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Novel Research Help Request #6 (Long)

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  • Loren DeShon
    Thanks for the replies, this is exactly why I post my excerpts. I might be able to find this in my reference materials, but I'm on the road so I'll just ask a few more questions to hopefully get it clear in my mind.

    I figured that when the boat has a head of steam but the engines are not engaged the steam still has to go somewhere. I guess I imagined (rather than research it, my bad) that there must be 'escape valves' that would release excess steam when it wasn't driving the pistons.

    So, if I understand you guys right, the steam would still be routed through the engines, but the 'valve jacks' would be lifted to allow the steam to go through the cylinder, without driving the piston, on its way to the 'scape pipe'?

    Another assumption I had made (bad on me for assuming) was that the steam, whether utilized to drive the piston or not, would be routed through the same tall stacks that exhaust the furnace gasses. But that's wrong, the steam is actually vented through separate stacks, the 'scape pipes'? One scape pipe for each engine? Where would the scape pipes normally be in relation to the furnace stacks and would they be visible from the deck or shore?

    Thanks again.


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  • R. Dale Flick
    Dear Loren & Steamboating colleagues:
    Nice installment with lots of color and 'word pictures' for sure. Have to agree with Frank RE: 'scape pipes.'

    Another phenomenon recorded in letters, diaries then--and observed by many here in the present day--was how the boats steamed on a shallow river close to shore. "The boat sucked the water out from the shore with a swish sound leaving the bank and bars visible dark and wet; then when passing the waves raced behind rolling in and higher on the shore making the low willows and grases wave and toss with the ebb and flow. A few horses with heads down drinking skittered with a spook seeing the waves roll in."

    R. Dale Flick
    Summer: Lake Leelanau, by the shores of Lake Michigan. Downright cold here this morning!

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  • Frank X. Prudent
    I'm not sure what escape valves are. My guess is that you mean 'scape stacks or 'scape pipes. Those would be the two stacks above the engines where the spent steam from the engines is released into the atmosphere. It would make sense. The pilot rang down to the engineroom to stop the boat, and the engines' handlers could have lifted the valve jacks. The wheels would stop and steam would be passing through the engines and still coming out through the 'scape pipes.

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  • Loren DeShon
    started a topic Novel Research Help Request #6 (Long)

    Novel Research Help Request #6 (Long)

    Here is another extract from my novel. Our hero is making a trip from St Louis back home to St Joseph, Missouri, after having been to New Orleans and travelled on grand Mississippi boats, including the Natchez, Captain Leathers.

    Please tell me if anything looks technically incorrect.

    As always, thanks in advance for comments.

    'The James Monroe couldn’t chug its way up the Missouri fast enough for me. I was in a sweat to get home, see Angel and Caleb, attend the wedding if I was lucky, and shoot back down to St Louis to hold Hannah to her promise.

    I paced the deck of the steamer, marveling at how its appearance had changed when in fact it hadn’t changed at all. Months ago, fresh from the farm, it had seemed to me the epitome of grand richness and sophistication, but now it struck me as rather small and tawdry. As a Missouri boat she was small to cope with the river’s tight, constantly changing channels and its paint was faded, the carpet threadbare, and the paintings on each stateroom door cheap and peeling. For all that she was taking me home at the rate of five knots against the current and since nothing I could do would make her go any faster I stifled my impatience and joined a desultory poker game. Hours droned by marked only by the shuffling of the cards, clink of chips, and low voices announcing bets until the boat came to a smooth, gradual halt in the middle of the river. No one so much as spilled their drink, but the Monroe had run aground.

    I went out on deck with the rest of the passengers to find the wheels stopped, steam whistling through the escape valves, and the mate stomping about cussing, bellowing orders and shouting to the pilot leaning out of the pilothouse far above. Leadsmen cast their weighted lines out ahead, to the sides, and astern and called out the depth of water. Nearby the Captain answered questions.

