Monday, December 08, 2008

Geekdom That's Cool

This is Lewis and Clark's keelboat. It was built for them in 1803 at builder's in Pennsylvania. It's nearly sixty feet long and eight feet wide. It would never qualify as a warship, mounting only a one pounder and a couple of boarding blunderbusses. But it was like a floating fortress with thick sides that could offer cover to the riflemen of the Corps of Discovery.

I think I've talked about my Lewis and Clark geekdom before. I think the story of the expedition is fascinating. It has all the drama of a great exploring adventure. There is the tense moment when the expedition could have erupted into violence against the Lakota Sioux. Sacagawea's role in the expedition as honorary mom, carrying her baby on her back, and the coincidental meeting with her brother in the Rocky Mountains of Montana made the expedition unlike all of the other American military expeditions into the West. The nightmare crossing of the Bitterroots nearly ended in disaster. The descent to the lower Columbia and the long wet winter at Fort Clatsop is simply a tale of persistence in the face of adversity.
Recently, however, historians have taken note that the Corps of Discovery was first and foremost a military expedition, the first of many that would scout and map the regions of the west, but as much as anything aggravate the hell out our neighbors. How else do you think John C. Fremont ended up in California at the outbreak of the Mexican-American War with American troops, including artillery? The Lewis and Clark concerned the Spanish authorities so much they sent out an expedition of their own to intercept them twice-once on the trip out to the coast and once on the way back.
I've often thought about gaming this potential collision of forces, but with Spaniards numbering about eighty men, including some Comanches, probably all mounted, being caught in the prairie would be a bad, bad thing. I wistfully considered adding a seaborne side to the expedition, but I am simply not much of a model builder.
But I know somebody who is: my good friend Mark Waddington. These are a couple of photos of the keelboat Mark is graciously building me. He began by building the basic shape and is now in the planking stage. Mark says this kind of work is really fun. The planking is basswood strips that he has stained and then cut to the proper length before gluing. Mark says he soaks the planking in ammonia and water before bending them around the hull. It is an amazing, generous project, and I truly appreciate it. I'll keep you posted on the construction.

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