It is time to find a new caretaker, i.e., Owner, for my paddlewheeler, the Rafter CLYDE, the most authentic-looking replica sternwheeler on the river.
The Rafter CLYDE is modeled after an 1870s steamboat of the type that towed rafts of first-growth Wisconsin Pine on the Upper Mississippi. The original steamboat CLYDE, built at the Iowa Iron Works in Dubuque, Iowa in 1870 as a sidewheeler, was the first iron-hulled (as opposed to wood) steamer on the upper river.
Ed Newcomb, a descendant of several Newcomb men who crewed the original namesake, built the latest version of the CLYDE in his backyard on the banks on Lake Pepin, the only naturally-occurring lake on the Great American River. Under the guidance of the celebrated marine architect, Captain Alan Bates, Newcomb made his reproduction as historically-accurate as possible. If after consulting Captain Bates about whatever it was Ed had in mind wasn’t correct, the offending part, piece, or section was torn out and rebuilt to satisfy the master maritime designer whose steamboat masterpiece is the Steamer NATCHEZ of New Orleans.
Ed knew the general shape and design of CLYDE from pictures he had and then relied on a book called “The Western Rivers Steamboat Cyclopoedium’ by Alan L. Bates for help with details.”
The mag, also known as “Mid-America’s Premier Boating Magazine,” also observed:
“… the tricky part of the construction was making sure it looked like an old boat. The book helped with that problem… the book has lots of information about proportions in general.”
Combining the talents of the famed maritime architect and a gifted builder, the resulting CLYDE is undoubtedly the most authentic and finest-proportioned sternwheel steamboat replica anywhere on the Western Rivers.
Seeing the CLYDE for the first time, rubes invariably remarked:
“I’ll bet ya got propellers underneath the hull.”
Sorry, but there are no props hidden below the water. Instead, one of the most authentically built wooden paddlewheels in existence shoves the CLYDE through the water. Every White Oak part is individually crafted, and except for the Wheel Arms radiating out from a central shaft like spokes, no two pieces are exactly alike.
Within the engine compartment inside the steel hull, a mighty 35 HP, four-cylinder, Kubota diesel engine drives two hydraulic pumps. The largest is an Eaton VS primary drive pump and the smaller is an accessory pump for the steering and the bow-thruster.
The CLYDE has a thirty-gallon holding tank for the head. The fuel capacity is twenty-eight gallons in each of the two bow tanks and a twenty-five-gallon engine day tank, located under the deck next to the engine. The potable water tank holds fifty-gallons.
The paddlewheeler boasts of a full galley, alongside an oak dining table. A complete “head” with toilet, shower, and a sink are as lovely as any boat owner could want. Three twin-size beds, two of which are in the spacious Captain’s Quarters allows for overnight comfort on extended trips or just when spending a relaxing night onboard.
In the nearly seven years since CLYDE completed a 1,300-mile river trip from Alma to Aurora, Indiana, she’s been practically rebuilt from the top of the twin stacks to the bottom of the keel. But understand, above the recently repainted steel hull with the addition of a new bow thruster tube, the wooden superstructure always has some touch-ups to keep a classic boat enthusiast occupied. If working on a boat is not considered your concept of pleasure, the CLYDE is not the one for you. The prospective new owner must be willing to sign “The Pledge,” written by Ed Newcomb on the inside of the door in the aft passageway:
“CLYDE. is a fair boat. Take care of her.”
Handling-wise, the CLYDE acts like an old-time steamboat in the way she steers, backs, and turns around. From the authentic pilothouse, the view forward appears precisely like what Captain Horace E. Bixby, Mark Twain’s mentor, likely witnessed from behind the breast board of the palatial steam packet, the CITY of ST. LOUIS, in the 1880s. Everything about the CLYDE closely resembles a steamboat of the 19th Century except it’s smaller and a diesel engine powers the sternwheeler rather than steam.
A word of caution for the curious “tire-kickers” interested in looking with no intentions beyond that, is… the CLYDE is not the boat for everyone. With no handrails, it is, as previously stated, a working model of a 19th Century raft boat and not friendly to the inexperienced greenhorn, small children, or the infirmed. That is not to say that modifications couldn’t be made in keeping with the original intent of the character of the vessel to make it adaptable to those mentioned above. That would be up to the buyer, but if a “houseboat” is all someone is seeking, many brands of new and used boats are always on the market.
Captain Don Sanders is a river man. He has been a riverboat captain with the Delta Queen Steamboat Company and with Rising Star Casino. He learned to fly an airplane before he learned to drive a “machine” and became a captain in the USAF. He is an adventurer, a historian, and a storyteller. Now, he is a columnist for the NKyTribune and will share his stories of growing up in Covington and his stories of the river. Hang on for the ride — the river never looked so good.
Captain Ron Bishop
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