The hull was
in excellent condition, needing no work, so my first phase was to
rebuild and add an upper bridge to the 8 ft x 18 ft. cabin. I wanted to be
able to pilot the boat from the cabin or the flying bridge. Then I built and
extended bow deck that would provide a mount for the swiveling gang plank that
could be used to board the boat and take on supplies. The next step was the
paddlewheel assemble, which I constructed using 2 old farm planter wheels and
1x4 boards. To power the boat I purchased an old 16 h.p. single cylinder
engine, which provides plenty of power, uses very little fuel, and makes a
great Puckity-Puck sound similar to the "African Queen." Needing a single
lever action for forward and reverse I used a hydrostrat transmission from an
old Wheel Horse Garden tractor with a chain drive to the Paddlewheel axle.
Even though I
wanted to maintain the sternwheeler integrity of the boat from
on the exterior, I chose to utilize high tech and modern conveniences inside.
I equipped her with the standard navigating equipment like marine radio, GPS,
depth finder, and safety gear, and also installed a lap top computer with cell
phone hook-up, generator, air conditioning, and of course a color TV. The
Wabash Queen was to be a self-contained as possible so that I could enjoy long
journeys to remote places.
The first time
she was to be put afloat for testing I assembled a launch crew
of about a dozen friends and two other boats. I selected a remote ramp on the
Wabash River, because I didn't want to draw a crowd on the first launch,
especially if things went wrong. This first thing that I discovered was that
the boat was much heavier that expected and the power winch on the bottom the
bow deck would not let the boat float off the trailer, so I had to drive my
Blazer all the way into the river to get the boat to cast off. So, now she is
floating but listing heavy on the port side. Guess I need to shift some
weight. I fire her up and slowing engaged the transmission and to most of my
friends surprise, she actually began to move under her own power, that is
until I increased the throttle for a little more speed. That is when the boat
began to vibrate badly and the drive chain started slipping on the sprocket
teeth creating a terrible jerking, that broke loose the entire transmission
mount. So we towed her back to the ramp and with some difficulty got her back
on the trailer. I considered the test successful because she did the two basic
things that I was unsure about. She floated and moved under her own power.
Everything else can be worked out.
While I was testing
the new rudders I built on the Wabash Queen, I decided to
tie a 100 foot line from the boat to the dock, just in case I had trouble,
then I could pull her back. The current was very strong and I didnt want to be
swept downstream. As it turned out, the rudders worked just fine but my chain
drive broke and caused the boat to lurch to the port side so hard that the
rope snapped. So there I was drifting without power in a 5,000 lb. boat toward
a bridge, which would surely wreck her. My only recourse was to pull in the
broken line, put the end in my teeth and jump in the river toward shore. I
swam as hard as I could to tie off to a tree before I ran out of slack in the
rope. Fortunately, I did make it just in time to loop the rope around the
tree, just short of the bridge. I just layed on the mudding bank for a while,
recovering from a feat that would have made Crocodile Dundee proud of me.
After resting for a while and pondering whether I might be getting too old for
this stuff, I hiked back to my dock and got my other boat. Then went
downstream to tow the Wabash Queen back. Upon inspecting the rope, I had
discovered that it apparently had gotten burned almost through when it lodged
against the muffler during its previous use. Lesson learned: Always check a
lifeline before using it. My motto is that I never make the same mistake
twice....too busy making new ones.
With the tests
behind me I had a good idea of what needed to be done and set
out to make the necessary changes. It has required 2 more "dipping" tests to
finally get the bugs worked out, but I am pleased to report that I am writing
this letter while cruising on the Wabash Queen. She is not a fast boat, but
who is in a hurry to get anywhere with this kind of scenery? She makes up for
her lack or speed in comfort and efficiency (she runs all day on 5 gallons of
fuel). And that sound......that mild puckity-puck and water thrashing from the
paddlewheel is incredible.
By early Spring, I plan to embark on my journey of a lifetime. I will head
down the beautiful Wabash River which will lead me to nearly 6,000 miles of
inland waterways to explore. As I cruise and make stop-overs, I will be
working via computer/E-mail. I will also be writing my next book, "Beyond The
Bridges." I will keep my house, but I'm not certain if I will ever come back.
My children are grown and I am single, so I feel like I have the freedom to
finally live my life-long dream. I think the beauty of my trip plan is no plan
at all! I will go where it feels right, stay where if feels right, and shove
off when it feels right. So, if you happen to be along any of our rivers and
you hear that puckity-puck sound coming in the distance, it might be the
Wabash Queen, traveling well "Beyond The Bridges." Hail me down and We'll
visit for a while.
Terre Haute, Indiana