My Favorite Drawing

With the posting of my photo of my R/C model of the Davidson steamer SACRAMENTO the question came up as to what plans or drawings I used to make such replicas of old lakeboats. The answer was that I often draw my own plans, but sometimes I use what others have drawn- such as in the case of the SACRAMENTO. In that case I used the actual Davidson Shipyard plans from an 1898 copy of Marine Engineering... seen here.

This drawing, provided to me by my boat-chasing pal D.J. Story, is actually that of the THOMAS CRANAGE, which is of the same class as the SCRAMENTO. The CRANAGE was wrecked on Georgian Bay in 1911 and her entire saga, which corrected 80+ years of bad history by the way, is in my book "Mysteries and Histories."

Since there are almost zero documents surviving from the Davidson yard- I figured this was a great drawing to base the model upon. In fact it was so great that it is actually on my personal business card.

The drawing itself allows a close look into how these steamers were laid out.

Captain Davidson built some of the largest wooden vessels in the world and there has always been some mystery as to how they were constructed.

 A key to this secret appears to be the lattice of steel strapping and cables that criss-cross within and outside of the hull timbers. 

They provided strength and support for the wood timbers that made up the basic hull. Today this can be easily seen on the remains of the schooner barge and steamer that lay on the west bank of the Saginaw River at Bay City where the Davidson Shipyard was located. Abandon in 1929 with the onset of the Depression these wooden ships were left to rot.

Eventually they were set upon by what, in my opinion, was a serial arsonist who set fire to wooden boats left abandon along the river in the late 1940s and 1950s. Each was burned to the waterline so you have to wait for when the river water is quite low in order to see the wrecks.

Each vessel was double hulled and the sides were bolted together with the bolts also running through the straps- as seen here.

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In case you're wondering the above photos are of the  giant schooner barge MONTEZUMA.

 The MONTEZUMA in better days.

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Resting next to the MONTEZUMA is the steamer SHENANDOAH 

Look closely and you can see her two boilers peeking above the murky water.

Her strapping is also visible.

Okay... to give you a better feeling for what you are seeing...

When the vessel burned, the decking under her boilers burned away. That allowed the boilers to simply drop down to the position they are in now as illustrated by the drawing.

Meanwhile, her sister the SACRAMENTO was not free of arson- she too soon was set upon by the firebug. She burned in the drydock where she had been abandon in 1929.

The arsonist burned her to her bilge.

MONTEZUMA was also torched and burned to the waterline.

There was one other act of arson that, from a historian's standpoint, was even more vulgar. The story goes that after the wrecks had lingered on the riverbank for several decades the city was out to clean up the eye-sore and thus decided to have the owner of the property pay to have the problem removed. A kin of James Davidson decided to obliterate all ties and evidence that would prove that person's ownership of the property. So it was ordered that every scrap of paper, every drawing, every record was taken out into the yard, doused with kerosene and burned. No records meant no proof of ownership and the property was a ward of the city. This is why there are no records as to how exactly James Davidson built his amazing lakeboats.

Today the Davidson yard is an amazing park and river walk. When the water is very you can stand on a large deck that is constructed over the MONTEZUMA and look at the wrecks. 

If the water is really, really low- you can touch them. GRAMPIAN was mostly removed by the city. The SACRAMENTO was buried. Yet the MONTEZUMA, SHENANDOAH, MATANZAS and GRANADA remain.

The yard circa 1946

The Davidson yard today.

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