Conestoga is constructed with commonly available materials
and equipment. Unusual lumber sizes and lengths were avoided;
for example, the rubrails are two-piece, with the oarlock
blocks acting as a splice. The transom is made from a 2x8
and a 2x10.
The boat is constructed of mostly 3/8” exterior-grade
plywood, with 1/2” used for seats and decking, and 1x
lumber for the bow, transom, and forward mast step/butt block.
1x1 battens are used for framing, as well as stringers that
reinforce the sides. The design started out having a 4’
beam – it made the plywood calculations easier, but
the sleeping arrangements awkward. A little plywood waste
was traded off for a hull the width of a double bed. The bottom
is spliced longitudinally with a 2x4 keel. The stringers that
run parallel to it are to be cut to match the 2x4’s
height, so as not to bow the bottom during beaching or trailering.
One specific use designated
for some of the leftover 1/2 “ ply is a supply wagon.
I would regard this as somewhat of a necessity, as food and
fuel is not always located immediately adjacent to the river.
Another use for leftover ply would be for a hatch for the compartment
under the aft seat.
The exact placement of the oarlock blocks, as well as the
length of the oars and size of their blades (cut from scrap
3/8 ply) can be determined by the builder based on his size
and individual preference.
The rigging should be installed so that it can be set up
quickly, but taken down when not in use, so as not to “clothesline”
the occupants. Hey! There’s another use for the rigging!
The tent and masts could easily be modified if one desires
Conestoga is powered by a gasoline-electric drive system.
The 3.5 HP Briggs and Stratton engine is a type commonly found
on lawn edgers. The alternator is a regular 3-wire 60 amp
Delco-Remy such as would be found on a ‘70’s vintage
Chevrolet. The trolling motor is a Minn Kota 40lb. thrust
model which is sold at WalMart, and features a composite shaft
that is more likely to survive hitting something.
The engine drives the alternator, which charges the battery.
Then the trolling motor runs off the battery. The trolling
motor pulls a maximum of 40 amps, and the alternator has a
maximum output of 60 amps, so it would appear the alternator
could power the trolling motor by itself. However, as in a
car, the battery must be present to energize the alternator’s
field windings. It also acts as an accumulator and allows
the motor to be run intermittently to afford more fuel savings.
In actual use, the operator could figure out the optimum engine
run time and RPM’s to maximize mileage.
The switch between the battery and the #1 terminal on the
alternator is not optional! This allows the engine to be started
and warmed up before introducing the load of generating electricity.
It also allows the circuit between the field and the battery
to be broken so as not to drain the battery when the engine
is not being run. Use an illuminated switch or an indicator
light so you won’t forget to turn the switch off when
the engine is off.
This powerplant allows the boat to have an electrical system.
The auxiliary outlet can be used to charge flashlights, cell
phones, etc., and provides power for required boat lights
and horn. No need to bring along a case of D-cells.
Scrounging could save quite
a bit here. A used engine that needed a little work could be
found cheaply, and the alternator, horn, and voltmeter could
probably be found at a junkyard. Keep in mind, however, how
far you will be from any help at times, especially on the initial
leg in Montana.
This budget is based on a worst-case
scenario. With a few exceptions, building supplies and equipment
are full retail price, fuel and fees are higher than actually
anticipated, and the food is a bit conservative, though adequate.
would include any hardware necessary to integrate the powerplant
components into a generating system.
The pump sprayer setup is your
shower when there isn’t one available. I think I got that
idea from Chuck.
“Portaging” is accomplished
by paying the marinas near each of the dams to trailer me around.
The marinas average about $50 for this service.
I budgeted to pay a camping fee
for one-third of the 90 days. Realistically, many of the less
developed campgrounds on the upper Missouri have no fee, and
in remote areas, as well as on sandbars on the Mississippi,
one could camp for free. Of course, tying up for the night and
sleeping on the boat would cost nothing.
The budget assumes doing laundry
once a week.
Fuel and Maintenance
Fuel burn is one of the biggest
unknowns. This is how I arrived at the figure.
The 3.5 HP B&S engine on
my lawn edger burns .5 GPH @ full throttle.
The current will supply 6-8 mph
of speed by itself, and will not be present on the lakes. An
average speed of 12.5 mph for 4 hours per day would allow you
to make the 3213 miles by traveling 5 days per week and camping
This works out to 25mpg, assuming
the engine is running at full throttle whenever the boat is
under way. That shouldn’t be even close to necessary,
as one would cruise on the battery part of the time. Careful
management will stretch the fuel mileage. Some gasoline from
this budget would be used in a dual-fuel stove for cooking (NEVER
to be used to cook in the boat! Bring a propane stove if you
plan to do that.).
Briggs and Stratton recommends
either synthetic or straight 30-weight oil because their engines
run hotter than an automotive engine. This engine will get a
lot of run time on the trip, and the oil isn’t that much
of an expense, anyway.
The maintenance budget assumes a 100 hour maintenance interval
for oil, filter, and spark plug changes.
This isn’t broken down
in detail. It’s all the non-food supplies for two adults
for 90 days.
This was what was left over in
the budget after everything else. An average of $26.38 per day
should be sufficient for two people cooking for themselves and
not being extravagant.
The entire trip would be do-able
on this budget. As savings show up, more “fun money”
will be available for hotels, souvenirs, and eating out. The
speed estimate was conservative so any extra distance covered
could be traded for cost savings by shortening the trip, of
more time spent at places of interest.
I live in McDonough, Georgia, and work as an aircraft mechanic for a major airline in Atlanta. Previously, I was a high school teacher. I presently have three boats, all of which I have built – one for me, and one for each of my children. Dinah, the lady who I contemplated as my partner while planning this river journey, has been my wife of 16 years, and we have two children. Rachel is 13 and Jonathan is 8. Both are proud to be the only boat owners in their class.