Scott Co, Iowa USGenWeb Project
A Raft Pilot's Log by Capt. Walter A. Blair
1929-Arthur H. Clark Company
Transcribed by Joan Bard Robinson
What Became of the Raft-boats
One wonders what became of the seventy-odd rafters so busily, and
many of them profitably, engaged in 1893. The decline was rapid. The end was
in sight. Logging on Black river gave out first; Then the Saint Croix
and West Newton quit. Only four entirely new rafters were built after 1893. A
few old ones were rebuilt. The 'Glenmont' had a new and wider
hull built at the Eagle Point yard. The "Glenmont' cabin, engines and boiler
were placed on it and came out as the 'North star.'
Captain George Winans who had bought the 'Dan Thayer,' rebuilt her at
Lyons, I think, putting the 'Thayer's' engine, boilers, shaft, etc., on a
wider hull with a very nice cabin and she came out as the 'John H. Douglas,'
later changed to 'Saturn,' The 'City of Winona' was rebuilt at
Kahlkes yard in Rock Island, given a new and wider hull and called the
The 'Netta Durant' was rebuilt at our yard in LeClaire, given a larger
hull and very small cabin and came out as the 'Lydia Van Sant'.' The 'Park
Bluff' was rebuilt, given a larger hull and named the 'Harriet.'
The 'West Rambo' was rebuilt at the Wabasha yard in Rock Island and
came out the 'Virginia' and later went to Florida.
The 'Lily Turner' was rebuilt at Kahlkes yard in Rock Island and came out
with a wider hull with little or no cabin and named 'Mascot.'
After 1893, many of the pilots used bow-boats. The 'Saturn' had the
'Pathfinder.' The 'North Star' used the 'Harriet.' The 'J.W. Van Sant'
had the 'Lydia Van Sant.' The 'Rutledge' had the 'H.C. Brockman,' and the
'Denkmann' had the 'R.D.Kendall.' The 'Staples' used the 'Lafe Lamb'
or the 'Georgie S.', and the 'B.Hershey' used the 'Everett.' The 'Kit Carson'
or the 'Lumberman' used the 'Gipsey.'
Using a bow-boatthey could run longer rafts and make better time. The
bow-boat helped through the bridges and over the rapids in shorter time,
and in the lakes she would get back on the stern and help push.
Taking larger rafts require fewer large boats and they decreased in
number steadily and after 'West Newton' quit rafting out logs in 1904
those few remaining were soon sold or otherwise disposed of as others had
been during the proceeding ten years.
The 'Charlotte Boeckeler' was sold to a Cairo concern and was engaged in
general towing on the lower Mississippi with her name changed to 'J.H.
Freind' and later sold to the Barrett Line and her name changed to 'Mamie
The 'Helene Shulenburg' was last used in excursion work by Captain John
McCaffrey and his sons, sank at Credit Island and was dismantled at Rock
The 'Robert Dodds' was sold to an Ohio river party and ended her career
towing 'show boats.' These transactions cleaned up the Shulenburg
and Boeckeler fleet.
J.C. Daniels of Keokuk sold the 'Lumberman' to Captain Bradley of
Cairo and she worked around Cairo several years as the "Fritz.' He sold the
'Kit Carson' late in the day to the LaCrosse Mississippi River Towing Company
and she was finally sold to a
Memphis party for towing logs in barges to mills on Wolf river. I saw her
there in 1915, condemned and later dismantled.
The 'Moline' was sold to a Kansas City company for excursion work; later
went south and was capsized by striking a heavy wire cable with one end
fast on shore and the other end to a government fleet out in the river.
The 'F.C.A. Denkmann' was sold and her name changed to 'Wabash.'
She towed corn in barges from thr Wabash river to Henderson, Kentucky;
was given a new hull and sold to Miller Company at Helena, Arkansas. I saw
her last March looking well as ever. She was an excellent towboat.
The 'E.Rutledge' after various ownerships and occupations was rebuilt into
the 'Orinoco' by Doctor Charles Mayo of Rochester, Minnesoto, under the
supervision of Captain J.J. Richtmann, who commanded and piloted her until
she was sold to an Ohio river party. She is now owned by the Richland
Coal Company and advertised "for sale ' by A.O.Kirshner of Cincinnati as
the steamer 'Ben Franklin."
The 'F.Weyerhauser,' built at Rock Island in 1893, is still alive and
looking well. After serving as 'light house tender' on the Upper Mississippi
and Illinois rivers since rafting days, she has been superceded by the new
steel tender 'Wakerobin' and was sold last November (1927) to Captain JohnF.
Klein of Cairo, Illimois, to repair and sell again.
The 'J.K. Graves' Last of the Weyerhauser and Denkmann fleet, had a good
steel hull but was narrow and top-heavy. She was sold to Cairo party,
and capsized in the deep water there and was atotal loss.
