This great steamboat image, from a glass negative in the Robert Runyon Photograph Collection at the UT Center for American History and made available online through the Library of Congress, does not have a recorded date or location. I believem, however, that it was taken in the Brazos Santiago achorage, at Port Isabel, in September 1913. Herman Paepcke has the briefest of Texas connections; she was a 157-ton sternwheel towboat, built at Higginsport, Ohio in 1900. After running more than a decade on the Ohio and Missisippi Rivers, in 1913 she was sold to an oil company and transferred to the port of Tampico, Mexico. In the process, she stopped at least twice in Texas, once at Galveston, where she was berthed at Pier 23, and later at Brazos Santiago. What became of her after that is unknown, at least to me. But this photograph, apparently taken at Brazos Santiago, is a good example of how these riverine craft was adapted to transit the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
First, the boat’s anchored. Rivercraft generally did not carry much in the way of conventional ground tackle (anchors, cables, etc.), but many of the boats operating on open water in Texas, such as those that had to cross Galveston Bay, did so as a matter of routine, especially if they were to get caught in a storm on the open water. For boats crossing the Gulf of Mexico, carrying a full set of anchors, cable and gear was essential.
Second, the boat’s chimneys have been partially dismantled, with the upper sectioned lashed down on the upper deck. Late-era boats like Herman Paepcke were built with hinged chimneys that could be lowered to clear bridges along the river, but in this case the upper sections have been taken down altogether, presumable to reduce the boat’s profile in the wind and to add stability as the boar rolled in open water.
Most important, the entire lower deck has been boarded in with timber. On the rivers, these boats typically ran with no more than a few feet of freeboard — and often mere inches — and would likely never survive a Gulf crossing in anything more severe than a gentle swell. Herman Paepcke‘s main deck has been boarded in, to a height of around five feet amidships and six or seven at bow.
Most of the steamboats that operated in Texas were built somewhere else, often along the Ohio River. All of these boats made at least one open-water crossing of the Gulf of Mexico, so it was a common enough event. But just as photographs of Texas steamboats are rare, photos of boats fitted out for an open-water crossing, like Herman Paepcke in this case, are rarer still.
– Andy Hall