New Project - Far West - a western rivers sternwheel paddlesteamer.

One of very few actual photos of Far West. This one taken from the book "Portraits of the Riverboats" by William Davis.

Far West was a specialised type of steamboat called a "Missouri River Mountain Boat". So called because of the navigation up the Missouri river from its mouth to Fort Benton, Montana, some 3000 miles, climbing almost half a mile above sea level.

Far West was 190ft long and 33ft in beam. Unloaded, she had a draft of 20 inches, whilst loaded to her maximum of 398 tons her draft was 4ft 6 inches. She was built in 1870 and after an eventful career, was lost in 1883 after she hit a snag in the river and sank.

Her claim to fame is that she was the boat which returned General Custer's body after the defeat at the battle of the Little Big Horn.

A couple of photos of models of Far West, these from the Smithsonian Museum.

Modelling Far West

About 40 years ago I bought a paddlesteamer hull, bits of decks, a Stuart S50 mill engine and Stuart boiler with the intention of continuing the build of a double sized Vic Smeed designed "St Louis Belle". Well, it never happened. I sold the engine and boiler when I was a bit hard up and the hull and other parts languished on top of a wardrobe gathering dust.

A few weeks ago, I had the idea to build a 2 inch scale traction engine along with a couple of friends from my model engineering club. All was going very well until I priced up the copper for the boiler. I got to 300 and stopped! A new project was needed. After some serious thought, the paddlesteamer was resurrected. I decided a while ago that I no longer had any interest in building a "wedding cake", so I looked around and found descriptions and even plans for "Far West". I was hooked. I scrapped the original decks - they were no good anyway, the dust of forty years was ingrained! But I kept the hull, all 60 or so inches of it. It won't be an exact scale model - rather a "stand off scale" as the beam is a bit more than it should be.

I bought some 3 mm birch faced ply ( isn't wood expensive these days ) and set too making decks. I also needed some 3 mm aluminium plate for the engine room floor and paddle mounting. I've got a rough sketch of the engine and it will be a two cylinder 10 mm bore and 50 mm stroke and I intend to run it at no more than 5 rpm. OK, enough waffle from me, time for a couple more pictures of where its at.

Rear view showing engine room floor and paddle support plate.

Front view showing ( fixed ) fore deck, boiler cavity and removable centre deck.

Well, work goes on apace and the engine mounting plate / paddle support has been cut to accommodate the paddle wheel. I've also made up a couple of bearing blocks from aluminium to take the shaft. I haven't made the eccentrics yet, so I've used a load of washers to fill the space between the paddle wheel and the bearing block. There's still quite a bit of finishing to do, but it's nice to know that it all fits together and works.

Rear view showing paddle wheel supported by bearing blocks.

The next job is the engine room walls ( sorry, bulkheads! ) and I've already cut various bits of ply. I'll get them glued tomorrow. Then I can start on the next deck and we should be able to see some progress.

I've also been thinking about a boiler. The original Far West used a triple boiler, but I don't think anyone will object if I use just the one. Mine will be about 75 mm diameter and 200 mm long and it will be gas fired. I've been studying K N Harris's "Model Boilers and Boilermaking" and I've more or less made up my mind what form it will take. More on this later, when I get round to it.

The engine room.

Well, the engine room is now done,including its roof. The paddle eccentrics are done and the whole lot has been trial assembled on the mounting plate. The paddle wheel spins quite freely, but I'm going to have to put a cant in the pittman arms as the paddle is wider than it should be. I've also been beavering away making cabin roofs and such. The roof over the main deck is slightly curved so I had to make a set of ribs to curve the 3mm ply that its made from.
This was interesting! From the plan, I worked out that the rib should be 200mm wide and 2.5mm higher at the centre than at the ends. Now, I'm no draughtsman, so how to draw the curve accurately? I have a drawing package on my laptop called Draftsight and for anyone interested its a free "lookalike" for Autocad. I seemed to remember that given 3 points it could draw a circle through them and you could then find out what the radius was. Ok, so lets have a go. I plotted the 3 points ( 2 ends and a raised centre point ) and drew a circle. It turns out that the radius is about 2 metres, so with a long piece of string, a pencil and a nail in the workbench I managed to draw the arc on a piece of ply. I now had my template for the 6 ribs I needed to make. I was quite chuffed with myself and having made the ribs I proceeded to mark up the rib positions on the underside of the roof. Now 3mm ply does not particularly like to bend, so I had to raise the edges with scrap ply and weight the middle with various bits of steel and even a 4 jaw chuck. I glued the ribs in place and left the whole thing overnight. Today, I removed the weights and ran a fillet of glue down each side of the ribs, just to strengthen the bond, and got on with a bit of painting.

A short while later, I heard "quiet gunshots" as the ribs came adrift from the ply. After several naughty words I surmised that the new glue must have weakened the bond of the probably not wholly cured first glueing. I had to resort to pinching several clothes pegs from my wife's peg bag ( I didn't have enough clamps ) and now each rib is held to the roof with either a peg or a clamp. We'll see what tomorrow brings!

The cabin roof weighted down to match the ribs.

The cabin roof - second attempt.

