A journal following the history, design, construction and operation of Bernard Kempinski's O Scale model railroad depicting the U. S. Military Railroad (USMRR) Aquia-Falmouth line in 1863, and other model railroad projects.
©Bernard Kempinski All text and images, except as noted, on this blog are copyrighted by the author and may not be used without permission.

May 7, 2013

Marine Ways

Note the capstan for winching  the cradle out of the water and the boiler parts sitting on the river bank on the left. This is an example of a very crude marine shipway used by the Quartermaster near Chattanooga. (National Archives)
One of the points we want to illustrate with our McCook's landing - the new name for the Road Show layout - is the role that superior logistics had in enabling the Union victory. In transportation assets; steam boats and rail, the North enjoyed overwhelming advantages.

Although this is a model railroad, we should note that rivers played as much as a role, if not more than railroads in military logistics. To support the campaigns around Chattanooga the Union built shipyards near the front for steam ships and barges to supply the Army. For example they had shipyards at Chattanooga, and Kingsport on the Tennessee River.  There were also numerous shipyards along the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.

Therefore we decided to depict a military shipyard on the layout.  It is probably the main industry on the layout, though supplies for the Army are also important. These images show examples of typical riverine shipyards. They were somewhat simple and crude, especially the photos of the marine way at Chattanooga.
The cradles visible on the right have interesting round holes cut into their sides. The hull frame  is sitting on scaffolding which will be removed when the cradle is positioned for launching.  Photo of a US Army Quartermaster shipyard  near Chattanooga, TN.(National Archives)

Although a post war image on the upper Mississippi, this photo gives a good idea of how the cradles work on the marine railway.  Railways designed for ship maintenance have to be much more carefully built as they need to pull ships out as well as launch them. The stiff leg derrick crane on a stone foundation is another interesting feature. http://digital.library.wisc.edu/1711.dl/LaCrosseSteamboat
This photo shows how a horse is used to wind the capstan. Note the worn path in the ground where the horse walks to wind up the rope. Also note the blocks and tackle to connect to the ship to the capstan. (http://digital.library.wisc.edu/1711.dl/LaCrosseSteamboat)

This shipyard was located in Jeffersonville, IN near Louisville, but we plan to add a structure like this to our shipyard. The sign on the building is very cool. This building will be a flat, but there should be enough room to show some of the saw mill equipment inside the openings in the wall.  (http://digital.library.wisc.edu/1711.dl/LaCrosseSteamboat)


  1. Fascinating, I never appreciated how shallow the draught on these vessels was! Hence all the visible superstructure...the was next to nothing 'below stairs'!

    Re. the pierced cradles in the first image...they seem to be steel? It looks like they have welded flanges in a sort of half-avocado profile holding long bars against the sides of the pierced box (box-girder?), presumably for strength...apologies if you'd noticed that!


  2. Hugh,
    Yes, these boats were built as light as possible to draw as little water so that they could navigate shallow streams. I heard the term "puddle jumper" applied to these small boats that navigated the Yazoo and upper Tennessee River.

    I don't think the cradles were steel, as steel did not come in wide use until after the ACW. I suspect they are built up from wood, with the holes cut to all water to flow through. They will be easy to simulate on the laser cutter.