Information about the Natchez here.

Information about the model of the Natchez here.

Photos of the completed model of the Natchez here.

Information about the model of the City of Monroe here.

Information about the model of towboat Destrehan (1921) here.

Information about the model of the Mount Washington (1872) here.

The Mississippi River Steamboat Natchez of 1869

There have been multiple river steamboats named Natchez, beginning with the first of that name, a side wheeler built in New York City in 1823 for the Mississippi river trade between Natchez, MS and New Orleans. She burned in 1825 in New Orleans.
The subsequent second through eighth boats of the name were all owned and operated by Thomas P. Leathers, a colorful steamboat Captain with a penchant for fast boats and racing his competition. All the boats owned by Leathers were built in Cincinnati. Each one was longer and larger then its predecessor with increased power and speed. The Natchez of 1869, was about 301 feet long, although accounts vary about the vessel's dimensions. She had eight boilers, two engines driving the side paddle wheels, and a made over 400 trips between Vicksburg and New Orleans in the nearly ten years she operated on the Mississippi in the lucrative cotton trade. Cotton carrying capacity was 5,000 bales (each weighing about 500 pounds) and she also could accommodate several hundred passengers. This boat is the "Natchez" which famously raced with (and lost to) the Robert E. Lee in 1870, in a race from New Orleans to St. Louis, MO.

This seventh Natchez was built of wood with iron fastenings. There was a "hog chain" system consisting of two lengths of supporting iron running lenghwise from the front of the vessel to the back, held aloft by large timbers to counteract the tendency of such a long vessel to sag at the fore and after ends, where buoyancy was less than in the middle where the hull was wider and deeper. In addition, there were two masssive "cross chains" running athwartships from the outer edges of the two wheel guard-timbers up and over two "Sampson posts" in the middle of the hull extending above the highest roof of the cabin. This latter system supported the beams that carried the outer bearings for the shafts of the paddle wheels.
She was scrapped in 1879, when the successor Natchez was launched.

The eighth Natchez (1879), was also captained by Leathers, but the Mississippi cotton trade was diminishing and she was built as an elegant passenger vessel with 47 staterooms. This vessel had eight boilers and thirteen engines. She was 303 feet long with beam of 45 feet and 10 foot draft. She burned in 1889 and by that time, Leathers felt he was too old to build another Natchez, and with the steamboat industry starting to decline, he decided to retire.
After retiremnt, Leathers divided his time between his Garden District home in New Orleans and his Natchez home,"Myrtle Terrace". He was killed in 1896 at the age of 80 when struck by a bicyclist while walking along St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans.

The present day Natchez, (Natchez IX), operates as an excursion boat in New Orleans. She is the ninth steamboat of that name and was built in Braithwaite, LA, in 1975 of steel construction as a sternwheeler. She is 265 feet long, 46 feet wide, with draft of six feet and weight of 1384 tons. She has oil-fired boilers generating the steam to operate the two engines, which date from 1825 and were originally in the towing vessel Clairton, owned and operated by the U. S. Steel Corporation, which had purchased the Clairton Steel Company in 1904.Clairton, PA, is about 20 miles south of Pittsburgh on the Monongahela River. U.S. Steel also owned the Pittsburgh Steamship Company, operating the largest commercial fleet on the Great Lakes in the early part of the 20th century.

There was also an earlier Natchez IX in the 1890s owned and operated by Bowling S. Leathers, son of Thomas P. Leathers, and his wife, Blanche Douglass Leathers. Blanche later became the first female licensed Mississippi River Captain, operating a packet steamship between New Orleans and Vicksburg. Her vessel is sometimes referred to as Natchez X, to distinguish it from the current Natchez.

Building the Model of Natchez in 1:64 Scale

I originallyl intended to build a 1:64 (3/16" = 1') scale model of the Natchez V! as a radio-controlled model for operation on Bayou St. John, near our home. As the model progressed, however, I changed the plan for several reasons. I felt that the configuration of the hull (displacement) would not provide enough buoyancy for the probable weight of the model once batteries and motors were installed, and as the model progressed, it became more and more elaborate and I did not want to risk running it on the bayou.

I did build a gearbox to drive the paddle wheels (independently) and did several dry runs to check that they were operating well, but when I converted to a static model, I removed all batteries and left the motors, speed controllers and receiver in place in case my plans changed later. I had also installed extensive LED lighting in the various cabins and outside areas powered by separate batteries from the motor batteries. The lights operated independently from the drive train and were controlled by small toggle switches at the after end of the lower cabin. When I ultimately decided to put the model in a display case in a public area, I removed those batteries also.

