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"On the River"


Davenport Democrat and Leader

March 20, 1932


 By Capt. Walter A. Blair



Silver Wave

 Capt. Walter A. Blair Notes Changes In Ownership of the Le Claire Boat yards. 

Some of Its Famous Rafters


Walter A. Blair


  The ownership of the Le Claire boat yard had changed several times during the years from 1870 when J. W. Van Sant & Son built the first real raft boat, to 1890, when the second J. W. Van Sant was built for the Van Sant and Musser Transportation Company to replace the Silver Wave.  The yard was now owned by the Le Claire Marine Railway Company and R. A. Edwards was it manager.

  The hull of the second Van Sant was 140 feet by 26 feet four inches and her engines were 14 inches by 6 feet.  So she was 50 per cent larger than the pioneer of that name, but only an enlargement in type just the same.

  Her engines were built by Kattenbracker & Weithe at their shop in Le Claire and they gave excellent satisfaction.  Her cabin and all upper works were completed at Le Claire and she came out in charge of Capt. George Tromley, Jr., who had brought the Silver Wave’s career to such a successful close at the end of the preceding season, 1889, and he continued in charge of her very profitable run of 18 seasons until she burned on the Wabasha Ways in December, 1907, with the Isaac Staples, Cyclone and Georgia S.

  The Le Claire Navigation Company made a contract with the Le Claire Yard by which a new hull was built during the summer of 1890 for the engine’s shaft-wheel doctor and other parts of the Evansville which they decided to dismantle at the end of the season.

  J. W. Van Sant, the retired, was induced to make the model and supervise the construction of the new hull which was, 128 x 24 x 4 and he did a fine piece of work.  The new boat was not only of lighter draft than we figured on but developed speed away beyond our expectations.  Nothing on the river could beat her from La Crosse to Reads.

  The engines of the Evansville, 13 x 4’4” and new boilers by Grupe & Murray of Davenport were installed, and a nice short cabin made her a very comfortable and effective raft boat, especially in low water when we had to get logs out of shallow bays and keep the saw mills supplied.  She could go wherever logs would float.

  Shutting down of the Lansing mill and W. J. Young’s caused the Volunteer to lay idle during 1898 and she was sold to the Carnival Packet Company, taken to Le Claire, her cabin extended aft, giving her 18 nice staterooms, a boom stage and other additions given her which made her a very nice short trade packet.

  She ran in the Davenport-Burlington trade during 1899 and was laid up at the end of the season in Kahlke’s yard, Rock Island, with the first Saturn, the Mascot and the fine excursion barge Comfort.

  Early in the spring of 1900 the crew of the Saturn commenced to get her ready.  It was a cold night.  They built a big fire in their stove and all turned in.  When they awaked they had to run for their lives and the three boats and the barge burned down until they sank.  The others were not real rafters but connected with the work as helpers over the rapids.

  The Jennie Gilcrest was a fine towboat, built at the Le Claire yard about 1876.  Her hull had been built for some one for a rafter and he made an advance payment.  When the beautiful hull 95 x 18 x 42” was completed he could not pay and go on with his project.

  H. M. Gilcrist, who owned the Wanlockhead coalmines at Rapid City, Ill., got this fine new hull for $1050-a great bargain, and placed the engines, boiler etc. on it, taken off the old Danville.  The Jennie had no cabin, but with her nice model hull nice sheer, nice railing and a pilot house just the right size and in the proper place she was a very pretty boat and a very useful one in towing coal from the Gilcrist and Williams mines to Le Claire and other points as far as Clinton.

  She was taken to Dubuque in 1850 and two new boilers by the Iowa Iron Works were installed on her by P. Maines, her chief engineer.

  Some time later her old slide valve engines were replaced by an excellent pair of poppet-valve jever engines from the Steamer Evansville which gave her a third more power.

  She was always at work somewhere until she finally sank and broke in two near island 21 on the lower Mississippi in July 1900.

  The West Rambo (107’x 20’x 3,6’) was built in Le Claire in 1884 for Capt. J. W. Rambo, Jacob Suiter and some others who later were incorporated as the Upper Rapids Transit Co.  She had one boiler engines-11’x 31/2’.  J.H. Manwaring installed her machinery and I think supervised her construction.  She was used only to help over the rapids.  She had no cabin, but a double length pilot house.

  About 1891 she was sold to Capt. Sam Van Sant for a bow-boat and he rebuilt her as the Virginia at Wabasha and in 1905 sold her with the Phil Scheckel to H. M. Flagler to use among the Florida Keys in extending the East Coast railway.

  In 1898 the Netta Durant was dismantled and her engines (12”x 6’) shaft doctor and other parts installed on a new hull built at the Le Claire Yard now in charge of F. J. Thompson as manager.  This hull was 100’x 24’x 4’ a small texas aft of the pilot house had berths for her officers.

  When completed she was named Lydia Van Sant for Capt. Sam’s mother.  She was used as a bowboat to the J. W. Van Sant until after the great fire at Wabasha in December 1907, when she was given a bow-boat and put to work shoving rafts herself.

  Then she was bought by Taber Lumber Co. Keokuk, and ran the logs until they quit sawing and they sold her to a sand and gravel concern on the Illinois River.

  The Gypsy, originally named Lumberboy, was built at the Le Claire Yard for John C. Daniels of Keokuk as a bow-boat for the Lumberman or Kit Carson, which he owned.  –A. Edwards, then in charge of the yard, objected to some features of the plans that Mr. Daniels furnished and urged him to change them, assuring him he would guarantee him a much better boat.  She was only in frame and the changes could have been made without difficulty or expense, but Mr. Daniels would not yield.

  He completed the Gypsy strictly according to orders, but was ashamed of the job and got all the blame for it.  And was greatly plagued by people asking why etc.   She was not a good bow, but useless for anything else.                                                                             


Collected by Sue Rekkas

and Transcribed by

Georgeann McClure


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