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"On the River"


Davenport Democrat and Leader

March 13, 1932


 By Capt. Walter A. Blair



le Claire belle



Capt. Walter Blair Reviews More Famous Upper Mississippi Rafters Built at the

 Le Claire Boat Yards

   The Le Claire Belle built at the Van Sant yard, came out in spring of 1873, and took her place in the growing fleet of rafters and held it with credit and profit for 17 seasons of steady work with scarcely an interruption.  Her hull was 127”x 22”x 4’; her engines 14”x 4’ had been on the gun boat Benton during the Civil War.  The Benton was later used as a ferry boat at Alton, Ill. For a while then laid up, neglected and sunk in Alton slough.  Her engines, shaft, doctor (pump) and engine and some other parts were fished out and bought for $1,000 and installed on the new boat.  She had a nice comfortable cabin with four staterooms on each side, a small neat office in front and a kitchen, panty and mess room aft.  She had a skylight over her hall but the roof only extended a few feet forward and aft of the cabin.

  She was only 27 inches in draft and when running light was very fast, but loaded she was only a 7-mile boat.

  Van Sant and Son, Jonathan Zebley, John McCaffrey and R. F. Isherwood each owned one fourth at the time she was complete but Mr. Zebley and Capt. “Bob” Isherwood soon sold out to the other owners, Van Sant and Son and Capt. John McCaffrey.

  That spring (1873) she was chartered to Capt. Cy Bradley and she started out in charge of Sam Hitchcock of Le Claire as master and pilot.  Ben Wilson of Rock Island, chief and  James Henry Harris, assistant engineer.

  After this charter expired Capt. McCaffrey took charge as master and pilot and ran lumber for Pound Holbert and Co. later the Union Lumber Co. and Will Irvine was clerk on her.

  In winter, 1878, Capt. McCaffrey sold his half interest to S. and J. C. Altee of Fort Madison, and she was to run Altee logs from Stillwater.

  Capt. Sam Van Sant as managing owner started her out in March in charge of James Huginun as master and pilot, George Tromley, pilot; R. B. McCall Mate; Thomas Wright, chief, and Add Mikesell assistant engineer.

  W. A. Blair as clerk and nigger runner began his long career on the river when he resigned a teacher’s position on the Princeton public school and took service on the “Le Claire Bell.”

  After a year or two Capt. Van Sant sold his half interest to Altee; then later bought the whole boat back at a great bargain and put her in the Van Sant and Musser Transportation Company where she rendered excellent services and made a lot of money until she was dismantled at Le Claire, Ia., in 1891. 

  The sale of her old hull, boilers and other parts brought as much as they pad for her machinery when she was built.

  The “Belle” was a nice easy boat to steer and handle.  She was easy to fire and lighter on fuel than the other 14”x 4’ engine boats. 

  She was counted a “lucky boat.” was always popular; and the pride of her crew, and her owners must hold her in pleasant memory.

  In 1873 a new hull 125’x 25’x 4’ was built for the “Market” by Zebley and Son.  The Saw Mill Co., furnished the lumber and Thomas H. L. Lee, its president qualified as “managing owner” when she was finished and enrolled in 1874 Milton Parkhurst (long time merchant in East Davenport) then secretary of the Mill Co. invested $2,000 in her on which he got a good return.  Zebley retained a builder’s interest.

  But as no buyer appeared the builders of this fine new hull took it to Rock Island early in the spring of 1874 and under the direction and supervision of a very competent engineer, Elisha P. Bartlett, she was fitted out with 2 large new boilers and a pair of engines 15”x 4’ that they bought in Cincinnati.

  She was inspected July 13, 1874, with O. P. Mc Mann as her master.

  The best information obtainable indicates that she ran under charter to Durant and Wheeler until sold to Anawalt, Kenkmann & Co. (later the Rock Island Lumber Co.) about 1880.

  She ran one, possibly two seasons with no cabin.  Then a small texas cabin was given her and later this was enlarged and her roof extended aft.

