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SS James B Colgate 1892 by shipmodel - FINISHED - 1/16" scale - Great Lakes whaleback by Dan Pariser

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Hello to all in this strange time –   

And thank you if you have followed me here from my last build log of the USS/SS Leviathan


I apologize for the long delay between the end of the Leviathan build log and this, and also that It will also not be as detailed as my last write-ups.  I will point out some building techniques that are a bit different from former ones, but for the most part it is more of a tour of the completed model than a blow-by-blow description of the construction.


This is the second of seven models for the US Merchant Marine Academy museum.  The subject is the whaleback steamer James B. Colgate, built in 1892.  Designed by Capt. Alexander McDougall, these boats were a major departure from accepted ship design.  Rather than sitting high on the water these boats rode, when loaded, with little of the ship above the waves.  The idea was that, like a floating log, it would let rough seas pass over it rather fighting them.




As an aside, the postcard above, titled “Blockade of Boats at Sault Ste. Marie,” commemorates a significant moment in the history of shipping on the Great Lakes.  On September 5, 1899 the 500 foot long bulk cargo steamer SS Douglass Houghton was towing a barge named the John Fritz.  Both were owned by John D. Rockefeller and together were loaded down with 15,000 tons of ore.  The Houghton lost control and came to rest completely across the navigation channel leading to the Soo Locks, the bottleneck between Lake Superior and Lake Huron.  Unfortunately the size of the ship made it nearly impossible to free her and the entire volume of shipping traffic through the locks, greater than at any other point in the world at the time, came to a standstill.  It was not until five days later that divers and engineers were able to free her by dynamiting the banks of channel.  By then more than 200 ships, many of them the largest in the world, were sitting idle.  There were so many that when the blockade was finally cleared the line of ships moving single file through the gap was more than 40 miles long.  The event triggered hearings in Congress and ultimately led to changes in the administration and maintenance of the inland waterways of the United States.


The whaleback design proved surprisingly successful and 43 barges and steamers were built between 1888 and 1898.  Although there may have been little of the hull above the waterline, like an iceberg there was a lot more below that the eye could not see. 




McDougall designed them around the new triple expansion steam engine that used 40 percent less coal, yet could still drive them along at 14 knots, very speedy for bulk carriers at the time.  Twelve large hatches opened into a large cargo hold which could be loaded quickly from automatic conveyor belts.  The design was finally supplanted in the early 1900s by much larger ships which could weather the large winter storms (the example of the Edmund Fitzgerald notwithstanding).


Despite their commercial success, the whalebacks were not popular.  The design was too radical, and was resisted by the old guard.  They were also not very attractive.  The upturned bow with its round stubby front plate may have helped the boats to skim over the water, but earned them the nickname “pigboats.”




The Colgate was a typical whaleback steamer, 308 feet LOA with a beam of 38 feet.  She carried up to 3,500 tons of cargo in her hold, usually iron ore or coal.  A small round deck house at the bow handled the anchor machinery and helped with navigation.  On the roof of the deckhouse were several bollards and fairleads for the mooring lines.  The midships hatches, as designed, had flush covers that had to be bolted down individually.  A later modification had raised coamings which were easier to operate.




At the stern was a much larger two-story deckhouse which contained the bridge and some small cabins on the upper deck.  These were supported by three round structures similar to the bow deckhouse, designed to allow large waves to flow around and between them with as little resistance as possible.  Despite these design innovations the Colgate was lost, with four other ships, in the large ‘Black Friday’ storm on Lake Erie on October 20, 1916.  25 of her crew of 26 were lost, with only the captain surviving.  




So, after a full 24 year career of productive and profitable service, the Colgate is remembered as an example of radical marine design that was successful for a few decades, and as an icon of Great Lakes memorabilia.




Next time, research and construction begin.


Thanks for looking in, and stay safe and well.




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I will be sitting in on this one as well.


My favorite Whaleback though would be the one that was built right here a few blocks from where I live. Strangely enough she was built just four years earlier than my house. I think the City Of Everett was possibly the only Whaleback or even Great Lakes style ship ever built on the west coast. But I'm not certain.


