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The Alaska Sternwheeler Nenana

The Whitehorse Star                         August 25, 1933

New Yukon River Steamer Nenana Goes Into Service (1933)

(Railways & Marine News, Seattle)

    For service on the Tanana and Yukon Rivers, as a unit of the Alaska Railroad's transportation system, the stern-wheel shallow draft steamer Nenana was launched at Nenana, Alaska on May 18th. Not only is the vessel of unusual type, but the conditions under which she was constructed are out of the ordinary.

    The new stern-wheeler replaces the small steamers Alice and General Jacobs and will furnish freight and passenger service between Nenana and Marshall. The former is in the Tanana river about 100 miles above its junction with the mighty Yukon, the distance thence to destination being about 600 miles additional. Operating is only possible during the summer. The rivers present many obstacles and dangers to operation. Shifting channels, sharp turns, swirling eddies and in places lack of draft are conditions which must be overcome. The Nenana was designed with this in view.

    On the other hand it was impossible to send the vessel completed into the Interior of Alaska. Consequently the materials were shipped from Seattle to Seward by regular steamship line, thence transported 450 miles over the Alaska Railroad to Nenana. Here the craft was assembled and completed. Iy was stipulated that all labor except skilled mechanics and foreman, must be performed by residents of the territory. Considering the distance material and equipment had to be transported and the fact that much of the construction was done in extremely cold weather in the sub-Arctic, the fact is out of the ordinary.

    W. C. Nickum, Seattle marine architect, designed the vessel, keeping in mind the peculiar requirements of the river service. The completed craft is ideally suited to the route, according to government officials. The architect's task was to plan a vessel of specified freight and passenger capacity, on a limited draft, at the same time keeping within designated cost limits.

    The general contract was held by the Berg Shipbuilding Co., Seattle, on a low bid of $131.126. The completed vessel represents an investment of about $175,000. Work was started on July 15, 1932 and materials were supplied as needed, although most of the equipment was forwarded before winter began. By September the hull was well along and when cold weather came the job was enclosed. Work was continued during the winter, frequently at temperatures of 40 degrees below and lower.

    A steam line was run on the main floor and up to the saloon deck so that the men worked in comparative comfort. The ice moved out on May 8th but to avoid ice floes the Nenana was not sent into the water until ten days later, completed and ready for service.

    Principal dimensions are:
    Length, over wheel, 237 feet.
    Length, over hull, 210 feet.
    Beam, 42 feet
    There are accommodations for 48 passengers

    The vessels light draft is 22 inches mean. She draws three feet six inches forward and three feet aft with 300 tons of cargo.

    Hull and upperworks were built to approval of the American Bureau of Shipping as was also the machinery and auxiliaries. Materials were surveyed and approved in Seattle before shipping by the Bureau. She is fully equipped to U. S. Steamboat inspection service requirements.

    The vessel was built parallel to the river on a site between the Alaska Railroad tracks and the railroad's marine ways, timber being extended from the ways under the hull. At the time of launching the wedges were knocked out and the vessel glided smoothly across the ways and batter boards running along the greased skids, taking the water broadside. While some of the material was fabricated and prepared prior to shipment much was cut to measure and finished on the job.

    The hull is of Douglas fir and the superstructure of spruce and cedar. Above the main deck the house framing and deck beams are fir sheathed with cedar. The bulkheads are 3-ply veneer and the state rooms and saloon bulkheads of 5-ply veneer. The thwart bulkheads are a solid piece of 5-ply veneer, giving exceptional strength to the entire structure.

    Compared to an estimated consumption of one and one-quarter cords per hour satisfactory service is being secured on an hourly consumption of but three-quarter cord.

    A York Ice Machine is a part of the equipment. The Shibley Co., of Seattle, supplied the water filter capacity 7,200 gallons per day. The river water is so muddy and impregnated with vegetable matter that it is unfit either for boilers or cooking without treatment.

    The stern paddle wheel measures 19 feet six inches in diameter and carries 16 floats, each 26 feet in length, of Douglas fir. The framing is built of iron. The wheel shaft is 15 inches diameter with a six and one-quarter hole.

    The hydraulic and hand steering gear includes a horizontal duplex oil pump to maintain hydraulic pressure. There are four main and two monkey rudders.

    All piping in excess of two and one-half inches was laid off by the architect and flanges Ūtted and pipes bent to shape in Seattle. Everything was so accurately done that there was no delay in assembling on the job.

    The derrick mast forward is equipped with a 5-ton cargo drum and double spur geared drum for cargo hoist and four independently operated gypsies for lining up. Power is furnished by a steam winch.

    Anticipated speed is 12 miles an hour but this will vary greatly according to river conditions.

    The saloon and cabins are comfortable and attractively dressed. The windows are of teak trim and in the dining room mahogany pilasters add to the pleasing effect.

The Story of the Sternwheeler Nenana

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