I built this model Paddle Wheeler with great plans in my mind. I was going to make it remote controlled. I would sit in my chair on the side of the lake or river, attach my fishing rod to it and send it out into the wilds to catch me a big fish. It sure started to look good. You can see that I even had passengers on the upper deck. Well my marine engineering wasn't too good. By the time I put the motor in it, I was using a modern electric motor, and the batteries it weighed 150 pounds. Although it did have a few trips into the water it mostly was downward and it kept sinking and taking on water because it was so heavy. The weight had to be distributed just right or it listed in the water. But it did move a few yards out into the water and it was quite interesting and fun to watch it before it sank, It has now been dismantled and has joined all the other paddle wheelers in paddle wheel heaven.

This Northern Country of British Columbia has a rich history of transportation and the Paddle Wheeler was a major player. The picture on the left shows a Stagecoach on the Caribou Road near Quesnel. Originally the journey from Yale to the sternwheeler terminus at Soda Creek took 52 hours, but when Ashcroft became portal to Caribou time was reduced to 42 hours. The stage left Ashcroft at 4 a.m. on Monday and Friday for the 167-mile journey and arrived at Soda Creek at 10 o'clock next night. Can you imagine that? 4 in the morning until 10 o'clock the next night that is 18 hours in that little buggie pulled by 6 horses.The Charlotte Paddle Wheeler made her first trip to the area in 1908, leading the Ashcroft Journal to comment: "The foregoing will be good news to all travelers going into the northern interior, as the trip will now be a comparative short and easy one. With the Caribou Automobile Company making regular trips to Quesnel and Soda Creek and also the stage line it will now only be a matter of 4 or 5 days ... to Fort George from Ashcroft." The B.X. Another famous paddle wheeler in this Caribou Country made two trips a week to South Fort George. She left Soda Creek at 3 a.m., reached Quesnel about noon, then steamed until dark. Since night navigation was too risky, she tied up until morning, and arrived at South Fort George about 11 o'clock. On the return she left at 7 a.m. and arrived at Soda Creek about 4:30 in the afternoon. Fare was $17.50, meals 75 cents each. A lower berth was $1.50; an upper, $1.00. Now that was luxury for the day. The powerful B.X. paddle wheeler had 22 staterooms, each with hot and cold running water, a commodious ladies' parlor, a men's smoking room, a promenade deck, and a dining hall which ran practically the full length of the vessel. In addition it could carry 100 or more tons of freight plus passengers in water little deeper than required by a canoe. Thus my interest in local history and the Paddle Wheelers was inspiration for my building one.

The picture on the right is of freight wagons on the Caribou Road. Everything from eggs to champagne came by wagon, with probably the heaviest item freighted up the road was the paddle wheeler Charlotte's boiler. It was 20 feet long, 18 in circumference, and weighed over seven tons. A veteran teamster, Luly Hautier, tackled the hauling job. With pioneer nonchalance he hooked 16 mules to an iron-axled bull wagon and creaked slowly up the torturous hill leading from Ashcroft. Despite obstacles which included wheels buckling under the strain, he trundled slowly northward and six weeks and 210 miles later rumbled down the hill to the sternwheeler ways at Quesnel.

 

I couldn't find any blueprints or design specifications to study. And I looked everywhere .Throughout the literature there was great importance laid on naturally the captain but also on the carpenter. I am quite sure that the engineering specifications were in the capable mind of the chief carpenter, and he wasn't one to write it down for posterity. On the left is a picture of a steamer being built in Quesnel. Now Quesnel is not noted for its shipyard expertise but it must have had one mighty fine carpenter to do the construction from local material and labor. Many fine ships were built in Quesnel for work on the upper Fraser. In the above explanation It mentioned the Boiler for the Charlotte being 7 tons and taking six weeks to get shipped to Quesnel. Throughout the literature I have read a ship would sink or run its course of usefulness and its engines and running gear would be sent to some other region. The carpenter would assemble a boat but use the engine and running gear from another. Some carpenters made lavish floating palaces with oak, teak, and even copper rivits. I think it was up to the carpenters skill to get the engine and running gear and built a lavish house around it to attract customers. So I didn't have much to go on when I was building my model paddle wheeler. I did have these kind words. The steamers success was due to a combination of factors, one of which was a flat bottom which enabled them to bob on the water like a duck. Another was that their wooden construction made them remarkably buoyant and fairly easy to repair. I didn't need a 125' x 30' long boat, 3 feet long and 2 feet wide seemed fine to me. I didn't have a 7 ton boiler to worry about, my little electric motor and battery were under 10 lbs. I wasn't about to carry 100 tons of freight or passengers, one fishing rod and a ten pound trout would be enough for this boat to handle. So that seemed easy and I was off and sawing to make my paddle wheeler bob in the water like a duck.

