Early 19th-century steamboat travel was done on totally unimproved rivers.
When the water gave out, steamboats had to lay up and river transport ceased. But when rises came,
rivers flushed out their debris and were soon fill ed with trees and other items.
As a result, steamboat travel was often interrupted by floatin g obstacles call ed “snags” that could block channels, pi erce hulls or tear sidewheels to pieces.
The earl y steamboaters were a resourceful lot who solved probl ems in the most practical ways.
A giant of early steam boating was Henry Shreve, who is widely regarded as the man who advanced steamboat design
by abandoning deep draught hulls for shallow draught hulls and pl ac ing engines on the main deck.
Shreve’s lesser-known contribution to steamboating was the development of the snag boat in the late 1820s.
Shreve devised a twin-hulled steamboat equipped with winches and hoists that could lift large snags from the river.
The crew would then cut them into small pieces and hurl them back into the river where they would cause no further problem.
Shreve ‘s Heliopolis was a success and brought him much fame for her work at Plum Point in 1829 whereby flatboaters, keel boaters, and steamboat ers alike were miraculously freed from the menace of snags.
Captain Shreve then won a contract from the US govern – ment to remove snags and made much money in the process.
The notorious Red River ” raft” was Shreve ‘s next challenge.
This was a mass of floatin g detritus that clogged the Red River for a stretch of more than 150 miles in Louisiana and Arkansas.
In 1833 Shreve went to work on this infamous raft with several snagboats.
It took five years to c lear out the raft, but it wou ld spontaneously regenerate.
It was not until 1880 that the raft was finall y and permanentl y removed.
Shreve’s workers camped in the wilderness alongside the Red River whi le they worked.
The site of their main camp is now Shreveport, Louisiana.
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