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Judy Patsch 01-22-2008 11:10 AM

Our late great SPRAGUE EXPEDITION 1980
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The pix of the week inspired me to search for the pictures I took when Lexie and I visited the SPRAGUE on a 1980 DQ trip. But where oh where in this mess - ah yes, in the photo album labeled "Models, Museums, and Displays". Dewey Decimal I ain't!!! Anyway, the story: Franz posted the pix I took a year or two earlier from the DQ and it was this sighting that got Lexie and I plotting a visit. This occurred in 1980, June I think. The DQ was docked about a mile below the SPRAGUE on the Yazoo. We got out the DQ workboat and rowed upriver well before any passengers were up and about. After floating around the remains, we tied off the rowboat and climbed aboard. I had never seen the SPRAGUE in operating or even museum condition, yet chills went through me as I stepped aboard... it was obvious that steamboat/treasure/memorabilia buffs had been there before us, as there was nothing 'loose' or in 'liberating' condition left. But to just walk about her was one of those steamboating moments. At this point she was no longer salvagable and she later broke in half when being pulled out, I believe. You'll notice the paddlewheel is several yards downstream. After walking wherever we felt it safe on the hulk, we rowed down to the wheel and noted 2 stirrups just waiting to be liberated. Knowing that the wheel's diameter was 44 feet, we 'liberated' very carefully as we figured we were in about 22 feet of water. Duh.. later that year Lexie sent me a pix in low water - the weight of the wheel had collapsed it, so we were really in just 2 or 3 feet of water! After the liberation, we paddled back toward the DQ. Lexie let me off a ways above it, I had the 2 stirrups in a plastic garbage bag and nonchalantly walked back on board the DQ( as nonchalantly as one can when carrying two heavy pieces of iron in one hand). I went back to my Skid Row room to watch Lexie and accomplice put the workboat back on the fantail. By this time, some passengers were up and about, and they puzzled as to how Lexie got so 'rusty' looking. I quickly slipped into my room to wash my rust off before being noticed. So went our DQ/SPRAGUE expedition in summer 1980. Pix 1) The SPRAGUE hulk and paddlewheel in the Yazoo as seen from the DQ. Pix 2) the hulk
Pix 3) floating along the starboard side in our workboat

Judy Patsch 01-22-2008 11:14 AM

More pix
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Pix 4) aboard the starboard side of the SPRAGUE, with our expedition vessel tied off on the stern
Pix 5) Lexie and the capstans
Pix 6) Lexie and an anchor

Judy Patsch 01-22-2008 11:19 AM

Even more pix
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Pix 7) looking down into the cabin area
Pix 8) a closeup of the starboard as we bid farewell
Pix 9) liberation territory - note the real bucketboards had been replaced by slats to lighten the wheel weight

Mary Sward Charlton 01-22-2008 11:45 AM

Judy, this then secretive trip to the relic is now legendary, spoken of in hushed, reverent terms, passed from one river fan to another. As I am a humble holder of a piece off the Gordon C., gleaned in 2006 low-water, I can only imagine the sense of awe you must have felt to actually step aboard Big Mama. Thanks for sharing the pictures. Mary

Shipyard Sam 01-22-2008 01:18 PM

Cheyenne C. Cheyenne's Pic
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Why all the tippy-toeing around? Have any thing to do with the fear generated several years by the High-Sheriff of Warren County, Mississippi when certain steam-gauging instruments were temporarily missing from BIG MOMMA's engine room?

Enclosed is a shot of the SPRAGUE's paddlewheel taken by the legendary, Cheyenne C. Cheyenne-- "where the middle-C stands for Cheyenne." Notice the shadow of the top of the DELTA QUEEN's mast in the foreground.

Bill Judd 01-22-2008 01:37 PM

Thanks Judy for posting those photos of the bitter end of the Sprague. I was on her four times. Twice in 1959, when upbound in tow here at Cincy and when she was on display at Pittsburgh. Once in the 1960's at Vicksburg, even went to the show on board and finally in April, 1977 when the boat was beached out after the fire. Spent several hours on board. You could drive your car right up to the hull. In fact I used the car roof ( a station wagon) to access the boat. Funny thing was the road down had a rather high center crown but I got down OK. Could never figure out why it drug all the way up.

Keith Norrington 01-22-2008 03:25 PM

Capt. Bill: I, too, made a foray to the SPRAGUE ruins in the spring of 1977. I had two cameras, taking prints and slides, and was so enthralled on getting pictures of the huge sternwheel that I didn't hear a herd of horses come up until they were nearly upon me! I sought refuge under the BIG MAMA's sternwheel until they galloped away! I'm a city kid and didn't know quite what to think of all those big and wildly snorting creatures!

