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The Remnants Of The Sprague 2012

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    The story I was told was that there was an effort to rebuild, but one of the "helpful" rebuilders cut the hog chains, thinking they were merely cosmetic, and that's what ended the hull & dashed any hopes of any restoration.
    Still, it would have required money squared to do the job, even back then.
    Sad that so little is done to create a monument to her with the remains.
    But then we're not noted for saving maritime history in this country.
    David D.


      Sinking of the SPRAGUE

      Most of the hogchains melted at the time of the March, 1974 fire. Later that summer she was moved upriver on the Yazoo Canal and beached. In 1979, during high water she was moved back downriver with the encouraging news that some kind of "restoration" was soon to begin. With no support for the huge hull there was too much stress, especially with the weight of the engines and wheel shaft, and it cracked just forward of the engine room, sinking the once mighty SPRAGUE!


        Who stole the gauges out of the engine room... and got caught?


          Thanks for that info. I will contact Bubba. Was wondering about Gordon and if he was still around. As you can probably tell, I haven't been to that part of the country in a coon's age.


            Sprague Reply

            Hi everyone,
            I will try and cover the majority of the topics you folks have brought up in one post. I am relatively young and The Sprague was gone before I was born, but I have always had a tie to the "Big Momma". It is my understanding that the gauges or at least some of them are at The Old Courthouse Museum. I have plans on going to see whats there and photograph it and share with everyone here. The following excerpt was copied from our local Newspaper.

            After the Sprague was retired to City Front, it also became home to “Gold in the Hills,” an 1890s melodrama first performed in 1936 on a stage built in the front part of the boiler room. A collection of photographs and boat models also formed an on-board museum that was started by Dr. Walter Johnston, who drowned on the river nearly a decade before the fire.

            After the fire, community members formed the Save Our Sprague committee to raise money and promote interest in restoring the boat. The hull had survived the blaze and the steel superstructure was untouched. Efforts were unsuccessful and the Sprague was eventually removed from the Yazoo Diversion Canal in pieces to a flat area just east of the fill area of the E.W. Haining Industrial Center to prevent the hull from breaking.

            The fire destroyed the hog chains, which had helped stabilize the hull, eventually causing it to fracture when it was again returned to the Yazoo Diversion Canal in preparation for restoration efforts that never happened. Wakes from passing boats caused the hull to crack in 1979, when it was cut to pieces with explosives and removed from the canal.

            Read more: The Vicksburg Post - Newest mural to honor Sprague 03 22 07

            There is one of the rudders that used to steer the big momma behind the old historic Klondyke Trading Post here in Vicksburg. I have spoken with the owner of the store and he told me that the parts that are sitting there in addition to the rudder, are a bilge pump, a piece to the paddle-wheel shaft and a part of the Pittman arms have been there over 20 years and no one has touched them. I would assume that the pieces rightfully belong to the City Of Vicksburg. The transportation museum is nearing completion in the old depot and the Corps Of Engineers museum is also being completed adjacent to the old depot. I was thinking of suggesting they try and re-assemble the paddle-wheel on a stand and maybe a few other pieces of the Sprague in that area as a static display. I dont think I will have any luck but its worth a try.


              More Sprague From The Newspaper

              [4/15/04]Thirty years later, just thinking about the Sprague brings tears to Bertha Kolb's eyes.

              On April 15, 1974, Kolb and her late husband, Charles Kolb, had just finished their roles as Mr. and Mrs. VanDerLop in the second act of "Gold In The Hills" and had gone home. They had brought their costumes from backstage of the stately sternwheeler's small theater because they needed cleaning. It was a lucky break because their costumes were the only ones not destroyed in the fire that broke out and spread during the stillness of the night.

              The huge steam-powered towboat was, in a matter of hours, reduced to a relic. The blaze itself remains a mystery. Around 8 or 9 that evening, fire kindled in the forward part of the Sprague's cabin and eventually gutted the boat from the top of the Texas deck to the main deck.

              Not only was much of the largest steam towboat ever built destroyed, but also a huge collection of photographs and boat models in a riverboat museum and most of the collection of period costumes used by the Dixie Showboat Players to put on the melodrama "Gold In The Hills" in Vicksburg's budding tourism industry.

              A phone call awakened the Kolbs, and they went to the scene where the flames had drawn an audience all their own.

