Monday, May 24, 2021

Sprague ("Big Mama") Sternwheeler Towboat and other Sternwheelers

(Dave Thomson)

This post has lots of comments about what did and does exist.

13 photos of Big Mama (Sprague)

I find it interesting that the smokestacks are at the bow and the pilothouse is in the middle. I think the boilers are normally closer to the paddle wheel. (Update: having seen photos of other sternwheelers, having the smokestacks at the bow is typical. But the pilothouse is generally close to the smokestacks rather than back near the center of the boat.)

"The largest tow she pushed was 11,000,000 gallons of crude oil loaded aboard 19 barges, in all 1,123 feet long and 266 feet wide—the equivalent of 10 football fields."
[When she did runs to Pittsburgh, it must have been when the river was high and the wickets were down because with a length of 276' she would have wasted a lot of lock space.]

David Gulden posted
Michael Gore: Concerning the caption "...churns up a wake...", read somewhere a long time ago that the Big Mama's pilots would cross the searchlights in an X to warn folks ahead to be ready...huge wake would be headed their way shortly.

This source agrees that she pushed 11,000,000 gallons of oil. But it calls the 60-barge tow the largest ever pushed "in a single movement." And it disagrees with Wikipedia in that only 56 of the barges were loaded with coal.
EncyclopediaDubuque and BigRiverMagazine

"Her hull measured 276 feet in length by 61 feet in width. The paddle wheel was 38 feet in diameter and 40 feet wide with 21 buckets (a river term for paddles). One of the first boats of its kind to push rather than pull its cargo, the Sprague, with its 160-ton paddle wheel, was capable of moving 67,307 tons at a time. In February 1907 hitched to 56 coal boats and 4 barges, she set a record. The cargo of 67,307 tons of coal was the greatest cargo every handled in marine history in a single movement. The barges covered an area equivalent to 6.5 acres." [EncyclopediaDubuque]
[It spent the later half of its career pushing oil from Baton Rouge to Memphis for Standard Oil where it did not have to worry about fitting into locks.

[This source claims a length of 318'. And that was before its 40' paddlewheel was added! After it was launched in Dubuque on Dec 5, 1901, it had to be towed to St. Louis to attach its paddlewheel because with the wheel it would not fit the Keokuk Lock. (The Keokuk Dam was built decades before the waterway dams to create hydropower.)
The record setting tow went from Memphis to Baton Rouge, so it was not against the current. She had six boilers.]

David Guilden posted
Nick Marina: Pushing up river through Cincinnatti.
David Gulden: Nick Marina that ole bridge is a dead giveaway lol
Darlene Hill Judd: CAPT. BILL HERE: In the photo the SPRAGUE is almost at the end of her trip. She will unload those six barges of autos from St. Louis at the Greene Line wharfboat just above that bridge pier.
[Some comments indicate that most steam-powered sternwheelers were gone by the 1950s. Some were converted to diesel.]
David Gulden posted

Kevin Lackey posted
Ran across this photo last night of the Sprague at Avondale Shipyard that gives a good size comparison. She was an absolute beast.
Frank Barker: Sprague, built at Dubuque, Iowa's Iowa Iron Works in 1901 by Captain Peter Sprague for the Monongahela River Consolidated Coal and Coke Company, was the world's largest steam powered sternwheeler towboat.[1] She was nicknamed Big Mama,[2] and was capable of pushing 56 coal barges at once. In 1907, Sprague set a world's all-time record for towing: 60 barges of coal, weighing 67,307 tons, covering an area of ​6 1⁄2 acres, and measuring 925 feet (282 m) by 312 feet (95 m).[3] She was decommissioned as a towboat in 1948. [I discovered that he copied this from Wikipedia.]

