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RULE # ONE .... "Don't try to ever compare a Towboat - With A TUG!"

"Its an Insult to Both!! ..... Since Tugs are a totally different type of WORKBOAT and can't do this work on Inland Rivers! ...  A tug can only do some things on a river, where its depths are deep enough to allow it to Operate.     But further upstream = Its the Domain of TOWBOATS!


So, Just What The Heck - Is A Towboat Anyway?

    Picture a workboat that's been built to withstand the worst possible conditions imaginable for any vessel to endure.     Especially when running in a "Shallow Ditch", filled the following ingredients = # One - You Have Damned Little Water ..... # Two = Very Narrow Twisting Channels laid out by what must of been a Drunk'n = SNAKE.    # Three = Rivers are filled with Sandbars .... Rocks .... Stumps & Mud as well as "Swift Currents" that can attain 15+ Mph. OR MORE.    Then Mix well with Crosswinds, Narrowly Spaced - Bridge Piers ... Low Bridges you can't get under and other navigation difficulties & Obstructions.    Then pour everything into one bowl and garnish with plenty of - River Traffic.    And you begin to get some idea of what a river truly is.    "And you also begin to see what these boats must do, which is nothing short of = IMPOSSIBLE!"

.... But this says nothing about "Extremes in Weather", like Hurricanes & Tornadoes or Hail Storms with Hail bigger than Softballs.     Yes, a Towboat is truly born to a life of "Difficulty", raised in a realm where no boat should ever be forced to Run.    But to these boats, its just routine on any river, when your born from their legacy of steamboats.   Designed to endure - Hell Itself! ..... Pushing massive amounts of tonnage = Where No Other Vessel can roam.    All this and much more, created these river workboats, whom are capable of Churning - Mud, Chewing Stumps & Surviving such encounters on a daily basis, 365 days a year, whenever cargo has to = Move!



Towboats were Born From Steamboats

So Who Built The 1st - Steamboat?

    Robert Fulton designed and built the very first American Steamboat, in 1807.    It was called the Clermont and steamed it down the Hudson river from New Albany to New York.    But his - 2nd boat, built in 1811 along the upper Ohio in Pennsylvania, called - "New Orleans" is much more important here.    Because that vessels launching is considered the beginnings of what opened our nations western territory to more settlements.    Because it was the first steamboat to ply the Ohio, Mississippi river system.    And it opened our nation to much faster travel time.    All thanks to Fulton's invention as he steamed it down And back in those days, if you had to travel someplace, you either used a Keelboat or Flatboat, Walked or Rode a Horse.    And there were only meager game trails to follow between towns & settlements.    And Indians were always a worry, along with Pirates and thief's - just to mention a few common problems everyone shared in those days - when traveling.    So life was very dangerous, but also rather interesting too.    Case in point, take what the Indians - thought of steamboats, for example.    Many thought they were a - Bad Omen and they called steamboats ... "The White Man's - "Fire Canoe!"    FACT! ..... By 1836, over "Six Hundred" steamboats where traveling our inland rivers.     And virtually no river or large stream within our nations boundaries, at some point - in time,  hasn't been navigated by a steamboat.    And news of "Custer's Last Stand" at little Bighorn, was brought down the Missouri river with survivors of the battle, aboard the steamboat - Far West.    And back in those days, steamboats could travel in as little as 18" of water.    No wonder - Mark Twain once said - The Steamboat is a Remarkable Thing, "Capable of Moving on as little water - as a heavy Dew!



Henry Shreve - PERFECTED

What Robert Fulton = CREATED!

    Fulton's - trip to New Orleans, was closely watched by many, but none more  closely than by Henry Shreve.    Because he had prior "Keel & Flat-Boat", experience, and realized there were flaws in Fulton's - steamboat design.    And this was proven as he watched Fulton encounter problems, common to all vessels that run rivers.    Simply put, Fulton's  steamboat was simply 'To Deep" in draft for operating on rivers.    Because when the boat encountered a sandbar, its round hull would often roll over on its side and take on water.    Several times, the vessel nearly sank during the trip south.    Which gave Shreve ideas on how to improve things.    Returning to his home, he began to develop his own steamboat designs, which used concepts from his flatboat experience and created a whole new vessle.... The STERN WHEELER!