              "I was just stunned," Bertha Kolb said. "I was awestruck with the magnificent boat that we had enjoyed so much, here it was burning."

              The hull of the Sprague was completed in 1901 at the Iowa Iron Works in Dubuque. The cabins were completed by the middle of 1902, and the nearly complete boat was moved to St. Louis, where the 40-foot propulsion wheel was attached. The move was necessary because the locks on the Upper Mississippi River were not large enough to accommodate the full 318-foot length of the boat known as "Big Mama."

              The boat pushed barges on the Lower Mississippi River for the Monongahela River Consolidated Coal and Coke Co. for many years before being sold to the Esso Corp. of Baton Rouge to move petroleum barges on the Mississippi.

              The shift to diesel power had begun, and the boat was laid up for a time before World War II. But it was reactivated during the war, again to move petroleum, and earned a second nickname, "The Oil Pipeline That Runs North and South On The Mississippi."

              During its lifespan, the Sprague set records on the number of coal barges moved at one time. That tow carried 67,307 tons of coal and measured 1,125 feet long and 312 feet wide.

              It also had the record for the largest tow lost. That wreck resulted in 16 barges demolished, 29 sunk and the loss of 53,200 tons of coal.

              The boat also had a lifesaving role, forging its way through the breach in the Mississippi River levee during the 1927 flood to rescue hundreds of people from their flooded homes and towns and carrying them to dry land.

              In 1948, the Sprague was officially retired and the City of Vicksburg acquired the Sprague from the Standard Oil Corp. Many thought it was a silly expense to moor the old boat at City Front, but it gave visitors a chance to see a working river boat from an era receding into history.

              The boilers were removed from the forward part of the main deck to make room for the theater for "Gold In The Hills" performances. In the years before the fire, an upscale restaurant opened on the second deck.

              After the fire, a group of citizens, including Gary and Susie Leneck, owners of the restaurant, Bertha and Charles Kolb and many others, formed the Save Our Sprague committee to raise funds and promote interest in restoring the boat. The hull was largely intact, as was most of the steel superstructure.

              However, those efforts were unsuccessful and, after many fits and starts at restoration, the Sprague was eventually removed from the Yazoo Diversion Canal in pieces.

              Shortly after the fire, the steamboat was moved to a flat area just east of the fill area of the E.W. Haining Industrial Center to prevent the hull from breaking up. Steamboats of the Sprague's day relied on what are called hog chains to give the hull stability. Since the fire had destroyed the hog chains, there was a real danger of the hull fracturing, a fear that came true some years later when the hulk was again returned to the Yazoo Diversion Canal in preparation for restoration efforts that never materialized.

              The end came in July 1979 when the hull finally cracked due to flexing caused by the wakes from passing boats. Attempts were made, first by river salvors Patton-Tully Transportation Co. and then by a group of house movers hired by the state, but the hull finally had to be cut to pieces with explosives and removed from the canal.

              Once the most powerful steamboat on the river, the rusting hulk of the Sprague was declared a hazard to navigation.

              Even then, the S.O.S. committee still tried to get something done. However, the project sort of died, especially after it became mired in politics.

              There was much discussion at the time about whether money from a bill the Mississippi Legislature had passed several years before the fire could be used for the project. The hitch became $500,000, which was to be raised locally from private donations to match the state's $1 million, because the donations never rose to that level.

              There are a few artifacts remaining with the largest being one of the steering rudders, which was removed when the boat was stripped of its boilers, and the rusting framework of the propulsion wheel. The rudder and some smaller parts are on a lot near City Front, and Vicksburg officials have plans to include them in a development of the area into an art park, a steamboat playground and the old Levee Street Depot.

              The most recent action taken by city officials was to delay a vote to re-advertise for bids on the park development.

              This followed opening of bids on the project with the lowest coming at $3.9 million.

              The city also owns another "celebrity" boat. The deed to the diesel-powered MV Mississippi, retired flagship of the Corps of Engineers, was accepted about 10 years ago. The boat has been parked since not far from where the Sprague rotted. Plans are to include it in the new park at City Front.

              Read more: The Vicksburg Post - Big Mama 039 only a relic in hours


                Gauges display

                Here was the display in the Old Courthouse back in 1983, don't know if its changed by now.
                Attached Files


                  Relics from the Sprague

                  Thanks Judy. The items at the top are the bitt plates from the bow. Seems there is also a weathervane from the jackstaff on display as well.

