Sunday, December 17, 2017

Pathway to the Heartland and Great Lakes Landing Sites – the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers– Part II

Continuing from the previous post regarding the shallowness of the Mississippi before the Corps of Engineers began work on the inland waterways to deepen, widen, add channels and locks. 
   As a matter of fact, today, to accommodate deep-ocean shipping, there are 29 locks and dams located on the Upper Mississippi River, operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which maintains a nine-foot channel on the Mississippi from St. Paul, Minnesota, to St. Louis, Missouri, which allows for deep water vessels and other shipping to move up and down the Mississippi River, that otherwise would be too shallow for such navigation, as well as having rapids that were deterrents to any such shipping before the locks were built.
    A series of locks enable river vessels to "step" up or down a river or canal from one water level to another. When, the upstream gate is opened, the boat moves out on the higher water level and can continue up the Mississippi (or heading down, when the downstream gate is opened, the boat moves out onto the lower water level and continues downstream). The boats continue into the next lock, and so on, until they reach the end of the dam and lock system.
From St. Louis along the Mississippi to Zarahemla and Nauvoo, the Corps of Engineers had to build seven locks and dams in the mid 1800s in order to move any kind of deep water vessel along that 186 mile stretch

Along the Mississippi from St. Louis, Missouri to Dubuque, Iowa, a total of 14 navigation locks and dams had to be built in order to accommodate ships moving up the river. The dams created a series of reservoirs or “pools” that range from 10 to 47 miles in length and from 3,725 to 33,500 acres in size. In all, some 200,000 acres of water was added to the depth of the Mississippi to raise the water level above its normal shallow depth, and the many sand bars and snags that kept shipping from moving northward along this portion of the river.
    Along the river south of St. Louis, there are no locks and dams, which the Corps of Engineers characterized as open river, where they built wing dams, side channels, main channel, main channel border and extensive rip rap along the channel banks for protection to allow ships to move along the river. Before all of this was built in the mid-1850s, only flat-bottomed-boats could move along the river, and those were early craft that flowed downriver with the current, requiring constant steering with poles and long rudders to keep the boat in the middle of the river and to avoid sand bars and snags.
Side view of a paddle-wheeler. Note the shallow draft (black area), meaning all that is underwater, and the birds eye view of the Captain, providing him with an overall view of the rivers breadth before him so he can see any changes in sandbar locations or floating obstacles

These American riverboats were designed to draw very little water, and in fact it was commonly said that they could "navigate on a heavy dew" (Lester Gary French, Boating on the Ohio," Machinery, Industrial Press, vol. 6, July 1900, p334). Yet, despite the extremely shallow draft, these riverboat captains had to constantly be vigilant and know and be able to read the river from their high perch above the water, for fear of running aground on moving sandbars, snags, “sawyers,” and other obstacles.
    How could Nephi have sailed his deep-sea ship that crossed the oceans up to where the Nephites were claimed to have landed, somewhere around present-day Nauvoo (and the small area that was once called Zarahemla, Iowa, across the river from Nauvoo)? In the days of the flat-bottomed, shallow-draft paddle wheelers (after the river was dredged and deepened), it took an extremely experienced river captain in specially built river boats to make the journeys, and even many of those met with disasters. Today, it takes seven dams and locks in order to get flat-bottomed scows (cargo flatboats) up that river past the area theorists claimed Lehi landed.
Not all of the flat-bottomed, shallow-draft paddle wheelers, with all their experience, made the voyage safely. Sailing the Mississippi River was difficult and treacherous even for the specially built vessels designed to make the triptree snags, ever-changing and therefore unchartered shoals, and other obstructions made navigation treacherous and the average lifespan of a steam ship on the Mississippi River in the 1800s was only 18 months

