Myrtle Corey steam paddlewheel towboat (Dumas), 1/20, by The DonMI

Aug 16, 2020

Haslett, Michigan
Historic photo MC.jpeg
Myrtle Corey was a late 19th-century steam towboat, a common sight on the Mississippi River and its tributaries in the day. Built by the American Boat Company along the Merrimac River in Fenton, Missouri in 1898, she was 52 feet (15.8 m) long, small for a towboat. Construction of the 9-ton Corey was typical of the period: no plans, on-the job innovations, cost cuttings, and jury-rigged construction techniques. The upper “Texas cabin” was added during the refit in 1907.

Mrytle Corey operated principally on the Mississippi River from Memphis down to Little Rock and up the Arkansas River. Boats of this type made regular stops at river towns and were a primary mode of commerce in the southcentral USA during the turn of the 20th century. Towboats of that era were typically propelled by a wood-fueled, steam-driven, aft paddle wheel that permitted shallow-draft navigation on constantly changing and unpredictable rivers. The Myrtle Corey operated as a merchant ship until 1906. She spent her remaining days as a houseboat, staving off an ignominious demise as firewood or as a rotting hulk lying on the river bottom. Photo is of the actual Cory from the Fenton Historical Society website.

The Myrtle Corey is a kit by Dumas Products that I purchased on September 12, 2021. Actually, I had been considering the Corey for some time. I love the look of this funky boat, the paddle-wheel propulsion, and the opportunities it offers to incorporate some personal touches. This will be the fifth kit I have assembled from Dumas.

Dumas kits I have built before had all the wood thrown together in the box in an unorganized jumble, and the Corey was no exception. Some people complain about this, but I do not find it a big hassle. So, the first thing I did was gather all like strips of wood or plastic together and secured them with a rubber band or tie strip. It's all part of the build process. This prior organization will make it much easier to find a part later. The wood strips are mainly basswood (linden) and mahogany, and there seem to be plenty of them.

The hull, cabin roofs, and certain boiler parts are made of vacuum-formed styrene plastic and were packaged separately from the rest of the kit. The plastic hull will eliminate the need to form a hull by planking or double planking over bulkheads, a real saving in time, if not building satisfaction.
The Cory came with a booklet of numbered written instructions and a coordinated booklet of detailed illustrations. There is little need for guesswork with this model. The company has come a long way in this regard. During construction of the first Dumas boat I built during 2010-13—The Lord Nelson Victory Tug—I did lots of head scratching because the instructions were not entirely clear.

The kit also came with a 30 x 48 sheet of plans for the completed Corey. Because this is a large boat, they were reduced to ¾ size. During the build of previous kits I referred to these plans frequently. I assume I will do so with the Corey, also.

The Corey is 1/20 scale or G scale in model railroad parlance. The boat is 38 inches (96.5 cm) long with a beam of 8 ¼ inches (21 cm).

I began this project on Sept. 22, 2021. I built the plastic stand before anything else, a no-brainer. The first step in the actual build was to cut the plastic flange from the rim of the hull. I first marked along the cut line with a Sharpie and then trimmed with a tin snips. I evened the edges and eliminated any irregularities with an 80-grit sanding bar. Then I glued with medium cyanoacrylate (CA) the ¼-inch square wood supports for the subdeck, followed by the reinforcing subdeck on the supports. I also glued the keel onto the bow.

Next the entire subdeck was planked with 1/8 x 1/2-inch basswood (linden). I glued the planks with medium CA. Because only the foredeck will be visible, the aft deck hidden beneath the cabin, I used the equivalent of 8-foot planks (4-7/8 inches) on the foredeck, in a staggered pattern. Planks of this dimension would have been readily available in the late 1800s. Longer planks were heavy, hard to work with, and hard to get.

How to finish the planked deck? My guess is that the deck could have been oak, although it could have been any number of hardwoods readily available in the Mississippi watershed. Most of these woods are darker than basswood. I had several cans of stain on the shelf, and after a trial, Minwax “Early American” looked best. After a final sanding with 400 grit, I pretreated the basswood with Minwax Pre-Stain Conditioner so the wood absorbed the stain more evenly. I slopped some CA on a few boards on the mid-deck that penetrated the wood and did not allow the stain to take. But no worry because this portion of the deck will be hidden beneath the boiler.

I completed the basic deck by adding the edge planks, side trim, and head and stern logs, the latter with three rudder tubes installed. After staining them I also glued down the two towing knees and bitt. The two paddlewheel beams were painted “flat steel” because they might have been made from metal for strength and to prevent rot on the actual boat. The topside wood was finished by applying two coats of Minwax Satin Spar Varnish.

I painted the hull below the deck with Mission Models flat black acryl using a Iwata airbrush. Before painting I had added the three skegs to the aft bottom of the hull behind the rudder tubes. The basic hull is now complete.

I decided to make the paddlewheel next. Step one is to glue together the three diecut parts of the wheel frame…times two. The Instructions said not to use epoxy, but I used the 30-minute variety anyway. That gave me sufficient time to correctly align the three parts and clamp them together. But because the veneer that each diecut frame part was cut from had a “set” or warp to it, when assembled and glued wheels also were warped. I tried alternating the warp of the two frame parts during assembly but then the parts would not line up correctly. So, I soaked each assembled frame in water overnight and then straightened them to eliminate the warp.