    “No, ma’am, Mr. Tyler is a very good pilot, these things happen on the Missouri, the river’s always shifting her course and navigation is difficult. No, sir, I cannot guarantee we’ll be in Arrow City by sundown, I’ll not know that until we’re off this bank. Yes, ma’am, we’ll get her off as soon as we can. Now, if you all will excuse me.”

    He worked his way through the anxious questioners until he could mount the stairs to the pilothouse, doubtless not so much to assist the pilot as to escape the nagging. Another speaker caught my attention.

    “Ma’am, I’ve travelled this here river a bunch and I’ve seen steamers get off sandbars in five minutes and I’ve seen it take five days, there’s no tellin’. Trouble is, this river’s fallin’ now, and—ah, here we go.”

    He halted as the sidewheels began to turn in reverse and smoke poured in fast-rising clouds from the stacks as the stokers pitched cords of firewood into the furnaces. The churning water around the hull was even browner than the river itself—not a good sign, as it meant the wheels were plowing up mud from the bottom. Presently they slowed to a stop and the escape valves began to shriek once again.

    The first mate acknowledged a command shouted from above, cupped his hands to his mouth and roared, “All hands aft and by God all passengers too! Unless yer legs are broke get yerself aft.”

    Everyone did move aft—crewmen, deck passengers, stateroom passengers, cabin servants, off watch stokers, even a flock of sheep that had been penned on the bow was herded to the stern. The mate sent hands throughout the boat in search of malingerers, then hollered up to the pilothouse that all was ready. Steam was re-routed to the enormous pistons, again the wheels churned up a chocolate maelstrom, and again the vessel failed to move. A collective groan came from the crowd as the engines stopped once more.

    “What now?” I asked the experienced man.

    “Well,” he said, placing a fresh chaw in his cheek, “mebbe the river will rise an’ float us off, which I doubt cuz it’s been dropping, or we’ll shift freight to the stern, which I also doubt, or they’ll have to lighten the ship to raise her up.”

    “Why not shift more weight to the stern?”

    “I suspect it’s too shallow back there. We slid onto a long, slowly shelvin’ bar, an’ all the weight we shifted aft just caused her to dig a trough and build up a berm that’s now a’holdin’ the stern. If so, all we can do is wait for a rise in the river or lighten her up.”

    Lighten her up it was. Word spread from the pilot on down that the Monroe was quite stuck and the Captain sent a skiff downriver to contract for barges to be brought up. Passengers huddled in groups debating their best course, and soon the steamer’s remaining small boat was ferrying people ashore who didn’t have far to go. I debated going ashore myself and trying to rent or buy a horse, but decided against it upon hearing of the current state of the primitive roads.

    “Pure mud right now,” said the oracle. “Been rainin’ like hell, horses sink so deep folks got to stand on their backs just to see where they’re goin’.”

    “If it’s been raining so much how come the river’s dropping?” came a voice from the circling listeners.

    “Cuz if you’ll notice it ain’t rainin’ no more,” said the man, spitting over the rail, “an’ if you don’t believe me just look ahead o’ the boat a ways.”

    We all looked, and sure enough about a hundred yards upstream a patch of wet sand had emerged from the river, a slice of temporary land that had not been visible when we first grounded. The river was indeed dropping, but it seemed to me the best course was to stay aboard and hope we’d be refloated before too long.

    It took three days. It was a day and half before the barges appeared, two of them towed by another steamer, and it took some very pretty maneuvering to get them alongside without the new steamer also grounding. Then it took most of a day to transfer virtually everything that could be moved to the barges—freight, livestock, supplies, most of the tons of wood for the furnaces—until she finally floated off the sandbar to the cheers of the weary crew and remaining passengers. The pilot drifted her slowly back downstream, paddles churning, careful of the barges strapped alongside, until he found deeper, calmer water where the laborious task of getting everything back aboard could begin. I worked alongside the crew and the other male passengers in the reloading to help get us underway as soon as possible. Eventually the job was done and the barges were cast off, anchored in place to be retrieved later, and the James Monroe resumed her interrupted journey.'