During an age when America moved mostly by water, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began removing snags and other obstructions on navigable rivers in 1824. Since this was a major problem and extremely difficult achievement, the snagboats were designed and built—the first truly practicable snagboat was conceived by veteran riverman Henry Miller Shreve. Christened the Heliopolis, it was a twin-hulled craft with an iron-sheathed beam, called a butting beam, connecting the hulls. To remove a snag, the vessel rammed it with the butting beam, dislodging the snag and allowing the crew to lift it onto the boat with a windlass. There it was cut up, the pieces to be used as fuel or thrown into the water to float harmlessly downstream.
    To those theorists who do not consider the difficulty of sailing or moving on the inland waterways of early America and a serious  deterrent to Lehi sailing up the Mississippi or the Ohio, perhaps portions of a letter written on March 31, 1805, by Meriwether Lewis, of the famed Lewis and Clarke expedition, wrote a long letter to his mother, Lucy Marks, from Fort Mandan detailing the daunting dangers he had faced on the Missouri River, and hinting at the anxiety that, even as a natural risk-taker, he was feeling in anticipation of rivers to come. 
    “So far, we have experienced more difficulty from the navigation of the Missouri, than danger from the Savages. The difficulties which oppose themselves to the navigation of this immense river, arise from the rapidity of its current, it's falling banks, sandbars, and timber which remains wholly, or partially concealed in its bed, usually called by the navigators of the Missouri and Mississippi, Sawyers or planters. One of those difficulties, the navigator never ceases to contend with, from the entrance of the Missouri to this place; [is] the turbid quality of the water, which renders it impracticable to discover any obstruction even to the depth of a single inch. Such is the velocity of the current at all seasons of the year…that it is impossible to resist it's force by means of oars or poles in the main channel of the river; the eddies therefore which generally exist one side or the other of the river, are sought by the navigator; but these are almost universally incumbered with concealed timber, or within the reach of the falling banks, but notwithstanding are usually preferable to that of passing along the edges of the sand bars, over which, the water, though shallow, runs with such violence, that if your vessel happens to touch the sand, or is by any accident turned sidewise to the current it is driven on the bar, and overset in an instant, generally destroyed, and always attended with the loss of the cargo.”
    The point is, early boating on these inland waterways was dangerous, and extremely difficult, even for experienced seamen and explorers who traveled such rivers most of their lives. The additional point is, such waterways required vast expenditures of money and manpower in order to make them both navigable and safe for any kind of boating up or down the rivers. This time, cost and energy built side channels, locks, and dams throughout the early inland waterway system to make such simple travel possible.
Roller dams can be either fixed (non-moving) or active. The largest of the active dams in the world is Locks and Dam 15, which spans the Mississippi River between Rock Island, Illinois and Davenport, Iowa

Today there re roller dams, which is a type of hydro-control device specially designed to mitigate erosion, a constant problem along the Mississippi. They are most often used to divert water for irrigation but the largest and most notable examples are used to ease river navigation, such as those along the Mississippi. The world's first roller dam (walzenwehr) was constructed in Schweinfurt, Germany, in 1902 to divert irrigation water south of the Main River.
    The Corps of Engineers first used submersible roller gates on the Upper Mississippi River at Dam No. 4, located in the St. Paul District. The Corps began constructing Dam No. 4 in November 1933. The submersible roller gates of Dam No. 4 submerge to a depth of 3 feet.
Top: Aerial view of Lock and Dam No. 15 on the Mississippi River between Rock Island, Illinois and Davenport, Iowa. View is from the Illinois side of the river looking northwest to Iowa. The Government Bridge, a combined auto and railroad bridge, spans the river right over the locks, necessitating a turntable drawbridge to clear the locks; Red areas: the large rollers that allow spillover water to flow through along the river

Lock and Dam 15 is the largest roller dam in the world, its dam is 1,203 feet long and consists of nine 109 feet non-submersible, non-overflow roller gates and two 109 feet non-submersible overflow roller gates. It is unusual among the upper Mississippi River dams in that it has only roller gates, has different sizes and types of roller gates, it is not perpendicular to the flow of the river and is one of the few facilities that has a completed auxiliary lock. The main lock is 110 feet wide by 600 feet long and its auxiliary lock is 110 feet wide by 360 feet long.
    All of this of course, was mainly to create a depth along the river that would allow shipping to move safely up and down the river. A side benefit was to regulate the water flow to safeguard the banks, keep timber from entering the river, and provide for agriculture.
(See the next post, “Pathway to the Heartland and Great Lakes Landing Sites – the Ohio and St Lawrence Rivers– Part III,” for more on what it took to make the Mississippi and inland waterways navigable for anything other than flat-bottomed, shallow-draft boats)

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