The 'J.S. Keator' was laid up in Cat Tail Slough after the Keator mill
burned and was later sold to Captain L.E. Patton of Memphis.
The 'Pilot' was sold to a party in Evansville, Ind.
The 'Jo Long was sold to Captain D. Morgan, taken south, capsized and lost
in Lake Providence.
The 'Irene D.' was sold to Thomas Adams of Quincy, who made over into the
excursion steamer 'Flying Eagle.' She was wrecked and lost by
striking a pier of the Hannibal bridge in high water. Though she had a large
crowd on herself and barge, there was no loss of life. She hung on the bridge
long enough for all to climb onto it and get ashore.
I now come to the LeClaire Navigation Company that Governor Van Sant
and I had formed in 1882 and in which we always had equal holdings. It had
been a great pleasure to work with such a partner and manager, and to build
up our fleet and increase our operations to where we ran all the logs sawed
at several mills including Mueller Lumber Company at Davenport, David Joyce
at Fulton and Lyons, Lansing Lumber Company, Lansing, Iowa, Clinton lumber
Company of Clinton, and for W,J, Young and Company of
Clinton, all above what were handled by their own two boats. Then we handled
many rafts for logmen who had no mills and wanted their logs stored where
they could be got out for market on a low stage of water.
We sold the 'Teb Broeck' back to Captain John McCaffrey and his sons
who used her towing ties in the Tennessee river. She caught fire one night
while laid up at Cairo and burned.
We sold the 'Iowa' to Captain William McKinley who used her on the
Illinois river towing grain barges and other general work.
We sold the 'Netta Durant' to the Van Sant and Musser Company who rebuilt
her for a bow-boat and named her the 'Lydia Van Sant.' She was later sold to
the Taber Lumber Company of Keokuk.
After the 'Volunteer' laid up idle during the summer of 1898, I sold her
to our Carnival City Packet Company for $7000.00, put her on our ways
at LeClaire that fall and during the winter extended her cabin aft so she had
sixteen nice staterooms and gave her a swinging stage and and outfitted her
for a short line packet and she made a good one. The next spring (1899) when
ready to start, she was totally destroyed by the great fire in Kahlkes yard
at Rock Island.
The 'Saturn' (the first), owned by Captain George Winans, and the 'Mascot'
and our fine excursion barge 'Comfort' were destroyed in this fire which
originated on the 'Saturn.' Her engineer crew had arrived on her the
afternoon before. It was cold. After supper, leaving a big fire in
stove, they turned in and later they turned out-too late to do any good.
The 'West Rambo' rebuilt into the 'Virginia,' was one of a number of
light-draft, stern-wheel boats bought by an agent of H.M. Flagler and
taken to Florida where they did excellent service in building the extension
of Flaglers East Coast railway to Key West.
I traded the 'J.W. Mills' to Parmalee Brothers of Canton, Missouri, in
the spring of 1894 for the 'City of Quincy,' paying $5000,00 difference.
Parmalee Brothers dismantled the 'Mills' that summer and used her engines,
shaft and much other stuff in the 'Ottumwa Belle' which they
built at Canton and later traded to S. and J. Atlee for the 'J.C. Atlee.'
The 'Girdie Eastman' was sold to Fetter and Crosby, Contractors, and used
by them many years in United States improvement work. Captain Fetter rebuilt
her at Kahlkes yard at Rock Island and after his death Mrs.
Fetter sold her to the McWilliams Dredging company of Chicago and she is
still (1927) in commission on the Ohio.
The 'Reindeer' was sold to the Illinois Fish Company, a new and very sharp
hull put under her, and her named changed to 'Illinois.' She is now owned by
the New Calhoun Packet Company of Saint Louis, Missouri.
'Lady Grace' was sold by C.Lamb and Sons to Captain William Davis and
later by him to J.G. White and Company, doing some work at the mouth of the
'Artemus Lamb' was sold to Joy Lumber Company of Saint Louis and
later by them to C.& E.I. railroad to handle barges at Joppa on the Ohio
river. She was later rebuilt and named 'Condor.'
The Chancey Lamb' was sold south to tow ties and was wrecked on a dam
below Nashville on the Cumberland.
'D. Boardman' was dismantled and her engines and some other parts used
in the 'Columbia,' built at Lyons, Iowa, by M.J. Godfrey and Son for Mr.
C.H. Young of Clinton.
'W.J. Young, Jr.,' the 'Queen of the Rafting Fleet,' in fine condition
and thorough repair, came into the Carnival City Packet Company by direct
purchase from W.J. Young himself, in February, 1895. this was my fast
business transaction with Mr. Young from whom we bought the 'J.W. Mills' in
1883. I had been running logs for him up to the time I quit raft-
knew him well and admired him greatly. He was a handsome, strong man, but he
overworked and seldom took any relaxation and his first illness took him off
when we thought of him in his prime.
