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Advanced level English 

Steaming on the River

The story of the Mississippi's paddleboats 

One of a series of texts about the Mississippi

WITH AUDIO. : Click to open/close audio player then hit the ► play button


Mississippi stern wheeler      Along with the Statue of Liberty and the skyscraper, the Mississippi steamboat or "paddlewheeler" is one of the classic symbols of the United States.
    The great riverboats, with their tall chimneys and rotating rear paddles, were unlike any other boats anywhere else in the world, when they first appeared on the great river.
    It was not really surprising, of course; Europe did not have any rivers like the Mississippi, and boats have always been designed in function of the conditions in which they were to be used.
    Slow-moving and often shallow, particularly in summer, the Mississippi required boats that more or less sat on the water, rather than in it. The flat-bottomed stern-wheelers did just that, drawing only a few feet of water, in spite of their large size. Even the stern wheel was a result of the river's shallowness. Boats needed plenty of power to go upstream, but traditional side paddles would have had to go too deep; great wide stern wheels provided maximum thrust at minimum depth.
    The first steam boat appeared on the Mississippi in 1811; by 1850, thousands of steamboats were chugging up and down the river, carrying people between the riverside communities, cotton from the plantations, and other agricultural produce.
    Competition was intense and ruthless, as ship owners and masters competed for lucrative trade. In the mid 19th century, there were over 10,000 paddlewheelers on the Mississippi and its tributaries. Boats raced each other, and were often pushed to their limits.... and even beyond! The average length of life of a Mississippi steamboat was just 18 months.... but the cost of a boat could be paid for in two round trips with a full load of passengers and cargo!
    Navigation on the river was (and still is) frequently dangerous. Mudbanks and sandbanks could shift rapidly, and water levels rise and fall. In many places, pilots were necessary to guide boats past difficult sections.
    All kinds of boats could be seen on the river. The great passenger boats of the 19th century were magnificently decorated, like floating palaces with all the luxuries that first-class passengers could wish for; but other more ordinary boats carried a mix of passengers and cargo.
    There were the legendary "Showboats" too, floating cabarets, music halls and theatres that would bring entertainment to the towns and cities along the river and its tributaries.
    Today there are few paddlewheelers left on the Mississippi; and those that remain are for tourists. Nevertheless, one of them, the American Queen, is the largest stern-wheeler ever built. Launched in 1995, it has seven decks, a crew of 160, and a capacity for over 400 passengers.
    With two other large boats, the Mississippi Queen and the Delta Queen (the latter built in 1926), the American Queen now carries tourists up and down the river between New Orleans and St. Louis.




WORDS:

paddles: the wheels that  make the boat move- shallow: the opposite of deep - drawing: needing - stern: the back end of a ship - thrust: push, force - ruthless: determined, insensitive - lucrative: profitable - tributary: a secondary river - entertainment: amusements, shows .




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Copyright ©  Linguapress.
First published in 1999 in Spectrum magazine.
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Copying permitted for personal study, or by teachers for use with their students


 

Interactive WORKSHEET

Steaming on the river

 Read or listen to the article, and find the opposites of the following words:

a) front (two words) 
b) similar to 
c) deep 
d) shallowness 
e) compassionate 
 f) shortness. 
g) one way journey. 
h) safe

Question forming.  Make up five questions to which this article provides the answers, using the prompt words given

1. Why ..... necessary ......

2. How many .......

3. Was it easy .......

4. Why did showboats .....

5. Did ...... only ......




Ideas for teachers :

Using this item in class :

We suggest taking this article in conjunction with other related articles about the Mississipi and its culture. Mighty Mississippi, Mississippi music , the Story of the Blues, and Mardi Gras in New Orleans. See also the article on the assassination of Martin Luther King, which took place in Memphis.

Anticipating or memory exercise
After your students are familiar with this text, use the audio recording for an anticipating  / memory exercise. Play the recording through bit by bit, stopping at each mark, and encouraging students to finish the sentence orally for you.

Along with the Statue of Liberty and the skyscraper, the Mississippi steamboat or "paddlewheeler" is one of the classic symbols of the United States.
    The great riverboats, with their tall chimneys and rotating rear paddles, were unlike any other boats anywhere else in the world, when they first appeared on the great river.
    It was not really surprising, of course; Europe did not have any rivers  like the Mississippi, and boats have always been designed in function of the conditions  in which they were to be used.
    Slow-moving and often shallow, particularly in summer, the Mississippi required boats that more or less sat on the water, rather than in it. The flat-bottomed stern-wheelers did just that, drawing only a few feet of water, in spite of their large size. Even the stern wheel was a result of the river's shallowness. Boats needed plenty of power to go upstream, but traditional side paddles would have had to go too deep; great wide stern wheels provided maximum thrust at minimum depth.
    The first steam boat appeared on the Mississippi in 1811; by 1850, thousands of steamboats were chugging up and down the river, carrying people between the riverside communities, cotton from the plantations, and other agricultural produce.
    Competition was intense and ruthless, as ship owners and masters competed  for lucrative trade. In the mid 19th century, there were over 10,000 paddlewheelers on the Mississippi and its tributaries. Boats raced each other, and were often pushed to their limits.... and even beyond! The average length of life of a Mississippi steamboat was just 18 months.... but the cost of a boat could be paid for  in two round trips with a full load of passengers and cargo!





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Advanced level English resource

Level - Advanced
CEFR  LEVEL :  C1
IELTS Level :  6.5 - 8
Flesch-Kincaid  scores
Reading ease level:
58.4 - Fairly difficult
 
Grade level: 10
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The short story of English







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First published in Spectrum, the advanced level English newsmagazine.
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