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2000 Miles on the Ohio/Mississippi

$4,362 of $5,000 goal

Raised by 25 people in 3 months
Hi, I’m Dallas Trombley. I’m 33 years old and live in Albany, New York. I’m the author of two books, Coming of Age on the Hudson, a novel in two volumes about my five-year attempt to build green-energy boats and travel the Hudson River from Albany to Manhattan, and Siren Song, a novella about traveling to New Orleans by train, and why it led me to quit my career at the New York Legislature to focus on writing. I taught myself about alternative energy to power my Hudson boats. I’ve also canoed the entire Hudson, the Champlain Canal, and 250 miles of the Delaware River.

Since I was 21 years old, I've wanted to raft the Mississippi River, and write a book about the towns along the way, the architecture, the food, the music. Over the last twelve years, as I've studied history, worked in politics, and traveled, my interest in the life-cycles of small communities has grown. I want my new book to be more than an adventure or coming of age story. I want it to be an anatomy of the small towns along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, and what they are doing either to thrive or to fade. 

To make the trip, I have been building a 20-foot "barge" which floats on 2 custom-made pontoons and a center hull, with a water-line deck and a cabin for supplies. The design is an improvement on the boat pictured below, which I built in 2009. 

"Assiduity", Hudson River, 2009
I've got my experience of building boats on the Hudson, and about $10,000 worth of equipment that I've acquired over the years, like windmills for generating power, electric and gas motors, the safety equipment required for river navigation, lights, anchors, line, etc. The boat will be fully constructed by mid June, using money I've saved. However, I will then need to take the boat apart and transport it to Pittsburgh from Albany, and then spend 2 to 3 months on board, with a partner, traveling the length of the river. I'm raising the money on Kickstarter to cover the transportation costs and the docking, fuel and food costs down the rivers.

At the same time that I will be creating a free online "guide" to the towns along the Ohio and Mississippi, I will be accumulating interviews with local officials, marina and restaurant owners, academics, and regular people, to find out what each town is doing, or how people feel that each town is doing. Traveling by homemade barge will present me with a unique opportunity to gain access to all of the small towns on the 2,000 mile trek through the middle of the country, because my boat provides my living quarters, generates its own power, moves slowly, and does not require commercial or public facilities to dock. 

The trip down the Ohio and Mississippi will function as a three-month research project. The book will outline the adventure in a geographical and historical sense (constituting the narrative component or "story"), while also comparing the infrastructure, regulations, and culture of the towns to create a kind of policy paper that describes what any river town might implement to attract commerce and recreation. 

The book will incorporate my previous research on the upper Hudson River and Erie Canal, including my Master's Degree research in American Political and Economic History and interviews with businesses owners and public officials along the Hudson.  

You can follow the narrative of the construction (and, eventually, my trips down the Ohio and Mississippi) on my blog, DallasTrombley.com. 

You can see lots of pictures of the boat under construction, and my previous rafts, on my Instagram, @americanrafter. 
Risks and challenges
Challenge 1: Designing a boat to travel the Ohio and Mississippi.

Because the goal of the trip is to study the towns and cultures along the Ohio and Mississippi, and to compare them and abstract lessons, I've had to design a boat that I can live off of for several months, which will not bankrupt my budget due to fuel and docking considerations, which are the biggest cost drivers of long-distance boating. I knew a barge-shaped houseboat would give me the most space, and pontoons (as opposed to barrels or a displacement hull) would provide the best hydrodynamic interface with the water. I built the pontoons from 55 gallon drums fiberglassed together with pointed tips. For power I am using my two 1 Kw windmills to run navigation lights, computers, and port and starboard electric motors for steering. The boat also interfaces with my small powerboat, which has a 50 hp engine. As a tug pushes a barge, I can push my houseboat slowly (up to 4 mph) to steer her around bends in the rivers and keep out of the way of commercial traffic; or I can separate the motor boat from the barge and travel at 35 mph with the motor boat, while the barge maintains limited mobility from the two electric motors and a 4.5 hp outboard. The detachability of the two parts will allow me much greater access to towns with varying riverfront facilities.

Challenge 2. Transporting the boat to Pittsburgh.

I've been testing the boat on the Hudson River, where I am building it at a small island south of Albany. However, there are no water routes from the Hudson to Pittsburgh (at least, not any that would not add thousands of miles to my trip). So I designed the boat such that it can be disassembled into manageable pieces, transported via truck overland to the Allegheny River, and reassembled above Pittsburgh.

I designed the boat so that the largest individual pieces can be stacked inside a Uhaul, slid between the wheel-wells of a standard pickup truck, or, in the case of the pontoons, lashed to the roof of a vehicle like a canoe. The overland transportation component of this trip is the part I find most stressful. It is also a significant cost-driver. However, if I had not designed the boat to be de-constructible, I would have had to acquire special load permits and meet other legal requirements which would have added to the cost.

I've made the best of a tough situation by reaching out to an organization for the betterment of the Allegheny River, who will help me to launch my boat above Pittsburgh. They will also be the first organization I will talk to about riverfront commerce/community access to waterfronts on my 2,000 mile trip.

Challenge 3. Safety/Legal Requirements

I had to include an outboard motor on my boat, in order to avoid drifting into the path of commercial traffic. Once a boat has a motor onboard, it must be registered, and registered vessels over 15 feet must stow certain safety equipment. I have that equipment from my previous boating trips. I've also obtained the navigation charts of the Allegheny and Ohio Rivers. I will be joined in my trip by my boat-mate (current coworker) Sam--having a second person aboard is always a wise choice, and some of the locks require a second person to use the lock. I will have to purchase a VHF radio for communicating with marinas, locks and other boaters, per coast guard regulations.

Challenge 4. Getting access to the towns.

The purpose of the book is to explore as many towns as possible along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. To do so I must get off the boat and travel into such towns. However, docking fees are often very expensive, while other towns do not have docking facilities at all. I plan to deal with that problem in several ways:

a) The speedboat "tug" portion of the boat, which normally pushes the "barge" living quarters, can be detached. Sam, my quartermaster, can stay on the barge while it is anchored, and I can take the shorter speedboat to a dock, where I would pay less money per foot, because the speedboat is 15 feet, while the barge is 20.

b) Sam can stay with the barge while I canoe to shore if there are no docking facilities. A canoe can be beached on rocks or more easily carried onto shore and chained than a motor boat.

c) Sam and I plan to spend an hour a day reaching out to organizations, public officials, restaurant-owners, etc downstream, explaining our project and requesting the use of riverside facilities (either marinas, public parks or private residences) for free or in exchange for physical labor and/or advertising on my blog.

Challenge 5. Funding.

I've invested more than $2,000 into building the boat so far this year, and expect to put in another $1,500 before I finish it. (I am a waiter by trade, so the size of the boat was limited by my budget). Additionally, the boat contains approximately $10,000 in equipment which I've gathered over years of boating (motors, batteries, windmills, anchors, inverters, pumps, etc). I am hoping to raise $7,000 from Kickstarter in order to cover the cost of transporting the boat to Pittsburgh and for food, fuel and exploring the towns. As an author with previously self-published books, I hope to sell some books along the way to supplement that amount. After the fees associated with Kickstarter I will have $6,300. It will cost approximately $1,000 to transport the boat to Pittsburgh, leaving me with $5,300 for the purchase of final equipment and the food, fuel, and docking fees for two people for a three-month exploratory journey. It is a minimal amount to allow me to do the trip and write the book, but I will have to be very selective about where I visit. The more money I can raise, the more places I can visit and the more deeply I can visit them.
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$4,362 of $5,000 goal

Raised by 25 people in 3 months
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