I had her beautiful cabin extended aft and made some other changes
including a little 'texas' for her crew and put her in the Davenport and
Burlington trade. She became very popular and successful/t the end of her
eighth season we sold her to the Kentucky and Indiana Bridge and Terminal
Company at Louisville, Kentucky. They repaired and changed her to an
excursion boat - named her 'Hiawatha'- and lost her by fire two years later.
The 'Sam Atlee' was sold to as a Mr. Robert Cothell of New Orleans,
who changed her name to 'Control.'
The 'Musser' was hauled out on the Wabasha ways, her cabin, machinery and
boilers blocked up and the hull removed and a new and larger hull nearly
completed when I bought and completed what became the packet 'Keokuk' that
ran between Burlington, Keokuk and Quincy from 1908
to 1923 inclusive, when new paved roads and a surplus of trucks and busses
compelled us to give up what had been a profitable trade for over 60 years.
The 'J.W. Van Sant,'Cyclone,' and 'Isaac Staples' were all burned in
the great fire in the Wabasha yard in December, 1907/ They were up on the
ways, their hulls dry and they made a very hot fire.
The second 'Saturn' was sold and went south, first to Missouri and then
to the Lower Mississippi.
The "Henrietta' was sold to a party in Paducah, Kentucky, and and towed
tie out of Tennessee river.
The 'R.J. Wheeler' went south and was towing staves and lumber out of
She caught fire while under way and burned on her trip with a tow.
The 'Daisy' was sold to a man from the south and taken to either New
Orleans or Mobile.
The 'Clyde' has had a long and interesting career. She was the first iron
raft-boat built at Dubuque by the Iowa Iron Works for Ingram and Kennedy in
1870. Hugh Douglas became part owner and master in 1872.
She was a side-wheeler, about ninety-six feet long and had good power. She
was a strong pusher and quite fast running loose, but very hard to steer. She
ran lumber from the Chippewa to Hannibal and Saint Louis for many years.
In 1888 Turner and Hollinshead bought the 'Clyde' from the Empire
Lumber Company and changed her to a stern-wheeler, gave her new engines and
cabin. While she was narrow and did capsize once, she was very fast, handled
a tow well and made money. When rafting ceased, she was chartered by United
States engineers and used on improvement work. She was then sold by F.J.
Fugina of Winona to the Arrow Transportation Company of Paducah, Kentucky,
and is still (1928) at the age of fifty-eight years, towing pig iron from
Sheffiels, Alabama to Paducah.
The 'Ravenna' was raised after sinking near Maquoketa Slough; was repaired
and when rafting ceased at Stillwater, she was sold to Captain H.C. Wilcox
and Sons who ran her several years between LaCrosse and Wabasha in packet
service with her name changed to 'LaCrosse.'
'Menominie' was dismantled and her machinery used in the 'Juniata.'
whose larger engines were put in the 'Ftontenac.' 181
The 'J.G. Chapman' and 'Luella' laid up at Wabasha out of commission,
were destroyed by fire.
The ''B Hershey' was always in service and when very old, was working on
the East Saint Louis levee job, and sank to rise no more.
The 'C.W.Cowles' was rebuilt at Kahlkes yard in Rock Island; given an
entire new and wider hull and fitted up by the Deere family of Moline , named
'Kalitan',' to tow their house boat 'Markatana.' The 'Kalitan' took the
'Markatana' to New Orleans in November, 1927, they returned to Moline, May,
The 'Bro. Jonathan' was dismantled and her engines used in the 'Vernie
Mac.' When rafting ceased the 'Vernie Mac' was sold to tow Ohio river
show boats. She is now doing jobs towing around saint Louis, carrying the
name 'Jefferson.' She now has the engine of the old 'Silver Wave.'
The 'City of Winona' was bought by the Acme Packet Company and ran in the
Davenport and Clinton daily packet trade until the Davenport and
Clinton electric road put her out of business. She was then taken to Paducah
and came back in the spring of 1905 as the excursion steamer
'W.W.' in the same management as the first 'J.S.', owned by Captain
About 1915, she was sold; went south and later came back to the ohio and
sank while on the way downstream with a tow of barges.
'Juniata' whose name was changed to 'Red Wing,' ran as a packet
Wabasha and Saint Paul, Captain N.H. Newcomb of Pepin, Wisconsin, owner and
master. He sold her and her excursion barge to a party on the Upper Ohio
about the close of our season,1923.
The 'Bella Mac' had delivered a raft at Saint Louis. She lay there over
night and left for home , LaCrosse, Wisconsin, the next morning at four
o'clock. She was leaking and soon began to roll and sank opposite Salt Point
Light at the upper end of Saint Louis, a total loss.
