Note: For those using 'dial-up' internet service, the pictures incorporated in the following pages have been reduced in 'file size' to the smallest size practical and still have 'acceptable resolution'.  However, due to the amount of pictures required to cover the subject matter adequately, each page will require 'some amount of time' to fully load.  I feel, and I hope you do too, the wait is justified.

Construction of the Vernon C. Ledbetter

Many builders of Sternwheel boats claim that their project started out as a 'dream'.  In my case, it was more like what happens after eating cold pizza before going to bed.  Well, ...........not really.

I've built five 'live-aboard' size sternwheelers over the last twenty-five years, however, at this stage of my life, I feel I'm a bit too old to start another of that size.  But, I wanted to build, at least, one more boat, therefore, the following project was 'dreamed up'.

A few others have installed a paddlewheel on a pontoon boat; some were reasonably successful, others not so much so.  I thought I might take what they had done and, perhaps, go a bit further.  One goal is to come up with something simple enough that it can easily duplicated by others who would like to convert.  Other goals include: a quiet boat that is very cheap to operate and is UNIQUE!  Once I'm satisfied with this vessel, I'll, probably, put it up for sale.

Sail boat enthusiasts have small vessels they call 'day sailors'.  I guess you have to call what I'm building a 'day paddler'; it will not have a kitchen, sleeping quarters or head.....well, maybe a head.  I refer to this type of vessel as 'a novelty boat'.  It's mainly for paddling around in a river pool or lake and enjoying life on the water. 

The following is my 'saga' in the design and construction of a 'Paddlewheel Boat' built on pontoons, not a 'Pontoon Boat' with a paddlewheel..........not that there's anything wrong with that.....I just wanted to be different. 

The work began in the Fall of 2006 and will, I hope, be completed in the Spring of 2007.

I started with a search for a 'suitable candidate' for the conversion.

I found the following; a 1967 model boat with 22 inch diameter pontoons that are 24 feet long.........each had three watertight chambers.  I was so anxious to get started that some dis-assembly was done before I thought about taking pictures (sorry 'bout that).

This boat was so old it had steel cross members and steel railing....with a fair amount of rust......however, the pontoons were in exceptionally good condition.

Another unique thing about this boat is that the original deck stopped almost 4 feet from the back of the pontoons........I thought this was good for my purpose.

There was a 'transom' mounted between the floats with a gas tank on the port side and a battery on the starboard.  I ended up removing an additional 1 foot of the deck aft and added it forward.  The resulting deck still measured 18 feet.

I stripped it down to the pontoons and, even, removed the steel cross members....they were rusted too.

NOTE:  At this point, I needed to 'crunch some numbers'.  A quick observation of the pontoons, or floats, showed that the boat originally drew about 10 inches in the rear and about 8 inches in the front.  It had been equipped with a 35 horsepower motor.  I suspected that I would be adding more than the 'original weight' so I settled on a target of 11 inches of submersion of the floats..... for my completed vessel.  Calculations showed it would take a gross weight of 3560 pounds to produce that draft.  I wanted to be able to take a total of 6 people or about 1000 to 1200 pounds of passenger load; today's passengers.  This allowed me a 'gross vessel weight' of between 2360 and 2560 pounds.............that's not much.  At this point, I started calculating the weight of every item I installed plus I calculated the weight of the original floats; they were 526 pounds total according to my numbers.  When possible, I verified my calculations with actual weight measurements.

I replaced all of the original steel cross members and edging with 'treated' 2 x 4's; all was bolted together and bolted to the pontoons.  This older model had multiple 'deck supports'; each about 24 inches long and spaced about 24 inches apart.  This did allow cross member placement on 24 inch centers.  Most later model boats have 'continuous' deck supports which run the full length of the pontoons; this makes deck installation even easier.

I cleaned up and painted two of the original cross members and installed them along side the new wooden ones at the aft portion of the deck.  These are bolted to both the supports and the cross members.  To these, I intend to bolt the 'paddlewheel support frame'.

All joints were bolted and/or screwed together; the deck.... of 3/4 inch treated plywood.... was screwed down to the frame members.

At this point, the deck assembly weighed 600 pounds plus 526 for the floats = 1126 pounds.

A 'paddlewheel support frame' is installed at the it's on the way to being a Sternwheeler!

Beside being bolted to the last two cross members....steel ones...additional mounts are extended down to the aft two 'deck supports'.  There are only 12 bolts attaching this frame to the boat.  I intend to mount all other 'drive' and 'steering' components to this frame; I refer to this assembly as the 'drive module'.

Since this is a pontoon boat, I realized........along with advice from other builders.......that the motor and related components needed to be mounted forward on the deck to keep the vessel in trim; there's just not enough flotation to accommodate dead weight or 'trim ballast'.  I hope to mount these items in a second frame; I'll call it the 'power module'......more on that later.  Of course, for those of you who are very astute and quick to pick up on things, you've figured out that the paddlewheel will be driven hydraulically (i.e. hydraulic pump up front, hydraulic motor in back, me in middle).