The paddlewheel was assembled on its steel shaft by attaching the 16 feathers to the two frames. The resultant structure was fairly rigid. The shaft was removed for painting. It is now mid-October so while the weather remained reasonably warm, I painted the paddlewheel assembly outside with spray can Krylon “banner red.” (Spray cans produce a terrible odor indoors.) I am not sure this is a historic color, although it will give the boat a snappy look. Most completed models that I have seen have red paddlewheels.

The basic aft cabin wall was die-cut PVC, while the attached tiller casing was constructed from PVC and plywood. Both were planked with 3/8-inch mahogany and finished with two coats of spar varnish. The tiller casing was not permanently attached to the cabin wall. Rather, as recommended in the directions, it was detachable with a crank assembly made from scrap wood and a screw to secure it in place.

I airbrushed the inner wall of the aft interior wll withModel Master interior green. I had an almost full bottle it on the shelf, so I used it. Because of spillage I ran out of the interior green before I could get to the sidewalls. So, no chance to match the color because Model Master paints are no longer available.

Because it will be visible at the top rear of the main cabin when the boat is assembled, I paneled the top of the rear sidewall with some scrap African walnut strips left over from a previous kit and finished it with two coats of Minwax Polycrylic.

Preparing the 16 windows and two doors was a long process. Each window (save 4) had to be first bordered with 1/8 x 1/16 basswood plus other trim, which took some time. The windows were airbrushed gloss white, and squares of clear plastic were glued to the inner surface. The two doors to the Texas (upper) cabin were brush painted flat earth. All in preparation for construction of the main and Texas cabins and the pilot house.

Planking the 21-inch-long cabin sidewalls, each with ca. 56, 3/8-inch mahogany strips was a process that took several weeks off and on. Each plank had to be cut to fit, then the long edges sanded to give a rounded, “rustic” effect. Each plank was clamped for a minimum of 5 minutes because CA does not set immediately on a hard wood like mahogany. After two coats of spar varnish the sidewall exteriors were ready to proceed to the next step. The interior side walls of the main cabin were painted Tamiya cockpit green acrylic, a sightly different shade than the interior green of the aft sidewall. But being the interior, it doesn’t matter much. I installed windows on the exterior walls, and they are now ready to mount on the hull.

I assembled the main cabin on the hull by gluing with medium CA the rear, left, and right sidewalls. Then the ceiling rafter supports for the roof were installed. The aft part of the roof is removeable for access to the mechanical and electronic innards, so it was important that the aft frame structure not be glued to the side walls.

I cut out the styrene cabin roof, cleaned the edges up, and glued it to the rear (detachable) part of the cabin frame. I cut the roof in two at the fore end of the frame. The front part of the roof will be permanently attached to the cabin frame after the boiler is built and mounted. I decided to plank the cabin roof with leftover mahogany, then paint it. Unfortunately, I ran out of 3/8-inch mahogany after planking the aft deck and had to use 1/2-inch stock for the fore deck. However, the paint should cover up this discrepancy. I added the mahogany upper side trim (soffit) and the four forward roof supports to the main cabin. It is now complete, sans the roof.


Constructing the pilot house was a complicated project. It is built around a 1/4-inch square frame, with layers of PVC and then mahogany planking. The floor is planked with 1/2-inch-wide basswood and the roof with 3/8 basswood. The side windows slide open and close, an extra complication. The exterior mahogany paneling and the flooring were finished with two coats of polycrylic. The roof was painted signal red to add a bit of color. Adding the helm and name plates completed the basic pilot house.

I like to add some details to the interior of the pilot house/ cabin/cockpit of boats that I build. The Cory was a small turn-of-the-century river towboat and the pilot house interior would not have been complex. I found photos on the internet of pilot house interiors that were helpful. I added a throttle lever, a pull for the steam whistle, a rotation handle for the spotlight, a stool for the captain plus the captain himself, a clock, and a chair for visitors.

The last construction sub-project is building the boiler. I began by bending the piping from 3/32 brass rod, which also included some soldering, gluing, and the tedious job of wrapping the pipe with 1/32 wide strips of masking tape to simulate joints. I also had to cut and drill some wood dowels for the tanks. All in preparation for putting the body of the boiler together. Four of the five piping parts shown.
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Aug 16, 2020

Haslett, Michigan
Progress on Corey has been slow. I have a bunch of painting to do--rudders, roofs, and stacks--which I plan to do with spray can enamels. The horrible odor of those paints mean that it has to be done outside. I have been waiting for the weather to warm, but that has been a slow process. Today, for example, temperatures have been in the 30s and it has snowed all day, so there you go! I have all the electronics and running gear assembled, so I have decided to begin putting that together. I have a desire to do real steam power, by have not yet decided what way I will go. A steam engine and boiler will be expensive (Saito makes one that would be perfect) but it sure would be fun.
Oct 7, 2021

Toronto Canada
Yes the weather has been up and down. We had some warm spring days and yesterday it was snowing and it's cold again.
I have a few projects ahead of me - another tram from Occre and I also decided to scratch build a caboose. But my eye is on another RC boat project. Having window-shopped around, I actually thought the Myrtle Corey might also be a good choice. The added advantage is that I can benefit from your experience! My hope is that in the next few weeks I will be able to launch my Ulisses in a local pond..