The 'Mountain Belle' was bought by E.C. Anthony of Hastings, Minnesota,
renamed the 'Purchase,' and towing a passenger barge, ran to saint louis
during the World's Fair in that city. Then William McCraney of Winona bought
her and had her and a barge in the excursion business at
Saint Paul until about 1915, when she was hauled out on the Wabasha ways
The 'Louisville' and the 'Helen Mar' were laid up at a North LaCrosse
and finally dismantled.
The 'B.E. Linehan' and 'Inverness' were sold to Paducah, Kentucky,
by parties and towed tie out of the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers.
The 'Jessie B.' and 'Quickstep' were sold south and used rafting and
towing logs in barges on the Lower river and its tributaries.
The 'Lizzie Gardner' burned while laid up and out of commission in the
Davenport winter harbor,
The 'Pauline' was converted into a short trade packet and operated out of
Burlington to Nauvoo and Keithsburg by Captain Thomas Peel in 1891 and 1892.
S.K.Tracey and his brother, George S., prominent lawyers in Burling-
ton, were largely interested in this enterprise. Finding the 'Pauline' too
small, They bought the 'Matt F, Allen,' a much larger boat, and sold the
'Pauline' to parties in Hastings who later dismantled her and used her nice
machinery on a new boat.
The 'Thistle' operated one or part of two seasons in packet trade be-
tween LaCrosse and Saint Paul when rafting played out, but she was expensive
on fuel and was too heavy draft for that part of the river, She
was sold south and rendered good service towing logs and lumber in barges in
the Cairo and Memphis district under another name.
The 'Abner Gile' built in LecLaire in 1872, was used dropping logs from
Saint Paul to Prescott after rafting ceased at other points; she was almost
forty years old when she gave out like the 'one horse shay' and her remaining
good parys used in some other boat.
In the late sixties and early seventies when the use of a steamboat in
shoving and handling rafts had been successfully demonstrated, every pilot
wanted one and nearly every little boat on the Upper Mississippi and its
tributaries was tried out and many of them continued in this new occupation
as long as they lasted.
Many of them were small side-wheelers about seventy-five feet long
with one boiler and one small, slide-valve engine geared to the stiff shaft
running across decks to which both wheels were attached. They could back or
work ahead both wheels together and had good steering power when working
ahead but no rudder power while backing ; consequently they were very
deficient in 'flanking' compared with a stern-wheeler. They were slow and
noisy going back up-river.
In Perrot, 'Big Jo,' tried the 'Moonstone' but abandoned her because it
took her eighteen days to return from Saint Louis to Stillwater when they had
taken the raft down in fifteen days.
She and several others like the 'Alice Wild,' 'Alvira,' 'Union,' 'Active,'
'Wm. Hyde Clarke,' 'Lone City,' 'Johnny Schmoker,' 'Monitor,' and 'Iowa City'
were of this class, just a little better than a sterncrew with oars. They
soon wore out or were abandoned for larger and better boats, preferably
A few side-wheelers, somewhat larger, gave better satisfaction. The 'L.W.
Barden,' called by the crew 'L.W.Workhouse,' under Captain Joseph Buisson's
command, did a lot of good work running Daniel Shaw lumber from Reads.
The 'Viola' and Julia Hadley,' the 'Buckeye,' the 'Annie Girdon,' the
'Minnie Wells,' 'Champion,' the L.W. Crane,' the 'Iowa,' the 'Minnie Will,'
and the 'Pearl,'also in this class, wore themselves out in the work
but none of them were rebuilt, for by that time the many advantages of the
stern-wheeler had been conclusively demonstrated. The 'Clyde' was the
last of the only three side-wheelerd built for rafters; the other two were
the 'Minnie Will' and 'Julia Hadley.'
Stern-wheeler packets converted or diverted to the work were
'Natrona,'"Wm. White,' 'Mountain Belle'; the 'Hartford,' 'Evansville' and
'James Fisk,Jr.' from the Ohio; the 'Mollie Mohler' and 'Hudson' from the
Minnesota river; the Saint Croix' from the river of the same name and the
'Maggie Reaney' and 'Jenny Hays' from Lake Saint Croix. These baots were much
better than the best of the side-wheelers but they were not the equals of
boats built especially for rafting.
The 'Eclipse' and 'Vivian,' after finishing their rafting careers, were
sold to Ohio river parties to tow show boats.
When I decided to quit rafting and engage in short trade packet business,
I retained my stock in the LeClaire Navigation Company, but I bought 'Silver
Crescent' from the Van Sant and Musser Company, our LeClaire Company and
Captain Bob Mitchell for $ 7000.00.
She lay all winter at Clinton, Iowa. I got Mr. Black, who had built her cabin
when new, to extend it aft and make some other changes. We cleaned, painted
her up and moved her down to LeClaire on March 9, 1892.
