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Thread: Grashoppering - how did it work, in detail?

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  1. #1
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    Default Grashoppering - how did it work, in detail?

    I've received a question by e-mail from someone who doubts that "grashoppering" did really work to get a steamboat over a sandbar and wasn't just used to get it back off the sandbar moving backward ... Guess there is no question that it did work, but does anyone know abut a source where it's being described very much in detail how that worked, to literally step-by-step lifting a steamboat over a sandbar?

    Thanks!
    Franz

  2. #2
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    *'Grasshoppering' a steamboat*
    Morning, Steamboating colleagues:
    Franz, what an irony reading your posting here this morning RE: 'grasshoppering' a steamboat as I had this topic on my mind briefly last week. No doubt there are others we know who could add more data. I'm sure Capts. Don Sanders, Bob Reynolds, others like Frank Prudent, Jim Reising etc. could add more. The technique used more common with wood hulled steamboats as I've never read/heard a reference with an iron or steel hulled vessel. Also more common on very shallow rivers or those with few to any lock and dams. Basically, the two tall spars on the bow were dropped in the river on an angle similar in shape to the letter 'A' to give leverage in 'lifting' the forward part of the hull up with the engines driving forward. 'Grasshoppering' was slow and laborious with, hopefully, the boat advancing with the process starting all over. Sand bars often saw it used but how it worked on gravel bars or bars in the river with stone another matter. And to some degree it could be hard on the hull which often was flexing. There are classic period photos of steamboats on the Yukon River in Alaska with devices mounted on the bows used for 'grasshoppering' up there. Fred Way, and other old timers, mentioned/wrote about it here on the Ohio and other rivers way, way back but construction of new dams here pretty much eliminated it.

    Another technique sometimes used was when a boat came upon shallows they 'sounded' in front some distance. The boat would back away, come ahead driving waves of water that would lift the boat up and over. Another approach was to reverse the sternwheel or sidewheels to drive waves of water ahead to lift the boat. The trick was to not get totally stranded. My late grandmother often told of riding the big sidewheelers here on the Ohio during low water with the boat laboring through the shallows. The long cabin floor actually would visibly lift and bend as the boat slid over. When I mentioned her memories to Capt. Fred Way he confirmed it. She never mentioned it on the steel hulled big KATE ADAMS but did witness it on the last wood hulled BONANZA. Some rivers saw crew run lines from the bow of boats to trees and rocks ashore to use the wheels to drive ahead and capstans to pull them forward. That's all I know. I know somebody will chime in here soon. Hope all well with you and yours over in Germany.

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

  3. #3
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    Dale, thanks a lot for that. I didn't know about the other methods you're mentioning. And they do sound even more crazy than the grashoppering itself ;-)

    Franz

  4. #4
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    *'Grasshoppering/Other methods*
    Greetings, Franz,
    Glad I could be of some help no matter how humble. Again, techniques those old timers used then were no doubt hard on the boats and hulls--which were mostly of wood. Even the QUEEN CITY down to the early 1930s had a wood hull as did other packet boats to the very end. By the late 1880s/early 1890s leading marine publications and journals printed here on our East Coast commented on the "antiquated technology in building wood hulled boats on the Inland Rivers...behind the times." The East coasters were well into using iron and steel. Part of the misconception then was they didn't understand the river environments and boat trades here operating on the rivers as they were then. Also the use of wood here was preferred as the great forests in our states and in Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota still had cheaper and readily available fine woods. But that didn't last long with massive domestic and commercial deforestation.

    So, those tall, strong bow rigging etc. used for not only handling landing stages but for 'grasshoppering' can be clearly seen in old photos. One account in an old diary book I was permitted to read even mentioned the steamboat crew, along with some hired locals, who actually dug a channel of sorts in front of the boat with picks, shovels to give the hull enough water to advance slowly. In later years, if there were a few dams on the rivers, word would be sent for the lock and dam attendants to let out enough water to flow down stream and lift the boats up so they could proceed. Hard to believe today but that's how it was then. I actually knew/talked to old time steamboat men who not only remembered those days but used those techniques with boats they were on.

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

  5. #5
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    Strange, I'm working on my Spar Masts on the CLYDE which has a set of "grasshoppering" spars.

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