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    Showboat steering

    The recent showboat thread got me wondering again about the steering and engine signal arrangement between the showboat barge and the towboat. It was stated in an earlier thread on this subject that there was a connection between the two so that the whole rig could be controlled from the showboat pilothouse. Seems to me that that would involve great lengths of line, with the inherent stretch problems of rope. Also the open section between the stern of the barge and the forward part of the towboat cabin is an area that would seem to be full for potential problems and snags for running lines. Was the connection made up semi-permanently or was it a temporary rig? How did they handle engine signals? Was natural fiber line used to the end or did later rigs use wire rope? Do the steering arrangements still exist on the Golden Rod and Majestic?

    #2
    Between the towboat and the showboat there were two tiller lines and three bell lines, all of wire - no grass lines were allowed. I've often wondered about the slack, etc., between the boats, but apparently it was not a real problem. The connection was semi-permanent, for there were times when they wanted the towboat separate from the showboat. Engine signals were the same as for any other boat, consisting of stopping and backing jingle bells and a ship-up gong. The only lines that had to be more or less taut were the steering cables. The bell system was slack. I do not know if the lines are still in either showboat.

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      #3
      The steering sheaves that carried the tiller lines aboard the GOLDENROD SHOWBOAT were removed in 1968 during renovation work. One of the sheaves was displayed in the Midship Museum aboard the Str. BECKY THATCHER and I remember that Ruth Ferris had a framed drawing and detailed description attached to it explaining how a showboat was steered from the showboat's pilothouse.

      The GOLDENROD had a BIG pilotwheel (8' or perhaps larger) and I have a large charred piece of it that survived the June, 1962 fire. From photos I've seen, the wheel on the MAJESTIC was much smaller. It is no longer in the showboat pilothouse.

      Herewith is a photo of the GOLDENROD, taken at Herculaneum, Missouri in 1937, just a short time before she was permanently moored at St. Louis. Note the BIG pilotwheel.
      Attached Files

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        #4
        Where were the lines run- at main deck level or up at the bottom of the boiler deck? Did the tiller lines run all the way back as duplicates to the towboats, or did they connect into the towboat system after those lines turned aft?

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          #5
          Hank, all of the lines ran just under the towboat boiler deck. The showboat tiller lines did not run all the way to the tiller, but were clamped to the towboat's tiller lines somewhere between the towboat's pilotwheel and the tiller. The quick release was between the boats, maybe clamps or maybe shackles. Whatever it was, you can bet it was invented on the spot and was crude and easily handled.

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            #6
            Hank: As I hoped he would, I'm glad that Alan explained the set-up of showboat steering. Seems to me that I have a picture of the steam towboat WENONAH, which pushed the GOLDENROD SHOWBOAT in her last traveling days, and the lines that Alan describes as running under the boiler deck of the towboat are very visible. I'll check and if so, I'll scan it for your edification.

            The late Capt. William H. Tippitt, a river "character" if ever there was one, wrote a booklet some years ago about his experience of steering the SHOWBOAT GOLDENROD as a trip pilot. The booklet was published by Donald McDaniel, of Worthington, Ohio, who once published a newsletter entitled Showboat Centennials, the entire collection of which is available at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

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              #7
              That is pretty much what I suspected. Thanks for confirming it.

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                #8
                I'd like to see that photo. All of the showboat photos I've seen are from angles that obscure that area.

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                  #9
                  Hank: I couldn't find the picture of the WENONAH (I'll keep looking) but here is one of the VALLEY BELLE that pushed BRYANT'S SHOWBOAT. Look closely and you'll see the wire lines, that Alan described, running between the showboat and towboat.

                  Also, here are two photos, taken in the Midship Museum aboard the Str. BECKY THATCHER at St. Louis, that show the steering sheave from the GOLDENROD SHOWBOAT mounted in the corner amidst a hogchain post, tools, wood casting patterns for steamboat engine parts and other artifacts. That yellow grating covers a hatch into the hold.

                  Hope this helps!

                  Keith
                  Attached Files

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                    #10
                    Hank,
                    slack in control lines was not objectionable. In the steering lines, when the pilot turned the wheel he lifted the slack out of one side and added it to the other. The lines "wanted" to have equal slack so the tiller moved toward the taut side. When the slack was equal, more or less, the tiller straightened up. It must have been a slow, but comfortable way to steer - no shocks.
                    As for the bell wires, pretty much the same condition prevailed. When the pilot pulled the bell wire and >LET GO< the bell spring rang the bell.
                    Last edited by Alan Bates; 08-01-2008, 07:51 AM. Reason: choice of words

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                      #11
                      Thanks again to both of you. I'm always amazed at the things to be learned here.

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                        #12
                        Hank: Here's the photo I promised of the steam towboat WENONAH at St. Louis with the SHOWBOAT GOLDENROD. The showboat was permanently moored at St. Louis in October, 1937 and received a DPC steel barge hull in 1947, so this picture was taken somewhere within that time period. The WENONAH was built in 1907 at Rumsey, Kentucky, originally named LITTLE CLYDE. She did a lot of towing work on the Tennessee River and was renamed WENONAH in 1917. Her wooden hull was 98' x 20' x 4.5'. When the old towboat became very decrepit, Capt. J.W. Menke removed her pilotwheel, whistle, roof bell and other items of value. She was towed across the river to East St. Louis, Illinois on February 5, 1951 and burned to scrap.

                        This is probably much more information than you needed/wanted to know, but that's the steamboat museum curator coming out in me! Anway, in the image you can see quite an array of wires running between the showboat and towboat.
                        Attached Files

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                          #13
                          Thanks Keith. Never too much information! My screen resolution isn't that good (nor are my eyes) but I'll try pnotoshopping it. It certainly shows what I wanted to know. If reference to slack in the lines, there really seems to be a lot, but Capt. Bates explaination accounts for that.

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