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John D. Rockefeller was an investor in the American Steel Barge Company formed to build Alexander McDougall’s patented whaleback barges and steamships.  Faced with loss of his investment when the company ran out of working capital in 1893 he took control.  This naturally resulted in a fight with other members of the investment syndicate.  In the verbal barbs thrown back and forth, Rockefeller’s representative charged the other investors with starting companies only to “boom the towns” where they owned large real estate holdings.


In the case of Everett Washington, named after the son of one of the investors, there is some truth to this claim.  The investment syndicate bought the land on the belief (McDougall claims that it was his idea) that it would be the terminus of one of the Transcontinental railroads.  They then started a number of businesses to attract other development.  One of these was the Pacific Steel Barge Company to build and operate whaleback ships.


Machinery to equip the shipyard and presumably build one or more ships was delivered by the whaleback steamship Charles W. Wetmore that sailed around the horn from New York.  The Wetmore was then transferred to Pacific Steel Barge and placed in West Coast service, only to be wrecked by grounding shortly thereafter.  The yard did build one whaleback steamship the City of Everett specifically designed for salt water.  She sailed for 30 years before disappearing in the Gulf of Mexico.


In his efforts to put the American Steel Barge Company on a firm financial footing ,Rockefeller closed Pacific Steel Barge after completing the City of Everett.



Edited by Roger Pellett
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Hi to all -


And thanks for stopping by and for all the likes and comments.

Roger and Lou -  yet another nice bit of maritime history about the Everett.  She would make an interesting subject to build (if someone will pay me to do it - - LOL) 


Research and construction began, as for all of my models, with an exhaustive search of the available images on the Internet. In addition, two books were of particular assistance:  “McDougall’s Great Lakes Whalebacks” by Neel R. Zoss and “Whaleback Ships and the American Steel Barge Company” by our fellow MSW member C. Roger Pellett.  Thanks go to him for his excellent book and for graciously answering questions when I was stumped.  From these I obtained a good idea of the shape and arrangements of whalebacks in general and the Colgate In particular




Of course, a decent set of plans is a necessity.  After a canvas of the available sources a set was obtained from the National Museum of the Great Lakes for not much money, and I thank their librarian for her help.  Although the plans are for steamers 119-121 which are slightly longer than Colgate, the beam and depth are the same.  Accordingly, I shortened the plans in Photoshop to the correct length and cleaned up the foxing that obscured some of the details.




The lines plan of the whaleboats clearly shows how unique the design was.  To my mind it almost looks as though the hull of a “normal” ship had been turned upside down.  What do you think?




From another source I located a plan of the stern deck house that laid out the two oval and one round supporting structures along with some of the details of the bridge, cabins, and stern bollard and winch.




The midships engineering drawing from the museum was of great help in locating hatches, railings, and longitudinal half-round stiffeners along the side of the hull.  It also indicated that the hull was plated in wide, in and out strakes.  This was confirmed by several of the photos of various whalebacks.




Using this midships plan, I cut it along the centerline, mirrored it, then overlaid red lines for possible lifts. 




Since the model was requested to be a waterline display, only 9 feet of freeboard would be needed.  This meant that the hull blank would be 9/16” high/thick.  I added an additional 1/16” so the final blank was a half inch lift over a 1/8” lift.  These were glued together with black PVA glue that indelibly indicated the waterline location.  The wood was then shaped with a plane and power sander to close final shape and dimensions.




The bow tapered to a round flat stump – the pigboat look.  The stern tapered to an oval stump where the name and home port legend will appear, as seen in the first photo in this segment.




After close shaping the hull was given several coats of primer before final sanding and shaping.  After a coat of white primer the hull was marked with a centerline and several station line locations to match the plans.  Four slices of 1” plumbing pipe were temporarily placed on top to visualize the bow deck house and the supports for the stern house.




Construction continues with hull plating in the next segment.


Until then, stay safe and well.



