Friday, January 24, 2014

Paddle-Wheeler Branson Belle

The Showboat Branson Belle as seen from her wharf.
If you’re looking for a good use for that tax return that you won’t regret, I’d like to offer a visit to Branson, Mo, and the Showboat Branson Belle. This, of course, assumes you’re one of the lucky ones that gets a return. The ladies will love the fancy dining and show, but being a life-long water rat, I loved the steamboat. I tried to be sociable, but since Jean had her brother and sister-in-law to socialize with, I found myself occasionally venturing off to explore the ship. Here, I can now share what I learned on my trips around the decks.

The Belle's stern and paddle-wheels through some fall foliage.
The Branson Belle is the largest showboat operated on the nation’s inland waters. She is 278-feet long, 78-feet of beam, 112-feet high to the top of the stacks, draws 7.5-feet, and weighs in at 1,250-tons. The Belle was built right on the shore of Table Rock Lake, at what they locally call White River Landing. Launched on August 12, 1995, the vessel was then christened and put in service April 13, 1995. One of the more interesting aspects of her introduction surrounds her launch. Normally the launching slipways that slide a ship into the water are greased. Originally tallow or whale oil were used, but then petroleum greases were employed. Not wanting to pollute a pristine inland lake, they ordered many cases of biodegradable bananas to mash and spread over the slipways. The banana lubricant provided a 9-second slide that reached 14-mph, a speed greater than she would attain under her own power.

Branson Belle's wheelhouse, bridge wing, and stacks.
Seeing the archival pictures below will show clearly
why steamboat stacks were always so tall.
The showboat is propelled by twin paddle wheels that are 16-feet wide and an impressive 24-feet in diameter. A really nice feature is that they can be operated independently, one forward, and one in reverse, to help maneuver on and off the wharf or augment the rudders.

While the Branson Belle was able to fly at 14mph on the slipways, its normal cruising speed is 6-mph. Full speed is 11-mph, but during trials they wanted to see what she was capable of, and called for full-ahead, or flank speed. They were doing over 12-mph, but the paddle wheels were creating such a rooster-tail, that water was being flung up so high it was drenching the top deck.

A steady flow of white water left by the paddle-wheels.
The ship’s helm is of solid maple, and 10-feet 2-inches in diameter. Before the age of hydraulics, ships’ wheels had to be huge to generate enough torque to control the ship through adverse winds and currents. Because of their size, wheels were normally set in a well in the deck of the wheelhouse, or even through the deck. The Branson Belle’s wheel is a real trophy that was recovered from the Steamboat C. C. Slider and restored. The Slider was an interesting vessel in its own right.

Capt. Bobby Clifton at the helm of Branson Belle.  Blogger
is having a tantrum and not allowing me to enlarge the pictures,
but you can do the same by clicking the image.
The C.C. Slider was built in 1928 by the Midland Barge Company, of Midland, PA. It is unique in that it was a paddle-wheel push-boat. It was built for E. T. Slider, Inc., of Louisville, KY, for operation primarily on the Ohio River. and named for Chester C. Slider, E.T.’s son. She was obviously a much revered vessel, for the original master, Captain Ed Hauser, of Jeffersonville, was on her from her launch in 1928 until his death in 1941, and she had only one other master according to the record. She was eventually broken up in 1952.

The wheel on the bridge of the C.C. Slider
Credit: New Albany-Floyd Co. Public Library
I’m much indebted to Ms Nancy Strictland, of the Stuart B. Wrege Indiana History Room of the New Albany-Floyd County Public Library. They hold the archival copyrights to the C.C. Slider pictures, and she granted me permission to use the Slider wheel photo. I didn’t wish to inconvenience her further, but if you access or cut and paste the link below, you can see a number of pictures of the Slider in its glory. Click any of the photos to enlarge. The C.C. Slider is unique, and a vital part of history, and seeing her work huge rafts of loaded coal barges is more than impressive.

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