Marjess Sternwheel Shantyboat

Paddlewheel houseboats, extinct in the Cincinnati harbor on the Ohio River by the 1950’s, were much in favor on the shallow Great Miami River at the Hamilton Boat Club, close to Hamilton, Ohio.

Somehow, Dad got wind of a sternwheeler for sale there, so several weekends found our family at the remote river hideaway populated by other families with a common interest besides boating. All had one, or more, family members employed at the nearby paper mill.

Noisy, fat, rambunctious geese, standing a head-taller than my two younger brothers, had the run of the place. As the Great Miami was too “thin” for propeller-driven houseboats, stern paddlewheels were the standard choice of propulsion. Our eyes were set on an all-steel boat, and my folks were about to set pen-to-paper when another purveyor slyly revealed his wooden paddlewheeler would sell cheaper. That evening, after the sun had set and the geese were hushed in the darkness, we gathered aboard a cozy, wooden sternwheel houseboat set up on empty oil drums. There by the soft light of kerosene lamps, the artful owner expounded on the virtues of his wooden boat, the SHANGRI LA, over those of the metal boat we previously admired. By the time we climbed down from the boat for the drive home, Mom and Dad were its new owners.

The SHANGRI LA was a 38-foot wooden paddlewheel houseboat hand-built in 1947 following plans made popular in the 1930’s. The chain-driven sternwheel was powered by a 35-horsepower, four-cylinder, flat head, gasoline engine from a Durant automobile. A Model T Ford rear-end was mounted outboard on the stern transom where small sprocket wheels attached to the axle drove chains connected to larger sprockets mounted on either side of the paddlewheel. One lone steering rudder was attached past the wheel on a steel pipe fastened athwartships through the heavy, oak cylinder timbers which supported the weight of the wheel. Both the scow-bowed hull and the graceful cabin were wooden and painted as white as any steamboat. Red window and molding trim matched the wheel.

What the SHANGRI LA had most in its favor was …. Read More

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