A storm set in from the west that raised such swells, we had to tie up at
The storm developed into the worst blizzard of the winter and temperatures
fell to six degrees by ten o'clock that evening.
New ice in large fields was running the next morning but the west winds
held it off the Iowa shore. The sun came out about eleven A.M. We got ready
and keeping close to the Iowa side and clear of the ice, were approaching
LeClaire, when at Mrs. Young's the ice crowded us close in-
shore and she slid lengthwise over the rock that sank the 'Mollie Mohler'
twenty years before. But the 'Crescent' was tough and strong and light
enough that we escaped over without injury.
When one-fourth of a mile from our yard, the large blow-off valve to
the mud-drum bursted, having frozen up under way. She had just enough headway
to reach the shore where a man caught our head line and took turns around a
post, and kept us from going on over the rapids in our helpless condition.
The next morning she caught fire while the watchman was at breakfast,
but a passer-by saw the blaze in time to put it out.
The second morning a large, heavy field of ice swung and caught her,
parted one head line and pulled out the post the other one was fast to,
buthels it long enough to crowd her on shore and the other lines held her.
When i got to her I heard water running in her hull/ Quickly
investigating, I found the ice had broken one plank at the water line. An
old comfort and an inch board took care of this til we could list her over
and fix it right.
By this time I felt sure I had bought a lucky boat and I never had any
reason to change my mind on this point.
I finished up a small rafting contract that spring with the 'Silver
Crescent' and then put her into the Carnival City Packing Company which I had
organized that spring and on June 17,1892, we began service Davenport and
Burlington, Iowa and took in $15.70 on our first round trip
of two days.
A month later we had the highest water ever known at Davenport. For awhile
the only place we could put our stage on ground was just below the
north end of the Government bridge.
The 'Silver Crescent' was ten years old when the Carnival City Packet
Company bought her. We had seventeen years hard service out of her, many of
them quite profitable, all of them successful, and got through without a
serious mishap and her cabin, engines, and many other parts were good as new
when we used them in building the 'Blackhawk' in 1908.
The 'Frontenac' was the last large rafter built. Samuel Peters of Wabasha
built the hull which was one hundred and forty feet long, thirty feet wide
and three and one-half feet deep, in 1895. The hull was taken to Winona where
the engines and boilers of the 'Juniata' were transferred to her. The cabin
was also built at Winona and the new boat came out in
1896 owned by Laird, Norton and Company of Winona and in charge of Henry
When through rafting she towed the big excursion barge 'Mississippi' until
she hit the lower Winona bridge an sank close to shore just below it.
When raised she was sold to Captain D,W, Wisherd and burned while
laid up in Quincy bay.
The 'Silver Wave,' 'LeClaire Belle,' 'Jas. Fisk, Jr.,' 'Wild Boy, and
'Evansville'when their hulls were worn out by long and successful service,
were dismantled at LeClaire; and some of their engines used in new boats.
The 'Tiber' was also dismantled at LeClaire and he boilers used in the
The 'Stillwater' was dismantled at Rock Island and her machinery used
in the 'E.Rutledge.'
The 'C,J,Caffrey' and 'Prescott' were also dismantled at Rock Island.
The 'Jas. Means,'after a few seasons of profit in rafting, in her old age
was dismantled and her engines used in the 'Golden Gate.'
The 'Dan Hine' was dismantled at LaCrosse.
The 'G.H. Wilson' was dismantled Dakota Bay.
The 'B.F.Weaver' was dismantled at LaCrosse.
The "Silas Wright' was sunk on the upper Rapids, her engines recovered and
used in the 'R.D.Kendall.'
The 'Penn Wright' burned at Stillwater.
The first 'Chancey Lamb,' after long and useful service, was dismantled
The new 'Chancey Lamb,' which appears in the list of 1893, was a larger
and more powerful boat, having engine twelve inches in diameter by
eight-foot stroke, like the 'Irene D.' They were the only two boats used
in rafting that had eight - foot stroke engines. There were only two that had
seven - foot stroke engines; the ;Charlotte Boeckeler' and the 'F.W.
The 'Ida Fulton' was dismantled at Dubuque and her engines went in the new
The First Use of a Steamboat to push and handle a Raft
There has been much discussion over this matter. I have heard all the
witnesses and it is plain in the evidence that they agree on these facts,
FIRST. That several steamboats, some of them quite large, like the
'Kentucky ll,' the 'Minnesota,' and others, had shoved rafts through the
Saint Croix and Pepin lakes, for years, even prior to 1860.
But these boats were made fast usually by spreading the strings at the
stern to let the boat one-half or two-thirds her length down into the raft
so she could be held there.
She could push a large raft or sometimes a several rafts through either
lake in ten or twelve hours. She could back, kill its headway and land the
raft where there was current. But the oars manned by a strong crew, were
depended on to direct the course; and the boat was always let go at the
foot of Lake Pepin.
