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Jim Reising 11-25-2008 11:54 PM

A Definitive Answer, Wood Hulls Were Painted, Kinda
A while back there was some discussion as to whether or not wooden hulls were painted. After acanning several hundred of the Howard photos I can say that YES when Howard built a wooden hull it was painted.........only down to just below the expected waterline. The bottom and lower parts of the gunwales were not painted when the hull was launched.
Speaking of the Howard photos, does anyone have any idea why there would be over a hundred glass plate negatives taken in and around Lansing, Iowa? What was Howards connection to Lansing? From the calendar on the wall in one photo of a barber shop the year was 1914, why would there be a picture of a barber shop in Lansing Iowa in the Howard collection and not one in Jeffersonville?

Judy Patsch 11-26-2008 08:54 AM

Lansing Iowa/Howard connection
There was a boatyard in Lansing from 1893-1900. That's the only thing I can think of offhand, unless someone from Lansing moved to Jeffersonville and worked for Howard...

John Fryant 11-28-2008 09:18 PM

You're so right Jim. I trust you've looked at those pics of the Indiana "on grade" showing the obvious lack of bottom paint. However, they must have waterproofed the bottom seams somehow - perhaps with tar or red lead? Another item they probably never painted was the sidewheels. Can you imagine trying to crawl around over all those wood spokes and buckets with a paint can and brush? They might have painted the iron work - shafts, flanges and rings - but I'm just sure they never tried to paint the wood parts. I'll bet the early stern wheelers never had the wheels painted either. I wonder when the custom of painting sternwheels started? Some of the Howard photos show newly built sternwheelers with the wheels painted except for the bucket planks. I've read that the iron shafts were painted white so that if a crack or break happened it was easier to spot in the white paint. Capt. Bates, can you enlighten us any further on this subject?

Hank Bloomer 12-01-2008 09:17 AM

On the wreck of the Heroine, paint survived on parts of the deck and guards, but there was no indication of paint on the hull or any of the ironwork. 'Course she was an OLD and used up boat when she snagged.

John Fryant 12-01-2008 10:02 AM

Hank, Do you know the colors of the surviving paint on the Heroine? And what parts of the boat was the paint on? I'm not familiar with that boat. Of what vintage ws she?

Hank Bloomer 12-01-2008 10:54 AM

She sank on the Red River in 1838. I've posted about her several times. The guards (gunwale) and railing were black, the deck was red. None of her superstructure survived. The main deck railing was about 12 inches tall, just enough to keep stuff from rolling overboard, or to trip over. The section recovered was from aft the wheels, probably there were no railings forward.

Jim Reising 12-03-2008 02:00 PM

I wonder if it was beneficial not painting wood hulls below the waterline, in a much as, I would think, that unpainted wood would absorb water better and thereby swell quicker. I'm sure that wood hulls are the same as steel hulls in that most of the wastage comes on the sides near the waterline where oxygen mixes with the water and that maybe why the sides were painted to just below the waterline.
Did wood hull builders put water in the hull to swell the wood before launching? If they did I've never seen photographic evidence of such a practice.

Hank Bloomer 12-03-2008 02:24 PM

Just speculation on my part, but from what I have read about the way the old boats were run and the short hull life, I suspect that paint would not have been much protection or extended the life of the wood. (I'm speaking of pre 1870 boats) I have read that the accepted way to get over a sand or gravel bar was to hit it full ahead and hope to scrape over, then to grasshopper if you didn't make it. No wonder the expected boat life was only 4-5 years. The idea of hitting a bar at full steam on a flexible hulled boat with brittle cast iron steam piping boggles my mind. The number of repairs to the hull and surviving machinery of the Heroine is testamony to the hard use to which the boats were put, particularly on the smaller rivers.

Alan Bates 12-03-2008 02:40 PM

I don't know when they started painting paddlewheels, but the spare arms and buckets found on the Bertand deck were painted with red lead (orange color). The boat sank April 1, 1865.

Alan Bates 12-03-2008 02:45 PM

Deck seams were payed with coal tar. I speculate the seams under water started out painted with red lead and linseed oil, but I do not know. Minnie Bay (1950's version) had oakum in seams painted with white lead and oil paint. Resolute had a new-fangled caulking in its seams. It failed!

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