David Gulden posted
BIG MAMA and i believe a FLOWERS boat
David Gulden posted again
Ed Stapp: I think it was the m/v Yazoo City taking the boat to New Orleans for hull repair in 1970 or 71 the flood of 73 was next then it burnt 74-75 .
Roger Gaston: It is definitely a Greenville built boat but no white strip around the stacks like Flowers had!!
Pete Mckee: The MV Yazoo City.Yet another Superior Boat Wks . Classic. The curved rear main deck is a sure give away.

David Gulden posted
Ole BIG MAMA throwing some water.
Dennis O'Leary: The Real Deal. Black Smoke and all.
Aaron Richardson: I triple dog dare someone to ride those rollers in a small boat!
[Until Aaron's comment, I saw just the water falling off the paddles. But then I saw the massive hydraulic jumps on the left side of the photo.]

Dan Kemper posted
Sternwheeler Sprague's wheel.
Matthew CooperGrady Smith: From what I have read, the wheel on its maiden voyage was four foot dip, but was cut down to three foot after finding that the wheel revolutions was too slow.
Dan Kemper posted
Tom Miller: There is little freeboard above the water at midship!
Ed Stapp: The boat was rated at 3000hp but steam is limitless.
Rob Minton posted
SPRAGUE at Vicksburg, Mississippi   May 28th, 1957    Bauer collection
Bud Osbourne: Looks like negative freeboard.
David Smith: Bud Osbourne I thought so too until I looked closer. This is taken from the shore, and the river level is lower than the bank next to the boat. Creates an optical illusion.

Ed Stapp commented on Dan's post
My parents owed the restaurant on the boat back in 1969 that's why I know a little bit about the boat.
I have several pictures of it.

Port of Greater Baton Rouge-Gallery
1909 Standard Oil Refinery

Port of Greater Baton Rouge-Gallery
1947 Steamboats Sprague and Slack Barrett

David Gulden posted

David Gulden posted six photos with the comment: "BIG MAMA with MARILYN and GEORGE SPRAGUE."






Don Sanders commented on David's post
Nice set of pics, David. A couple are new to me. We used to land the DELTA QUEEN against the SPRAGUE, but eventually had to quit as the hull was getting too thin. Compare the sizes of the wheels on these two babies.
Grady Smith: Don Sanders No doubt you know this, but the big wheel was 40' by 40' as built.

David Gulden posted

David Gulden posted
Don Sanders: I put those two boats together like this several times. The hull of the SPRAGUE was said to be "thin as an eggshell." Eventually, we landed the DQ below "Big Momma." No one wanted to put her on the bottom of the Yazoo.
Alice Kinman Haag: I was on the Delta Queen when she docked next to the Sprague in Vicksburg. Another great memory.
William Reese: I have the same picture l took in Vicksburg in the 70’s.

David Gulden posted

David Gulden posted
BIG MAMA pics by the late great DAN OWEN
Dennis DeBruler: I wonder which dam is being built.

David Gulden posted

Comments on David's post

Don Sanders commented on David's post

Catherine Davis

I've seen enough photos of Catherine Davis that it justifies its own section.

David Gulden posted two photos with the comment: "CATHERINE DAVIS"


David Gulden posted
David Smith: This is the second CATHARINE DAVIS, built by Howard’s in 1928. One of my mentors, Capt. Leland “Cotton” Roberts decked on her and also on the SAM P. SUIT. He was on the SUIT when she exploded a boiler in 1937.

David Gulden posted
David Smith: Looks to be the second CATHARINE DAVIS, built by Howard in 1928. One of my piloting mentors, Capt. Leland “Cotton” Roberts decked on her and other boats of Island Creek prior to joining the Navy during WWII. He returned to Island Creek, working up to the pilothouse, and was there until they sold their River interests.

These three photos come from a post concerning the Catherine Davis going through the Gallipolis Locks.
[There are some comments discussing standards or stumbos, but I have no idea what they are talking about.] 

