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Location DB > United States > West Virginia > Charleston > Wreck of The Weber W. Sebald (Sternwheeler)
 Name
Wreck of The Weber W. Sebald (Sternwheeler)
 Viewing Options
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 Database Info
created by Turd Furgusen on 4/6/2006 8:11 PM
last modified by Emperor Wang on 9/4/2021 1:45 AM
 Viewability
Publically Viewable Publically Viewable
This location has been labeled by its creator as Public, and therefore can be viewed by anyone.
 Overview
 Description
130 feet long, 35 feet wide. The port side is partially submerged and the interior is mostly gutted. The boat faces east, up river.
 Basic Information
Type: Boat Wreck
Status: Abandoned
Accessibility: Easy
Recommendation: check it out if you're nearby
 Physical Information
Address
W - 6400 Maccorkle Ave. #166
Charleston, West Virginia
United States
Owner: Kanawha River
  • See a map of this location
  •  Hazards
  • rust
  • unsafe flooring
  • flooding
  • water
  • River Rats!
  •  Interesting Features
    Nature taking over
     Security Measures
     Historical Dates
    Built: 1926
    Closed: 1970
     Required Equipment
  • binoculars
  • gloves
  • head protection
  • long pants / sleeves
  •  Recommended Equipment

     History
    According to Way's Steam Towboat Directory, the legendary broken-down boat began its life as a steam-powered sternwheeler in 1926, in Dubuque, Iowa.

    Originally named the John W. Weeks, the craft was one of three identical towboats built - at a cost of $175,000 each - for the newly formed Upper Mississippi Barge Line. A fourth twin towboat, the General Ashburn, was built for the Inland Waterways Corp.

    The 130-foot-long, 35-foot-wide steamboats were commissioned in an effort to jump-start commercial barge traffic on the Upper Mississippi River, which had slowed to a trickle since World War I. The boats made the first St. Louis-Minneapolis through trips taken by tows and barges since 1915, and in their first 10 years of operation, were instrumental in quadrupling the tonnage of freight shipped on the Upper Mississippi.

    During the winter of 1929-30, the Weeks and her sister towboats were modified to work with larger tows. Their pilothouses were raised a deck, and the old pilothouses extended back to serve as radio rooms. Bridge wings were added, and their searchlights were raised 7.5 feet.

    Sometime in the 1940s, the boat's conventional paddlewheel was replaced with a new "herringbone" paddlewheel of a V-shaped design, which was supposed to reduce vibration when the wheel's "buckets" struck the water.

    In 1948, the three sister towboats were sold to American Rolling Mill Co., later known as Armco Steel, and spent much of their working lives hauling coal from the steel maker's terminal in Huntington to the company's plant near Cincinnati. The towboats also powered coal barges down the Kanawha from as far upstream as Harewood, Fayette County.

    The John W. Weeks, named after one of the Upper Mississippi Barge Lines officers, was re-christened the Weber W. Sebald in honor of a former Armco president.

    "The Sebald was impressive - a real beauty," wrote R. Dale Flick, a Cincinnati resident and treasurer of the Sons & Daughters of Pioneer Rivermen, in an e-mail interview. "I recall her well as a kid living in the area known as Coal Haven in Cincinnati's East End near present-day Lunken Airport. ... Boy, could the Sebald 'roll a wheel' steaming up past Coal Haven here on a high river. She was immaculate, pristine and always freshly painted. The glass in her pilothouse shone like the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles Palace - a little exaggeration there on my part."

    The Sebald and her sister vessel from Dubuque, the George M. Verity, also a part of the Armco fleet, were seen almost daily by Flick and other Cincinnati-area riverboat admirers in the 1950s.

    The Sebald "had an unusual 'wild cat' whistle that when blown would really screech," according to Flick. "Wild cat whistles were smaller whistles mounted on the top of the whistle bells. If there was an emergency, the pilots would pull down on the whistle cord for the usual blast - WHAAAAAOH - and then down some more to make the loud WHEEEAH! When radar and new boat-to-boat radios came along, the whistles were used less and less."

    In 1956, the Weber W. Sebald got more than its 15-minute quota of fame when two episodes of NBC's "Today" show were produced on and around the towboat.

    Host Dave Garroway started the first day's program from the deck of the Sebald, as it chugged along the Ohio River near Armco's First Street dock.

    That program featured a race between the Sebald and another steam-powered paddlewheel towboat, the J.T. Hatfield, owned by Amherst Barge Co., precursor of the Port Amherst-based Madison Coal & Supply. The race was run between Proctorville, Ohio, and the Huntington-Chesapeake Bridge.

    That the Sebald and the Hatfield were look-alikes was no coincidence. The J.T. Hatfield began its life as the General Ashford, one of the Sebald's three twin sisters built in Dubuque.

    "It was a long race, but the Hatfield won," said Charles T. Jones, president of Port Amherst Ltd.

    Both boats were pushing an equal number of empty barges during the race, and the barge tows eventually meshed together, making it impossible for either vessel to surge to a commanding lead.

    "One boat would pull ahead a few yards, then the other would catch up and pull ahead," Jones recalled.

