Ada – The first low Danube Paddle Steamer

by Hans | August 3rd, 2014

The first ever steamship on the Danube was built in 1819 by the inventor Anton Bernhard in Vienna. It had wooden hull and a small one cylinder steam engine. It is known from different books and articles under the name Carolina. Several museums in Vienna and Budapest have models, all reconstructions having mainly as original source the painting you may have seen here.
As it is clearly shown, the piston was slowly moving horizontally, its linear oscillations being converted in a rotating movement by a simple crank and a connecting rod mechanism. Continuous movement was given by some flywheels, geared to ensure a smooth transmission to the main shaft. Paddle wheels appeared to be the propulsion device most adaptable to the low speed engines of the day. 8 blades seemed enough to move her. As we may see there was much to improve in his design: the boiler and engine, the strength of the hull to support large concentration of weight. [i]

Change has made one of her miracles, as real life is stranger than imagination and in the archieves of the Romanian monthly inter-wars magazine “Marea Noastra”, accidentally saved from waste paper collectors, came out five original collodium pictures of Carol Popp de Szatmary from 1860. One of the first was reporters of the world, he is known for his photographies of the Crimean war and also as the official photographer of the Romanian Royal Court.
All five pictures include Danube harbours or shipyards. We may recognise Braila, Giurgiu, Galatzi and Oltenitza. Two of them, marked 1860 include a beautiful steam tug, a mechanical masterpiece adapted to local conditions.

In this period commercial traffic on the Danube was continuously increasing. Big, fat wooden barges and sailing ships carried cereals to Istanbul and Mediteranean. More and more ships. Steam tugs were an ideal solution for carrying them against the Danube stream. As the speed of the travelling water was much lower near the banks, the first tug had to have a low draught. Their machines had not enough power to face the main stream, but, in less than 30 years of development, steam tugs and passenger paddle steamers will be able to pass the Iron Gates.

The first steam ship to pass officialy the Iron Gates down the stream was the Donau-Dampf-schiffahrtsgesselschaft (well known as D.D.S.G. – Danube Steam Ship Company, the oldest on the river and also the longest composed German word) ARGO, under the orders of captain Gustav Leman in April 11th, 1835. There will be till 1864 when other small paddle steamers, Ludwig, succeeded to pass in the other sense, only on his own engines.
Looking in the old lists of the Danube harbours, for ship and owners we were able to find some mentions about the reconstruction of the old paddle steamer Ada in 1862 and some modifications brought to the pleasure paddle steamer Mon Plaisir in 1878. We took the liberty of believing that the Ada is the same tug of the Carol Popp de Szathmary pictures in 1860. So, until new archives discoveries will give us the chance to be sure, we shall still assimilate Ada by this one.

The name comes in Romanian from Alexandra, a common abbreviation of the time and could be the wife, daughter, mother or even sweetheart of the owner.
The first picture may give us the idea that with higher probability, the ship was in rainy time, with the machine protected by pine boards. An oar is used as “handbrake” preventing the river stream to rotate the paddles. It is obvious these are very old ones, with no feathering system.
Long research made us to find another picture of Ada, this time taken from a long distance, showing her silhouette in the harbour of Braila.

Enlarged copies of the originals permitted an almost exhaustive research. So, first of all, the ship, is still in het active career, as she is laying among loaded sailing ships.
Even if we might think that the gear transmission is not symmetric to the longitudinal axis, we might discover that the shaft has a square end on the starboard, so the other wheel is missing. All the ship was studied in this manner and several calculus, sometimes not so simple, were done to redesign the kinematic chain of the transmission between the engine and the wheels. The final result is concluded in the axonometric and reconstruction planes

We assumed a reduction ratio of 1 : 3 for the gear. The crank activates a 17 teeth pinion to a 68 teeth wheel in the port sides, identical to the one in the starboard. The rotation is transmitted to an intermediary wheel of 51 teeth and by her identical sister to the paddle-shaft.

Three complete cycles of the engines piston corresponded to a rotation of 360˚ of the paddles . To be able to climb against the medium stream of the maritime Danube (between Braila and Sulina) the engines has to have a 90 cycles per minute, a perfect achievable speed for the time.
Using comparative and anthropometrical calculus we estimated the following dimensions for the tug:
Length o.a. ……………………… 10.4 m
Breath……………………………….  5.4 m
Draught……………………………… 0.5 m
Displacement……………………… 18 t
This analytic study of the ship made us believe that she is in the end of her long career. As all the technical solutions are only slight improvements of those in the Carolina, a strong related origin is of very high probability.


Here are some possible conclusions:
–   Hull is of a composite structure, metal skeleton covered with iron sheets and a wooden bottom. There are three dimensions of rivets identifiable in pictures. The big ones are used to hold the iron plates of the boards to the ribs, medium ones to hold the deck and small ones between the metal sheets. As we have found, the wooden tow sealed bottom was common for the period and zone. All was externally tar covered.
–   Fuel was willow wood, easy to find on the spot
–   Steam engine is primitive. This solution was abandoned in the third decade of the XIXth Century. Steam engine builders started the vertical piston movement solution and the oscillating rods. Double effect machines and oscillating cylinders came in the sixth decade of the century.
–   Except Carolina, Ada could be technically related to the tug painted in the famous Turner painting “Last Voyage of the Temmeraire”. This is sending us directly to the same period: 1825 to 1835.
–   All other drawings that we could find in Romanian Archives are much more evaluated, even if there are designs of the ’60.
–   Old sailors memories are usually valuable for researchers. One  of them mentions in the middle of the XIXth century an original tug, Unio, being built by an innovative Italian in Sulina. His name was Barbieri and his “masterpiece” was built out of scratch. The tug, as small as Ada had an independent march invertor for every wheel. He succeeded to make fortune carrying pine log rafts to Constantza and even Istanbul using Unio

We may also presume that Ada was the property of a small entrepreneur using her to carry empty sailing ships in cereal harbours, against the stream. Explotation costs were very low and so, for a period of more than 40 years, Ada was still working. Fuel was always available at very low prices, if not for free and crew must have not exceed three people.

[i] According to mr. Herbert Winkler, in 1803, Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton payed a visit to castle Eisenstadt (Burgenland, Austria). With his kind help, count Esterhazy ordered to David Matson Ltd. – London a steam engine pump. This might have been the model for Anton Bernhard engine in Carolina. Perhaps it is the same old engine used in Ada

Source: Low Danube Paddle Steamers by Cristian Craciunoiu

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