c6eed.jpg

Arabia's hull was roughly 30' wide and her paddle wheels were roughly 6.5' wide. Thus the guards need to be at least 8' wide to accommodate the full wheel and support both the outer end of the axle and the wheel housing, adding approximately 50% to the boat’s total width.  To check this assumption, I scaled the photo to my 1:64 ruler and confirmed that the guards fit that ratio (allowing for the angle of the photo and distortion of the hull).

 

Another question relates to the vertical angle of the guards. The cross-section linked above shows the guards essentially horizontal, but other references (such as Alan Bates) show guards with a noticeable inward angle (opposite to the natural camber of the deck). This latter style makes sense to me, as it (a) drains any water toward whatever scuppers were used to drain the main deck just outside the hull, and (b) allows an inward cantilever effect that would help support the significant weight carried by the guards (such as the wheels themselves and bulky cargo like cotton or hemp bales). There are no profiles of the Arabia available and the overhead view above doesn’t clarify this, so I invoked artistic license and chose to angle my guards because it’s logical and I think it adds visual interest.

 

Here are a few photos from the preserved stern-most section of the hull that show a bit of the aft-most guards. First, a closeup of how the guard timbers interact with the deck timbers and the hull. The former are attached in parallel with the deck timbers, extending out over the side of the hull as described above. They're notched to fit over the upper strake of hull planking (the gaps between timbers would be filled with short pieces of wood):

Arabia_2guardsa.JPG.e6d27c56b1c6fdf433f8b27c76b125aa.JPG

Below, you can clearly see how the guards extend the deck in a sweeping curve around and beyond the sternpost. The guard timbers only begin to angle away from the deck timbers in the very few aftmost feet. I love how the outer "bumper" of the guards (and thus the deck), a steamboat's equivalent of the wale, is just a series of split logs with bark still attached. How typically frontier! That's going to be an interesting detail to replicate.

Arabia_2guardsb.JPG.8fdcb5815285065230978ac1b8a63abd.JPG

Looking inside the stern, you can see the slight camber of the deck beams as they curve outward to meet the guard timbers (at right). It's too bad I won't be able to include this log tiller (it'l be buried beneath the deck and the aft superstructure).

Arabia_2guardsc.thumb.JPG.46858a117e283e7790aefbd22d515126.JPG

These photos aren't great, but they show the only part of the hull that was preserved and the only clear show of the stern during excavation (there are no photos or drawings of the bow). So they're all I have to work with. In Part II, I'll build my version of the guards and the Arabia will start looking like a steamboat and not a cut-down battleship.

 

 

Edited by Cathead

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Adding the guards: Part II

I built a foot-long jig to hold all the guard timbers at exactly the same length and angle from the hull, and got to work installing these (making sure to leave a gap for the wheels). My guard timbers are a bit thicker than scale, but they’re wood I already had on hand (scrap from my stepfather's workshop) and are the correct height. As budget is always a concern for me, and as these will be planked over, I didn’t worry about getting the thickness scale perfect. Plus, this adds strength to the assembly. In the images below, the paper cutouts are my scale drawings of the wheels and engines, with a blank rectangle for the boilers.

Arabia_2l.JPG.691816526c5a23d25d741cc343bcdc5a.JPG

Arabia_2m.JPG.204845a5f19adbc1e2fb9621c0ebbce2.JPG

Once the easy part was done (the guards along the straight sides amidships), it was time to lay out the curves around the bow and stern. I wet some properly scaled strips and bent them around each location, adjusting them to the natural curve I wanted using clamps and braces. I used a fairly even curve at the stern and a more elongated curve at the bow, following common designs for steamboats of this period. There are no images of Arabia’s bow, and only the overhead photo of the stern (shown in the last post and below). Once I had these curves clamped in place and parallel on both sides, I let them dry before fitting the rest of the guard timbers inside the curve.

Arabia_2n.JPG.da8bc59b0f94dd3dbf6cb21e6145abc0.JPG

Whether or not to angle these toward the bow and stern is an interesting question. My understanding is that some boats’ hull framing (and thus the guard timbers attached to them) stayed square all the way along, and others followed the curve of the hull. In the overhead photo (and in person), Arabia’s guard timbers look fairly straight until the very end. Since neither the hull bulkheads nor the guard timbers will show on the finished model, I took the easy route and kept them all straight.