In the meanwhile, waiting for glue to dry, I gave the paddle wheel its first coat of paint. What a rotten job! It has to be done by hand as you'd never get an even coating with a spray. It is one of the most tedious jobs I have ever done. Talk about watching paint dry! I reckon this has taken some 3 1/2 hours - and that's only the first undercoat. At least 2 more coats to go.

The paddle wheel after its first coat of paint.

Well, its a couple of days since I pegged up the cabin roof and today I took off the pegs. I'm glad to report that it has stayed in one piece.
I've also been doing some painting. I got some matt white enamel in an aerosol can and as it's been a calm and dry day, I took the hull outside and gave it a couple of coats. Its going to need at least two more before its finished.

The hull after its first couple of coats.

I've given the paddle wheel its first top coat of red lead oxide - which is a bit of a misnomer as its brown! The paint was a bit thick, so I thinned it down 2 to 1 with white spirits. I'm almost finished with this coat and its only taken me about an hour and a half - much faster than the undercoat. I reckon another two coats should do it.

RED lead oxide?

I've also been busy marking up the cabin bulkheads and roofs. Its going to be a pain cutting all those doors and windows. I'll have a cutting session in a couple of days time, after the current painting jobs have dried.

I need a pair of rowboats / lifeboats about 120 mm long to go on the model. After not too much deliberation, I decided to buy them. I had a look round on the 'net and found several possibilities. Rather than moulded plastic I decided on natural wood and ordered a couple of DIY ones. Now I've built quite a few boats in my time, but I've never planked a hull. This should be interesting.

The row boat kit.

Well, its been about a week since I did my last update and a few things have happened. I finished the cabin bulkheads and roof and I've done all the doors and windows - tedious, but necessary! I've also done the clerestory bulkheads and roof, but this time I'm not cutting out all those tiny windows, I'll paint them in.

A quick mock-up just to see where we are.

Since I took this photo I've been busy making and putting in place all the uprights that support the roof and cabins. After some discussion about adhesives at the club,I decided that I would try a glue gun. Well I'm glad I did, it makes things much easier. Glueing the supports in place became a doddle and I didn't have to worry about them falling over while the glue dried. I did find that I needed to be careful as it's very easy to deliver too much glue from the nozzle. Now I can put things in their proper place so that I can mark the cabin deck for things like the stacks and staircase.

Today I've been making rudders - all four of them. The two inner ones are balanced - they have a bit of rudder both in front of and behind the operating rod, the outer ones are unbalanced and have a 'fin' attached to hull in line with them. I was looking around in the workshop for something to use as the operating rods and all I could find was 3 mm silver steel. It seemed such a waste of good metal! Then I found my stock of 3 mm welding rods. Ideal!

I've been having a think about the bearing blocks that support the paddle wheel. I just knocked up a pair fairly quickly and, as you might expect, they turned out to be a bit rectangular. The originals would have been much more curved with rounded tops and sides, so I think I might make a new pair. They'll look so much better.

The cabin deck now on its own supports.

I've got all the sides and top marked up for the wheelhouse, so that should take shape fairly soon. I'm definitely not looking forward to making the windows! That will complete all the major parts but Ive still got a lot of bits to do, stairways, ladders, bracing posts and of course, the "grasshopper" poles and derricks. I think that probably needs some explanation.

Most of the rivers that these boats used were fairly shallow and often had "mobile sandbanks", never in the same place twice. It was quite common for a paddlesteamer to run aground on a sandbank. When this happened, the long, heavy poles were pushed down into the river bottom and, using the steam powered capstans, the boat was lifted up proud of the obstruction. The paddle speed would be increased, partly to try to get the boat moving and also to move more water under the boat in an attempt to remove the sand. This was repeated as many times as was needed, until the boat was free again.

Well, its a good while since I did an update. I've been pretty busy both with this project and with getting everything ready for our club's visit to the Doncaster Model Engineering Exhibition. Anyway, back to the paddle steamer. You will have noticed in the last photo that its got funnels. They aren't finished yet, but you get the idea. I bought a four foot length of one inch steel tube - probably meant for a wardrobe - from the local DIY store. The white paint has had to come off as it would never stand the temperature of a gas fired boiler exhaust. I've painted it matt black with an aerosol of barbecue paint, rated at 600 deg. C.
I've also been busy painting the cabins and roofs and making the wheelhouse - it even has a ships wheel! The ship nameplates were done on the computer. I needed a two-colour "Drop Cap" font, but windows doesn't supply that, so I had to make my own. I think it's come out pretty well.
I mentioned earlier that I got a couple of kits for lifeboats. Oh Boy! What a pain in the A***! They are going to take more time to make than they're worth. I can't say that I'm impressed with them but if I print what I think, I might get sued!
One of the reasons I've been working hard at the project is that this weekend (Sunday 5 June 2016) is my club's open day and Far West is going on display for the first time. It's not ready to sail yet, but I think it's in presentable shape for the event. Here it is in all its glory.

Far West ready for display at the club's Open Day.