David Gulden posted
David Gulden posted


Other Sternwheelers

Port of Greater Baton Rouge-Gallery
A Nineteenth Century Typical Cotton Carrier

David Gulden posted
Even back then they had SHOVEN contests.
Frank Barker: The DT Lane and the James Rumsey. They called the Lane "The Rowdy Dick From Campbell's Crick". She was 450 hp. The Rumsey was built at Charleston by Ward Engineering. The Rumsey won out that day much to every ones surprise..

David Gulden posted four imageswith the comment: "D.T. LANE."
Frank X Prudent: The "Rowdy Dick's" from Campbell Creek and the "Eugene's" just the same. So before you board the "Rowdy Dick" you better read her name.
The D.T. LANE and EUGENE DANA SMITH were sister ships owned by The Campbell Creek Coal Co. and ran in the same trade.



David Gulden posted

David Gulden posted
MONOGHALEA sorry if spelled wrong hard name lol
Peter Muncie: I remember when I was riding boats the Monongahela River boats had telescoping Pilot houses because the bridges were so low.
Tom Miller: That looks like a big tow for a paddlewheel steamer. I'm thinking that this steamer ended up as a landing boat at Dravosburg, Pa when she was retired.

"In 1927, the American Bridge Company at Ambridge, Pa., constructed a steel hull measuring 169.8 feet in length by 38.9 feet in width and having a depth of 6.5 feet for the Carnegie Steel Company, which had contracted for the new towboat in 1924."

David Gulden posted

Wade Logan posted
Study of a steam tow I painted a few years ago. Sold in auction to a private collection in Morehead, Kentucky

David Gulden posted three photos with the comment: "REZISTAL."
Barbara Ritts: These 3 are probably my dad’s also, but someone scanned them at a poor resolution.



David Gulden posted
[Several comments indicate that it did not backup very well. It is now on display in Keokuk, IA. Street View (I looked through my Keokuk photos, but I did not take any photos this far downstream.)
GEO.M.VERITY: 8 photos]

David Gulden posted
R Dale Flick: OMAR (1936 - 1961) was a fixture steaming around here in Cincinnati. One fine boat with a great whistle. She visibly oozed power with that big wheel. Ran 1,000 hp originally with five boilers; then new B&W steam generators in 1948. She always burned coal with that certain coal smell blowing to the shore. In 1948 she sank mouth of the Licking River here in full view of company executives looking out office windows in Cincinnati. Raised, returned to service in no time. Had a long history ending up as the RHODODENDREN 1962 for West Virginia centennial; then to Clinton, Iowa as SHOWBOAT. I saw her deadheading with no barges carrying the mail faster than people thought.
[It is passing under the Roebling Bridge at Cincinnati, OH.]

Bob Kyle commented on David's post

Street View

David Gulden posted four photos with the comment: "HILLMAN BARGE COMPANYS. A.B. SHEETS."




David Gulden posted five photos with the comment: "A.B.SHEETS."
J.B. Good: I would venture that this is how these boats looked when they weren't scrubbed for festivities.

J.B. Good: Are those the world famous Ronco Icebreakers in the background?


Bud Osbourne: Looks like her main deck is awash!
Michael Gore: Zooming in looks like there's only inches of freeboard. Definitely getting wave-washed.


David Gulden posted five photos.
Lee Anne Ward: my favorite dredge!
[It is too bad that the only photo that shows the cutter out of the water is of such low resolution.]


[The USACE allowing people to tour the boat.]



David Gulden posted
Shelby Louden: 266 feet long- drew 5.5 feet of water.. (other comments indicate her dad worked on it)
Jake Baskin: The dredge Grafton was built as her sister ship at the same time. It's still in operation today as the Dredge 32 with Mike Hooks.

Jake commented on David's post
This is the sister ship Dredge Grafton

Jake commented on his comment
This is her now.

