"On the River"
Davenport Democrat and Leader
March 6, 1932
By Capt. Walter A. Blair
J.W. Van Sant raising the Steamer Glenmont
Some Interesting Data on the Famous
Mississippi River Rafters built at Le Claire Boatways
In the heyday of rafting on the upper Mississippi there was no
better known boat engaged in this trade than the J. W. Van Sant.
This popular rafter was built by J. W. Van Sant and son of the Le
Claire, Iowa, boatyard in 1870. Her hull was 100 feet long, 20 feet
wide and four feet deep. Her engines were 12 by 4 feet and her one
boiler was 24 feet long and 44 feet in diameter, with 10.6-inch
The J. W.
Sant had no cabin until her third or fourth year. She ran under
charter to Capt. George
in 1870 and 1871, towing lumber from Read’s Landing to
and St. Louis and after many years of successful service was
dismantled and her engines put in a new boat known as the “Peter
Whitmore of Galena Ill., selected the engines and boilers for the J.
W. Van Sant, installed them, and went out on her as chief engineer.
He established her reputation as the first real successful stern
wheel raft boat built for the business. She demonstrated the “type”
and the superiority of the stern wheel.
Sant deserves the credit for the size and style proportions of this
remarkable boat. He consulted the best pilots and engineers to get
the judgment in practical and experienced men who understood
The Brother Jonathan
Jonathan was built at
in 1871 by Johnathan Zebley & Sons (Ed) her hull was the same size
as the J. W. Van Sant, 100X 20’x 4’ and her engine were also the
same size 12”x 4. Elisha P.
installed her machinery, fitted her up and started her out in charge
of Capt. A. J. Jenks
of Albany Ill.
Capt. Jenks joined Durant Wheeler and Co., putting the Jonathan as
D. W. & Co. several years of excellent service-was sold in 1892 the
Jonathan was dismantled and her engines put on the new Vermi Mac
built by M. J. Godfrey and son at Wabash, Minn., for D. J. McKenzie
on the Jonathan, or later on the Vermi Mack she had an accident
running one engine. Instead of getting a new one, they bought the
old engines of the dismantled Silver Wave and put them on the Vermi
Mac. These were 14”x 4.2”, larger in diameter than her old engines
and made her a much stronger boat.
D A. Mc Donald
The D. A. Mc
Donald built by J. W. Van Sant and son (Sam) at
Her hull was 120’x 24’x 4’ of excellent oak (native) well fastened
after thoro seasoning.
were 14”x 4’ and her two boilers were 42 x 24” with 10 in. flues in
each. Her hull had been completed in 1871, so she came out
completed in spring of 1872.
installed the machinery in her as he had done in the J. W. Van Sant
two years before and started her out running under charter to
McDonald Bros. of La Crosse, Wis., and she surprised even her
builders by her excellent performance.
was not only larger in hull and engines than the J. W. Van Sant but
she had a nice cabin with good rooms for her officers and two guest
rooms. She also had her kitchen, pantry and mess room on the boiler
deck, which left her a large roomy deck room for the fuel and kit.
the new McDonald going well, Capt. Sam Van Sant took Engineer
off the McDonald leaving
as chief in his place, and proceeded to Evansville, Ind., where at a
U. S. Marshal’s sale they bought the steamer Hartford to be
converted into a rafter.
were coming down the Ohio with the Hartford, the McDoanld going up
river for another raft exploded her boilers, killed 18 of her crew
and then sank.
raised and rebuilt at Le Claire and got in three seasons of
profitable work when she had another bad accident. Early in the
season of 1876 going down on a big river with a heavy tow of ice
barges she hit a pier of the Keokuk Bridge and went down in
The Van Sants
raised her after a hard struggle, took her to Le Claire on her own
steam and rebuilt her again. She ran the balance of that season
without any cabin and made many fast and profitable trips between
Beef Slough and Muscatine.
was her master and pilot 1876-77-78-79 and 1880. In the winter of
1876-77 they gave her a finer and larger cabin with a full-roof fore
and aft, and in 1878 by special act of congress she got a new
name-the Silver Wave. She had 11 years of continuous prosperity
carrying this name until she was dismantled at the place she had
been built once and rebuilt twice, by Van Sant. Her last season1889
with George Tromley, Jr., as her master and pilot was one of her
most profitable and successful periods.
three seasons on her learning the river while clerk and
nigger-runner. I persuaded Capt. Van Sant, when she was being
dismantled to let me have her nice pilot wheel to replace the poor
one on the Silver Crescent. Then we dismantled the Silver Crescent
and built the Black Hawk in 1909 the cabin pilot house and this
pilot wheel went on the new boat and were all wrecked and lost in
the great ice break in Paducah, Ky., January 1918.
Gile came out in the spring of 1872. She was also built by J. W.
Van Sant and Son at Le Claire, Ia., for parties headed by Abner Gile
of La Cross, Wis. Tho not so large as the McDonald she had the same
sized engines, 14”x 4’.
later in her long and successful career she had new cylinders cast
for the old upper works and the new cylinders were only
12 or 133 inches in diameter.
was part owner
and her master several years.
was her owner
and master a few years and then go
Capt. J. H. Woodus
to have me and the Ten Bronk to take charge of the Gile in 1888.
She ran logs for the Canton Saw Mill Co. for several years until
they closed down.
Her last work
was work dropping logs form St. Paul to Prescott. In 1899 she sank
where she was dismantled and her engines used on some other boat.
Frank E. Goldsmith
was her chief engineer several years while owned by Captain Short.
She had 28 years continuous service without a single serious
Explosion on the
While Van Sant and Son were building the Mc Doanld and the Abner
Gile, their neighbors Zebley and Son, were building the James
and his associates in 1872
But the James
Malborn exploded her boilers, killing the captain and part owner and
several of her crew and then sank. This accident occurring only a
few weeks after the D. A. Mc Doanld explosion, and within a mile of
the same place above the McGregor pontoon bridge) caused steamboat
men to think there was some particular local condition that might
explain these two disasters; but they have concluded that it was
only a coincidence and both due to lack of care and caution.
The wreck was
raised, taken to La Cross and rebuilt as the Robert Ross. This name
was later changed to J. S. Keator. She was for many years in charge
of Captain L. A. Day
of Le Claire, Ia., while she was running logs for J. S. Keator &
mill closed down she was sold to a Memphis company who changed her
name to L. E. Patton. They used her towing logs to mills in
Capt. A. O. Day,
now supervising inspector of steam vessels at St. Louis, Mo., served
his apprentice ship as cub-pilot with his father on the J. S Keator
and was his partner after getting his license.
and Wiether of the Le Claire Foundry and Machine shop cast and
filled a pair of 14”x 6’ cylinders to the old top works of the J. S.
Keator’s engines. This increased her power and (strange to tell)
decreased her fuel expense. On each outboard side of her pilot
house and under her name was a large and pretty “K”.