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Old 10-28-2016, 08:52 AM
Join Date: May 2006
Location: Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S.A.
Posts: 1,573

*Steamboat 'facilities' or lack of*
Morning, Steamboating colleagues:
Got that right, Judy and Frank. Even the last ISLAND QUEEN had potties dumping direct into the river adjacent to the big sidewheels. To a little kid it was frightening looking way down that pottie pipe seeing daylight and water sloshing along. And mom or dad had to yank me in there with no complaints on my part. Judy right about the then facilities on the AVALON. Steamboats way back then not always noted for cleanliness as we knew it later along with innumerable foul odors, infestation with bed bugs, vermin from cargo hauled just below the passenger areas. Fred Way mentioned bed bug infestations on steamboats he knew with the passenger cabins opened, crew using live steam in a hose line to kill the nasty little bugs in the beds, tongue-and-groove wall panels, floors. Wire door and window screens didn't come in until much, much later if used at all. Washroom facilities even on the big brag boats late in development. Early boats had just simple communal wash basins with the pottie hole mentioned above. Even washroom towels were used in common along with hair brushes and even tooth brushes...YUK! They did have soaps and some cleaning agents but chlorine bleach for domestic use didn't come along until just before World War I. Intense disinfecting done with sulphur candles, cabolic acid sprayed around, strong soap to hand wash surfaces.

Passengers cabins, until installation of electrical power plants aboard, forbid candles, oil lamps in cabins due to threat of fire. Light for passenger cabins came through the outside deck transom and the transom windows inside with the daylight or light from the big chandeliers. Later boats did have piping for gas to lights from a central gas generator. One old steamboat record mentions "gas to the boat delivered in barrels." I wonder of the "barrels" weren't a kind of metal tank like propane today? Piping of gas on big boats subject to movement, heaving an issue keeping the pipe joints from separating or breaks in the line. Same also later for hot/cold water, steam heat in passenger cabins, public rooms, main cabin. Some cabins, if lucky, had a crockery wash basin with pitcher on request with hot--usually tepid--water on call by the cabin boys or chambermaid. People 'bird bathed' unless later steamboats had central bath areas with showers or possibly a tub. Forget any thought of having personal laundry done if aboard for a longer trip.

Again and again letters, diaries mention "Home from the boat to a clean bed, linen, clean bath." What's that tell you? Yeah, those old steamboat days really wonderful, romantic, beautiful with banjos, singing, dancing, top hats, crinoline, jolly old captains, weren't they? Yeah, right. Well, what do I know?

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