Another couple of weeks have passed by, but I haven't been idle. I decided that Far West, being primarily a cargo carrier, needed some more cargo so I set to with the sewing machine and some hessian from our local market and made two dozen sacks. Stuffed with lentils, these are quite passable. I also made six large barrels and four hessian bales. Now the deck looks reasonable.
I gave up on the lifeboats and bought a couple of plastic ones. Much easier to build - only two parts and they look the part.
I drove myself round the bend with the four sets of blocks and tackle. Two are doubles and two are triples! I spent literally ages trying to get them threaded and looking right, but now they are in place, they look fine.
I puzzled for quite a while over the bracing posts and cables. Eventually the answer came with only a minor change to the original design. I needed a few turnbuckles and, as I couldn't find any of the right size, I made my own. A short length of 1/8" copper pipe with a slot cut into it and the ends tapped M2 to take lengths of M2 studding with a hook soldered on the end. Painted black, they look great. (OK, they're both right hand threads, but who's looking that close!).

Time for a few more photos.

Front view showing rigging for 'grasshopper' poles.

Cargo on the deck and one of the turnbuckles.

Rear view, showing lifeboat and ship's captain.

The cargo deck, from the rear.

Well. I've been busy again. I was a bit concerned about displacement and how much freeboard it should have, so I did a google search and found a site which calculated displacement. I put in the requested figures and It told me that for 0.5 inch freeboard the all up weight should be about 47 pounds! I have to say that I was a little sceptic. I loaded up with lumps of steel ( got plenty of that, bit short on lead! ) until I got to 35 pounds and then took it to the pond.
With a little help from a friend we gently lowered the boat into the water. Freeboard about 0.25 inches and a list to one side. Out she came and back to the workshop. I removed some of the weights and re-distributed the remaining ballast. Just goes to show, you can't believe everything you find on the 'net.

In the meantime I had invested in a new radio control set. FR Sky Taranis. Very impressed! It's fully programmable and it's even got telemetry - very useful for future plans. The receiver, servos and ESC (electronic speed control) were installed and checked out. I had also installed lights in the engine room, under the deck roof and in the wheelhouse, all worked via a home made servo controlled switch.

About a week after its first dunk in the pond, I was ready to try again, so off to the park. This time I'd got the ballast about right, about 0.5 inches freeboard and no list. I couldn't resist having a quick check of the paddlewheel and the rudders. Just a simple circle to prove all was well - and it was. Back to the workshop for a few improvements like plugs and sockets for the lighting circuits. Now I can say it's fully ready to sail.

As I said much earlier in this blog, this is the culmination of a project which started some 40 years ago. Consequently all my children have grown up with it and all want to see it sail. Because of this we are having a grand launch on 14 August 2016 at 2pm in the pond at Roker Park, Sunderland. You are welcome to attend. Photos will follow. Watch this space.

The Launch

In the pond and free to sail - yes it is moving you can just see the wake!.

Watch out seagulls!.

We seem to have had the pond all to ourselves.

Coming back in - I'm the ugly one!.

Aside from all the work on the boat I have been busy with Phase 2 - the steam plant.

Well, this fas been fun, about 3 months work resulting in the scrapping of the boiler!

Why, I hear you ask, did I scrap the boiler? Well, because it was no good. The idiot who designed it ( me ) first of all put in 3 cross tubes through the fire tube and put them too close together. Consequently it was almost impossible to get a decent flame. I did try to put things right: I bored out the firetube and replaced it with a plain tube. Ok, so now we can get the boiler to steam, but that only leads on to problem number 2. The steam coming out was saturated with water. This time due again to the imcompetence of the designer who had put the fire return tubes too high in the boiler, meaning that the water level was too high. This time it was definitely a scrapper.

What to do? Simple, a friend at my model engineering club had a spare boiler 'under the bench', so we soon came to an agreement!

The new boiler in position in the hull.

The new boiler has had its hydraulic test and is now ready for its steam test. The engine is finished and runs well on compressed air. ( I'll find the leaks when I try it on steam! ) Its a twin cylinder double acting engine and should be more than enough for this size boat.
As I said earlier, I need some way of reducing the speed between the engine and the paddle wheel and I have decided to use a worm and wheel reduction. Now, a worm gear is the easy bit, it's just a thread on a rod. The wheel, however, is a little more difficult - unless you cheat! Did you know that you can make an appropriate wheel using a tap? ( the mating one for the die you used to make the worm ). You can find out how on You Tube.

The engine installed in the hull.

So, we now have the engine installed in the boat and the boiler almost ready to install. Time to pause for thought. When this boat's in the middle of the pond, how do I control the boiler pressure and the water level?

Easy. We use a computer! No, I don't mean put a laptop in it! Have you heard of a Raspberry Pi? This is a full blown PC about the size of a credit card. It's also very cheap - about 5. This, together with an add on board to handle inputs and outputs and a camera to look at the pressure gauge and water level gauge and, as they say, Robert's your father's brother! Well, I can handle a fair bit of the programming myself ( in Python, for those who are interested ), certainly switching things on and off, but interpreting the picture from the camera is a bit beyond me. Luckily, I have a son who is a professional programmer and he is more than willing to help out the old man.

The Raspberry Pi computer with camera and extension board.

To be continued.......