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25 years ago...

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    25 years ago...

    I am not sure this is the correct thread, but I'll give it a go anyway.

    Hello everybody,
    My name is Willem van Berkel and I live in the Netherlands. In 1978 I read an arcticle in a Dutch hobby magazine about Wester River boats. It had pictures of the Queen City, Kate Adams, Sprague, Chaparon, Valley Belle, J.M. White and her model by John Lesley. I fell in love instantly. The story behind it was of Manfred Mueller. He was a German modelbuilder and riverboat enthousiast who also sold kits and plans. I ordered his catalog right away and when I got it I didn't know what to do. I wanted to have it all! Unfortunately the things he sold were rather expensive, so I had to restrain myself and the Robt. E Lee model plans. That was the first of many purchases, both from Germany and from the U.S.A. I got hold of a few adresses and started to write to people.
    Imagine this: when I started in 1979, (I was 19 then) with this hobby there was no internet. Everything went via snail-mail and airmail. Letters took weeks to arrive and sometimes I had to wait months for an answer.
    I corresponded with about 30 to 40 people in the U.S., pestering libraries, riverboat captains, engineers, government offices, anyone how could supply me with any information at all about these beautifull boats and their unique steamengines. With the introduction of the internet, and everything and everbody coming online, it has become a lot easier.
    Unfortunately I do not have the funds to cross the water and investigate everything at the spot, so to speak. I could spent weeks in your libraries and second-hand bookshops!
    In the past 25 years I have been fortunate enough to collect a serious amount of information. My interest has somewhat shifted to the machiner of these beautifull boats and I have literaly stalked people like William Sawyer, Conrad Milster and especially Jack Custer.
    Due to personal circumstances I have not been able to spend much time on my hobby. Along the way I lent material and books to other Western River buffs, but unfortunately some things were never returned. Both the Western Rivers Steamboat Cyclopoedium and the Engineroom Cyclopoedium were lost. I have mailed mister Keith Norrington of the Howard Steamboat museum who I believe owns the copyrights for the books, but I have'nt heard from him so far.
    I recently found this site and enjoy it very much. I am still browsing all the treads ans learn a lot every time!

    Acquiring books

    Good to hear your story, welcome to! I'm sure Keith will be responding to you soon.


      What is it with steamboats?

      They either garner a casual acknowledgment or down right clinical obsession.

      Welcome. You're in good company here.


        Thank you Judy and Ron,

        Yes, it is a strange thing with these boats. As I said, for me it all started about 25 years ago. Since then I moved a lot from town to town following my employers around the country and the boxes marked "Western River Steamboats" always went with although they were seldomly opened. Time and space simply would not allow me.

        But now I have the time again to give these boats and their engines the attention they deserve and I am picking up where I left. At this time my wife and I are on vacation in Italy at lake Como. I am typing al this on the tiny touch screen of my Samsing smartphone.
        The Howard gift shop page can not be opened in Android, but the last time I checked on my computer at home, both Cycloepedia were out of stock. It would be great if I could buy them again, new or second-hand. I will have to be more patient and wait for Mr. Norrington's response.

        I have literaly read these books over and over again. If you want to have any knowledge about the structural and mechanical details of Western River Boats, these are the books to read. And of course Adam Kane's book! There is also much to be found in American and English magazines that were published around the turn of the century. Kane's book has a very good biblografy with numerous references.


          Welcome, Willem!

          Franz is still working on a new (revised) edition of the Western Rivers Steamboat Cyclopedium in German. I´m not sure how far he got. Unfortunately he´s currently in the US so I can´t ask him.

          You may contact him via email - check here.



            Back in Holland again.

            Thanks for you welcom Carmen. I wil try to contact Franz.


              Jack and Sandy Custer.

              Has anyone heard of Jack and Sandy Custer recently? I think Jack must be in his seventies now? I wonder what happened to The Steamer Sprague Archive".


                Kenny Howe on one of his bike rides saw Sandy Custer cutting her grass last week. Happy to say jack and Sandy are both doing well. Jack is still working at UPS and they are busy doing some remodeling on their grand old house (it was once the main office building for the K&I Railroad) I also understand Jack is busy doing detail research on the SRAGUE's main engines.
                What you need to do is to pay visit to Louisville. I'm sure the Custers would be glad to see you, Keith would be more than happy to show you the Howard Museum and the crew on the BELLE loves to show off their historic boat. I think that once you pay the airfare you'll find things a lot cheaper here than they were in Lake Como.
                Picture is the K&I office building courtesy of the UofL Photo Archives
                Attached Files


                  Sprague Sternwheel Towboat

                  Built 1901 Largest sternwheel towboat ever made. Vicksburg M has riverboat wall murals built on flooodwalls. Nice one of the Sprague dedicated March 23 2007.Sprauge also known as Big Mama of the Misissippi. burned 1974 sank 1979 saw photos were some rusted parts still there. Belle of Louisville is great an a MUST see The Howard Steamboat Museum Jeffersonville Ind. a tour by director Keith would be unforgettable. Carole Matthews Pompano Beach Fla


                    When I corresponded with Jack in the 80’s, he told me that he wanted to build a really big model of the Sprague, but he found that Mr. Bates’ plans weren’t accurate enough. So he was in the process of making new, 9 to 10 feet long drawings. He used two doors as drawing board.
                    He said he had photographed every inch of her machinery and he had plans to make drawings of that too. I assume that he is not very active on the digital hiway, but I am pleased to hear that he and Sandy are well. And yes, I may cross “the Pond” eventually and see everything with my own eyes, although I will have to convince my wife to change the vacation plans…
                    Yesterday “Treasure in the cornfield” dropped on the mat. I ordered the book after visiting the steamboat Arabia website. I had hoped to contact the the curator of the museum, but there is no contactadres. So I Googled for Greg Hawley, only to find that he died in a car accident in 2009 caused by a wreckless 19 year old driver. I was not aware of this and it took me by surprise.
                    Reading mr. Hawley’s book and visiting the Arabia site make me realise what an enourmous project he started and finished.
                    I was hoping to find information about the machinery that was salvaged and now on display, but unfortunately there is very little of that. Carl Jones send me drawings and notes of the Missouri Packet machinery that was donated to the Arabia museum. He said I could post the drawings if I want and I will do that shortly. I only found a short dark movie about the Missouri Packet engine on the internet.
                    I was lucky to find a good copy of the Western Rivers Steamboat Cyclopoedium on Amazon and bought it. Franz is preparing a German translation of the Western Rivers Engineroom Cyclopoedium, so I’ll wait for that one.
                    Attached Files