A paddleboat or paddlewheeler is a ship or boat propelled by one or more paddle wheels driven by an engine. Boats with paddle wheels on the sides are also called sidewheelers, while those with a single wheel on the stern are known as sternwheelers.
The paddle wheel is a large wheel, generally built of a steel framework, upon the outer edge of which are fitted numerous paddle blades (called floats or bunkets). In the water, the bottom quarter or so of the wheel is underwater. Rotation of the paddle wheel produces thrust, forward or backward as required. More advanced paddle wheel designs have featured feathering methods that keep each paddle blade oriented closer to vertical while it’s in the water; this increases efficiency.
Sternwheelers have generally been used as riverboats, especially in the United States, where they still operate for tourist use. On a river, the narrowness of a sternwheeler is preferable.
Each year 30-35 authentic sternwheel boats make the trip to Marietta for the Ohio River Ste rnwh eel Festival. Here are a few of the riv erboats that you might see during the festival.
BETTY LOU: The sternwheeler, Betty Lou, was built at the Old Lock 7 in Georgetown, Pennsylvania on the Ohio River mile 36.5 in 1998. The hull is all steel construction. It is 100′ x 20′ x 6′. She has three decks, a kitchen, a living room, four bedrooms, and three bathrooms. She is fully air conditioned and uses electric heat. The main power is 175 H.P. Cummins. The Betty Lou also has a 40 k.w. generator. The Betty Lou was built by Captain Bud Crain. She is currently owned by Bud and Betty Crain.
CLAIRE E: The Claire E was just a couple of yards away from the W.P. Snyder, Jr. on the other side of the Muskingum River in Marietta, Ohio. The boat was originally built as a diesel sternwheeler towboat by Dravo and Sardish at Neville Island, PA, for Clyde Paden and J.C. Williamson in 1926. She was rebuilt in 1967 at Fly, Ohio. She is 114 feet long and 18 feet wide. In March 1939, she was sold to Monongahela & Ohio Dredging Company, in 1960 to Beaver Towing and in 1962 to Seneca Towing. In 1966, the boat was purchased by Gene and Clair Fitch of Hebron, Ohio and renamed in 1967. They converted her to a pleasure boat. Under the ownership of Harley Noland, the Claire E was refurbished as a bed and breakfast. In 2003, the boat was sold to Dr. Roger Anderson. In 2016 Captain R.C. Heckert purchased the Claire E and renovations are planned.
DONNA RAE: The Donna Rae was built by John Fadeley and family at their home in Robinson Township, PA. The construction of the boat started in May 1984 and was completed in May 1988. The boat is 71 feet long and 16 feet wide. It is powered by a 471 Detroit Diesel. The paddlewheel is 14 feet in diameter and 8 feet 6 inches wide.
ELIZABETH ANNE: Owner and Captain – Dr. Ronald Downing. 1st mate – Dan Thompson. Builder – Ron Downing and friends. Launched – July 8, 1995. Weight – Approximately 40 tons. Length of hull – 60 feet. Power – Cummins 5.9/160 HP diesel. Drive train – Sunstrand hydraulic. Wheel size – 10 ft. diameter x 10 ft. width. Wheel power – 33,000 ft/lbs/torque. Port of call – Malta, Ohio. Use – pleasure. The vessel is now 99% complete after two years work and is used primarily on the Muskingum River between Marietta and Zanesville.
E.L. THUMPER: The E.L. Thumper was built in 1979 by Jack Bedeck and friends in his front yard in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It has undergone many changes since then. Its overall length is 75 feet and it is 16 feet wide with a model bow and lots of sheer. The Thumper is powered by a 460 cu. in. Ford gasoline engine. The wheel size is 15 feet in diameter by eight feet wide with twelve buckets. The Thumper’s home port is mile 3.3 on the Allegheny River at Hammil’s Landing, Millvale, Pennsylvania.
JENNY B: The Jenny B was built in 1987 and 1988, and was launched Memorial Day weekend, 1988. She is 80′ long and 17′ wide, powered by a 3 cylinder, 371 Detroit diesel. Her home port is in Gaysport, OH, and her winter port is with Jim and Joy Lent in Lowell, OH. Captain Rick Burden and First Mate Debbie Burden of Newark, OH own her.
KATIE H: The Katie H was built in 1932 at Cape Girardeau, Missouri, by Eddie Erlbacher. Christened the “Owassa” and later renamed the CIS-5, she worked the rivers as a commercial tow for the U.S. Steel, Clairton Works until 1960. Vince Hammill, owner and captain, purchased the boat in 1962, reconstructed her into a sternwheeler and renamed her Katie H after his mother. The Katie H is 80 feet long, beam 17 feet and the wheel is 15 x 10 feet. She is powered by a 238 HP Detroit Diesel GMC engine through a 650 Allison automatic transmission and a 38,000 Rockwell differential. She is self-contained, has a full bath, galley and Texas cabin bedroom. In 1984 the Katie H was in the movie “Mrs. Soffel” with Diane Keaton and in 1985 she appeared in “Silent Witness” with Valerie Bertinelli and John Savage. The Katie H’s home port is mile 3.3 on the Allegheny River at Pittsburgh, PA.