    The next day's segment, much of it filmed from the deck of the Sebald, focused on the railroad industry, using Armco's rail-barge transfer yard along the Ohio River as a backdrop. Accompanying Garroway on the Huntington swing was J. Fred Muggs, a chimpanzee and a regular on the show. An estimated 15 million viewers saw Garroway and his entourage on the Sebald during his Huntington visit.

    In 1960, Armco discontinued river operations in favor of railroads and more powerful boats capable of pushing much larger tows. The Sebald's engines and boilers were removed and scrapped and she was given to the city of Ashland, Ky., to use in conjunction with a public marina.

    "It was the clubhouse boat," said Bill Barr, marine traffic manager for Madison Coal and Supply, and a board member of Sons and Daughters of Pioneer Rivermen. "It had an office for the marina and housed other marina functions."

    The Sebald's sister, the Verity, was given to a citizens' group in Keokuk, Iowa, who made it the centerpiece of the Keokuk River Museum, which tells the story of navigation on the Upper Mississippi River.

    The National Park Service designated the Verity a National Historic Landmark, and the boat was given a permanent berth on a low bluff on the edge of the Mississippi. But twists of fate left the Sebald far from high and dry.

    In 1969, city officials in Ashland determined that the boat had seriously deteriorated, and stopped using her as a marina headquarters.

    The Sebald's two-toned whistle and one of her pilothouse nameboards were donated to the Ohio River Museum in Marietta, Ohio. The vessel's bell was mounted in front of Ashland City Hall. The Sebald was towed to Mountain State Construction Co.'s river siding behind the Value City store. There, on the night of Nov. 2, 1970, she sank.
     Media Coverage
    RUST IN PEACE STERNWHEELER'S STORIED HISTORY ENDED ON KANAWHA

    Publication: THE SUNDAY GAZETTE-MAIL
    Published: 03/12/2006
    Page: 2B
    Headline: RUST IN PEACE STERNWHEELER'S STORIED HISTORY ENDED ON KANAWHA
    Byline: RICK STEELHAMMER

    rsteelhammer@wvgazette.com

    Years ago, when my sons were small enough to be confined to their car seats when traveling to their grandparents' home in Dunbar, every time we made the turn from King Street onto Charles Avenue near the Shawnee Public Stream Access Area, I would hear the following refrain:

    "Broken-down boat, Dad, broken-down boat!"

    I would look in the rearview mirror and see two tiny right hands jabbing index fingers in the direction of the boat ramp.

    More often than not, I would make the turn down to the boat ramp, drive to the Kanawha River's edge, and park in a way that gave the boys an unfettered view across the river of the rusting hulk of a sternwheeler sprawled on a bank at the rear of the Value City parking lot. Then I would make up another legend about how the steam-powered riverboat came to its final resting place in The Badlands.

    One of my versions had the boat's captain deliberately running the craft ashore to save his passengers and crew when he realized its boiler was about to explode, or when its cargo of cotton - don't ask - caught fire. Another had the boat being bombarded and disabled by either Union or Confederate artillery, and forced to make a crash landing on the Value City shore.

    While the boys responded enthusiastically to any and all accounts I fabricated to explain the presence of the derelict steamboat hulk, I always wondered what the boat's real story might have been. It turns out the nonfiction version is at least as colorful as the story lines I invented.

    The once-proud Sebald now lies sprawled against a muddy bank of the Kanawha River, with nearly full-grown sycamores and willows pressing against the sides of its upper deck and rising above the remnants of its pilothouse. A freshly made bird's nest is perched on a corner of a glassless window.

    The Sebald's engine compartments and most of her deck lay underwater, while a portion of her bow, where Dave Garroway once entertained and informed a live national television audience, rusts in peace at water's edge.
     Future Plans
    Let the river reclaim it.
     Stories


    Add your own story
     Photo Galleries
    Click to view gallery
    First Trip, Spring
    Thu, Apr 6th, 2006
    posted by Turd Furgusen
    12 pictures
    Click to view gallery
    George M. Verity (Twin Ship)
    Fri, Apr 7th, 2006
    posted by Turd Furgusen
    5 pictures


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     Web Links
    Paddle Wheel has been recovered:
    http://www.herald-...ts-of-wrecked-ship
     Contribute

    Edit this Location
     Moderator Rating
    The moderator rating is a neutral rating of the content quality, photography, and coolness of this location.

    Category Rating
    Photography 7 / 10
    Coolness 6 / 10
    Content Quality 9 / 10
     Validation
    This location's validation is current. It was last validated by Emperor Wang on 9/4/2021 1:46 AM.

     Latest Changes
  • on Sep 4 21 at 1:46, Emperor Wang validated this location
  • on Sep 4 21 at 1:45, Emperor Wang changed the following: History, Media Coverage
  • on Sep 4 21 at 1:44, Emperor Wang changed the following: City, Description
  • on Dec 23 16 at 19:28, Emperor Wang validated this location
  • on Dec 23 16 at 19:28, Emperor Wang changed the following: Display Name, Street Address, Media Coverage
  • on May 12 09 at 9:09, Steed validated this location
  • on May 11 09 at 20:12, Oherian changed the following: Web Links
  • on Apr 7 06 at 20:34, Mickael validated this location
  • on Apr 7 06 at 14:52, Turd Furgusen updated gallery picture BowPort.jpg
  • on Apr 7 06 at 14:52, Turd Furgusen updated gallery picture PilotHouse.jpg
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