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Thread: The Reporters Prediction Was Correct and Fine Tuning the ROBT E. LEE

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  1. #1

    Default The Reporters Prediction Was Correct and Fine Tuning the ROBT E. LEE

    The newspaper reporter who reported on the launch of the ROBT E. LEE was right on when he closed the article with "If she is not a screamer to run, it will not be John Cannons fault." Almost from the day she started running the Louisville Daily Courier had articles about the LEE's speed, but,apparently, she did not live-up to the speed that Cannon wanted. Less than a year after her launch the paper reported the following on July 6,1867:
    "The Robert E. Lee has but laid up at Mound City (just up the Ohio above Cairo) to await the opening of the fall campaign. She has run a season of nine months and is now just as good as new. In the meantime her water wheels and shaft are to be raised some eighteen inches, which will give her paddles more clearance. If not, more power".
    Just think of what all raising the wheels and shafts entailed, changing the angle of the engine beds, realigning the engines, etc. Why didn't Cannon just shave 18" off the diameter of the wheels?
    As a side note....I read where Jim Howard said that the owners of cotton packets tried to contract with the shipyards so that their new vessel would be ready about mid-summer so that they could operate the boat a couple of months before the cotton season started. That way the could work out any "kinks" in their new boat before they went to work in earnest.

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    Good question, Jim, about the wheels shafts, engine beds, etc. However, the reporter was unfamiliar with boat terms — notice he calls them “water wheels”. Cannon (or someone) may have told the reporter what they were going to do to achieve a shallower dip, but in translating that to the written word, got the details wrong and left the impression you got. But, we’ll never know.

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    *LEE's wheels/Reporters*
    Steamboating colleagues,
    Great continuing history and comments from Jim Reising and Bob Reynolds above. I've read articles by then river reporters that where quite lengthy, detailed, employing river terms and vocabulary known to the trade and even those general readers. In big and small river cities and towns steamboat building, operation, river business was big news--and important. Somebody once wrote/spoke, "Anybody living within twenty miles on either side of a navigable stream floating a steamboat was directly and indirectly influenced by it more than then knew." I recall our own late Alan Bates mentioning to me about "long chats...questions" Alan had with Jim Howard. A number of steamboats, ocean ships go through their "breaking in period" to iron out the glitches, make improvement, tinker and adjust here and there. Many a classic ocean liner went back in the yards for adjustments to or totally new propellers, quell down hull vibrations, adjust boilers for fuel consumption, add or take out ballast and ballast tanks etc.

    Jim, I remember reading/seeing a letter or entry at Howards where a cotton packet owner wrote a letter to the company time of the shakedown period complaining to the effect that "the wood decking on the main deck laid wrong and has been subject to splitting...not employed the right wood," or something along those lines. Did you ever see or hear of this at Howards? The issue of "18 inches" sounds familiar and no doubt happened more than we know. Just look at the big mess, issue with the paddlewheel on the then new MISSISSIPPI QUEEN. Seemed we never heard the end of that.

    I do know that a number of river experts at the time mentioned that the 'racer LEE' here had her engines worn out at the end of her life. They were shifted over the next 'new' LEE with dire consequences on the lower Mississippi when one engine failed causing serious damage, death to crew/roustabouts. I did post that incident here on .org some years ago but doubt it can be found now.

    R. Dale Flick
    Old Coal Haven Landing, Ohio River, Cincinnati.

  4. #4

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    Bob.....I know what you mean when a reporter writes "waterwheel" instead of "paddlewheel"....does he really know what he's writing about? But, I've noticed in other articles on steamboats written during this period, they pretty much all refer to "waterwheels". Perhaps, 150 years ago "waterwheel" was the accepted term. I really don't know.
    The bigger question to me is....did Cannon really raise the wheels and shafts 18"? I wonder how we can find out?

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    *RE: "Waterwheels"/Reporters
    Steamboating colleagues,
    Jim, I again pulled WAY'S PACKET DIRECTORY to review his 'big blow' on the LEE covering several pages. He writes of her construction etc. but goes on to devote much space to the famed LEE/NATCHEZ race with all the personalities, time charts etc. He finished with the LEE being retired, returned to Portland, KY to be dismantled with "cannon firing." I see no note of the LEE's "waterwheels" being adjusted, tinkered with. Fred Way does hint at many more detailed news reports RE: the LEE in her career in Louisville newspapers. *I'd suggest you could dig in the library archives in Louisville if/when you can. Whether the files in the news offices, or public library, have been digitized or on microfilm a good question. What about surviving old news papers on file over in New Albany or even in Jeffersonville? I have another fine book on the LEE/NATCHEZ here I'll try to pull and look RE: her wheels. I do know the term "waterwheels" goes way back to Robert Fulton days. Big steamers with walking beam engines on the Great Lakes, east coast river, lakes and bays still used "wheels" or "sidewheels" as it was assumed then those interested or around knew what was meant. Intriguing questions and I see what I can find. *Interesting side note. Years ago when a kid about 9 or 10 in our old neighborhood, a house was being painted next door. My dad chatted up a very old gentleman about 90 who was owner/supervisor for his painting company managing the younger guys. Something mentioned about the Ohio River and steamboats. This old man smoked his pipe talking to dad, with me listening, that, "My family way back were steamboat painters at the yards down in Fulton on Eastern Ave. I remembered seeing the big boats built, painted and as a kid broke in the painting business. We were independent painters working for the yard. I watched how they painted, decorated those long beautiful cabins on some of the boats."

    R. Dale Flick
    Old coal Haven Landing, Ohio River, Cincinnati.

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    Jim and Dale, yes, very interesting about all this. Jim, I’m with you that it would have been far easier to cut down the diameter of the wheels and make adjustment to them than re-doing all the machinery. Another thing I had thought of was that raising the wheels might also affect clearance in the wheel houses.

    Now as to terminology, y’all are right that terms do change and what we would consider today to be proper (and for those “in the know” writing about that) may very well change, too. A good “for instance” are some of today’s terms: they used to call the kitchen a “cookhouse”; today of you called it a cookhouse you’d get a blank stare...everyone knows that’s the galley. On towboats we all the propellers “wheels”, so things do change. Interesting mystery!

  7. #7

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    I made the following comments about water wheels in a Facebook post and will make them again here: In my almost lifetime "career' of looking at nineteenth and early twentieth century steamboat plans and specs I have noted that the wheels were always referred to as "waterwheels". When and how this changed to "paddlewheels" I don't know and probably never will. In Europe the side wheel boats were/are referred to as "paddle steamers" or just "paddlers". (For example, the British "Waverly"is advertised as the last ocean-going paddle steamer.) Their bucket planks (paddles) are called "buckets" or "floats". This is also true of East Coast U.S. steamers. I would guess that the "waterwheel" terminology originated with grist mills which were waterwheel powered and those waterwheels had buckets which caught the flowing water causing the wheel to turn. Probably many of the early steamboat builders had experience with grist mill construction, so the terminology was transferred to steamboat building.

    Well, this is all just trivia in todays world and I'm not losing any sleep over it.

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