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Thanks, as always, for the likes and comments.  I hope you are enjoying the write-up.


After the hull was shaped and sealed it was plated.  The midships plans show only a few wide strakes of 1” steel plates that run the length of the hull.  They were marked out and cut from 0.05” black styrene sheet, then applied to the hull and secured with contact cement.




At the bow they were tapered and curved to meet the round bow plate.  This was done in a similar fashion at the stern.




After plating the hull was given several coats of grey primer, sanding between coats.  At the bow the deck house was built from the section of PVA pipe ground oval to match the plans.  The roof of the deck house was cut from a piece of 1/8” hardwood.  The rear corners are sharper than shown on the plans, but match photos of the Colgate.




At the stern the three supporting structures were made up from solid wood sheathed in plastic and secured with cyano.  The forward two are oval, while the aft one is round.  The upper deck of the aft house was also cut from 1/8” hardwood sheet, following the plans which were tacked in place to guide the cut.  It is only placed on the supports for now until they can be detailed.  The twelve hatches were built up from wood pieces bent to a curve to match the hull, then topped with styrene sheet.




The contract calls for the model to be displayed on a molded seascape, as with all of the models in this commission.  The process was similar to that done for the Leviathan.  This was actually done before that of the Leviathan, so I was experimenting a bit as I went on.  I did it early in the building process so if it failed I could scrap it without too much time lost.  It started with a baseboard cut from a commercial ¾” MDF shelf which was the desired 12” width, but too long.  It was cut to length, then the cut end was sealed to prevent moisture entry that might have warped the base.  The hull was wrapped in kitchen plastic and secured to the base with two screws from the underside.  A ¼” lip was secured all around the perimeter and dollops of prepared spackle were plopped onto the base.




The first layer of spackle was spread in an even layer up to the hull.  It was roughly shaped with a spatula to form parallel grooves at a slight angle to the hull.  Since she was lost in a storm I wanted to show a choppy sea, so the grooves were fairly deep.  This first layer shrank as it dried, giving me room for the second layer, which was good, but the plaster cracked, which was not.




After the first layer had dried for several days the top layer was laid on.  I thinned it a bit and laid it on with a stiff paintbrush.  This filled and hid the cracks in the first layer.  While the plaster was still wet I dabbed it all over with a damp coarse sponge.  The sponge lifted up the plaster into many small peaks, imitating the surface of a vibrant sea.  Where the plaster was still too wet it slumped down, and those areas were dabbed again until it held the little peaks.




After another two days of drying I started coloring the sea.  Artist’s acrylic paints were used throughout.  The deepest hollows were painted flat black, as were the edges of the base.




The black was followed by dark green overall, with some sea blue applied to random areas.  I did not worry about complete coverage since the small spots that did not take the paint would show up as random variations, just like the real sea.




Painting continued with multiple coats of clear gloss finish tinted with blue or green which built up a convincing feeling of depth.  Flat white was dabbed onto the crests of the wave forms and pulled aft as would happen with the direction of the wind.  Similarly, the wake was stippled onto the sea aft of the hull.  At this stage the model was removed to finish construction.  Once completed, additional plaster will be formed to the hull and even more layers of transparent glaze will be applied to tone down the waves even a bit more.




Final construction and presentation next time.


Until then, stay safe and well.



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  • 1 month later...


Hi again to all my friends here and, as always, mucho thanks for the likes and comments.


Yes, Keith, this will be a quick build log for several reasons.  Mostly this is because it is a retrospective of the construction rather than a day by day series of small progress reports.  I have detailed many of my techniques in earlier build logs, so there was little need to go over them again.  At least that was what I told myself as Covid malaise set in and I found myself not willing to stop to memorialize small personal gains amid larger world problems.  It just seemed a bit trivial.  Thankfully I certainly did not suffer any of the serious health issues or losses that so many have, like Doris in Czechoslovakia. 


Fortunately, I have climbed out of my depressive hole, and am working steadily again.  I have to credit my family and friends with most of the recovery, but model building made a significant contribution as well.  There is just something satisfying about looking at a well-crafted object at the end of the day and knowing that it only exists because of my hands, my head and my heart.  Long may it be so.