I built the model using very extensive plans by Mr. Bernd Lorenzen in 1:96th scale (1/8" = 1') by converting the plans to 1:64 scale with a photocopier. These are excellent plans and are still partially conjectural, as no plans and scant photographic documentation exist of the original vessel. Still, using knowledge of practices of the time, the plans are as good as one can get.

Here are some photos of the model under construction. The hull was built using 1/4" plywood bulkheads planked with pine strips 1/16" thick. The planking was sealed with waterproof glue and given about 6 coats of spar varnish before painting.

Here are some photos of the hull build, starting with setting up the bulkheads on a building board, then planking the hull.

framing the hull planking the hull

planking the hull planking the hull

The paddle wheels were next, as they had to be correct in size to fit in the areas of the hull devoted to them and also determined the size and location of the driving gears and motors. I reduced the number of spokes on each wheel from 25 to 12 because I felt, with no evidence, that they might function better in the operating model. Besides, it was easier to make wheels with fewer spokes. I built them over a core of copper discs reinforced with steel washers and the rims of each wheel were reinforced with heavy gauge copper wire soldered into a circle. The wheels were epoxied to the wire rims and the spokes epoxied to the center section and the paddle boards were epoxied to the spokes, all with marine epoxy reinforded with 28 gauge brass wire. Then the wheels were soldered to a 3/16" solid brass axle. Each wheel has a crank, fabricated from brass tubing and rod, and the cranks in turn were linked to each of the separate engines as shown in the photos. The crank shafts extended into the gearbox, where it was driven through reduction gearing by electric motors, each shaft operating separately.

Paddle Wheel Construction Paddle Wheel Construction

Paddle Wheel Construction Paddle Wheel Construction

Once the paddle wheels were done, the main deck beams could be installed, and the deck was planked with pine strips about 1/8" wide, leaving openings for access to batteries, motors, gearbox, and so forth. The openings foward for the batteries are covered with a panel that is the base for the cordwood fuel storage and the boilers. The motors are attached directly to the gearbox, which is necessarily in line with the axles of the paddle wheels.

Paddle Wheel Construction Paddle Wheel Construction

Deck installed, hull painted fuel supply and boilers

The engines are made up of copper pipe, various carved wood pieces, brass and copper sheet and tubing. Each "piston rod" leads to a crosshead where it hooks up to a connecting shaft which is in turn connected to the paddle wheel shaft crank. Thus, when the motors drive the paddle wheels, the cranks also drive the piston rods in and out of the engines.

Engines Construction Gearbox Construction

Drive Train Drive Chain Complete

Once the drive train was fabricated and installed, and the inner sides of the wheel houses constructed, the rest of the job was just regular scale model building. There is a barricade deck, a deck halfway between the main deck and the boiler deck in the front half of the hull where there was a reception area and baggage storage. Then, the boiler deck with staterooms, a central hall, various service and support areas and so forth. Above are the crews quarters, on top of the skylight for the central hall of the passenger area. Below are pictures of the work in progress that illustrate the stages of construction.

drive train starting upper decks

barricade deck barricade deck

upper deck upper deck

upper decks starting upper decks

upper decks upper decks

upper decks starting upper decks

upper decks upper decks

upper decks starting upper decks

upper decks

Photos of the completed Natchez model

I also made about 350 mineature cotton bales, and a couple dozen passengers and crew, mostly to give a viewer some sense of the size of this vessel. In the end, Natchez ended up in a case in the lobby of our home at that time, a retirement community, Woldenberg Village, on the "West Bank" of New Orleans. However, we left that community in 2022 and moved back into the city proper, in the "Bywater" neighborhood, and sold the Natchez, the City of Monroe, Destrehan, and the dioramas of whale ship Daisy and her whale boat at that time. The Mount Washington also found a new home, in New Hampshire, close to the mountain for which she was named.

final bow view final bow view

final bow view final bow view

final main deck final main deck

final main deck final main deck

The model of the City of Monroe

This model is also in 1:64 scale and was built by adapting a set of plans by James Hale, from 1975. Mr. Hale is an authority on steamboats of the late nineteenth century and created his plans to build a 1:32 scale model for radio controlled operation. The development of the plans and the building of his model are described in his article about the building of the City of Monroe in Nautical Research Journal, December 1975, Vol. 21 No. 4, p.173-178.

Mr. Hale's intent was to create a conjectural plan for a small steam packet which might have worked on the smaller tributaries of the Mississippi in the late 1800s. He states that his plan was based on the much larger steamboat, America, about 275 feet long, but reduced in size to the equivalent of about 175 feet long. He chose 1880 as a theoretical construction date and based the drive train on contemporary practices.

