The Dredge William H. Black is a decommissioned side-wheeler steamboat, built and operated by the US Army Corps of Engineers. It is now permanently moored in the Ice Harbor in Dubuque, one of the last steamboats constructed before the advent of diesel power, making it a last link to the colorful era of steam-powered navigation on United States rivers.
The 277 foot long vessel was constructed by the Marietta Manufacturing Company in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, contracted by the Corp of Engineers. It was built in 1934, one of the last steam-powered side-wheelers constructed. The smokestacks bear the Corps of Engineers indicia.
The paddle wheels weigh 32 tons each and are 25 feet in diameter. They are driven by two reciprocating steam engines while the dredge mechanism is driven by a 1300 horsepower triple expansion steam engine.
The Black is a dustpan dredge. It acts like a large vacuum cleaner, loosening silt with high powered water jets, the silt is then pumped up to a jettison pipe that deposits the silt to side, away from the navigation channel. Modern dredges are diesel powered and perform the same function the same way the Black did in its heyday, albeit the modern ships being much more efficient.
The Black's massive power is what doomed the ship. Using up to 7,000 gallons of oil per work day, the vessel became too expensive to operate and was retired in 1973. The black kept navigation lanes open on the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, and tributaries that still carry millions of tons of freight each year.
Although the William H. Black is retired from service, today it is a museum that is open for tours, and even serves as a bed and breakfast.