Basically, sternwheelers were similar in design: good length and width (about 125' x 30' for the average vessel), with a somewhat blunt bow, and flat bottom without external keel. Because of their length and lack of outside keel, they sagged at bow and stern, so that iron braces called "hog-chains" or "hog-rods" were required to strengthen their hull. Although the method of strengthening varied from vessel to* vessel, the principle was constant. Stubbed into the center keelson was a mast-like upright called a "kingpost" which towered above the top deck. Some vessels had one king-post, others two, joined to bow and stern by the hog-chains. On either side of the kingposts were additional uprights called "hogposts," stubbed into another set of keelsons and also joined to bow and stern. Turnbuckles on the hog-chains provided adjustment to take up slack if bow or stern sagged, or release tension if the vessel became swaybacked. The idea was to keep the hull completely flat. As a mark of importance, kingposts were frequently decorated with brass or gold-painted balls, but hogposts carried no decorations.  The average sternwheeler had three decks. On the main deck were boiler, fire box, engine room, cargo space, and usually kitchen. The boiler was as far forward as possible to provide maximum draft for the fire, with steam piped aft to two, single-cylinder engines. Long connecting rods joined engines to the sternwheel, which extended across the width of vessel. The rudders three to four—were mounted ahead of the sternwheel, with some vessels having two additional small rudders behind the sternwheel.   Usually between the main deck and the hull were watertight compartments appropriately christened "snag rooms." With one, two, or even more of these compartments punctured, the vessel generally could reach shore. Sternwheelers operating in coastal waters made additional use of these compartments by storing in them fresh water for the boiler.   Above the main deck was the cabin deck, known by various other names which included hurricane, saloon and promenade. On it were passenger cabins, dining room, and a saloon or observation lounge at bow or stern or both.   Above the cabin deck was the upper, or texas deck, usually reserved for officers' quarters with the pilothouse at the forward part or even on top to ensure an unobstructed view. Number of crew varied, with 12 to 17 average for river vessels but 25 or more on larger steamers.

Usual fuel for sternwheelers was wood, but coal, oil, or anything else combustible could be substituted, including bacon which an exasperated Lower Fraser River Skipper used in a vain attempt to outsteam a rival. Fuel consumption varied, but a hard working vessel could use a pile eight feet high by eight feet long by four wide in half an hour. The Hudsons Bay Company s Beaver, first paddlewheeler on  the Pacific Coast, carried six woodcutters. Even at that her progress was in spurts since she burned in one day what her fuel suppliers cut in two. Her keel was elm, her ribs English oak, her planking oak and African teak, fastened to the frames with copper bolts. Internally she was just as sturdy, with oak and teak lining, reinforced with heavy iron straps that were also fastened to the frame with copper bolts.

Well my paddle wheeler is gone.

There were over 300 vessels that plied the waterways of this great province. Many of them had worse accidents than mine could ever have had. That is of some comfort to me in my time of grief.

I am going to rebuild my model and make it work. It may just be a matter of finding a decent carpenter because thats how they did it way back then.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This picture definitely mimics the same position that my paddle wheeler seemed to enjoy the most.

 

The main source of my information and inspiration is this great book called Sternwheeler Days by Art Downs. I picked it up at the Yale museum, another great little place in the Fraser River Canyon where it all started to happen.

Recently I was in the Flat Lands of Alberta adventuring but always dreaming about returning to mountains of B.C. Well now I am back in my home country with my world renowned Hunting Dog Hoover, (named after the Vacuum Cleaner)

. Hoover and I are taking every opportunity we can get to enjoy the sunshine the great outdoors and the fantabluous squirrel chasing the Prince George region offers.

 

 

 

 

When I'm not sitting in front of a computer or crawling under a computer fixing it you will find me trying something new. My versatile and innovative nature is always at work.

With this session we were transporting an antique wagon and a load of spare wheels and the project got me thinking that with the price of gas these days this wagon could be revitalized to save big bucks. A ergonomic motor such as the one shown would move the wagon and be a lot cheaper to run than a gas-guzzling engine or even a set of hay burning horses.

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