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Sidewheel Boat Engine Room Questions

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Old 07-10-2011, 09:58 AM
Join Date: Aug 2006
Posts: 1,053
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Default Sidewheel Boat Engine Room Questions

Hey all,

Keith's posting of an Engine Room picture from the Str. SENATOR in the Obituary of William Torner ( ) brought up some questions I am wondering if anyone would have answers to.

Sidewheel boats have always been of particular interest to me for many reasons (mostly because I was never aboard a functioning sidewheel steamboat in my years on the rivers). Obviously they handled better for the mere fact on the western rivers, the engines were separate. But, a few questions remain.

Before the Engine Room Telegraph, were there bell signals unique to side-wheelers for the Engineers to answer on only one engine? I have never seen a pilothouse picture showing 2 western rivers bell systems, so I am assuming there were bell signals indigenous to the sidewheel boats different from the sternwheelers.

Also on a sidewheel boat, when the Engine Room Telegraph was used, was each handle on the telegraph device set up to a different telegraph located at each engine (Port side handle to Port Engine Room Telegraph, Stb'd side handle to the Stb'd Engine Room Telegraph)?

In reading about western rivers (Mississippi River system) sidewheel boats in several books, there have been several mentions made of the ability to turn the boats in their own length by backing on one wheel and coming ahead on the other. So one can assume this was a common practice. As well, I have read how you could "twist" the boat off a sand bar with the same practice. I am just wondering how a Pilot conveyed this to the Engine Room.

Unfortunately in my experience on the rivers, we have only had sternwheel steamboats to set my knowledge. The sidewheelers of my time have been diesel powered with separate throttles for the individual wheels. I have also seen dual sternwheeler set ups, diesel powered, with individual throttles (which handle much like a sidewheeler, too).

Just a few questions that have been bouncing around in my mind for several years.

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