SECOND. That the first effort or trial to use a steamboat to tow and
direct a raft below Lake Pepin was made by Captain George Winans when in
September, 1863, he chartered the little side-wheel Chippewa river packet
'Union' for seven dollars a day; hitched her into a lumber raft at Read's
Landing and started for Hannibal, Missouri. Fortunately he had secured a crew
of raftmen to man all the oars for he soon needed them.
The little 'Union' demonstrated her ability to give the raft some headway
through the water and increase its speed perceptibly, but the 'crabs,' with
which they had arranged to pull her stern around and change
her position behind the raft were inadequate; and failing to control the boat
she got in trouble before they were five miles from Read's. The 'Union' was
sent back from Winona and Captain Winans took the raft to hannibal in the old
THIRD. The first trial was called a failure, but there was enough
encouragement in it for Captain Cyrus Bradley with W.J. Young's
encouragement, to charter the same steamer 'Union' the next year to run
a raft of logs from Read's to Clinton, Iowa, for W.J. Young and Company.
This trial was a success and by all the disputants admitted to have been the
FOURTH. Captain Winans got charge of the 'Union' soon after she made this
trip to Clinton and used her continuously for at least three seasons.
FIFTH. Captain Bradley on his next trip to Clinton used a little boat
called 'Active' and he soon started building a small side-wheeler which he
called the 'Minnie Will.'
The First Boat Built to Tow Rafts
There has been much discussion on this point also. The 'Union' and
several other boats used in the early days in towing rafts had been built
for other purposes.
The first boat built to tow rafts was the 'LeClaire,' built by Jonathan
Zebley at LeClaire, Iowa, for Thomas Doughty in 1866.
During the Civil War Mr. Doughty was chief engineer on several of the
gunboats of the United States navy that did excellent service on the lower
Mississippi and its tributaries.
Chief Doughty had a good education, was a fine mechanic and was
progressive in his ideas.
He saw the advantage of a stern-wheeler for towing and handling rafts;
but he did not build her large enough and while the pilot he took in as a
partner had been a successful floater, he did not quickly become familiar
with the use of the boat and the first trip was so discouraging, that Mr.
Doughty sold the 'LeClaire' to contractors who were working a large
improvement job on the Rock Island rapids, The "LeClaire' rendered excellent
service in this work for many years.
The commissioner of navigation, Washington D.C., says, the records show
that she was eighty feet four inches long, fifteen feet wide and three and
one-tenth feet deep and measured twenty- five and sixty-nine one-hundredth
tons, and was first inspected June 16, 1866.
She had one horizontal boiler eighteen feet long, forty inches in
diameter, with two fourteen-inch flues and was allowed one hundred and
twenty-five pounds steam pressure.
The 'LeClaire' like many a large boat, was not completely equipped when
she started out. She had a big whistle but no engine bells to signal the
engineer. So Mr. Doughty and George Tromley the pilot arranged to use the big
whistle which could be heard everywhere.
One blast meant 'ahead';
Two blasts meant 'back';
and when in reverse or forward motion,
One blast meant 'stop.'
Mr Tromley said they got along very well on this arrangement for two or
three days. The water was high and when he saw a boat coming he would
keep clear of her by hugging the other shore without blowing the usual signal.
But on the third night out he met a large packet coming down in Coon
Slough, a narrow and crooked part of the river; when to avoid a collision,
Mr. Tromley blew one whistle, and Mr. Doughty stopped the engines. The pilot
on the descending boat preferred the other side and blew two whistles
and Pilot Tromley responded. Then Doughty set the 'LeClaire' to backing and
Pilot Tromley blew on whistle to stop him. The big boat was close down on the
little one then. Her pilot rang to stop her engines, and called out,
"What in h--l are you trying to do with that little boat anyway?" " My
friend, I want to get by you and go on up the river if I can." "Well, go
ahead, take either side and go on, I thought you were trying to go both sides
When they got to LaCrosse, Tromley landed her; went back to Mr. Doughty
and in his Canadian manner and voice said to him, "I say my friend, dont you
tink we better get some o' dem little bell for dis engine room?" They got
Two men who were in the crew of the 'LeClaire' on this experimental trip
away back in 1866 are alive yet to tell the story; Captain J.D. Barnes
and David G. Carr, our long time barber in LeClair, now living in Davenport.
Now we come to the first real raft-boat built for and successfully used in
the work. It will be more interesting to have the story as told by the man
who built and owned her. He was not a raftman then. He was a young man in
partnership with his father. J.W.Van Sant in the LeClaire yard,
building and repairing river craft. His ideas originated from intelligent
Floating Pilots who favored the use of a steamboat in getting rafts down
Some of these men had had a little experience in using steamboats and
young Van Sant caught their ideas and became enthusiastic.