The George Rogers Clark Memorial Bridge is in the background.
Pete Zimmerman posted
Sidewheeler river steamer of Louisville & Cincinnati Pcket Co. Photographed: at Louisville, Kentucky, 1929
Otto Perry photographer, Denver Public Library Special Collections

Rob Minton posted
Str. Chris Greene at the Louisville wharfboat.
William H. and Mary Bill Bauer Collection

Rob Minton posted
Str. J.D. Ayres
Upbound between Miles 601 & 602 Ohio River
Big Four bridge and Towhead Island at top of picture.
William and Mary Bill Bauer Collection
David Smith: A part of Union Barge Line’s “Great White Fleet”, fuel flat on the starboard side.

David Gulden posted
Steve King: He's letting her eat isn't he.... lol... [Feeding it enough coal that some of it is going up the stack as black smoke.]
Frank X Prudent: The NATCHEZ has her roof bell.
Bill Burnett: All wheel wash and no water moving under tow, maybe coming ahead after floating or flanking.
Ted Grindley: My favorite of all time and all vessels. Pilot wheel is in the lobby of Lafayette Hotel, Marietta.Oh. Dee Dee Foster Grindley.
Bud Osbourne: One of three sister towboats built for union Barge Line, in 1929, at Midland, PA. Names were Sam Craig, C.W. Talbot and J.D. Ayres. UBL operated them until 1949. I think the Sam Craig went to O.F. Shearer & Sons, the Talbot was dismantled (I have her roof bell) and I don't recall what became of the J.D. Ayres.

A sidewheeler as a bonus. I notice the smokestacks are not at the bow on this one.
Joseph Rozdzilski posted
Steamer R.B. Hayes en route to Cedar Point,Ohio 1905

Don Traut: Remember when she was newly built by Tucker up in Cincinnati. Have fun with her!
Dennis DeBruler posted
While researching the Point Bridges that were in Pittsburgh, I came across this Detroit Publishing Co. photo, circa 1900-15. It shows the importance that riverboats, railroads and street cars once had in that area.
LC-D4-15633 [P&P]
Robert Swenson: Awesome photo…. Waiting for the creeks to rise.
Dennis DeBruler: Robert Swenson So they are waiting for the wet season so that there is enough water in the Ohio River to provide the needed draft. I remembered that this was well before the 9-foot channel project was built. But I never realized how they queued up waiting for the rains to come.
Dale Zubik: Largest Inland Port at one Time

A.B. SHEETS: above

A.C. INGERSOL Jr.: 1 photo

A.I. BAKER: 6 photos (The fourth photo looks like it is in a lock built in a hillside.); 1 photo of it setting in a cornfield; 15 photos
David Smith: Named for Miss Annie I. Baker of the Ayer & Lord Tie Co., with a marine ways at Paducah, KY.

ALEXANDER MACKENZIE: Because it is currently docked in Joliet, IL, several photos of this boat are in these notes.

AMERICA: 1 photo

AMOS K GORDON: 3 photos

ARHUTR HIDER, 1898 TO 1947: 1 photo; 6 photos

ATHA: 3 photos

BEN FRANKLIN: 4 photos

B.F. JONES 1908 TO 1952: 1 photo

BOONE: 3 photos, USACE

CATHERINE DAVIS: now has its own section up above


CHAMPION COAL: 3 photos; 3 photos; some of 10 photos

CHARLES F RICHARDSON 1921 TO 1945: 1 photo

CHARLES R COX: 1 photo (US Steel)


CLAIRTON: 3 photos, one is colorzied [Her engines were passed on to the NATCHEZ, which still exits.]
2 photos Frank X Prudent: Look close and the CLAIRTON in the upper photo is not the CLAIRTON in the lower photo. They are two different towboats with the same name. The photo above is the last of the steamers CLAIRTON, and it's her machinery today that lives on aboard the NATCHEZ. The photo on the bottom is the CLAIRTON that was replaced by the newer.
Michael Gore: Top photo shows what I presume to be a radar scanner. Now that was a blend of old and new in that day!
Michael Gore: Remember riding the Raymond E. Salvati (Inland Tugs/ACBL) in 1970 or so and Capt. Henry Dixon was running trip pilot over from Ashland Oil. I remember him saying he was on the first boat on the Western Rivers to get radar. I'm thinking it was the Tri-State, but that may be in error on my part. Anyway, I do remember those old bulky, boxy floor console radars with the daylight hood. Also, the empty coffee can behind the radar! LOL!