So, without further maudlin ramblings, here is the completion and launching of the SS James B. Colgate in its plaster sea. 


When the last installment ended the sea was mostly finished, although I looked at it every day and kept toning down the size and location of the whitecaps which I thought were still too bold and glaring.




Meanwhile I turned to finishing the ship.  After the hull was shaped the hatches were permanently installed.  Along the sides of the hull several reinforcing stringers were added according to the plans and photos.  These were made of half-round strip set over flat strips with rounded ends.  Fittings that would ultimately be painted, such as bollards and the bases for the railing stanchions, were attached to the hull.  Then the deck houses were removed and the hull was sprayed the deep red used by the Pittsburgh Steamship Company at the time.   Some, like bollard uprights and the anchor guides, were subsequently painted grey for contrast.  Then the deck houses, like this one at the bow, were built up and detailed before being secured to the hull




Most of the details are pretty simple and common.  Bollards, fairleads, winch heads and the capstan are Bluejacket castings.  The railing and ladder are photoetched brass from Gold Medal Models.  The nameboard is printed on my computer.  I’ll go over some of the others where they appear in later photos.  The one unusual fitting is the anchor.  McDougall, the designer of the whalebacks, also designed it as a better alternative for use on the boats.  It consisted of a heavy triangular frame with a shackle at the peak and a pivoting tongue in the middle of the base that would dig into the seabed of the Lakes. 




As can be seen on the model it lies much flatter on the hull than a conventional anchor and could be easily secured to the stanchion bases.  I made it out of two strips of thick brass bent to shape and soldered at the peak and at the base where a separate brass tongue was fitted.  I did not make any effort to have it pivot since this is a static model.  After blackening it was fitted with a ring and fine chain.




At the stern the deck house is much more complex.  The lower level has the two larger oval support structures with a smaller round support at the stern.  The forward two were made by sheathing oval wood plugs with styrene sheet.  Portholes were drilled and filled with small brass grommets from dollhouse electronics systems.  After painting handrails of iron wire were laid on with tiny supports inserted just underneath and clipped off close.  The upper works began as a solid wood block, as usual, but this was sheathed in wood veneer rather than plastic.  The window and door areas were left uncovered with the windows simply painted black and the doorways filled with printed 4-panel door appliques.  Upper railings and life rings are photoetched brass.  The angled stairway is a photoetched ladder with added side pieces cut from railing sections, secured with cyano and painted black.




At the forward end of the upper deck is the bridge which rises another half deck height.  It was built hollow with clear plastic windows on the front and back faces of the top.  Through these you can see the ship’s wheel that was installed and which no one, except in these photographs, will ever see.  The cowl ventilators are modified castings that sit on the top of cylinders that act as both structural supports for the decks and as ventilation ducts leading to the interior of the hull.  I took a bit of artistic license and simply drew on the paneling in pencil, relying on trompe l’oeil and the tiny scale to fool the eye.




The roof of the deck house is dominated by the large silver and black funnel.  It is built up over a plastic sheathed dowel, leaving a 1/8” rim at the top.  Reinforcing rings and a half-round lip at the top are made from plastic strip.  All of the plastic products are from Evergreen Scale Models, an invaluable resource when building steel hull modern ships.  The funnel is detailed with a steam whistle and pipe on the front face, and a steam release pipe on the aft face.  It is guyed by four wires running from small eyebolts on the upper reinforcing ring to brass tube turnbuckles on deck.  The Charley Noble galley stack has a cone shaped rain guard and a kink near the deck.  This last is either to get the stack around the funnel guy wire or as a trap for condensation, of maybe both.  It appears in the photos so it appears on the model.  A pair of liquid tanks, one for water one for fuel perhaps, bracket the funnel.  A pair of lifeboats with their davits and lifting tackles are tied down on cradles.  Eight small cast cowl vents and a pair of cylindrical exhausts run along the edges of the busy space.  At the aft end is a vertical pole, not for a flag, but for a lantern which would be fitted into the triangular shelf shown near the railing which could be hoisted to the top of the pole when visibility was limited.