The choice of name may be a bit unfortunate, however, as there was a real steamboat named "The City of Monroe", but it was a much larger (over 300 feet long) side wheeler, said at the time of its construction (1890) to be the largest steamboat on the river.  It was one of the approximately ten large and luxurious steamboats built for the Anchor Line, which was perhaps the dominant company operating multiple steamboats on the Mississippi from just after the Civil War until the collapse of the steamboat industry in the latter 1890s.  Anchor Line named its vessels for cities and operated the "City of New Orleans", "City of Vicksburg", "Belle Memphis", "City of Cairo", "City of Baton Rouge", and more.

This is most definitely not a model of the "real" City of Monroe. This model is in 1:64 scale.  Since the original Hale plans were conjectural, I did not hesitate to have some fun and make some changes as I built her. I imagined the vessel as she might have looked with a mixed cargo of cotton from small producers, general freight, baggage, livestock, and passengers.

The plans called for two boilers providing steam to two engines driving a single stern wheel.  The cylinders of the engines were much smaller diameter than on the Natchez (1869) or the Mount Washington (1872) although the stroke remained long (about 10 feet).  The smaller cylinders may reflect the improvements in steam engine design related to the railroad locomotive development of the era, and are similar in size to those of the Destrehan (1921). At any rate, it was a fun build.

There is also a real Louisiana city named Monroe, located on the Ouachita River, a tributary of the Mississippi. It was named for a steamboat, not the other way around, when the "James Monroe", which was the first steamboat to call on the city, then named Fort Miro, sometime in the 1840s.  The populace was so impressed by the new-fangled boat, and the promise that the small settlement would thenceforth be connected to the world at large that they re-named the town Monroe, in honor of the boat.

The hull was made up using 3/16" plywood for bulkheads, derived from the lines on the hull plan, planked with 1/6" basswood sheet and planking. I built the hull for City of Monroe and the hull for Destrehan at the same time. I alternated working on the two models which were side by side on the work table, decking both, building cabins and superstructures, building and installing boilers, engines, paddle wheels and so forth pretty much in parallel. When it got to the final building and detailing and finishing of the models, I worked on City of Monroe to complete before completing Destrehan.

Therefore, some of the photos will show both vessels in progress. There is great efficiency in doing multiple copies of a sub assembly, such as engines or wheels in a steamboat. Something I learned when doing the PT boat series, when making sixteen torpedo tubes at the same time, for example.

This first series will be mostly of the City of Monroe. Pictures of the Destrehan will show more comparisons of the two vessels, as the drive chain for the tow boat was markedly more robust than that for the steam packet.

The City of Monroe was coal-fired, so the main engine deck had bins for the storage of coal, and the vessel had coal dump scuttles on that deck also. There was a barricade deck, halfway between the main deck and the boiler deck, and, as on Natchez. That was where luggage was stored, though she lacked the reception room and other features of the larger boat, as the "grand staircase" was a more modest affair that lead directly to the boiler deck and entrance to the few staterooms on that deck.

Monroe boilers Monroe barricade deck with boilers

view of coal bins Monroe front stairway

Here are a couple photos of the engine room. There is a large water storage tank at the forward end of the engine room. Also in the engine room is the rudder control mechanism. This model has three rudders, linked together, with the central rudder having a quadrant which is moved through a rope and pulley system much as ships had used for a century or more. The ropes passed along the bottom of the boiler deck forward then up to a large drum connected to the large steering wheel. The steering mechanism for Natchez is similar, but the Destrehan system is very different.

Monroe engine deck Monroe engine room and rudder

Following are some pictures of the construction of the Monroe. There are a few shots of the livestock pen, one of the various items of "cargo" made for the main deck, and pictures of the constuction of the lobby/reception area and the staterooms. There was even a small bar for the gentlemen.

The last pictures are of the completed model.

livestock pen livestock in pen

cargo passenger reception hall

passenger staterooms crew cabins

gentlemen's bar constructing the upper deck

Photos of the completed model

Bow view Bow view

starboard side

detail view starboard side

pilot house and stacks stern view

Modeling the Mississippi River Towboat Destrehan (1921)

This model is also in 1:64 scale and is built from copies of original blueprints from the company that built the original vessel. The boat is a towboat, designed to push large barges along the Mississippi River carrying bulk cargo, such as coal or oil.

Because this vessel pushed such large cargo-carrying barges, it was especially robust, with a steel hull, four oil-fired boilers, and a particularly heavily built stern paddle wheel. Destrehan was built in 1921 by the Charles Ward company in Charleston West Virginia for the Pan American Petroleum company of New Orleans. The vessel was primarily used to transport barges of oil and refined oil products up and down the Mississippi based in New Orleans.

