Our Ship of the Month No. 160, which graced the January issue, was the little steamer ISLANDER, which was built back in 1846 at Kelleys Island, Ohio, for service in the Sandusky area. She was completely reconstructed in 1862 at Goderich as (b) BRUCE and then served on the run up the east shore of Lake Huron. In her latter years, she operated in the Brockville area of the St. Lawrence River, and then on the Rideau River.
Member Gordon Wendt of Sandusky has verified that the original dimensions of ISLANDER were 76.0 x l6.2 x 6.6, 73.35 Gross Tons, as confirmed by Document No. 17, which was issued at Sandusky on October 15, 1846. The first owners of ISLANDER were registered as Datus Kelley, Irad Kelley, Addison Kelley, Julius Kelley, Charles Carpenter and George C. Huntington. It is known that, while ISLANDER was operating in the Sandusky area, she was commanded by Captain George W. Orr.
In our feature, we noted that ISLANDER was replaced on her normal route in 1854 by COMET, but we knew nothing about what she did until 1857, when it was reported that she was running between Detroit and Chatham. (She was, of course, sunk in collision with PEARL in 1857, and was operating out of Goderich by 1858.) Gordon Wendt confirms that ISLANDER's document was surrendered at Detroit on June 24, 1854 (although we would assume that another document was then issued out of that port). In any event, the Sandusky newspaper reported on June 16, 1854, that ISLANDER had been sold to one Captain Barron of St. Clair, Michigan, for $4,000 and that she was to run in the trade between Port Huron and Detroit. Of course, one cannot vouch for the accuracy of the newspaper account...
But what about ISLANDER's machinery? We had speculated that she might have had a "gallows-frame" engine, which incorporated a large 'thwartship frame raised high above the cabin, such as that carried by the famous Lake Erie steamer ISLAND QUEEN, which was built a decade later and of which photographic records exist. The late historian Erik Heyl described ISLAND QUEEN as having a "crosshead engine", while the late Capt. Frank E. Hamilton (a particular expert on the passenger vessels of western Lake Erie) described both ISLANDER and ISLAND QUEEN as having "sawgate engines".
How do we interpret all of this? Well, courtesy of Donald Page of Kingston, we now are in possession of photocopies of pages eight and nine of Paddle Wheel Steamers and Their Giant Engines by Bob Whittier, 1983, which contain a diagram and description of the "crosshead" engine. This type of machinery had been in existence at least back into the 1820s (and perhaps earlier), and consisted of a single fixed cylinder, whose piston worked vertically. The piston rod was steadied, especially at the top of its stroke, by being connected to the centre of a wide "crosshead", which rode up and down (its ends fitted with bearing-metal sliding blocks) in parallel vertical tracks mounted on the inboard sides of a heavy oak "A-frame" or "gallows-frame".
Attached to the ends of the crosshead, just inboard of the sliding blocks, were the upper ends of the connecting rods. These latter members served to transmit the stroke of the piston rod, received via the crosshead, to the cranks on the inner ends of the two paddle shafts which ran out from either side of the engine's cylinder. Of course, a vessel with this type of machinery required two separate paddle shafts, one on each side, for the vertical nature of the engine placed the cylinder immediately in line with the shaft centres, and thus the use of a single shaft connecting both wheels was impossible.
In addition to creating the sliding tracks for the crosshead, the oak "gallows-frame" served to brace against the considerable sidethrust which was exerted on the rig, via the angle of the connecting rods, when the paddle-shaft cranks were at an angle during the course of their movement. On many American vessels fitted with this type of engine, the frame was boxed in, but such was not common on the Great Lakes, where steamers operated in relatively protected waters.
This sort of machinery was a direct descendent [sic] of that developed on the Hudson River by Robert Fulton, but the crosshead engine's simplified linkage between the piston rods and the paddle shafts was a considerable advancement of Fulton's own design, and resulted from "tinkering" with Fulton's engine by numerous Hudson River steamboat engineers.
It is easy to see how the "gallows-frame" name came to be applied to such an engine, in that when working, the above-deck portion of the rig would resemble the action of a guillotine. As far as the "sawgate" name is concerned, this developed from the fact that, in those days before the development of circular saws, timber often was cut in sawmills by reciprocating blades carried in a wide frame. To some of the lakeside rustics of the day, the action of the crosshead engine, which was much in vogue before 1850 but not much later, would have resembled the sawmill machinery, and thus a "sawgate".
We are most grateful to Gordon Wendt for his assistance with the early history of ISLANDER and, as we had absolutely no information concerning the manner in which her machinery operated, we most certainly appreciate the details provided by Donald Page. Once again, our readers have come through with the information necessary to fill in the blanks in the record.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.