A Little Fantail Steam Launch


A Little Fantail Steam Launch
by Weston Farmer

No Rationing Problem on Fuel. Run her on Driftwood and You'll Get There and Get Back on Tine if You Know When to Turn Around

(Published in December, 1943)

This little kewpie was done for the drool cup, flute and cuspidor. I think she'll water the mouths of all oldtimers who love tuggish lines, for she is a fantail. Her power plant, too, will be a hark-back to all who have known and who love the gentle reliability of steam.

As she is shown in the drawings she is buildable and runable. The boat is all engineered out, and anyone capable of building the engine can draw the parts up from dimensions, making his own assembly drawing, then detailing the parts.

I did the model of her about ten years ago. No editor then would listen to publication, possibly because I had no drawings at the time. Following Pearl Harbor, with M-day freeze-ups on advertised engines, fireside dreaming became the main unrationable dish on most editors' pages. Hence, when I popped into the RUDDER office after a two year absence afield on Navy designing. Editor Boris had the spot and the time was ripe to publish the drawings of Feeble.

Click to enlargeBut there is more to her background: when I was a tot my family owned a little steamer up on Lake Superior at Isle Royale. Atalanta she was named. Thirty feet long, canopy, and all that sort of thing. I remember picnics at Rock Harbor Lodge when after breakfast some life-of-the-party, dressed in peg top pants, bulldog shoes, high celluloid collar and carpetbag cap, would propose an all day picnic. All day, because Atalanta would take half a day to steam up, run six miles down Rock Harbor and come back with her fulsome tow of twenty rowboats loaded with cackling big bustled schoolmarms. It may be the nostalgia of the odor of hot 600W oil emitting from the Atalanta's blowoff cocks that had a hand in shaping my desire to someday own a tabloid version of the little steamer.

So when I grew up—beg pardon, when I was twenty-one, I had a good half-hitch on a form of personal religion which has since become a fetish: I put away the thought of foolish things and went all out for this kind of monkey business, holding a firm belief in the serious importance of doing Rover Boy stuff just for the hell of it. I ordered an engine designed for the boat from the eminent English model engineer Henry Greenly. The only specification I stipulated was one-half horsepower, double acting and reversible. The design finally arrived from across the Atlantic. The entire sheaf of drawings cost fifteen dollars, lock, stock and barrel. Henry must have been eating sparingly.

Next I had the engine built in my experiment station. Then from a firm in Chicago I bought a boiler. The real goods—21 fire tubes, gauge glass, safety valve and all. I remember uncrating this wonderful piece of the boilermaker's art one winter day in a Minneapolis alley. The whole forty dollars' worth was soon hooked up to the steam box in my shop and together we cooked the planks for Scram, a little runabout then a-building. Just like the man who started to build his house around a doorknob!

The hull for our Feeble here was in my mind's eye then. She was complete and integrated and, coming to life on paper now, she certainly has that essential period of mulling back of her. That gestating period is behind every thorough piece of art.

So much for flavor. Here's the technical dope: length overall 12 feet 3 inches, beam molded 48 inches, draft 16-1/2 inches—you gotta get these big boats down, brother. . . the draft, as my friend Ole Bergkvam would say, "will wary". She'll wary, within limits, to about 18 inches. The displacement, as I reckon it, will come to about 1,005 pounds, so she is no cream puff. Nor will she act like one. lt'll take her some time to decide to get away from the dock once you shoot the steam to her, but when she's made up her mind there'll be no stopping her. Not even with a quarter-inch cotton clothes rope—that is, unless you reverse in time. For this primidisical function of every steam engine, Henry Greenly pulled a new one in his engine design. At least it was new to me, used to seeing Stephenson links or modified Walschaert valve linkage. Henry simply made a slip eccentric with a peg on it that catches a collar fixed to the crankshaft web. When she's properly timed for running forward she's properly timed for running forward. When you want back-up, you shut off the steam, flip the flywheel half a turn in reverse, and she is properly timed for running backwards. So you open up the steam valve and go that way.

The engine is simplicity itself in every other phase. Bored 1-3/4 inches, with a stroke of 2-1/2 inches, I have no fear but what she'll swing a 9 by 9 inch two bucket wheel about 600-800 revolutions. It all depends on the grade of fuel used and the pep in your firing arm. The cylinder is of iron, as is the base, piston, cross head slide, D valve chamber and flywheel. The piston rod is 1/4 inch drill rod. I used two piston rings from a Johnson outboard.

The cross head is of red brass. So are the crank Journal and main crank bearings, also the D valve itself. The pillars are of half-inch cold rolled bar stock turned and threaded on the foot and head ends. The con rod spec called for cast steel, and so cast steel she was. The crankshaft was made by cutting the webs out, boring them to fit over c.r. steel rod, welding the thing up, cutting out the through piece, and turning off a hair to give us trueness.

The piping to and from the boiler will all be Crane brass, with Crane brass fittings. Yeah—yeah, I know priorities. Only when I got the stuff together there were no priorities. Besides, dream your own pipe, brother—I can't help on that one. But I don't see why ordinary stuff couldn't be used. The boiler is set to blow at forty pounds or rnaybe sixty, so what will hold water pressure will hold that much steam. A simple Lunkenheimer Roscoe-type lubricator will take care of lubrification. You know—the thing is just a water trap in series with the steam line right near the steam chest; water condenses in the trap and floats the oil out into the workings.

The boiler itself is cradled on some husky chunks of birch, pine or other stuff—not oak, which will rot—and the whole thing will have to be liberally bolstered with concrete under the ash pit, albeit away from the hull so you won't cook your boat. Lunkenheimer still makes a whistle that sounds about like a soused bo'sun piping down all hands. I think I'll rig one up just to scare the ducks out of the wilderness.

As to fuel, anthracite will be ideal. But if you want a real, smoky, stinky steamboat, burn a mixture of pea coal (for B.T.U.'s) and cannel coal (for smudge). That will give you what is known in artistic circles as verisimilitude.

For my gang of boys, should Feeble come to life this summer as she now bids fair to, I'll supply the outdoors and they can supply the driftwood on the beaches of Isle Royale. If they are still hauling pulpwood booms down out of the Nipigon across Point Porphyry way into the upper peninsula of Michigan, we'll have all the fuel necessary to make a China crossing.

Other details are self evident if you are sufficiently interested to build. Nearly everything important seems to have been covered, space is running out, so I'll close shortly with just a word of explanation as to her name. It's easy.

When I finished up the little thumbnail perspective off to the starboard end of my drawing board, I glanced over to port and looked at the work there. It was a plan for the engine room of the Vosper PT boats, showing machinery installation stuff on which I had been working during the day. Alongside that maze of guts a Mergenthaler linotype looks like a hunk of old lead pipe. I glanced back at the peaceful little sketch of the steamer . . . she seemed ghosting like a dainty shallop in tranquil waters. I wondered what to name her. And with the thoughtful search for a name, I couldn't help musing on what price progress—to port on my drawing board, 100 octane gas, a forest of cylinders, temperature, pressure gauges by the galaxy; to starboard . . . well, if you could light a match and there was water in the lake, you'd go. I didn't then reflect that if you light a match around 100 octane, you'd go too. I just caught the spirit of the times she represents, the thought behind her, and with a fond sigh, lettered on her bow the name Feeble.