 

Here's the hull with the finished guard framing, with a pencil for scale:

Arabia_2o.JPG.8d76bc7b48da5195ea0476c0c0040f4b.JPG

Here are the bow and stern from below, giving a better sense of the interaction between hull shape and guard shape:

Arabia_2p.JPG.05581e73c84e6968fff472cad5c688ef.JPG

Arabia_2q.JPG.f613dd5dcfd81547e30a0f39e71aa8fe.JPG

And here is the stern from above, laid out for comparison with the wreck photo at approximately the same scale and angle:

Arabia_2s.thumb.JPG.d523fb35d51c87978fe1de84439a440a.JPG

The next step will be planking the hull. This had to wait until the guards were installed, so I could be sure to nestle the top strake right up against the lower guard timbers. I felt it would be easier to build the guards properly with a jig and align the planking to them, than to plank first and try to create the perfect curve along the hull that would support a smooth run for the guards. With bitter cold already here and lasting through the coming weekend, I should be able to make a start on the planking.

 

Thanks for reading.

Edited by Cathead

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Hi Eric,

 

As usual, very nice work. One question for you - you mentioned that sternwheeler guards were either non-existent or very narrow. I know that side wheel boats had to have larger guard areas to allow room for the wheel assemblies but it also gave them more deck space for cargo, etc. I wonder why they did not do the same for sternwheelers and give the extra cargo space (and make more money) for them as well. Just curious.

 

Bob

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Bob,

 

Here's my answer; I'll be interested to see if others like Kurt or Roger agree. First, guards initially developed on sidewheelers as an essential structural feature to both support and protect the wheels; thus they had to be wide relative to the hull. However, they also contributed to lateral instability because although they increased the cargo capacity, they also acted as levers enhancing the effects of any weight placed on them. So when you're loading a sidewheeler, you need to be especially careful how you do it. There are stories of boats listing badly merely due to a mass rush of passengers to the rail to see some sight, given the lever action of those wide guards over a narrow hull.

 

In comparison, sternwheelers had no structural need for wide guards, so their hulls could be built relatively wider and thus maintain more lateral stability. Narrow guards were sometimes added but in these cases it seems to generally have been considered not worth the tradeoff to go very far out.

 

This was also affected by the era and the intended operational region for a given boat. Guards got progressively wider as the steamboat era went on, but were predominant on the lower (and wider) portions of the rivers where large bulky cargo was carried (like cotton or hemp bales). Further upriver, particularly on the Missouri, guards were seen as an impediment to navigation in the shallower, narrower channels because they could snag on obstructions; cargos in upper river areas also weren't as bulky (gold, tools, bulk foods, clothes) compared to lower-river cargos (raw crops). I've read that sternwheelers built for the Missouri generally didn't have guards at all, whereas boats built for the Ohio had narrow guards. Sidewheelers were generally used for bulky cargo anywhere because their inherent design allowed more space for such bulky but relatively non-dense cargo (compared to tools, metals, barreled goods, etc).

 

That being said, anything was possible anywhere. The Arabia steamed all the way to Montana and even went up the tributary Yellowstone River, an amazing accomplishment for a wide, tipsy sidewheeler in that region.

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Thanks, Jim! I'm afraid I know next to nothing about Australian steamers, but American river boats generally had huge wheels. Arabia's were about 28' (~8.5 m) in diameter. This gave them a lot of driving power, necessary for the high flows and rapid currents on inland rivers, but also allowed them to dip very shallowly into the water to adapt to the same rivers' ability to nearly dry up.

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Eric,

 

I think you pretty much summed it up, in my opinion.   I recall a discussion in St. Louis at the Arch with one of the museum guys who basically said the same thing and I remember him saying that boat built for the Big Miss wouldn't go far on any other river like the Ohio, Missouri, etc.  