Typical Mid-1800's Stern Wheel - Steamboat



Where Did The Term = Towboat .... COME FROM?

Late 1800's "Converted" Packet Boat, used to Push - Barges!

    The term - TOW or Towboat, originates most likely from the first use of Barges on our inland rivers.    The barge ( Or a Number Of Them! ), when "Lashed Together", were called a = TOW.    So its not difficult to figure out how this quickly formed the phrase - Tow Boat, as a shortened version that combined steamboat & barges - Together.    But this very same term is also found in steamboats used to assist huge "Log Rafts", to get downstream to saw mills too.    So its exact origins and whom exactly started its use = as a river term or phrase, just isn't clear.    However, by around 1820 ( We Believe ), pushing barges had a good start on our inland rivers and since smaller steamboats were built to run smaller rivers.    They were used to handle an occasional barge, to get extra cargo to its destination.    The 1st barge, probably made from an old Flatboat or keel boat, or maybe what was left of an older gutted - steamboat hull, became the Barge.    Nothing fancy - that's for sure, so the early towboat was unlike its graceful counterpart, the packet boat , because it need no fancy looks.    It only needed space for required supplies, firewood - for fuel, and the barest basic's of sleeping quarters for its crew, some didn't even have stateroom and you slept - On Deck.    Simple - but also very unique, the early towboat required only two things in its early beginnings, "More Powerful Engines & Enhanced Steering, in order to handle more barges & cargo.    And that is exactly how these boats were improved as time went by, making them more effective and better equipped to handle what seemed impossible.    Think Not? .... well how many boats can you name, which are designed to withstand the rigors of Churning Mud & Chewing Stumps, or  Rocks and able to Survive a Grounding with little or no damage?    "To me - at least. these boats are nothing short of = Remarkable!    



The Sprague

Lovingly Called "Big Momma", the

Largest Steam Powered - Towboat .... EVER BUILT!

Tap Photos to Enlarge

  Sprague.jpg (91675 bytes) sprague2.jpg (97542 bytes) sprague13.jpg (207570 bytes) sprague21.jpg (102624 bytes) sprague3.jpg (45540 bytes)

    The "SPRAGUE", was the Largest and most powerful - steam towboat, that was ever built.    And she still holds towing records that continue to stand - today, and may well never be broken.   Built at Dubuque Iowa, by "Iowa Iron Works" in 1901, she had a total of 2,079 Horsepower with a steel hull that measured 276' x 61' x 7.4' overall = length, width & draft.    Carrying Six "Hopkins Boilers" that powered her "Forty Foot" diameter stern wheel, the sternwheel was later shortened to a 38 foot diameter to give her more speed and power.   This is also about the point, when she acquired the nickname "Big Momma".    Mainly due to the massive tows and cargo she could handle, that were often so-massive in size, they caused the Mississippi to actually run backwards after she passed going upriver.   Some accounts claim her "Wheel Wash" would often splash the banks -  for hours after she had passed.   And having six - boilers to fuel, she easily consumed coal in "Tons - Per Hour" rates, or by the truckload by today's standards.    All of which had to be hand fed to her boilers, by a large number of crewmen with shovels and wheel barrows to haul the coal from her Fuel Flats.   Note the coal barges in the "Above - Left Photo", their obviously just a small part of her fuel supply and during a trip she'd have to carry a large number of those coal flats to keep her steam - Up!

    De-commissioned at Memphis Tenn. on March 5 of 1948, she was then laid-up at Vicksburg Mississippi and later converted to a floating museum / tourist attraction.    But the boat burned in 1974 under mysterious conditions, which the cause of the fire was never determined?    Her remains  now lay along the lower - Yazoo River in one of its slack water creeks, a sad reminder of the KING - OF PUSH and all that's left is these photos and her Legacy.    NOTE = the above - Left Photo, came from a postcard sent to me, by Mr. Jack Custer, editor of the "Egregious Steamboat Journal" at Louisville Ky.    The photo on the Right - was found in my research in a museum photo collection at the St. Louis - Mercantile Library.    And the rest are from various river museum collections.    Just exactly "Where Or When" these photos were taken ..."Or By - Whom?".... Was Never Determined! 



