An Engineer’s day aboard the steamboat Minnehaha begins about an hour before the rest of the crew even shows up. After checking the condition of the engine, boiler, and bilges, he reads the log book for any problems from the last run. Then he starts following a checklist. The first thing on the list is to position various valves necessary for operation and to start the diesel generator which supplies electricity. He then checks fuel and water levels and makes notations on the log sheet. After making sure the boiler water is at the right level, he switches the boiler to the low fire position to warm the system up. The boiler is a Cleaver-Brooks oil-fired package boiler that provides the engine with 180 pounds of steam. While the boiler is coming up to operating pressure, he will add makeup water to storage tanks and begin oiling the engine.
When the boiler pressure reaches about 90 PSI, a boiler water sample is analyzed and, if necessary, chemicals are added to protect against corrosion and deposits which could affect heat transfer. When pressure reaches about 150 PSI, it is time to begin warming the engine. The boiler’s steam isolation valves are opened and steam is allowed to flow into the engine. The engine is in neutral at this point and steam condenses as it warms the cold engine. The engine’s cylinder drains are then opened to allow the condensate to drain to the condenser. The engine is a “triple-expansion condensing steam engine,” which means the steam expands as it travels from a high pressure piston to an intermediate piston, and then to a low pressure piston. Each piston is larger than the one before it. The exhaust steam is then directed from the third cylinder to a condenser. The condenser contains tubes which are cooled by lake water to condense the spent steam, which is then pumped back to the boiler to be reheated to 180 PSI.
Orville McCormick was Minnehaha’s first Engineer. He tended to the fire in her firebox, monitored the water level in her boiler, and oiled her engine from her first run in 1906 until her final run in 1926. The working conditions were cramped, hot, and dirty. The workday was long and demanding. As a third-generation steamboat engineer, Orville was the perfect person for the job. Orville’s father, Lewis Cass McCormick, and his step-grandfather, Silas T. Johnson, both owned and operated steamboats on Lake Minnetonka. Silas T. Johnson offered excursions aboard the Hebe while Lewis offered excursions aboard the Virgie. Both men had extensive experience as steamboat engineers on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers prior to moving to Excelsior, Minnesota sometime between 1882 and 1886. Orville may have started helping out at Dunlap’s Pavilion as a youngster and eventually served as an apprentice engineer, or striker, at the side of either of these two men.
For twenty years Orville would carry out his engineer duties as Minnehaha followed her daily route. Assigned to the Lower Lake, Minnehaha‘s original route took her from Excelsior, to Wayzata, and back. Both Elite and Working-Class people depended upon Minnehaha to get to their respective jobs – the Working-Class to their jobs at the lake’s summer homes and resorts, the affluent to their jobs in the Twin Cities. Interestingly, employers would often board just as employees were getting off. Orville would meet his future bride, Minnie Ljungdahl, as a result of this social dynamic.
Silas T. Johnson was born October 9, 1835 in Washington County, Maine. He and America Spoors Martin (Katherine Martin’s mother) were married in Shawneetown, Illinois on March 5, 1882. This was America’s third marriage and Silas’s second.
Lewis Cass McCormick was born March 17, 1856 to William Thomas McCormick and Susan B. Paxton in Rochester, Missouri. On February 27, 1877, Lewis McCormick and Katherine May Martin were married in Shawneetown, Illinois. Katherine was only sixteen years old. Her mother, America Spoors, gave her consent for the marriage.
Lewis and Katherine would have seven children – three boys and four girls:
Willie McCormick, born November 23, 1877 in Shawnetown, Illinois
Gertrude McCormick, born July 11, 1879 in Shawnetown, Illinois
Bessie McCormick, born November 24, 1882 in Alma, Wisconsin
Orville McCormick, born July 28, 1886 in Excelsior, Minnesota
Estelle, born January 2, 1890 in Excelsior, Minnesota
Addison, born June 27, 1892 in Excelsior, Minnesota
Modern recreational boats like the many you see on Lake Minnetonka are usually made of fiberglass or some other long-lasting plastic that requires very little maintenance to stay looking fresh. Modern engines and hardware are made of non-corroding, long-wearing materials and can go for years without much worry. But now take a look at some of those beautiful old “wood boats” that you also often see out on the lake, sedately cruising by. To stay looking pristine, they need a lot of work, often requiring a complete new finish every few years and extensive care to prevent corrosion and wear. Minnehaha is one in that class – in spades! She looks fresh and new every summer when you take your annual ride, but it takes a long Minnesota winter of work to keep her in that condition. Few except those hardy souls who spend Saturdays repairing, adjusting, sanding and painting can appreciate the work it takes to keep her “ship shape.”
So what really happened between October 9 when Minnehaha was towed from Niccum’s Landing to the “Barn” and May 7, when she made the return journey to begin her 2011 sailing season? Well, so much was done in those seven months that it isn’t even possible to describe it all. However, a few of the most important items included a complete inspection and overhaul of the boiler and all its associated parts (a task which is done every two years). Also in this year’s investment was a complete re-coating of the refractory lining, replacement of many gaskets, studs and bolts, plus replacement of the burner nozzles and a full tune up. The engine itself, although it ran well all summer, was completely torn down and carefully inspected. Bearings were adjusted, packings were replaced, and everything was adjusted for smooth operation.