Seems that a LOT of steamboat enthusiasts made pilgrimages to the boat after the fire when she was beached out up the Yazoo and even later after the sinking. Various parts of her are still strewn along the riverbank, including her smokestacks, which I saw just last year. Rest in pieces, great lady of the river!!!

Judy Patsch 01-22-2008 03:57 PM

...more like the fear generated by Capt. Wagner when the sheriff arrived!!!! Whenever I see those gauges on display, I'm tempted to stick a sign: Donated by....

Judy Patsch 01-22-2008 04:11 PM

More SPRAGUE demise pix
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Capt. Bill, I don't know if I could have climbed about her as we did if I had been on her when she was 'alive'. This was chilling enough. Same feeling as when I walked on the GCG bones in St. Louis... Here are 3 more pix, taken less than a year later, in April 1981. You can see the forward half has been stripped, the hogchains mostly removed, and interior items removed, which brings the question: what happened to her engines? Were they removed before or during her museum days, or were they there at the end?

R. Dale Flick 01-22-2008 04:36 PM

Steamboating colleagues:
Judy, many thanks for the incredible SPRAGUE photos pictured on this thread...and for others on A sad sight indeed, but I've learned a lot about the boat from all the memories here. Nothing as forlorn as a vessel in its extremis. Keith's account of being surprised by the horses is something. I can imagine there may have been other 'critters' in/around/under all of that wreckage.

*I noted in the one shot the neat jackstaff still on the bow of the SPRAGUE. Was it wood, iron or steel? That would have made a great addition to a municipal park, landing...or even somebody's yard who was willing to remove it, cart away and restore with hours and hours of scraping and painting, not to mention basing in the ground. Was the jackstaff also lost in due time?

R. Dale Flick

Judy Patsch 01-22-2008 04:47 PM

hmmm... it probably wouldn't have fit in a station wagon, would it?

Bruno Krause 01-22-2008 06:38 PM

Mmm-mmm, absolutely fantastic, wonderful stuff....thanks!

According to the book Keith sent me, the engines were heavily modified for her visit to Pittsburgh's bicentennial in 1959, modified in a way that the wheel would turn ornamentally, hence the bucketsl being thinned out for much less water resistance. Though the book does not get too specific on what exactly was done to the engines it appears that at least both pistons and both cylinder heads were removed.

Shipyard Sam 01-22-2008 07:23 PM

Reminds me of tales of Big Bone Lick, just off the Ohio River in Boone Co., Kentucky, where the bones of the great mammals of the Late Pleistocene were strewn about until Euro curio-hunters eventually carted them away. With the price of scrap steel as it is, today, here's hoping no one makes that connection.

Wouldn't it be amazing if the bones of the SPRAGUE would remain as relics on the banks of the Yazoo for generations to come?

Shipyard Sam 01-22-2008 07:33 PM

Couldn't Keep Her Down
While the SPRAGUE was in Vicksburg, the great piston rods had been cut in two. Done, I heard, as another modification when the Great Lady was in Pittsburgh. There were stories, that in spite of the buckets being reduced to "ornamental" slats, the mighty warhorse's paddlewheel still had enough shove that she ran through her lines while tied at the P'burg landing.

Anyone else heard that story? Bet Captain Judd has.

Jim Blum 01-22-2008 09:57 PM

The boilers had been cut out and became home to the theater where the "Mellerdrama" GOLD IN DEM THAR HILLS (or name similar) was performed. The DQ would land alongside so the passengers could attend the show after touring the town. Due to the condition of the Sprague's hull--so we were told--the DQ started landing closer to the mouth of the Yazoo--close to a sawmill where a sign was nailed to a tree by the wash-up area where the majority of the laborers gathered---the message 'BE ON THE JOB WHEN THE WHISTLE BLOWS and STAY ON THE JOB UNTIL THE WHISTLE BLOWS.'

David Dewey 01-22-2008 11:12 PM

When I read about all the atrocities done to the Sprague's machinery before the fire, and what has happened to most other "preserved" steamboats, I shudder when I hear talk of the DQ becoming a "preserved" boat.
Her "brother" sits out here sans any machinery (well, most of us know where it all went, and how good it has been to the DQ.) and struggles along as a floating hotel/convention center/restaurant. The jury is still out on "him" but I hope it's a good verdict.
David D.

Keith Norrington 01-23-2008 08:42 AM

The engines on the SPRAGUE were intact at the time of the fire, having been modified somewhat in 1959 when she was towed to Pittsburgh for their bicentennial celebration. Some pieces of the engines (low pressure cylinder, etc.) were on display with signage just inside the floodwall before the boat burned and for sometime after. Also, one of her rudders was displayed near the steps that went down to the gangplank. They removed the rudders in an effort to level her a bit after the boilers were removed to make space for the showboat theatre where "GOLD IN THE HILLS" was presented for decades. It is still being presented in a Vicksburg playhouse and is touted as the longest running melodrama in history. Prior to the removal of the boilers, the showboat theatre occupied the second deck, but proved to be too small for the crowds which attended the shows each year.

