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Rumsey Regatta steams back into history

August 01, 1999|By DAN KULIN /Staff Writer

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - With a wave of a tricorn hat from the crew, the hundreds of people gathered on the banks of the Potomac River applauded the successful demonstration of the Rumseian Experiment.

Probably much like the original, the replica of one of the first steamboats had trouble getting started Saturday afternoon.

But after several minutes, the 900-pound, 1.5 horsepower steam engine was up and running. It pushed the 24-foot boat and its nine passengers around the river and under the bridge named for James Rumsey, whose invention is being celebrated this weekend in Shepherdstown.

The Rumseian Experiment is a half-sized replica of the boat Rumsey demonstrated in 1787 on the Potomac.

Although Rumsey's demonstration was 20 years before Robert Fulton gained fame with his own steamboat, Fulton is widely credited with the invention.

The replica boat sounded like slow, rhythmic beats on a drum, as the engine pumped the river water up from holes in the keel and pushed it out the stern.

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At peak efficiency the engine pumped out eight gallons every two seconds, according to Jay Hurle, a Shepherdstown resident and Rumseian Society member who helped build the replica.

"Rumsey kind of got brushed over in history," said Hurle, who also rode on the steamboat for the demonstration.

Hurle said he hopes the event, which continues today and includes another steamboat demonstration at 2 p.m., will teach people about who Rumsey was and what he did.

"It's been a real education. I didn't know of Rumsey," said Barbara Hood, of Falls Church, Va. "Here we find out once again that the guy who gets all the credit isn't necessarily the guy who invented it."

"It was good," said 8-year-old Matthew Jardelegn.

"I had a choice, either stay home and be bored or come here with them," said Matthew, who came to watch the demonstration with his uncle Robert Jones of Parkton, Md., in Baltimore County.

"It was fantastic," Jones said. "It's living history."

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