The next item required on the drive module is the support for the wheel shaft bearings.

I made this adjustable....three positions, one inch as to be able to obtain 'optimum wheel depthing' on the finished product.  The 'bearing shelf' is shown in the top position.......I hope to use the bottom.  I intend to incorporate a 'jackshaft' and 'chain' in the drive; the slots in the shelf are for tensioning the drive chain.

The weather turned cold for a while so, I moved inside to fabricate the paddlewheel.  I had a machine shop make the wheel shaft.......2 inch pipe with stub ends turned down to fit  2 inch bearings.  Next, I cut all of the spokes, the two hub plates and laid out the angles for eight spokes; it's a 6 foot diameter wheel so, one spoke for each foot of diameter plus two.

The hub shown above is drilled to mount the 'drive sprocket'.  I intend to install eight 1 1/2 inch diameter by 1 1/2 inch long 'spacers' between the hub and the sprocket to provide clearance for the # 80 chain.

I built one 'spoke/hub assembly'.

I built the second on top of the first.........saved a lot of layout work and they were both the same.

To facilitate final assembly, I fabricated a make-shift jig.  This allowed me to position both spoke/hub assemblies, weld them, install the 'rings' and 'buckets' and continuously check for alignment.

I will admit that, if I had it to do over, I'd do some things a bit different........but, that's another story for another time.

At this point, the paddlewheel weighed 186 pounds plus 1126 pounds from above = 1312 pounds.

During construction of the paddlewheel, the weather warmed up so, back outside.

There has to be a mount for the jackshaft.  That's the two angles mounted forward on the port side of the frame.  The 'driver sprocket' will be between the bearings.

NOTE:  At this point, I feel there needs to be some explanation for my using a chain in the final drive.  First, here's what I think I know about paddlewheels.  It's a, somewhat excepted, fact that paddlewheels on early steamboats 'spooled'...dug a hole in the about 1200 feet per minute of the working diameter (i.e. one-third the bucket height in from the circumference).  This seems to hold true even on our smaller wheels when used on lighter, fairly efficient hulls.  However, I have no good information on paddlewheels as small as six feet.  My method of calculating 'torque absorption' (somewhat questionable here) shows that my wheel....6 ft. dia. by 42 in. wide w/6, 8 in. buckets.....will absorb 800 to 1100 foot pounds of torque.  But, I don't know about spool speed, efficiency or optimum cruise rpm.  Therefore, I selected a Geroter type hydraulic motor which produces 300 foot pounds of torque at 1250 psi with a speed range of 0 to 150......max gpm, 15.  I'm using a 3:1 reduction at the chain.  This, then, will give me an operating range 0 to 50 rpm of the wheel and 900 foot pounds of torque available.  By reducing the reduction, I can increase the rpm or, by increasing the reduction I can, of course, increase the available torque.  All of this can be accomplished by merely changing the driver sprocket.  Hopefully, with only a change or two of this small, relatively inexpensive, sprocket, I'll learn what I need to know........then, we'll all know, and it'll be easier for the next person.

Of course, there has to be some rudders.  Long ago I learned that, on a pontoon boat, rudders or a single rudder in front of the paddlewheel.........between the floats.........could not be very long; long rudders or rudder, when turned full over,...'hard down'...will block water flow to the wheel and the boat WILL STOP!  Been there, done that.  So, I decided to install a short rudder in front of the wheel which will be more for 'flanking' or control when backing.  A larger second, or monkey rudder, will be installed behind the wheel and will be used for most of the 'going ahead' steering.  Both are set even with the bottom of the floats.

The 'flanking rudder' is a little hard to see because there's no good view point to take a picture.

While the weather held out, I also install the mount for the hydraulic motor.  You'll notice too that I have the paddlewheel installed; new steel sitting out in the weather and rusting makes it easier to sandblast and paint.

With a single rudder in front of the paddlewheel and a single rudder behind, cabling them together has to be done a bit different than when 'quad rudders' are used.  I resolved this by building a 'double quadrant' on each rudder.  One cable will attach to the starboard side of the quadrant of the flanking rudder and wrap around through the lower 'channel' of the quadrant.  From there it will pass through pulleys on the port side of the frame to the back and attach through the lower channel to the starboard side of the other 'double quadrant' on the monkey rudder.  The other cable will attach to the port side of the flanking rudder quadrant, pass through the upper channel to the back and so all that? 

Anyhow, there had to be 'brackets' for mounting the cable pulleys.

The mount shown above is port side, aft, for the lower channel and will be fit with a 2 inch diameter pulley.  A similar bracket is mounted forward with the two on the starboard side a bit shorter; for the upper channel.

At this point, the 'drive module' will weigh 442 pounds fully assembled (i.e. with sprockets, chain, jackshaft, bearings, hyd. motor, rudders, etc.) plus 1312 pounds from above = 1754 pounds.

Well, the weather went South again and I'm back inside.  Time to start on the 'power module'. 


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