I quote from his letter of December 3, 1920
Steamer 'J.W. Van Sant'
The first 'J.W. Van Sant' was built at LeClaire, y J.W. Van Sant and
Son. The hull was launched in the month of December, 1869. She was ready for
business on the opening of navigation in 1870. She was one hundred feet long,
twenty feet beam and four feet depth in hull. Engine twelve inches by four
foot stroke, built by the famous Niles Works of Cin-
cinnati. Her boiler was twenty-four feet long, forty-four inches in diameter,
with ten and six-tenths inches , lap-welded flues. Then, lap-welded flues
were only twenty feet long and it was said that we could not have boilers
more than twenty feet in length. Fortunately, we had an old-time steamboat
engineer, Henry Whitmore, a man of long experience and a first class
mechanic, who contended that the flues could be lengthened by brazing, and
this was sucessfully accomplished.
The 'J.W. Van Sant' was the first stern wheel boat of large power
built especially for the rafting business. The rafters at that time were
small side wheel steamers constructed with geared machinery and generally
called 'coffee mill' boats.
It is safe to say that the 'Van Sant' of 1870 was the pioneer rafter for
after she had proved a success, Lamb and Son,W.J. Young and Company,
Weyerhauser and Denkmann, B. Hershey, and nearly every lumberman doing
business on the Mississippi river constructed boats to tow their logs and
In many cases stern-wheel boats were brought from the Ohio river and used
in the rafting business. After the Van Sant demonstrated successfully
her value as a rafter the side-wheel boats soon disappeared.
If the 'Van Sant' was success, a large part of it was due to Henry Whitmore
before mentioned, who erged powerful engines and plenty of
This boat (barring a few mishaps , which were no fault of the boat but of
the inexperience of those who first piloted her) was was a decided success ,
made money for her owners and really by her money-making qualities laid the
foundation for the Van Sant and LeClaire Navigation
companies, two companies that owned and operated more than thirty steamboats
during the forty years of rafting, or until the pine forests
in Minnesota and Wisconsin were denuded of their timber.
Her builders were by no means wealthy, so the machinery was purchased
on time, wages and material could not be paid for while the work was
progressing. "Nothing risked, nothing won," is an old proverb. The boat was a
success; she not only paid all her bills but gave her owners a handsome
profit. The first raft run by this boat was for Weyerhauser and Denkmann.
Mr. Weyerhauser was a passenger. After passing through the
Rock Island bridge safely, he was more or less anxious about the landing of
the raft at his mill-boom. He suggested the employment of the ferry boat to
assist, but the 'Van Sant' had no trouble whatever in making the landing
safely. Mr. Weyerhauser saw that the boat was a success and was one of the
very first mill-men to build a steamboat for towing his own logs. The
'Van Sant' was not only all that has been mentioned but she was unlike any
other boat. The Rock Island bridge (the old one) was very dangerous to
both boats and tows so that this steamer was constructed so she could lower
her chimneys and pilot house and follow her tow under the bridge
practically insuring safety.
She only had one deck above main deck and consequently was more
easily manage d as she could pass under the bridges and could run in any
wind that the raft could weather.
Twenty years after this boat was built, it is safe to state that there
were fully one hundred stern-wheel boats engaged in the rafting business.
The 'Van Sant' was under charter to Capt. Winans during the entire
seasons of 1870 and 1871 and early in 1872 we sold to the Eau Claire
Lumber Company who kept her busy for several years and then used her
engines on the new 'Peter Kirns' built to replace her.
The above description was received direct from Ex-governor S.R. Van
Sant on December 3, 1920. His letter of even date is in my file.
The Largest Rafts
The largest raft brought down the river during the fifty years from 1865,
when they first began using steamer to tow the raft until the
steamer 'Ottumwa Belle' ran the last raft 1915, was taken from Stillwater
on Lake Saint Croix to Saint Louis by Captain George Winans with the
This raft was sixteen strings wide and forty-four cribs long, rafted
twenty-six courses deep.
It was two hundred and seventy feet wide by fourteen and fifty feet
long and with the top load contained nine million feet of timber.
The 'Saturn ll' was a good, strong boat with engines sixteen inches by
five foot and Captain Winans had a good bow-boat on the head. This trip was
made in 1901.
The largest log raft was brought from Lynxville to Rock Island in 1896 by
O.E. McGinley with the steamer 'F.C.A.Denkman,' using the 'H.C. Brockman' as
her bowboat. The raft was two hundred and seventy feet wide and fifteen
hundred and fifty feet long, containing about two and one-
quarter million feet.
Some double-decked or double-tiered log rafts were brought from Stillwater
in the nineties. When they were careful to place only small log on top,
crosswise, they did fairly well in good river, but when they were careless
and hauled large logs up on top and loaded unevenly, these rafts soon
encountered trouble when they struck shallow water. Double-deckers were never
popular with the pilots who had to run them or the crew that
had to work on and over them.
