Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Inspired by the Steamer Mount Desert

The north wall of the outer lobby of the Southwest Harbor post office is covered with a mural sized photograph of the sidewheel steamer Mount Desert leaving the harbor. There's also a model of the Mount Desert in the reading room at the library. Apparent in both of these is the walking beam of the single cylinder steam engine that powers the vessel.

As I've been researching the Mount Desert I'm reminded how easily an environmental image like the photograph in the post office can sink into the background of our consciousness. Several people I've asked about it have had to go take a look at it to remind themselves what it is I'm asking about.

I'm no different. I frequently don't see it when I'm getting my mail. But often when I look at it, I try to imagine what it must have been like to see that huge engine in operation. It must have been a mightily impressive sight and sensory experience.

So what was it like?

I've not found the particulars of the Mount Desert but I did find the specs (and photographs and first person accounts) of the sidewheeler J. T. Morse, built in 1903, which also plied these waters:
214' overall
199' waterline
31' beam
50' overguards
12'1" depth
780 gross tons
410 net tons
600 I.H.P. single beam engine
Hmm. 600HP. That's more than any car your likely to find on the street, but somewhere between the Hinckley Picnic Boat (435HP) and the Hinckley T44 (960 HP total). No further particulars there about the engine though. But the Great Lakes steamer Owana is similar and here are her specs:
Length � 200.6'.
Beam (at the hull) � 32'
Depth � 20' ... She was
powered with a low pressure beam engine,
48" cylinder by
108" stroke;
750 hp,
65 p.s.i. steam, and turned her paddle at
35 rpm
A piston four feet in diameter making a nine foot return trip every two seconds!

Alas, so far as I can tell, there are no surviving sidewheel steamers driven by walking beam engines. How close can we come to recreating that experience?

In the photographs we can only see the tops of the engines. Fortunately the Mariners' Museum in Newport News has a model.

What about full sized sidewheelers with other types of steam engines? If we're willing to travel, we're in luck. The Waverly is "the last sea-going paddle steamer in the world." In service in Scotland, she's bigger then our steamers: 240 feet long - 57 ft 3 in maximum breadth. And we can see her triple expansion engine in operation at 44 rpm.

There are a slew of excurion steamers on Swiss lakes. The Montreux represents the hopes and dreams of steam nuts everywhere: Built in 1904, she was converted to Diesel power and continued service in 1961. In 2001 she reentered service with a two cylinder diagonal engine newly designed and manufactured by DLM AG. The engine would not be out of place in an operating room.

10/18/07 Update: I've gathered some additional information about American marine walking beam engines here.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about:

9:22 PM  

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