She was sold in 1941 to the American Rolling Mill Company, renamed the Charles R. Hook, and based in Cincinnati, Ohio. She then transported barges between Cincinnati and Huntington on the Ohio River. The American Rolling Mill Company operated a small fleet of steam-powered towboats on the Ohio River and West Virginia's Kanawha River pushing barges from the coal mines of West Virginia to its Ashland, Kentucky plant or Cincinnati where the coal was transported by train to the Middletown plant.

Dismantled in 1957, The towboat was re-modeled by a locally renowned riverboat captain, Jack Beatty, and reincarnated as a floating restaurant, the "Captain Hook", which opened in 1964 in Cincinnati. I do not know its ultimate fate.

The model of the Destrehan was built simultaneously with the model of the City of Monroe, in the same scale. It was instructive to be able to compare the two vessels. Although the engine cylinders were not much different in size between the two, everything else was larger - the boilers, the steam pipes, the paddle wheel.

Following are a few pictures comparing the two models in progress to highlight these differences. In addition, since the Destrehan was oil-fired, the fuel was stored below deck in huge tanks rather than in bins on deck as for the City of Monroe or the Natchez. The first two show the paddle wheels in progress, the Monroe components (4) on the left, the Destrehan, with 5 wheels on the right. Then there is a picture of the drive trains of the two vessels for comparison, Monroe above, Destrehan below. And the last picture shows the drive trains installed in their respective hulls.

construction of paddle wheel for Monroe Destrehan Paddle wheel

comparison drive chains Monroe versus Destrehan Destrehan and Monroe drive trains installed

Two photos of the engine room to show overall layout and some detail of the multiple steam powered auxilary motors, electric generator, and communication console. The triple rudders, also linked together,are now controlled by a steam powered cylinder linked to the center rudder arm and controlled from the pilot house by a steam line.

engine room rudder mechanism

Construction of the crew quarters on the second level. The cabins are larger than on earlier steamboats and there is a separate after cabin containing showers and storage. The first picture shows the layout of the cabins with the roof, containing a central skylight, shown above the cabins. The second picture shows the roof completed lying in front of the cabins.

crew quarters construction crew quarters construction

Photos of the completed model.

starboard side completed model

stern quarter view pilot house

detail detail

detail Destrehan Paddle wheel

The Winnipesaukee Steamboat Mount Washington (1872)

The original Mount Washington was an excursion boat sailing in the summers on New Hampshire’s Lake Winnipesaukee. The first Mount Washington known as "The Old Mount" to locals, was a wooden-hulled steam powered side wheeler built in 1872 in Alton Bay, NH. This first Mount Washington was 187 feet long, with a beam of 49 feet driven by a single cylinder walking beam steam engine of 450 horsepower that operated at approximately 26 RPM.

She was built for the Boston and Main Railroad to transport cargo and passengers around the lake during the summer season and to promote tourist use of the railroad passenger service. In the 1920s, with declining passenger train usage, the Boston and Maine Railroad Co. sold the steamer to Captain Leander Lavallee. Lavallee operated the Mount as a tourist attraction, still drawing crowds of over 60,000 a season.

Because Lake Winnipesaukee freezes over solidly in the winter, the vessel was stored in a winter dock in Wiers Beach ("The Wiers"), NH. The water was kept from freezing around the hull by aeration, with a marine railway used to haul the boat onto shore if the water began to freeze. On December 23, 1939, the ship burned at her winter dock when a fire on the land spread to the dock and the ship. The fire happened at night, and the vessel was lodged solidly in the mud of the bottom, so she could not be hauled to safety.

Shortly afterward, a local company planned a replacement. Steel shortages from the war in Europe prevented new construction of a steel hull and resulted in the purchase of the Chateaugay (203 feet), a iron-hull sidewheeler. The ship was cut apart and transported to the lake by rail where it was converted to a screw-driven steam powered vessel in Lakeport, NH. Her maiden voyage was in August of 1940.

Since then the current Mount Washington ("M/V Mount Washington")has undergone conversion to diesel power and extensive modifications to the hull which has been enlarged and made more luxurious. She still operates in summers on Lake Winnipesaukee.

This model is of the Old Mount as she might have looked in the early 1900s, while still owned and operated by the Boston and Maine Railroad. Photo documentation from that time show the vessel crowded with passengers, and that is how she is modeled.

Following are some pictures of the finished model, then some of the work in progress.

starboard view of model

old mount old mount

old mount old mount

old mount old mount

Some pictures of the model in progress. The boiler and engine were fabricated of brass, copper, wood and cardstock as a first step after the hull was planked. The engine/boiler assembly was then fitted to the hull and the superstructure build around it.

old mount hull planking engine and boiler

engine engine

building the wheelhouses old mount

upper deck in progress stern railings

anchors rudder