Twin City Rapid Transit (TCRT) was, if anything, innovative and cutting edge – from developing arguably the most expansive and modern urban street railway system in the United States to developing customer base with seemingly unrelated enterprises such as hotels and amusement parks. To do the later, a fleet of six fast Express Boats had to literally be invented and incorporated into an overall system. Minnehaha was one such Express Boat. (A seventh Express Boat, the Excelsior, was built and put into service in 1915.) Furthermore, multiple crews had to be hired and trained for an essentially 24/7 seasonal operating pace.
Even with all the necessary infrastructure put in place, TCRT had the additional insight not to ignore the human factor. The Express Boats’ schedules were coordinated to meet streetcars arriving and departing at Deephaven, Excelsior, and Wildhurst. These schedules were continually refined for efficiency, the changing needs of customers, and volume of fares.
With noted and somewhat complicated variations, there were essentially three separate time periods that defined the Express Boats’ operation on the lake. From 1906 through 1907, service was started up with all Express Boats initiating their routes from the docks in Excelsior. From 1908 to 1912, after some trial and error, the service was split in two with three boats operating exclusively on the Upper lake out of Wildhurst and three boats operating exclusively on the Lower lake out of Excelsior. In 1913 the Express Boats were given continuous routes serving, via a loop, all stops on both the Upper and Lower Lake. This period lasted through the end of all operation in 1926. At the peak of ridership (approximately 220,000 in 1921), there were twenty-seven separate stops on the loop route. Ridership then began to decline and dropped to around 68,000 by 1924.
Research recently turned up an MIT engineering study on White Bear, one of TCRT’s Lake Minnetonka “Express Boats” (and sister of Minnehaha). The 1910 engineering study was written and based on scientific observations made in July of 1909, when a “Service Trial” and “Progressive Speed Trials” of the “Steam Passenger Boat Whitebear [sic]” were conducted.
White Bear was virtually identical in overall design, dimensions, weight, and propulsion to Minnehaha. As a result, the detailed study of White Bear provides key insights and confirmation of how nearly exact the historic restoration of Minnehaha truly is. Several revealing 1909 photos of White Bear were also part of the thesis.
From the study, it is now known that Marine Iron Works of Chicago, Illinois built White Bear’s steam engine. The engine is described as a vertical, condensing, triple-expansion steam engine. Although Minnehaha’s original engine was removed before the vessel was scuttled in 1926, today’s engine is of the same type, size, and style as the engine described and pictured on board White Bear.
Why have streetcar service to Lake Minnetonka in the first place? To answer that question you need to go all the way back to the mid-1860s, when one had to ride a stage coach from Minneapolis to Minnetonka Mills to reach Lake Minnetonka. There, passengers would transfer onto a small steamboat that would take them further up Minnehaha Creek (which was actually navigable at the time) and out to the waters of Lake Minnetonka.
The Saint Paul & Pacific Railroad established rail service from Minneapolis to Wayzata in 1867. In 1881 the Minneapolis and Saint Louis Railroad reached Excelsior and Tonka Bay (the right-of-way of which exists today as a regional biking trail). In 1882 the Minneapolis, Lyndale & Minnetonka narrow gauge rail line (the “Motor Line”) was extended from Lake Harriet to Excelsior. This was originally a steam powered streetcar line that ran on Nicollet Avenue, but underwent several major expansions in response to population growth in the area. The Motor Line’s Excelsior division lasted until 1886, when the Great Northern Railway purchased the right-of-way, laid standard gauge track, and ran a rail line around the south side of Lake Minnetonka out to Saint Bonifacious and points west. In 1887 the Milwaukee Road reached Deephaven and the Hotel Saint Louis. However, the Hotel Saint Louis closed by 1901, and service on those tracks subsequently ended.
At this point in time the Twin City Rapid Transit company (TCRT) and its streetcars entered the picture. TCRT bought and electrified the former Great Northern (ex-Motor Line) right-of-way to Excelsior in 1905. In 1907, it leased and electrified the Minneapolis & Saint Louis right-of-way, reaching to Excelsior, Tonka Bay and Wildhurst. TCRT also purchased and electrified the Milwaukee Road right-of-way serving Deephaven, thus completing the company’s position for doing business in the growing area west of Minneapolis.
When the Express “Streetcar” Boats first began operation on Lake Minnetonka in May of 1906, the Twin City Rapid Transit dock facilities in Excelsior were not yet completed. As a result, Minnehaha and the other TCRT boats operated out of dockage at Minnetonka Beach on Lafayette Bay, just west of an area known as Arcola.
Minnetonka Beach had once been known as the location of the famed Hotel Lafayette, the largest hotel ever to have existed on Lake Minnetonka. The Hotel Lafayette had hosted many prominent guests during its life. On one occasion in 1883, President Arthur and former President Grant visited the hotel to celebrate the connection of the Northern Pacific Railway with Seattle and Puget Sound.
By the turn of the century, however, the Hotel Lafayette was only a memory, it having been destroyed by a fire in 1897. The hotel regularly closed for the winter months, and the fire occurred shortly after the fall closing of its fifteenth season. Staff and guests had already gone home and there was no one present to fight the blaze. By the time flames were detected, it was too late, and the huge wooden structure was completely destroyed.