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Prairie Dawn Towboat Model

Prairie Dawn Towboat Model

(this page is not finished, add link to my old page )

I have one more project that I hope to complete before the open house at my model railroad in April 2024.
I already have some small scenes with one small towboat and 2 small barges as shown on
My scale model of Lil Charley Missisissippi River tow boat posted in June 2020

But I wanted to make a 'real' Mississippi River scene with a 'real' scale model tow traveling past my railroad's pontoon drawbridge.
A tow that travels a long distance.

I chose the Prairie series of towboats to model, such as the Prairie Dawn, Sierra Dawn, and Coral Dawn.
Pretty names for river travelers.

Dick's Tow Boat Gallery website has pictures of hundreds of towboats,
and I chose one to trace so I could make a scale model side view.
The 'Dawns' are 164 feet long, about 22-1/2 inches in H-O scale.
And I didn't take short cuts with the barges this time, a typical one is 195 ft, about 27".
The previous barges that I built were short versions at 22" because I didn't have room for them at the docks.

I work with TurboCad. I draw full size, and print to scale. It takes three sheets of paper tiled together to make an H-O scale barge.
If you want the cad file to work on it further for yourself, I could email it.
It can also be exported in dwg and pdf and some other files.

Here's my paper plan that I fold into a 3-D paper model of a barge with covers.
Does anyone want to make a 3-D barge cover from a plastic 3-D printer?
The real covers have a very interesting ribbed pattern.
But I shudder just to think of the cost of the plastic compared to printer ink and paper.

I cut decks out of the printed plan and taped them to the wood sides.
I could have just printed the actual picture to fit the model, but that can use more of that expensive printer ink.
And my plan can include details of the wall that are hidden by railings,
especially since this boat has canvas-covered railings that hide half of the windows.

A barge and tow boat alone are big enough already for a small space,
and I made two barges and the towboat together on just one 1 x 6 board that's 6-1/2 feet long
rather than support and manuever them individually.
These don't sit on a shelf, I am out of space for that.
I am making a small wheeled floor cart so it can travel, and when not in use,
it will be parked in some barge fleet pooling aisle that I don't walk in much.

This model is big. I need more blue plastic sheet to build a river for photos.
On my railroad, all the walking aisleways are make-believe rivers.

The small towboat is 1000 hp with a single diesel. The large one is 5000 hp with two diesel engines,
and is typical of a boat that can travel long distances on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.

I learned the boat is too white and bright, I had to take away 2 camera stops to see the details of the boat.
Many river boats are painted white and look good,
but to help my photography I might tone-down the white printer paper by coloring the walls with a 90% transparent yellow.
And I have an extra yellow ink cartridge, anyway.

So, this boat is just started. It needs wood decks instead of cereal box cardboard,
the pusher knees, flag halyard, two stacks, jib crane and work boat, winches, pilot house railings and ladders, etc.


I set it on wood blocks on the freezer, next to some of the model railroad.
I used blue plastic shopping bags draped over a yardstick to create some 'water',
and cloned some of the blue to fill out the picture.
So far, it is built as a 1 x 2 tow (1 barge wide, 2 long)
That length can go through the locks of the Upper Mississippi.
I will make more barges to widen the tow to 3 x 2 for use in my basement.
And I probably won't add more in front of it to make it a typical 3 x 5.
A 1 x 2 with towboat is 5-1/2 feet long in H-O scale,
and I have already knocked over train cars on the river shore just trying to turn it around.
A 3 x 5 would be 15 inches wide by 10-1/2 ft long.

Below, is a similar towboat pushing 3 x 3.
I took this last summer, the first time I was by the Mississippi River in 4 years.
And I studied it after I started making this web page this Winter, and identify it as the Delaney
which is a St. Louis Ship Company boat that's almost a sister to the Prairie boats.
What a coincidence. And this view is higher than most of the views on the tow boat gallery website
and I see some important details to incorporate into my wood model.
Especially the tapered fantail, which is hard to see from a side view.
It can be handy to turn the tow while existing lock 19,
where some boats push the boat's stern to the concrete wall as they exit.

This view also shows the motor boat on the 2nd deck is way over by the right side railing,
something that I didn't see on the website pictures.


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This page was wrote in February 2024.