THE AFRICAN QUEEN


| July/August 1982



The AFRICAN QUEEN

108 Garfield Avenue, Madison, NJ 07940

'Put the helm hard over.' Chuff-chuff-chuff went the antique O & S engine with its saturated exhaust. 'Hard over! Hard over!' Jim Hendrick's voice now carried a sense of urgency as the AFRICAN QUEEN moved out into the harbor under steam for the first time since 1976. This was not Humphrey Bogart issuing orders to Katharine Hepburn in C. S. Forrester's saga of the silver screen. No, it was the new owner of the AFRICAN QUEEN, telling me how to avoid a shoal area in the Florida Keys. Jim had recently acquired this historic steamboat of movie fame and was determined to get it under steam again.

The 1950s was the end of that era of the big bands and motion pictures that we could take the family to see without first checking the Hays Office for an R or G rating. The Viet Nam conflict had not infected our patriotism to the point where a good war story could not command attention at the box office. The motion picture African Queen was a story of World War I in East Africa and ultimately the sinking of a German gunboat on Lake Victoria. Jim Hendricks of Louisville, Kentucky, and Ocean Reef, is a Columbia Law School graduate now retired from law practice, who has had the singularly good fortune to be not only successful in his chosen profession, but a lover of history, a Bogart buff and connoisseur of fine old steam machinery.

It will be recalled that Rosie (Hepburn) was a missionary in Uganda and Charlie Allnut (Bogart) the gin-soaked mining engineer whose joint mission it was to single-handidly win that episode of WW I in their part of the world by an improbable voyage aboard a steam-powered riverboat on a tributary to Lake Victoria. When Walter Huston began shooting the story on location in Uganda, he needed an authentic river steamboat for the part. Just such a vessel was available there in real life and this same 70-year-old craft lives today in an auroa of nastalgia in another Bogart locale, the one for the film Key Largo. In fact, the QUEEN often rests atop her flatbed trailer not far from the Carribean Bar used as the real life set for Key Largo.

The AFRICAN QUEEN underway at Ocean Reef, Florida. Jim Hendricks is up forward along with Jerry Barner. The author stands his watch as engineer while Lon Munsey can just be seen with head above the gunwale while struggling with the fire. Barbara Hendricks is at the tiller.

But, let's get down to the steam historical details that we are all interested in. The QUEEN was built in England around 1906 with a vertical fire tube boiler and a double acting single cylinder steam engine in a 30' long hull for use on the river tributaries to Lake Victoria in East Africa. She was built to last in this difficult service with riveted iron hull plates now showing some signs of salt water corrosion pitting. She was provided with a black mahogany fore deck and a seat in the stern for the helmsman. Cargo, passengers chickens, people, what ever fared as best they could be sharing space with boiler and engine. Somewhere along the passage of time she has lost her original boiler and now has one made by a State of Oregon pressure vessel fabricator to ASTM standards. Her original engine too has been lost to time but the O & S 6 x 6' engine installed in a more recent refit is authentic as to size and age. In her original freshwater service area, it was satisfactory to feed the boiler with river water. For this a duplex reciprocating pump had been provided. Now, however, in sea water this is not possible so that she has been fitted with a Pemberthy injector and the duplex pump converted to a bilge pump. There is a 30-gallon fresh water tank now installed forward of the boiler to provide boiler make-up water.