At the stern the rear name plate was printed to match the one seen in contemporary photographs.  It shows up as a slightly different shade in this photo, but that is an artifact of the flash, and under normal light it is much less noticeable.  The railing on the hull could not be photoetched since the lines had to come to a point at the bow and stern.  I made the stanchion bases from 1/16” plastic rod and the uprights from 0.02” brass rod.  These dimensions are about twice what they should be, but when I made them to scale they almost disappeared, so I fudged the figures a bit.  The horizontal wires are 0.05” polished line.  Again, slightly too large, but they match the photoetched railings and do not draw the eye when the model is viewed without magnification.  The lines are tied under light tension to small eyebolts at bow and stern, then attached to the uprights with thin PVA glue painted on with a small brush.




Until now the ship has been simply placed in the opening left for it in the plaster sea.  Now it was secured with a pair of screws through the base plate and plaster carefully fed into the gap between it and the sea and shaped to a dynamic wake.




At the bow the wave was built up in several layers to match the wide froth thrown up by the blunt pignose bow.  The final layer is stippled with a stiff coarse brush.  Little wisps of white paint were dry brushed along the hull in the direction of travel.  This was all blended into the sea with more layers of tinted gloss medium.




Along the flanks of the ship wave crests rose up the side to the level of the railing and left subdued whitecaps on and under the water.  Here you can also see the minimal weathering applied to the model.  A thin wash of dark brown left spots and streaks on the hatch covers.  A similar wash discolors streaks that drip from the railing bases.  Wet patches of clear gloss finish glint on the hull.




At the stern the wake from the two propellers moving slowly was stippled onto and into the surface of the sea.  The sunlight reflects yellow on the water.  Looking carefully you can see where I have, at random locations, bent the metal railings to show a bit of hard usage over time.




The final detail was the burgee of the Pittsburgh Steamship Company.  An image was located on line, dropped into PhotoShop, sized to the model and had the color saturation slightly reduced to mimic the effects of distance and haze.  The image was skewed down a bit to take into account the way gravity affects wind-driven cloth.  The image was printed onto acid-free tissue paper which had been sealed with clear finish before printing.  This prevents bleeding into the paper fibers and gives a clean edge to the colored areas.  After fixing the colors with more clear finish the flag was cut free, attached to a halyard and tied to the flagpole.  A few curls with the back of a small paintbrush handle and it was done.




The model is now complete and chugs realistically, I think, though a choppy but fairly calm sea.




As part of the commission I built a display case from 2” x ¾” cherry, mitered at the corners and fitted around a ¾” plywood baseplate.  A UV-resistant plastic case was sourced from a local plastic shop.  It fits into a slot between the case and the base and is secured from accidental lifting with two small brass screws on the short ends.  A bit of air movement is provided by small holes drilled up through the bottom of the baseplate and into the gap under the plastic case.




The model now resides in the MMA museum in the Great Lakes area.  Once we are all vaccinated and this pandemic is behind us, I hope you can find the time to visit this small but interesting maritime museum.


Next, for something completely different, I will detail a repair and restoration of an antique bone and ivory POW model from the late 1700s that I am working on now.  This will be more of a blow-by-blow exposition since the techniques and materials require some inventiveness to match the unusual nature of the model.


Until then,


Stay safe and well, and get those shots.




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I do like unusual ships and once again your description is both detailed and informative.  A fine model even down to the detail of the flag. I don’t know how you can part with your creations when finished.


I would be interested to know the purpose of the forward deck house?

sorry to hear that you suffered from COVID by pleased you made a good recovery,  Keep safe.

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Dan, you have really perfected the subtleties of moving water - very impressive!


The model is no slouch, either; lovely details interspersed throughout, and I really like the little things like the slight deformations of the handrails.


The bone model sounds really intriguing, and I look forward to following your restoration.

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