LAUREN ELIZABETH: The sternwheeler vessel Lauren Elizabeth is the dream of Captain Steve Price. Steve designed the boat and started building it in November of 1995. It was a spare time project until June 3, 2001, when it was launched. At the time of launching, the hull, cabin and wheel were in place. From that time on, work on the boat increased so that the boat was ready to go to the Ohio River Sternwheel Festival in September 2002. The boat was built by Captain Stephen W. Price , Captain William (Bill) Price (his father), John Fadeley and help from many others. Steve Price and Mary Price are designing the interior with finish work being doned by Wayne Patterson and Steve Price. Lauren is 125′ long and 22′ wide. It has a large galley/living area and two full size bedrooms and two and a half bathrooms. The pilot house and living area can be utilized as sleeping rooms. A 600 HP Cummins Engine, driving an 18′ diameter all steel wheel power her. The machinery and drive train were designed and finished by Captain Bill Price. A special thanks to all those who helped to make Steve’s dream come true.
MICHAEL J: Built in 1984 by Donald Burden, originally named the Gracie L., renamed in 1996. Owners are Wayne and Jean Leidy of Barberton, Ohio. Length – 65 ft., Beam – 15 ft., Draft – 22 in., Engine – 1160, V8 Cat Diesel, Allison auto transmission to belt reduction to chain driven wheel, Fuel capacity – 140 gallons, Water capacity – 250 gallons, Onan 6000 wt. generator, Sleeps six, Home port is Lowell, Ohio.
NANCY ANN: The Nancy Ann, owned by Floyd and Nancy Drake, was built in Zanesville, Ohio, in 1937. The boat originally had one deck and was used as a houseboat until the 1980s. The old wooden boat was then purchased and set into a new steel hull. A stainless steel paddle wheel and a cedar pilot house were added. The boat is 13 feet wide and 79 feet long. The Nancy Ann is powered by a 453 Detrot diesel and drives through an Allison automatic transmission. She has two “heads” and sleeps six. Away from dock, a 6.5kw generator provides power for her fully equipped galley, living quarters, heating and air conditioning. The boat’s home port is Lowell, Ohio.
PILE INN: Owner: Tom and Wilma Pile, 1900 Kanawha Ave., Dunbar, WV. Home Port: Mile 51.2 on the Kanawh River at Dunbar, WV. Hull: Scow / model bow, steel hull, 78 gross tons, 64 net tons. Hull Size: 60′ x 19′ x 4.5′. Paddlewheel: Simulated sidewheel boat, paddle boxes 12′ x 10.6′. Engine: 1982 Detroit Diesel 8.2 liter, fuel pincher. Generator: 6.0 Onan. Drive Train: Allgire 360 steering, bow thruster. Builder: Built in 1963 by Kelly Shop. Jefferson, Indiana for Mr. and Mrs. William B. Patterson of Richmond, IN. Superstructure: One deck 16′ x 45′, all steel construction; pilot house 8′ x 8′. She was built to resembe a turn of the century sidewheel packet boat with swinging stage, stacks, wood burning fireplace. The pilot house was paneled from walnut siding that was cut from beams and formerly in the Beckel Hotel in Dayton, Ohio (built in 1845). It was an overnight lodging place for canal boatmenn on the Ohio-Erie canal in those days. Interior walls of the cabin were done in walnut. Purchased by Bob Limle in 1974 who made it his home in the Cincinnati area. Mr. Limle was Trustee Emeritus with the ASA and lived on the Pile Inn (previous name The Belle of Richmond) until he sold it to Tom and Wilma Pile, April 2003, who brought it to the Kanawha River. The interior was totally redone with new carpet, new fireplace with gas logs, all new bathroom, new kitchen appliances, and all new furnishings. The boat has been rewired and the engine rebuilt. The Pile’s intent was to decorate with the Patterson’s original idea of a turn of the century sidewheel boat.
ROY C: The “Roy C” features a twin split sternwheel each measuring 36″ x 11-1/2″ driven from a single axle with a Sunstran hydraulic transmission to a hydraulic motor, through a Brevini 18-1 reduction gear to an 18 tooth to 45 tooth chain drive to the wheel, powered by a John Deere four-cylinder engine. The inside is fully equipped for comfort and extended cruising. Built at Parkersburg, WV, by Stanley Cole and currently owned by Hoyt and Wink Fontalbert, the “Roy C” is 68′ in length and 18′ wide. Home port is 95th Street, Marmet, WV. If you are in the area, feel free to stop by.
