by Sam Sanborn

(click to enlarge)

We started building the sailboat in Harry V.Sucher's book "Simplified Boatbuilding; The Flatbottem Boat", got the hull done and put it in the barn out of the weather. We got diverted by other things and twenty years later noticed that it had the same basic hull shape as the bigger sternwheeler so we changed horses in midstream and built the Bambino.

We had no plans but we did have an idea, a few parts and a bunch of beer. After a few days we had a boat in the water, more beer and odd looks from friends and strangers alike.

The 4' diameter wheel was drawn on a scrap of plywood, 1" angle iron was clamped to it and then welded. Then 2 sets of spokes were welded to a 1" i.d. galvanised pipe and 2 1" cold rolled steel stubs were welded in the ends of the pipe to be supported by the 1" b.b. pillow blocks which rested on the 3x4 beams bolted on the side of the boat. The drive sprocket on the wheel is secured by a 1/4" bolt which also acts as a shear pin. The wheel r.p.m. is roughly 30 when cruising.


Engine Room (click to enlarge)

The engine is a 5h.p. B+S engine connected by belt to a 5 speed fwd. 1 rev. riding mower transmission, which is connected by #40 chain to the wheel. 4th gear for downriver, 3rd for up, 2nd for power and in first gear it could slowly "caterpiller" itself over sandbars with only an inch or so of water. The bottom of the wheel and the bottom of the 2 rudders were flush with the bottom of the hull.

All the parts for the craft came from the marine division of Farm & Fleet Supply ,over by the manure spreader accessorys, right next to cow tags and udder balm. They didn't have a centrifical clutch for our engine in stock, which was fine with me as the $69.95 they wanted was exactly the price of the next batch of beer required in the construction process. It's funny how things work out like that.

I got around being clutchless by mounting the engine on channel iron that loosely gripped a 2x6. A lever, rope and pulley arrangement would allow me to slide the engine one way to engage the belt to the transmission and start motovation, when the lever was unhooked, 2 springs from a backyard trampoline would pull the engine back putting enough slack in the belt to stop progress. This did allow the engine to be engaged at any speed, including idle, which was handy, but it sort of thwarted putting more mufflers on the engine which was really #?!*ing loud and annoying.


Twist (click to enlarge)

The boat itself was pretty flexible. In the one picture (at left) from head on you can see it twisted one way and it could also twist as much the other way. I put in 2 bulkheads crossways which didn't seem to make any differance, maybe a coaming would have stopped that. It was odd steering in reverse. It could go in circles one way but not the other. It didn't seem to have anything to do with the twist. In 4th gear full throttle the arms would be bobbing up and down,the hull twisting back and forth and the bottom oil canning in and out like like some snorting beast under a heavy burden.

We finished the outside with 2 coats of the best oil based primer and housepaint we could find which didn't work very well at all except where the corners and chines were glassed. The crappy b/c plywood we used probably didn't help.

We had it on the Mississippi by LaCrosse, Wis. and it did allright against the current even in the main channel but made better progress on the sides in the slack water, drawing only about 6" and going right over the wing dams with no problems.


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I believe the paddle wheel is a pretty effecient means of propulsion compared to a propeller but it is a lot more inconvienent. You don't want the boat rocking side to side and you have to keep the boat trimmed right so the paddles aren't too deep or to shallow. They're in the way at docks and around other boats or brush and trees, they're top heavy, stern heavy, not very manueverable compared to inboards and especially outboards, plus in time of war they are too vulnerable to cannon fire.

But if you have the stuff you can build them cheap and repair them cheap, they are kind of indestructible if built tough enough. Low tech. Shallow water capable. The bigger the diameter of the wheel the more efficient as far as pushing water backward as opposed to pushing it down or lifting it up. Wooden buckets tend to get waterlogged if the boat sits in the water a lot, tending to unbalance the wheel. I believe a boat with a paddlewheel needs the bottom of the stern of the boat to slope up as in the drawings to feed water to the wheel, give room for the rudders and when in reverse let the water go under the hull instead of just slapping against the transom.

Click images to enlarge

The Sucher 1,2,3,4 files came from Harry V.Sucher's book "Simplified Boatbuilding; The Flatbottem Boat" copyright 1973 by Norton Press but now out of print. He's also got one on V-bottem boats and a whole bunch more on Harley Davidson scooters. I believe they are all put out by Norton Press. I say all that in the hope they won't send me to prison for posting the files. In the event they do I would greatly appreciate someone sending me one of those gas powered abrasive cut-off saws baked in a pie.

Sucher 1

Sucher 2

Sucher 3

Sucher 4