| November/December 1980

Shelburne Museum, Shelburne, Vermont 05482

The Ticonderoga is the last remaining example of the type of North America side wheel steamboat that carried our westward expansion in the decades before the railroads. Except for her enclosed wheel-houses, an early 20th century development, the Ticonderoga is identical in design and propulsion system to the vessels that served every seaboard and inland port in the United States (except on the Mississippi River system) from the late 1830s to World War II. Her motive power is a vertical beam engine, an American marine adaptation of the Newcomen engine first used for pumping water out of English coal mines. This type of propulsion system led to a distinctly American development in marine architecture: the engine rose several decks through an ellipse, allowing commodious passenger accommodations and substantial freight capacities. At the same time, great ease of handling and navigation in shallow waters was made possible by the side paddlewheels. In their heyday in the 19th century, side-wheelers were ubiquitous. The paddlewheel era is one of the most exuberant and colorful in American history.

The S.S. Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain in the 1950s.

The Ticonderoga's engine was hand-built in Hoboken, New Jersey, by Andrew Fletcher and Sons, the most famous of the vertical engine builders. Her steel hull was designed and built by T. S. Marvel on the Hudson River and shipped to Lake Champlain through the Champlain Canal. Her joiner work was completed in 1905 at the Shelburne Harbor Shipyard of the Champlain Transportation Company, the oldest steamboat company in the world when it ceased operations in 1932. The company traced its origins to 1809 when the Vermont I, licensed by Fulton and Livingston, became the first steamboat in regular service on any lake in the world. The Ti was launched in 1906

Powered by two boilers which consumed a ton of coal an hour, the Ti was capable of speeds from 18 to 23 miles per hour. Paddlewheels on either side of the boat were driven by the unencased engine which rises through all three decks. Firemen in the boiler-room shoveled coal to heat two enormous boilers containing thousands of gallons of water. The steam pressure thus generated rose into the steam chest from which it could be released by the engineer into the 53-inch piston cylinder. The piston's upward motion pushed on the walking beam connected to the Pitman arm which in turn rotated the shaft holding the two wheels. The wheels themselves are of the 'feather wheel' type and were designed so that the ten buckets on each wheel entered and left the water straight. Thus engine power was not wasted lifting the tons of water displaced.

The paddlewheel design was perfectly suited for inland water ways, as it enabled very large boats to navigate in shallow water. The Ticonderoga weighs 892 tons and yet drew only six feet of water when standing still and ten feet when underway, enabling her to travel nearly anywhere on Lake Champlain.


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