Many different forms of boats used the Chippewa as means of transportation. Steamboats traveled up and down the river from Dunnville to as far south as Reeds Landing , at the mouth of the Chippewa River. The steamboats could not travel north of Dunnville because of the shutes located just north of the community unless the river was high.
Steamboats on the Chippewa were constucted differently from those used on the deeper Mississippi.
Steamboats that traveled on the Mississippi, such as the Delta Queen pictured above, were larger with deeper bottoms. The water on the Chippewa was shallower and more spread out in some areas so ships were constucted with flatter bottoms that didn't draw as much water.
Captain Phil Scheckel is one of the most well known steam boat operators from the area. He built his first steamboat, "Golden Start" in 1862 and sold it to E.E. Heerman, another well-known steamboat line operator. In 1880 he built the "Phil Scheckel". The Phil Scheckel was not just a boat, it was an institution. Many stories and legends were built around it.
The Phil Scheckel docked at Durand in 1897.
Captain Scheckel's steamer carried mostly freight and log drive men upstream and then towed rafts full of lumber downsteam to the mouth of the Chippewa and on to the Mississippi where they were towed somewhere else. There were also passengers on some of the trips. Captain Scheckel had made some trips as far as Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls, but the river was not always navigable to those points. Sandbars were the biggest obstacle preventing steamboats from going that far up river so wing dams were extended out into the water at various places to create one deep channel for the steamboats. Scheckel was the first user of what he called the "jimmy pole" in 1861 which were used to help the steamers off sandbars. The poles were driven into the sand and the steamer was able to pull itself off.
Captain Phil Scheckel was the oldest and best known pilot to ever put his hands on the wheel of a Chippewa river steamboat. With his long experience and careful attention to business, Scheckel was one of the best pilots on the river. No man on the Chippewa River understood its navigation better than Scheckel as the channel is obstructed by numerous sand bars which were constantly changing and creating the need for great care to successfully navigate the steamboats in low water.
Phil Scheckel captained a steamboat on the Chippewa from 1855 to 1896. His forty-three years of service on the river were more than anyone else, according to records. The coming of the railway replaced the steamers in a hurry. E.E. Heerman was one of the first to recognize this and moved his interest to Missouri and points west in the 1880s and a number of other steamboats disappeared from the Chippewa River. It was a 13-hour ride upstream on the steamers and it took only three hours by rail. Today little evidence of the steamboat era remains. One item is the anchor from the "Phil Scheckel," which is located in Laura Ingalls Wilder Park at Pepin.
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