Steamboats = The 1st to use "Duel Steering!"


Late 1800's Stern Wheelers with usual = Flanking Rudders    Later Same Vessel, converted to "DUEL - Steering Systems"

Going Up-River - Was Easy .... "Going Downstream with the Current" - Was The Hard Part!

    By the Late 1800's .... Shipbuilders & Owners ( even today ), were always trying to improve profits and give their boats - greater speed & abilities.    Duel Steering - was just one these unique ideas, so successful it became a standard on all modern river towboats.    Yet nobody knows exactly whom - first developed the idea?.....Or which vessel, was the first to use it??    But a lot of old - River Rats ( At First ), thought the idea - CRAZY.    Which is probably where the term - Monkey Rudders, may well have come from as they called them.    Being a term which refers to the "Stern Rudders" on towboats, which steamboats originally - didn't have.    Later these twin steering systems were called simply - Flanking & Stern - Rudders, which in steamboats, at first = were all coupled together - as one single system.    This allowed a pilot to steer = in either direction, using the engine = "Forward or Reverse", no matter whether the vessel was going = Upstream Or Down.    This way, pilots had control, regardless of cross winds and currents, which made things - Far More Safe, not to mention Easier to Handle!



Other Unique - Riverboat Facts

    Worlds First - Steam Powered Warships, Were American River - Gun Boats!     Packets or Steamboats used on river trade routes, were converted or rebuilt for War - by both sides in the Civil War.    This founded the history of what became our "Modern Naval Warships" and the World Followed our Path.    The Monitor and others - like her, using innovations that began back then.    Proved other concepts and ideas that also inspired today's modern shipbuilding, not only in War, but in Trade and Cargo - Transportation.    Take the change from Paddlewheels, to the new idea of Propeller Drives & Other early Inventions in Steamboats ..... Today's modern vessels are full of Historically recorded fittings and New Fangled Ideas that became standards today ..... See More Below!

Tap Photo to Enlarge    

1ST-RIVER-KORT.JPG (89911 bytes)    The 1st US - Work Boat, to use a Kort Nozzle!   Installed on the M/V Pioneer in 1939, with a 93' hull that had carried 250 horsepower.    This "Single Screw" towboat was built by Dravo Shipbuilding, as an experiment.    Just to prove Kort Nozzles - worked on inland rivers, and Improved - thrust, by as much as 25% - Or More.    For example - if a 4800 horse towboat was refitted with Kort Nozzles, it would operate effectively like a larger 5000 horse boat with the kort's = added thrust.     This meant river boats with smaller engines could also use - less fuel, equipped with kort nozzles and create more thrust & power that provided owners a greater cost savings to operate.

Tap Photo to Enlarge

cobb1.jpg (139593 bytes) cobb3.jpg (464341 bytes) cobb4.jpg (116255 bytes)    The  Earliest - Most Powerful Diesel ...Towboat!     Was the "Irvin S. Cobb", launched in 1936, from the rebuilt remains of the old 1929 - steel hull of the Steam Towboat - J. N. Pharr.    The Cobb used a 615 horse - National Superior engine, the largest diesel of its time.    Turning a long drive shaft - mounted down the hulls - center points, to beveled stern gearing that powered its Chain Driven - Wheel.    Called a "Bicycle Boat", for its unique chain drive system, this vessel was also, one of the earliest boats fitted with an Elevated Helm.    Called a "Skyscraper - Helm", mounting its helm - much higher to give added height and clear views over the unusually tall barges - it pushed.    These were multi-deck barges, loaded with new automobiles from northern factories, the boat delivered south of this point.    The same barges where later  used to haul Military Equipment ( Trucks, Jeeps, Etc ), in support of the war effort, before it left service sometime around 1940.    These are just a few examples of the rich heritage in historical documents that show how Steamboats and their conversions, have built a legacy that still continues - today in Modern Designed Towboats!



Last Updated On 01/28/10 . With Fueled By ktisLopt.gif (9333 bytes)

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