The Aberdeen

The stern wheeler, the Aberdeen, was launched at the Hilyard Yard in Saint John in the spring of 1894. She was built by Richard Retallick and was a staunch, 137-ton steamer. She was 140 feet in length with a 22-foot long beam, and her depth of hold was 4 feet.

That same year, she began service of three trips a week between Fredericton and Woodstock under the command of Thomas Duncan, with Lance Lockwood her pilot, and John Johnston the engineer. Her crew included three female members. who looked after the cooking and the running of the dining room. Most of the crew labored for a dollar a day, in addition to sleeping quarters and board.

The Aberdeen left Fredericton each Tuesday and Saturday at six in the morning, having made connection with the Indiantown steamboats the previous day. About 18 stops would be made before reaching Woodstock. In addition to

passengers, a variety of cargo was carried. Consignments for the trip upriver included farming equipment and such staples as flour and molasses. The freight rate on a hogshead of molasses was 25 cents, and at times as many as 50 barrels might be carried on a run. With the need to maintain her schedule, the deckhands of the Aberdeen were kept busy between the frequent stops, getting freight ready for unloading at the next wharf on hand trucks and moved to the gangway.

Significant was her long, raking stem. This peculiarly shaped bow, together with her shallow draft, allowed the Aberdeen to nose into shore almost any place to make stops. When the boat hit the riverbank, the bow rose out of the water until it had a firm hold of the bank. A gang plank run out from her overhanging deck was all that was necessary to allow passengers and crew to make a dry transit.

Gang planks with handrails for passengers were seldom used anywhere on the river, except at Saint John and Fredericton, and sometimes for picnics and excursions at places such as Crystal Beach. At stops along the river, three or more gang planks were commonly used to bridge the gap between the deck and the wharf. These were 10, or preferably 12, inches wide, three inches thick, and about 14 feet long, depending to some extent on the size of the steamer.

On the upper river, there was a specific method used in floating free a steamboat that had been nosed into a riverbank to make a stop. The stern wheel would be put in reverse, forcing some water under and along the sides of the steamboat, providing additional buoyancy. While this took place, the rudders were maneuvered from side to side, causing the stern to swing back and forth, thus loosening the bow.

In 1902, the Aberdeen made the earliest trip of the season on record when she sailed from Woodstock on April 3. Each year, when the water became too low, she served as a supply vessel on other runs. When exactly to transfer her from the upriver run was an important question. Over the years, a system had been worked out to supply that answer. When the water was falling fast in the late spring, it was a dangerous undertaking to navigate this part of the river. So, once the water dropped to a certain point on a water mark that had been set in Woodstock, it was a sign to get downriver and over the river bars as fast as possible. Yet, steamers were sometimes caught above the bars because of fast dropping water, with that at Bear Island giving the most trouble. On these occasions a captain would head his boat for the bar and just before striking, he would call for the engine to be reversed. This caused the stern wheel to pile up the water around the boat, allowing her to pass over the bar safely.

When the water barred her from the Woodstock run, the Aberdeen operated on a regular schedule from Fredericton to Gagetown. She also found additional revenue from carrying picnic parties, one of which numbered 500 people. Then too there were the moonlight excursions that she offered, particularly on the upper river. Many of the young gallants of Woodstock would take their best girls aboard on a Saturday night for a cruise under the stars to Meductic.

The Aberdeen continued to serve that stretch of the upper river until 1906. While she had successfully contended with droughts and freshets, she finally lost out to the railroad for freight and passenger business, she was sold that season to Captain G.H. Perry for $4000. The next year, she plied the St. John and Washademoak to Coles Island, in opposition to the Crystal Stream, but then burned to the waterline at Coles Island on June 17, 1908. With her passing, regular steam service ceased on the river above Fredericton.