Steam Tug Norwich

by Hans | January 20th, 2014

One of the longest-lived wooden steam towboats of all time – the Norwich, built in 1836, seen here in the Hudson-Fulton celebration of 1909, near the end of her career. She was then billed as the oldest steamboat in the world.

Though most of her days were spent as a towboat, the Norwich began life as a  passenger steamer. (The first large steamboat built exclusively for towing purposes, the Oswego, owned by Cornell Steamboat Company, was not built until 1848). The Norwich spent five years as a night boat between New York City and Norwich and New London, Connecticut, and then a few months on Chesapeake Bay.

She returned to New York, where she became a stalwart on the Hudson, carrying passengers and market freight barges of the day that operated from innumerable landings along the river. In later years, she was called on to perform any number of assignments, from towing barges of every description to breaking ice. It was as an icebreaker that the Norwich gained her greatest fame.

Because of the shape of her bow, she was able to climb up on the ice and  break it with the weight of her hull; the use of ballast aft in the wintertime allowed her to get her bow high enough for this. To aid in her icebreaking, the Norwich had iron sheeting fitted during the winter months as a supplement to her normal copper sheeting. Her years of service on the Hudson gained her the affectionate nickname, “Ice King

Her last active season as a towboat ended in 1917, and she was sold for scrap in 1923 after being laid up for a number of years. The Norwich was 160 feet long and, at nine feet deep, quite shallow. Her overall breath was 25 feet, but her hull itself was much narrower than that. Because of her long, shoal hull, she was, like other steamers of the era, prone to hogging-drooping at the bow and stern. Shipbuilders at the time did not have the engineering knowledge to build hulls to resist such stress, so she carried an exterior hogging frame that started just forward of her wheelhouse and extended aft beyond the paddlewheels. The hogging frame prevented her otherwise unsupported ends from falling below her middle.

The Norwich’s engine was of the crosshead type, and the structure just aft of her stack was known as the crosshead steeple. Each paddlewheel had its own crank on either side of the engine’s vertical single cylinder. The cranks were connected to the crosshead, which moved up and down in the crosshead steeple and transmitted power to the paddlewheels. Originally, the Norwich had two boilers, port and starboard on the guards, and twin stacks; later they were replaced with a single boiler. As the Norwich’s historian Donald C. Ringwald, said, “… she was blessed with a stout hull, a sturdy engine, and a rare ability to work her away through apparently impregnable icefields. She was a toiler… Although one by one her old associates fell by the riverside, she kept going until her crosshead engine was an anachronism, until sidewheel towing steamers were archaic, and until she was practically a floating museum piece… she is still remembered with happiness, with pride and with a tremendous deal of affection.” (Steamboat Bill of Facts, September 1955)

(Source: On the Hawser by Steven Lang & Peter H. Spectre)

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