LJP Posted August 11, 2021 Share #1 Posted August 11, 2021 It has been a while since I began this process. And … it will be a while before it is completed. I first became aware that there even were steamboats in the Fox River Valley when I got a copy of D. C. Mitchell’s Steamboats on the Fox River. I loved the book and all of its photos but Thistle’s octagonal pilot house caught my attention. Thus began a long research and drafting process. The Thistle was built as the J. H. Crawford in 1894 by Ryan Brothers of Oshkosh, Wisconsin for the Wolf River Transportation and Merchandising Company. George Ryan and his brother were Canadians who learned shipbuilding at Short Brothers in Maine. They also built Great Lake boats in Sheboygan and Manitowoc before they finally began ship building in Oshkosh. This background had a profound effect upon the vessels they built. They modeled and lofted their boats. And George never referred to their creations as boats, they were always “ships”. Their boats were what Hunter called the Mosquito Fleet as their size was limited by the 145 by 36-foot Fox River locks. Their long-lived boats were strongly constructed to weather the shallow but tempestuous Lake Winnebago. The J H Crawford was nominally 130 feet long overall with a 25-foot beam. The new owners immediately had a falling out over the proposed Wolf River route for the Crawford. Eight months later the Crawford was sold to the company of McKenzie & [ John H.] Crawford. In 1899 they in turn sold the Crawford to Clark and LeFevre. Clark & LeFevre lengthened the boat by 14 feet and renamed it Thistle. Clark & LeFevre combined interests with the Oshkosh Steamboat Company in 1906. Thistle was finally dismantled at Green Bay in 1915 after a long 21-year life. Thistle had two distinct looks during its life: . Thistle at Berlin, Wisconsin in 1901. Note the double stairs to the saloon deck, main deck with bull rails but without windows or mid-deck bulwarks. The bow bulwarks were added in 1901. This is what the J. H. Crawford probably looked like, albeit 14 feet shorter. Reprinted with permission from the Berlin (Wisconsin) Area Historical Society Thistle at Omro during the period 1904 to 1909. Now there was a grand staircase to the saloon deck, the main deck had windows and there was a mid-deck enclosure. The bull rails were replaced with bulwarks – a very unusual feature. Note the fore bulwarks had a canvas shade drawn down over it. This was used periodically to protect passengers from the elements. This is one of my numerous postcards. The usual routes used by Thistle were on the Lower Fox River from Appleton to Green Bay, the Upper Fox as far as Berlin, the Wolf River as far north as New London, and the east coast of Lake Winnebago. The boat was initially a packet on a regular schedule with freight and passengers. Later years it was primarily used for excursions and for hauling bulk freight, as coal, lumber and wire grass. It was a day boat with no overnight accommodations for passengers although the captain and crew were housed on the boat. Thistle had a normal but long life. This included strandings, sinkings, fires, and unfortunately deaths. The ice-free season was short – typically from mid-April until November – and was dictated by the federal government as to when the bridges and locks would be staffed. In one instance, Thistle used its anchors to break the ice but the ice still cut an inch into the gangplanks which had been hung over its sides. Thistle also ran backwards to use its paddlewheel to break either the ice or the floating bogs that formed in the shallow lakes. But it was ice that eventually caused its demise. In November 1913, Thistle was driven ashore in ice on the east side of Lake Winnebago. Although rescued and run during 1914 season, that damage, a decreasing business, two newer underutilized sternwheelers and a budding World War I could not justify the cost of repairs. It was sent to the breakers in August 1915. Thistle was an excursion craft during a period when many photos were taken and many were used in creating postcards. I ended up with more than 40 photos of Thistle. I bought some on eBay, some came from the D. C Mitchell book, while others came from museums, historical societies and libraries. NewspaperARCHIVE and Newspapers.com provided local period newspaper articles. Local magazines, articles and books contained helpful information. A trip was made to the Steamboat House at the Winneconne Historical Society Museum in Marble Park. Its sole surviving Fox River Valley steamboat superstructure includes some incredible original staterooms. I was very busy taking measurements and photos. In my next post, I will describe how I made Thistle’s plans and include some of those plans. mtaylor, Canute, steamschooner and 6 others 9 Quote Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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