CRUISER: 1 photo; 1 photo

CAYUGA 1916-47: 2 photos

DELTA QUEEN: 1 photo1 photo; 1 photo
David Dewberry comment
Bud Osbourne: M/V Northern passing up-bound, with M/V Innisbrook in tow with her.

DESTREHAN: 9 photos

DONORA: 1 photo in Lock #3 of Monongahela River; 3 photos

DOROTH MCBRIDE: 1 photo showing it pulling backwards

DUFFY: 1 photo

DUNCUN BRUCE: 10 photos, some after dieselization

EDITH NUGENT: 1 photo, photo with J.R. NUGENT Originally this boat was the USACE WARITO: 1 photo  Grady Smith: Just noticed the lattice work pitman.

ELEANOR: 1 photo

E.T. Slider: 2 photos


GEO M. VERITY: 1 photo
David Smith: She ran from Huntington, WV to Cincinnati for Armco.
Gene Banta: The George M verity is Below Lock 19 as a museum.
David Smith: This photo taken off of the Ashland, KY highway bridge, looking downstream. Frank Elam was a prominent area photographer and took many photos for Ashland Oil over the years. Though this photo is marked “2-29-62” the VERITY was retired in 1960.


HELEN Z: 1 photo, 1 photo
Jeff Wilkes provided the original image.
[I wonder what fraction of the horsepower is wasted raising that much water vertically.]

HENRY LOUREY: 2 photos

HERBERT E. JONES: 2 images;
Bud Osbourne: Must've been open river. Something we'll never see on the Ohio, again.
Les Grimm: No open River on the upper Ohio, however there have been a few companies use helper boats to double trip the Locks. Also, in extreme high water, it is possible to run from Newburgh to Cairo without locking. The greatest issue is possible wake damage to communities along the river.
Bud Osbourne: Les Grimm yup. I was referring to the era of wicket dams, which allowed Union Barge Line's 750 horsepower Neville to run from Pittsburgh to NOLA in 11 days, with what for that time was a full tow.
4 photos (former name was JASON)
Tom O'Dell: She was a great boat. I was so fortunate to have ridden on her as a young guy. The Jones’s lengthened her Texas Deck to put the Visters quarters. Very plush. With pine paneling, carpeting, cherry bunk beds. A small kitchen with fridge, sink. Many memories. Especially of her crew. CPT Charles Young. CPT Charles Lane Young, Mate was Dana Young. Tom Brown as Chief Engineer, Joe Sizemore, Lewis Woodall, Wyatt Roach, Arthur and Jewels Dunlap. And my memory fails me as to the names of the great cooks and maids but they were great ladies and great cooks. So quiet and smooth ride. It saddens me greatly to hear of her passing into history. But the memories live on. Thanks for the great pictures. Last of the great Steamboats and built here in Point Pleasant in 1940. Originally she was fueled with bunker C Fuel Oil but later converted over to coal. I was also very fortunate to know her names sake Mr. Herbert E. Jones. My last recollection of Mr. Jones was having lunch with my father at the Grill. I would have been about 9. All the Jones’ were there. Herbert, Charles, Herbert JR. and I believe Mr. George Jones.