The RIVER HALL OF FAME occupied the forward cabin on the second deck. It contained numerous models in diorama settings and many fine paintings of river personalities by Vicksburg artist Caroline Compton. My favorites of the portraits were those of Capt. Mary B. Greene, Capt. Tom Greene and showboater Capt. Augustus Byron French. I'm so glad that I took photos of these as EVERYTHING in the museum was destroyed in the April 15, 1974 conflagration. Several steam gauges and the brass bitt plates from the SPRAGUE are nicely exhibited at the Old Court House Museum, just up the hill from the waterfront.

During the hot, dry summer of 1988 I took pictures of the engines from the BIG MAMA and they were then lying in a ditch alongside Highway 61. Nearby were piles of hog chains and other big pieces, including the paddlewheel shaft. The stacks, capstans, jackstaff and a few other relics were moved to the new Catfish Row Landing park which opened a couple of years ago. The stacks ended up NOT being used and were hauled back to a site along the Yazoo and dumped. I have crawled inside one of the stacks -- just to say I did it -- and for a unique photo op! Some years ago, the river museum at Dubuque requested some of the artifacts from the city of Vicksburg inasmuch as the SPRAGUE was "born" at Dubuque. Although the museum offered to handle the logistics and cost for transporting the relics, the request was denied.

The capstans, jackstaff and several other items, painted UNUSUAL colors, now are part of the unique park on the Vicksburg riverfront. If you visit, be sure to see all the fine Dafford murals on the floodwall, including a fine one of the SPRAGUE. Recently moved to the landing and now sitting "high and dry" is the M/V MISSISSIPPI IV, former inspection vessel and towboat of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This boat replaced the Str. MISSISSIPPI (now the BECKY THATCHER) in 1961. The MISSISSIPPI IV will now be part of a new interpretive center and river museum currently under construction.

These recollections also bring to mind that, during my first visit to the SPRAGUE in the summer of 1969, I noticed a very unusual relic sitting inside the floodwall. It was rather dilapidated, made of very old wood, octagonal in shape with a large opening on top and had small windows -- into which people pitched trash, thinking it to be a dumpster. It was the pilothouse of the Civil War ironclad CAIRO, which had been raised from the Yazoo! The remains of the gunboat (sunk in 1862) were later taken to Ingall's Shipyard at Pascagoula before being moved back to the Vicksburg National Military Park where the CAIRO is now on display, replete with an excellent interpretive center containing hundreds of artifacts that were dredged up with the boat.

Shipyard Sam 01-23-2008 05:25 PM

USS Cairo
Thanks, Keith, for your most comprehensive summary of the sad fate of a glorious steamboat. That "unusual relic.. inside the floodwall", the actual pilothouse of the USS CAIRO is something that I spent quite a long time admiring and photographing a century after the ironclad was sunk by the first electrically-detonated "torpedo"; or what we might call an IED today.

The iron cladding was still in place, and inside the metallic covering were the thick oak timbers, that Keith described, that apparently absorbed the shock from cannon rounds striking the outer iron shell. I recall a beautiful bluish-gray patina on the metal that looked more like aged copper than iron.


Frank X. Prudent 01-23-2008 08:26 PM

Because of their speed, or really lack of it, these city boats were referred to as "Pook's Turtles".

Wesley Paulson 01-24-2008 12:23 PM

Tell Me More -
What is the rest of the story referred to here re: Capt. Wagner and the steam gauge(s)?


Judy Patsch 01-24-2008 01:20 PM

During a shore stop in Vicksburg, when the SPRAGUE was still operating as a showboat, one of the DQ crew members (this Watchman/Purser/Mate/Captain/Calliope Player shall remain anonymous) visited the SPRAGUE and 'liberated' a couple of gauges and brought them back to the DQ. Somebody help me here - somehow the word got to the Sheriff's Department, how??? The Sheriff came to the boat determined to retrieve the gauges(no prosecution or anything, just a return). But when Capt. Wagner realized who the perpetrator was, he told the Sheriff he'd handle it. So he called for Chategay!!!! to come, with gauges in hand. But he made the officer think he was going to be arrested. Big E loved to pull pranks, and this officer was one of his favorite victims I believe. Anyway, the gauges were returned, no one got a criminal record, and to this day we associate their eventual placement in the Old Courthouse Museum with that unsuspecting 'donor'!

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