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I've begun planking the hull, and immediately encountered a problem; I would love some advice. As I run the planking toward the stern, the natural lie of the planking really diverges from the line of the decking/guards. You can see what I mean here:

Arabia_3a.JPG.85f4185db7e0f4b240bdaea2f7a0a170.JPG

If I try to run the upper plank flush to the underside of the guards all the way, it takes some major edge-bending, more than I suspect the builders would have done. Moreover, the effect multiplies as you go down and just doesn't work. Although the stern here superficially resembles that of a sailing ship, it's narrowing in far more, so the curves involved are really tight. My photos of the original stern fragment sure make it look like the planks ran parallel to the guards, but that isn't working for the geometry of my hull:

Arabia_2guardsb.JPG.fb6c021fb590b7c56c3071a46a64d80b.JPG

Granted, the real fragment is very short so there may well have been any number of drop planks or something that I don't know about. In order to let the planking run smoothly on my hull, I'm going to have to drop the first two strakes and let the third one reach the actual stern (as shown above). But I have no idea whether this was a practice, or really much else about steamboat planking, as no sources I've read really deal with this question.

 

It's also interesting that, on the real stern, the first few planks were relatively wide, followed by a bunch of tapered planks. This makes sense overall, but again I can't figure out how those wide upper planks are supposed to wrap around such a tight curve without extraordinary edge bending. If I were planking this without the visual references, I'd be tapering things from the start, but I was hoping to match (at least somewhat) what I saw in the real stern, which means a few wider planks first.

 

Does my question make sense? Any thoughts?

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Eric, I don't remember what scale you are working in but are your planks to scale? Do you know the sizes of the planks on the recovered stern?

Comparing the photo of the stern and your model It looks like your last bulkhead is shaped differently than in the photo.

Since most of the bottom will not be seen and most likely painted matching the original is not as important.

My 2 cents 

 

 

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Steamschooner, your question triggered a thought process that I think leads to the answer, but I don't have time to explain yet. Stay tuned.

 

Amateur, that's definitely a possibility. Proper compass timber was already becoming scarce in this period (for things like curved frames) but thick trunks were still available. My further answer to steamschooner may help answer your question above. Again, stay tuned.

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So the solution to my planking problem was absurdly obvious once I thought about it, with the nudges given me by steamschooner and amateur. I had been assuming that the first few strakes of planking were full-width because they're wider than the ones below, but that's probably not true. They're probably tapered as well. There are multiple drawings in Adam Kane's book showing that hull planks could be 12" wide or larger, whereas the widest planks at the stern in my photos are maybe 5-6". My base material for planking is 1/8" strips, which scale to about 8" in reality. So the obvious solution is to taper all the stern planks. In retrospect it seems pretty dumb to have not thought of this in the first place, but I was stuck on the assumption that the first few planks were full width all the way back, in which form they really didn't want to follow the hull's curve. Once I  started tapering planks toward the stern, everything started to work better.

 

Also, steamschooner is right and my stern profile isn't quite the same as the real thing. Or rather, I made a dumb mistake when laying out the frames and guards and didn't allow for the height of the guards when carving the stern frames. So the last few frames are pretty close to the real thing, but the guards should start at their top, not flush with their top, meaning that the more vertical part of stern frame is buried within the guards rather than being part on the run of planking. That's just  a basic mistake on my part, but I don't think it's going to be particularly noticeable as the model progresses. If I had gotten that right, the first few strakes wouldn't need to be tapered as much since they'd remain more vertical, and my planking would look even more like the real thing. Oh well.

 

After a week of evenings working on this new approach, here's how she looks. This still may not be "right", but it's closer and at least works properly.

Arabia_3b.JPG.f95dd1cc9a08451b83e907d1fbc910f8.JPG

Arabia_3c.JPG.cfa4d233fd9fd49d4f5e072021fe8915.JPG

The planking looks rough in these, partly because the light picks out every shadow, and partly because it is. I'm not a master craftsman, and I honestly like my riverboat models to look a bit rough. To scale, this planking job far rougher than it should be, but once it's sanded and painted, I think it'll settle down to a slightly rough finish that conveys the idea that this isn't a perfect schooner's hull. That's what I tell myself, anyway. I've only been building ship models a few years and am still learning. I admire people who can build perfect hulls, but for western riverboats at least, a bit rough around the edges conveys the feel (if not the literal reality) of these craft. At least the basic run  and taper of the planks looks reasonably similar to the real thing, and makes sense to me from a construction point of view. Here's the bow and the hull overall.