  At some time in her career the old engines were removed and replaced by a pair of 15”x 5’ that came off the Arrow, and in 1882 her two large boilers allowed low steam pressure were replaced by three boilers allowed much higher pressure.

  She rendered faithful and profitable service until she was dismantled at Rock Island in 1891 and her engines and boilers went on the new E. Rutledge, built at the yard of Kahlke Bros.  Rock Island.  During her 18 years service O. P. McMann, James Huginin, A. M. Carpenter, J. M. Hawthorn, E. J. Lancaster and George Tromley, Jr., had charge of her in the order named as master and pilot.

    The “Pilot” built by Martin Von Hein of Le Claire for D. F. Dorrance and John McCaffrey was intended primarily for a rapids boat but was occasionally used on long trips during good water.

  Her hull was 115’x 22’x 3’ 8” and she was given the engines of the dismantled “Wild boy” which were 10 ½’x 4’ 4” and of excellent pattern.

  The pilot had a small comfortable cabin with roof extending forward but not aft.  She was a nice handy boat and of very light draft.  She was later owned by the Pilot Steamboat Company of which Hugo Becker was the head.  Orrin Smith was master and pilot and T. F. Long her engineer for several seasons on jobbing work around the rapids, which included helping raft boats over, and towing stone from the quarry above town to the Abel Line and Cement Co., of Davenport.

   About 1898 she was sold to parties at Evansville, Ind.  They changed her name to “Peerless” and in 1901 sold her to H. M. Flagler for use among the Florida Keys in building the extension of his East Coast Railway to Key West.

  The Eclipse had a nice hull 125’x 25’x 4’.  Her engines built by the Iowa Iron Works of Dubuque were 13”x 5’ and her two boilers were built by Grupe and Murray of Davenport.

  John McKinzie who had been in charge of the William White several seasons, superintended the construction of the Eclipse and went out on her as master and pilot when she was finished.

  A year or two later he (McKenzie) was relieved by E. J. Lancaster, who remained in charge and did all the running for the two companies until they shut down for good in 1904.

  Then Capt. Lancaster had her hull rebuilt, giving her a longer sharper bow, and made changes in her already fine cabin to fit her for a short packet trade.

  In 1905 he bought from Capt. John Streckfus his warehouses and good will in the Davenport and Clinton trade and tried to revive it but the Interurban was new, and its good service took nearly all the trade.

  Giving up the struggle here Capt. Lancaster put her in from Prairie Du Chien daily to Dubuque.  The Eclipse was fast. She could and did make a round trip a day, but it took a lot of fuel to do it.  She had many friends but lost many, and was laid up in Cat Tail for about two years when she was sold to a party on the Ohio who used her to tow a showboat.  She was finally destroyed by fire after along, busy and useful career.

  The hull of the Musser was built at the Le Claire yard under the supervision of Mr. J. W. Van Sant.  It was 140’x 25’x 4 1/2’ and of very nice model and workmanship.  That fall she was towed to Dubuque where she was completed, and came out in the spring of 1886, in charge of Capt. Thomas Dolson and George A. Galloway, engineer.

  The Iowa Iron works built and installed her engines (13”x 6’) boilers (38”x 20’); shaft, doctor, all piping and sheet ironwork and they did an excellent job.

  Her cabin, built by the Diamond Jo Boat yard, was larger than usual and very handsomely finished and painted.

  The Musser was a great success.  She was fast, a good handler, and very light on fuel.  She must have made a lot of money for she was always busy towing rafts or barges of lumber or carrying excursions.

  She had no serious mishap during her 21 consecutive season’s run. 

  She was dismantled at Wabasha, Minn., in 1907, and her cabin rebuilt and extended, with her boilers, engines, wheel, pitmans, and pumps were place on a new hull of the same length but 30 feet wide and came out as the Keokuk in 1908.  The entire job of rebuilding was done by Samuel Peters and son of the Wabasha yard to the order of Capt. W. A. Blair, acting of which he was manager and in which Capt. Sam Van Sant was a large stockholder.                                                             


Collected by Sue Rekkas

and Transcribed by

Georgeann McClure


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