RUFUS B II: The Rufus B II was built in 1926 at LeClaire, Iowa on the banks of the Mississippi River. The boat’s first owner was Attorney Carl Lamback, and the original name was Freddie Boy. Local legend has it that Attorney Lamback entertained client Al Capone on board. In 1955, Bill Molo purchased the boat and renamed it Bart L and replaced the wood hull with steel. Mr. Molo died in 1960, and the boat was sold that year to Mr. Altman who renamed it William S. Dr. Phillip Bettler purchased the boat from Mr. Altman in 1963 and he changed the name to Rufus B II, his wife’s nickname. In 1965 the entire boat was remodeled and the hull was widened to 18 feet. The interior is covered with 3/4″ mahogany on the walls and a redwood ceiling. It has two bedrooms, a salon, a complete galley and one and a half baths. In 1991, the Rufus B II was sold to Lou Wendell Marine Sales in St. Albans, WV. The motor was changed to a 671 Detroit diesel with a belt drive and a twin disc transmission. Fuel capacity is 1,400 gallons and the water tank holds 250 gallons. The total length of the boat is 73 feet with a draft of 20 inches. The wheel is 9 feet wide and has 13 buckets. During the 28 years owned by Dr. and Mrs. Bettler, this boat traveled over 30,000 miles, covering the Mississippi, the Tennessee, the Ohio, the Missouri, the St. Croix and the Kanawha Rivers. In 1992 the Rufus B II was in the Tall Stacks Parade in Cincinnati, Ohio.
THE M/V “SHELLEY P.”: Built in honor of his wife in 1968 on the Kanawha River by Mr. Jim Poindexter of St. Albans, WV. She was the original starting boat for the Charleston Sternwheel Regatta and served in that position for 30 years. Tommy Mullins of Madison, WV became Mr. Poindexter’s partner and eventually became the sole owner in the 1990s. He continued to maintain the Shelley P. and made many improvements over the years to this beautiful vessel. Mr. Mullins sold his interest to Dick Daugherty of Dunbar, WV. Mr. Daugherty is currently serving as the “Commander in Chief” of “The Great Kanawha River Navy”. Both Admiral Mullins and Admiral Poindexter were also active in the Navy. The Shelley P. is 50′ x 14′ in length and width. She is powered by a 453N Detroit Diesel and a 6.5 KW Kubota Diesel generator. She holds 200 gallons of fuel for long range cruising and can accommodate 6 overnight guests. Her luxurious interior boasts beautiful hardwood floors, a tongue and groove black walnut ceiling, a full galley, entertainment center and a ceramic stand up shower stall. She is air conditioned and heated for year round enjoyment and can be seen at many festivals and regattas on the Kanawha and Ohio Rivers. She spends her down time in Dunbar, WV at mile 51.3 on the Kanawha River.
VALLEY GEM: The Valley Gem is the largest sternwheeler between Pittsburgh and Cincinnati and was built in 1988-89 by Ivan Arnold, and was designed by James E. Sands. The gentle splash of the paddlewheel reminds you of a bygone era, but this modern-day sternwheeler has all the amenities to make your sentimental journey tranquil and relaxing. The Gem is a clean and comfortable boat, United States Coast Guard Approved and Handicapped Accessible. The lower deck is fully enclosed with heating or air conditioning, a snack shop, and restrooms. She is able to carry up to 296 passengers. Enjoy sightseeing tours from May through October. Relax on a Saturday night dinner cruise. The Valley Gem is 157′ x 25′ (hull 102′ x 24.5′) and weighs 100 tons. The sternwheel is driven by a 6-71TA Detroit Diesel which produces 300 HP @ 2100 RPM. The engine is coupled to an Allison MH3 marine gear. Total reduction from engine to wheel is 52:1. Electricity is provided by a 4039 John Deere 40 KW Marathon generator. The Valley Gem is air conditioned by two 5 ton carrier units, and is baseboard heated. The Valley Gem carries 1700 gallons of diesel, and 360 gallons of fresh water. For more information and reservations, call 740-373-7862.
W.P. SNYDER JR.: Little did the builders of the W.P. Snyder Jr. know that she would have two careers. She was first a working towboat on the Monongahela and Ohio rivers. Built in 1918, she worked under four names: the W.H. Clingerman (1918 – 1938), the J.L. Perry (1938 – 1945), the A-1 (early 1945), and finally, the W.P. Snyder Jr. The Crucible Steel Company bought her in late 1945 and named her after the comapny’s board chairman. Like so many of her kind, the steam-powered, sternwheeler Snyder was replaced by diesel boats with propellers. She was laid up in 1954 and probably would have been scrapped had it not been for Capt. Fred Way, Jr. and the Sons & Daughters of Pioneer Rivermen. Working with the Oiho Historical Society, they made sure the Snyder would enjoy a second career as a museum and she came to Marietta in 1955. The W.P. Snyder Jr. is moored at the Ohio Historical Society’s Ohio River Museum at 601 Front Street, next to the Valley Gem. The Snyder and the Ohio River Museum are open during the Sternwheel Festival – Saturday, 9:30 am – 5:00 pm and Sunday, Noon – 5:00 pm. Admission to the Ohio River Museum includes a tour of the Snyder — her engine room, cabin and crew staterooms and pilothouse. While you’re in the neighborhood, also visit the Campus Martius Museum at 601 Second Street, just a three-minute walk from the Ohio River Museum. For more information, call 740-373-3750.