The Last Raft- The End of the Game
The first rafts run from 1838 to 1843 were lumber from the Wisconsin river
and from Saint Croix Falls.
The last raft brought down the Mississippi was also lumber sawed and
rafted at Hudson, Wisconsin, on Lake saint Croix. I was in eight strings,
thirty-six cribs long and rafted twenty-eight courses deep. They made a raft
one hundred and twenty-eight feet wide and eleven hundred and fifty
feet long, which contained three and one-half million feet of lumber and it
carried about a million feet of top load consisting of, timbers, lumber and
This raft was towed by the steamer 'Ottumwa Belle' with the 'Pathfinder'
as a bowboat. The little steamer ' J.M.,' that had been engaged in towing
logs from Saint Paul boom to Prescott was hitched in alongside the raft near
the bow and taken down river to be sold.
Captain W.L. Hunter of Wynona was in charge as master and pilot and
made a nice, clean trip from Hudson to S.& J.C. Atlee at Fort Madison
in fourteen days with a single crew.
Captain Hunter had been on the 'Ottumwa Belle' doing Atlee's running
until the logs gave out, but in `1915 was piloting on the 'Morning Star'
in the Davenport and Saint Paul trade.
Mr.Atlee wanted Captain Hunter to run this last raft and Captain Hunter
was pleased to do it; so we arranged that I would stand his watch on the
'Morning Star' while he made the trip that wound up the great industry
that had lasted seventy-five years and really made all the good towns on
the Upper Mississippi.
It started in a small way and demanded skill and hard work to cut the logs
and drive them down to the booms where they were held, assorted, rafted and
scaled and then floated under man-power control to the mills.
There were many disappointments and failures in the early days but study
and hard work, guided by experience, soon won the game and got the prize.
When Chancey Lamb of Clinton invented the 'nigger' for controlling the
position of the towboat behind the raft he did a great thing for the
business. He did not patent it. It was built and sold at a very low price.
Any one who could was free to add any improvement, but no one ever did so.
It completely filled the bill, just what was needed, and it has never been
changed. I never could learn who invented the 'three-link iron boom chain'
first used in rafting at Beef Slough and later everywhere. It was a great
improvement over the old rope booming and much cheaper, because the chains
were taken off at the mill where the logs were sawed and sent back to the
rafting works. Our boats made no charge for carrying back
these chains which were often a burden in low water. A few of these chains
were lost in break-ups, but ninety-five percent of them were used over and
over again - there was no wear out to them.
One Freak and a Pair of Twins
With the building of many raft-boats during the period 1870 to 1900,
and by so many different owners, it is somewhat strange that so few were
failures and I recall only one real freak, that came out in 1872.
On her side bulkheads we read: 'Eau Claire Lumber Company's Iron Raft Boat
She was neither a side-wheeler, a stern-wheeler nor a propeller. She was
about one hundred and ten feet long and twenty feet wide and had
'dowler wheels,' somewhat on the order of a screw propeller, but the wheels
were ten feet ten feet in diameter with only one-fourth part submerged. The
lowest part of the wheels were not below the bottom of
the boat which drew three feet at the stern. The wheels when working ahead
revolved toward each other and threw a very strong current against the
The 'J. G. Chapman' was a good strong shover and had good rudder power
going ahead, but was almost useless in backing and she was very slow going up
river. She was later changed to a regular stern-wheeler with engine fourteen
inches by six foot, but having no hog chains, her iron hull broke in two
coming up river, and she sank near Iowa island. Her engines were used in the
second 'J.G. Chapman' which was a very successful raft-boat.
During one season of good water and plenty logs, S.and J.C. Atlee had more
work than their steamer 'LeClaire Belle' could do alone, so Mr. Sam Atlee
made a few changes
in the large center-wheel ferry boat 'Keokuk' and with Captain Asa Woodward
in charge as master and pilot she made several trips.
When dismantled, her fine engines were put in the new 'Sam Atlee' an
In only one instance were two boats built in duplicate. My old friend
Captain Fred A. Bill of Saint Paul tells us about them as he was in the
general office on the Diamond Jo Line when Mr. Young of W,J, Young and
Company of Clinton, Iowa, and Mr. Fred Weyerhauser of Weyerhauser and Denkmann
of Rock Island, had these two boats built in 1881, using the same
specifications for each and when finished they drew cuts to decide the
ownership. Mr. Young named his boat 'D. Boardman,' and Mr. Weyerhauser named
his for his partner, 'F.C.A. Denkmann.
Their hulls were one hundred and thirty feet long and twenty-eight feet
wide. Their engines were fourteen inches by six foot. They were splendid
boats and gave excellent service many years til the log supply was exhausted.
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