Arabia_3d.JPG.202f7993b8768e20caaeab439d4c6093.JPG

Arabia_3e.JPG.b029d4e0b632484b29f33347401211dc.JPG

In case anyone wonders, here's how I've been shaping and clamping my planks. I preshape each one roughly (tapering/sanding), soak it for a few minutes, then clamp it in place and use a hair dryer to heat and dry the wood. When it's taken the intended shape, I do any final sanding/shaping needed for a reasonable fit, then use wood glue for attachment with the same set of clamps. I've had to remove a few of the braces supporting the outer rim of the guards to allow for clamp access, but those can be easily replaced when I'm done.

Arabia_3f.JPG.96796596d036ebf02dcd9688d41456c9.JPG

At this point I think I've gotten a handle on how this hull will work, and will just keep plugging away at it. Once this side is mostly done I'll switch to the other side, bring it to the same point, then finish off the final internal planks along the bottom of the hull. Thanks for reading and offering advice/support.

 

Also, if you're reading this I assume you're interested in steamboats in general, so you really should check out this new thread on Russian riverboats modeled after American ones, it's pretty fascinating stuff.

Edited by Cathead

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Hull planking is progressing smoothly now. I've begun working on the starboard side now that I can use the port side as a frame of reference (and guide to what to do better). There are still some imperfect areas, but nothing that can't be fixed with a bit of filler and sanding. I do have a decision to make and am curious if anyone has input. Here's the current state of the (further-along) port bow and stern:

Arabia_3g.JPG.ac220e5f71eed3e5c0b847941ed9bf9d.JPG

Arabia_3h.JPG.1d0ce71300048c279b5c890a69c9528f.JPG

On these wide, flat boats I just don't see how the entire hull's planking can be condensed into the bow and stern. It works for sailing ships with more rounded, well-proportioned hulls, but in this case I'd have to shrink each strake to paper-thin to fit them all in. Up until now, it's been most sensible to curve each strake along the flow of the hull, meeting the centerline at an angle at the bow and pinching together at the stern. This stern pattern matches what I can see of the preserved stern (roughly) and the bow pattern matches the few photos I can find showing nothing but smooth, parallel planking at the bow of such boats.

 

However, I'll need to drop some planks pretty soon because it can't keep going like this. The question is, do I run the remaining planks (a) in a continuing set of curves (as before) so that each end is cut to butt up against the centerline, or (b) parallel to the centerline so that each plank is cut to butt against the last curved strake? In the photos above, I've laid loose planks out in both rough configurations to illustrate what I mean.

 

My inclination is (b), which matches what Kurt showed earlier in this log for the bottom planking of Chaperon, the only accurate wooden steamboat kit I know of (Kurt, is it ok if I repost this here for clarity?). Note that on Chaperon, the planking stayed curved until the flat bottom was reached; I followed the same pattern on my model as it makes the most sense. Thus I'm ready to make this transition at the bow and not quite ready at the stern. Chaperon doesn't inform the stern question as sternwheelers had much simpler sterns than sidewheelers.Hull Planking.jpg  Anyway, that's where the model stands. I'm going to keep filling in the starboard side, hoping to do a slightly cleaner job as I consider this the intended display side (the reason I started on the port side). But I'd like to decide how to proceed on the bottom. Thanks for reading!

 

 

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Eric, How do you plan to form the transition at the bow? Will the planking butt together on the center of the keel? or will there be a plank that runs the length of the keel? (which you can see in the recovered stern, tiller photo ) I wonder if in real construction if they used chine logs at the point where the side planking meet the flat bottom planking. Putting some blocking between bulkheads, or moving the ones there will give you some backing for those drop planks.

At some point in the future I hope to build a stern wheeler from this area so I follow along.

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Steamschooner, that's precisely the question I'm asking. My leaning is to follow the same approach as Kurt's Chaperon, the last photo shown above, and run the rest of the planks parallel to the "keel" (although these boats had no proper keel). This seems more logical and straightforward for the builders.