HOMESTEAD: 2 photos; 5 photos (and B.F. Fairless, another USS towboat)

HUDSON 1884: 1 photo (there are some comments that discuss a landing)

IRON CITY: 1 photo

IRON DUKE: 5 photos

JACK RATHBONE: 1 photo; 1 photo; 1 photo

JAMES E LOSE: 1 photo

JAMES LOCKWOOD, 1896 TO 1961: 1 photo

David Smith: Unless it has been scrapped very recently this boat is still around. It is part of the complex at Economy Wood River, IL.
Bud Osbourne: Looks like a screw wheel boat under construction, on the ways in the background. I wonder if anyone knows which one it may be (I sure don't).
David Smith: Bud Osbourne It looks a lot like the steam tug MOBILE, which was built at Dubuque in 1938. That was 8 years after the GOOD, but the GOOD may have just been there for some repair in this photo. The MOBILE later was rebuilt and dieselized by Zubik, and renamed CHARLES ZUBIK.

JOHN G.BRITTON: 4 photos

JOHN W HUBBARD: 5 photos including a couple of interior shots; 1 photo

JOHN MOREN: 2 photos, 1 photo

JOS. CHOTIN: 4 photos, some are after it was converted to diesel

KEYSTONE: 1 photo

KITANNING: 1 photo

KONGO: 6 photos

LA BELLE: 1 photo; 2 photos

LEHIGH: 2 photos

MAJESTIC: 8 photos (a showboat. It is a barge shoved by ATTABOY?)   

MAMIE S. BARRETT: 2 photos; 36 photos (she burnt)

MARK TWAIN: 2 photos; 9 photos

MILDRED: 2 photos

MISSOURI: 1 photo in dry dock (the original lock chamber) [some comments about steam pressure and the whistle moved to MQ (Mississippi Queen?)]; 2 photos, one pouring smoke out of the stacks

MONGAH: 1 photo; some of 10 photos

MONONGAHELA: above1 photo; 1 photo

ORCO: above

PENNOVA: 4 photos

REZISTAL: above1 photo; 1 photo

SAILOR: 1 photo; 1 photo after launched

John Fryant: What was that round looking thing between the stacks?
Frank X Prudent: John Fryant, grass lines were stored in there. The slats allowed air to circulate if the lines were wet.

SAM CRAIG: 1 photo; 4 photos

STANDARD: 1 photo; 3 photos, SHE'S STILL AROUND; A couple of years ago:

S.S.Thorpe, later THE VERITY: 8 photos


ST LOUIS SOCONY: 1 photo   Had the Mobile winged horse on top of the pilot house and SOCONY was an acronym for Standard Oil Company Of New York.

THOMAS MOSES: 1 photo, a Carnege-Illinois Steel boat

TITAN: 1 photo (It appears to be in a lock back when the dams still used wickets.)

TRANSPORTER: 1 photo (this one also has the pilothouse in the middle); 5 photos

WARREN ELSEY: 1 photo; 3 photos

WEBER W. SEBALD: 4 photos; 1 photo
David Smith: This another Frank Elam photo taken from the Ashland bridge looking downstream. The Armco Ashland works steel mill appears in the distance. This facility has been idle for several years and is currently being demolished. This photo has been described as the SEBALD’s final trip to Cincinnati before retirement.
Tom O'Dell: Wonder if CPT Elsie was still her master in this picture.
David Smith: Tom O'Dell Capt. Phil Elsie was the superintendent of the Armco fleet. He served as master aboard the SEBALD for the races at Huntington and Charleston.

WILD GOOSE 1927: 3 photos

W.H.COLVIN Jr: 4 photos

WINIFREDE: 1 photo, the photo includes part of a wicker dam and lock

W. P. SNYDER Jr.:  1 photo, more photos in comments; 14 photos (with some Pittsburgh bridges in the backgrounds) Evidently this boat is still operational; 4 photos; 1 photo; 1 image

Various: 1 photo (WARREN ELSEY. TITAN. and ALIQUIPPA); 1 photo; 6 photos

VESTA: the first of three towboats with this name was a sternwheeler

VULCAN: 8 photos

A 3:31 video of the 1928 sternwheeler Lady Louis "The benefit the sternwheelers have over conventional towboats is they can operate in shallow ACwater, which provides greater flexibility, particularly for construction operations." (source)

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