                  Some years ago the river museum at Dubuque expressed interest in acquiring the engines, wheel shaft, etc., inasmuch as the big towboat was built by the Iowa Iron Works at Dubuque. Officials at Vicksburg vetoed this idea and the artifacts remain in the mud.

                  With the new river interpretive center soon to open in Vicksburg, some of these items would certainly make interesting exhibits!


                    Am I correct that the Sprague's whistle (or one of them) is at the Jefferson Memorial History Museum here in St. Louis? I thought I remember seeing it there.


                      Whistle Talk

                      The main whistle from the SPRAGUE is in the collection of the Ohio River Museum at Marietta, Ohio. When the SPRAGUE was retired in 1948 Capt. Tom Greene had hoped to use the BIG whistle aboard the DELTA QUEEN but those plans didn't materialize when it was realized how much steam would be required to blow it!

                      Kevin, you are correct in that there is another smaller, single barrel whistle in the collection of the Missouri Historical Society that was used on the SPRAGUE. There was much controversy about this for some time, but thanks to research by Jack Custer and Miss Ruth Ferris, who was the curator of the River Room for many years, it was confirmed that the whistle was used on the SPRAGUE. Sadly, the MHS River Room was dismantled in the early 1980's and that fabulous collection, including the authentic pilothouse from the Str. GOLDEN EAGLE is now in storage.


                        *SPRAGUE memories & pictures.*

                        Steamboating clleagues:
                        Great SPRAGUE theme and postings with photos. The topic never fails to interest me. Keith is right on RE: Capt. Tom Greene considering use of the SPRAGUE whistle for the DELTA QUEEN. Capt. Tom 'fiddled' with several whistles now and then rotating them around and this has been mentioned here in the long ago. I 'think' Jim Reising knew more about it. Capt. Tom mentioned this SPRAGUE whistle idea in a long letter he wrote [Typed himself] to friend Dan Heekin CEO of big HEEKIN CAN CO. here in Cincinnati.

                        Dan was a steamboat and whistle buff knowing Capt. Fred Way, among others, for years. Some of the Heekin family lived in Hyde Park and Jane Greene and I attended Withrow High School with one or more. Dan periodically would have various steamboat whistles he owned mounted on the roof of his building to be blown a number of times each day as industrial plants then did. I can recall as a kid being in town hearing one or more of the whistles blow for lunch at noon, mid afternoon break time, closing in the early evening--and any other time Dan Heekin wanted to hear his whistles. Boy, did they echo and re-echo off the tall buildings in town. Capt. Tom also mentioned in writing how the dimensions of the whistle pipes wouldn't match up on the DQ. By a strange almost 'spooky' coincidence Barb Hameister happened to find the original of this letter shoved in the back of a book at a yard sale she attended. It was featured on this web for a time and may still be called up. HEEKIN CAN CO. years later became known as CONTINENTAL CAN and moved east of Cincinnati to Newtown, Ohio on the little Miami River.
                        Even in the latter 1940s Tom Greene, Fred Way and Dan Heekin conferred on the plan to have the river collection in Marietta housed in a separate building. Tom Greene had carefully saved all of the cabin wood work from the CHRIS GREENE and desired to see it reconstructed in a separate portion of the newly proposed museum just as it had appeared on the boat. Sadly, that plan never came to fruition with the CHRIS GREENE cabin work later burned and destroyed. Capt. Tom Greene was no slouch as a writer pounding the typewriter keys. Had he more time and a longer life he could have produced writing as fine as Fred Way or others. Capt. Tom also the first to use the term 'Steamboatiana' in reference to river relics and his many friends.

                        Keith, among others, no doubt recalls us viewing a movie years ago at either an S&D or MOR meeting taken on a DQ trip. The DQ and her passengers came in the morning following the fire on the SPRAGUE with the camera clearly catching the smoldering ruins of the boat. I saw the SPRAGUE under tow passing Cincinnati the year she was taken to Pittsburgh. In my junk here is a letter/card written to somebody aboard the SPRAGUE by Gene Hampton. Well, what do I know?

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


                          Has anyone told you yet? Thought you would have known.