 

As for the chines, there were multiple shapes and approaches that have been documented. Adam Kane's book has excellent drawings of the different variants. In short, it seems to have been more common to use an angular chine, but he says that Arabia used a rounded chine made with compass timber on each frame. This would have been more expensive and complicated, so not as common. To simulate this, I rounded the corners of each bulkhead and shaped the planks to at least somewhat curve around this bend. If the chines were angular, there'd be two sharp 45 degree angles from bottom to side rather than the smooth curve I've been shooting for. I think you can see this in the photos above, but I'll try to take a more specific photo.

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Hull planking is progressing steadily. This isn't the most interesting part of most builds for readers, so thanks for bearing with me. This will start to get fun once I flip her over and begin working on machinery and superstructure.

 

Overall hull status, almost caught up on the starboard side. Notice the solid strips inserted between the bulkheads in places, evenly spaced from the stern and bow. These are meant to provide support for the future display stand; I can screw pedestals or other supports into the hull this way. I filled the whole area to ensure that I have flexibility in deciding what will look good later.

Arabia_3i.JPG.7d1ac49111445cc19257f80e66ba5d4a.JPG

Two shots of the stern, with the camera catching every flaw. Some of these planks are less than ideal, with some gaps or other oddities. I think that judicious filler and careful sanding will improve things considerably.

Arabia_3j.JPG.3cdcbf61d29dbf18d62226fcb2e78f7f.JPG

Arabia_3k.JPG.ac9e2b3fce616c99ad782dcffb63787f.JPG

And the bow for good measure, which is much easier to plank than the stern:

Arabia_3l.JPG.ef1c41bdf3b2f23138d2d142c69aebd0.JPG

Trying to show the curved chine area, but it's hard to focus on. I'm tempted to build a few mini frame replicas to show the different chine styles used on different boats.

Arabia_3m.JPG.dc89fafb9e08f02f7ebb9be7c80ef351.JPG

Closeup of how I've decided to fill in the rest of the hull's bottom. It makes more sense to lay straight planks with angled edges than to bend every plank from here on. I don't know how it was done on the real thing and have never found a clear description of steamboat planking in this regard, so I'm going with this. If something like this was done, I suspect the builders may have notched each plank end into the wraparound plank rather than terminating at such fine points, but I can't prove that's right and don't want to do that much work for something that's pure guesswork and won't hardly ever be seen anyway.

 

Arabia_3n.JPG.8e4365fb106adc7c75e75d78bd036bb1.JPG

The planking will soon get easier and faster as I move toward finishing the flat bottom. Then it's time for filling, sanding, and finish work before she's flipped over.

 

I do have one question for anyone knowledgeable: Were the undersides of the guards typically planked or left open? Photographs never show this angle. If I'm going to plank them, I'll need to do that next. If not, I'll need to fill in the guards with the rest of the beams (they'd be at a much tighter spacing than my basic structure above). But for this model it's one or the other (planked guards not requiring all beams, or unplanked requiring all beams), so I need to decide what's right.

 

As always, thanks for reading, and I hope to move on from the interminable planking stage soon.

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Eric - your planking is looking good. Soon comes the not so fun part from my perspective, i.e., sanding, filling, sanding, filing, and so on. All necessary obviously but still tedious. Re your question on planking the undersides of the guards - take a look at one of the pictures I posted earlier in this thread of the Lone Star sternwheeler. It shows that there was no planking. Only one example but still something to hang your hat on anyway.

 

Bob

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Hah! You're right, I never noticed that, I was so focused on the hull itself. Maybe the problem isn't historic photography, but the observer. I overall think it makes sense not to plank the undersides; although doing so might protect against a certain amount of damage (from water or debris), it's a lot of extra material and weight.

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Eric, The planking is looking very nice. Since no body knows how it was planked who's to say you are wrong in doing it the way you are. Like my project there is alot of best guess when working out construction. For me that is part of the appeal of building a boat/ship that has not been modeled before.

 The few photos I have show no planking on the bottom side of the guard timbers( later boats )

 

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