Steamboat 2011 Tell Your Story
Tell Us Your Story
Do you have interesting information to share about the Voyage of the New Orleans or Steamboat travel? Submit your story for posting to email@example.com
Even though my mother’s memory is a little too cloudy at this point to tell this in her own words, I will pass on what she has told me, a second-hand account. Mom will be 102 this month [October 2010], so she does indeed remember the steamboat era. She was born in 1908 and spent her childhood living near Columbus, KY on the Mississippi River. She particularly remembers the showboats…those made the biggest impression upon her. She has told me how they would “announce” themselves and what excitement they created. She said a boat could be heard long before it reached the town, as it arrived with the calliope at full throttle, colorfully festooned with flags and decorations. She said usually some young boy playing along the riverbank would hear or see the special boat approaching the town and he would become the town crier, “Steamboat a-comin’, steamboat a-comin’.” She said that would bring many people to the riverbank to watch the boat tie up and then as soon as they could, the townsfolk would buy tickets for the evening’s offering. She said the boats would have theater productions, music, comedians, dancers, etc.. This young girl was awestruck then and still smiles when recalling those days on the river.
~ Submitted by E.J. Abell of Pudukah, KY
The first steamboat recorded as being built in Metropolis was the Kennois, in 1854 by the firm of (Wm.) Farrow & Cunningham. Records are scarce between then and 1863 when Alfred Cutting and the Beaupre family moved to the area. Both men had been hired by the government to work on three of the five Ironclads that were being constructed in St. Louis. Mr. Cutting was in charge of the hulls, while Peter Beaupre was supervisor of the men. Both came here, with Peter’s brother, William in 1864. Cutting constructed enormous ways and yards east of Kimball’s bayou (then Massac City). He also opened up a lumber yard for his own use.
The Beaupre’s settled near Ben Kimball’s, and Peter, with Mr. Kimball, begin constructing steamboats below Kimball’s sawmill. This shipyard was owned by Metropolis City and leased out.
At the Massac City shipyard, the largest packet at that time was constructed------the steamer Mary Bell.
She was built in 1875 for the cotton trade on the lower Mississippi River. A description in our local newspaper for June 10th of that year states “The extreme length of Capt. Hick’s new boat is 325ft; breadth 56ft., with floors 50 ft.; depth of hold 11 ft.; add to this a sheer of six feet deck amidships fore and aft, and a guard of 18ft. wide All Around.” A later edition of the Metropolis Times, on Sept. 11th, states that “The Jim Fisk landed alongside the new Mary Bell yesterday, and the hurricane roof of the Fisk was just even with the lower deck of the Bell. Her deck is at present 14 ft. above the level of the water. Looking into her hold is like looking into a coal mine”.
And this large vessel took Cutting’s shipyard just over 90 days to complete.
Many other vessels were built at both the shipyards including tugs, towboats, barges, packet boats, screw ships, ferries, and even a life boat that Peter Beaupre patented and sold to companies for their larger watercrafts. His son still held this patent in 1928 when he passed away.
With the expansion of the railroad, and the beginning of the automobile age, the need for the large riverboats begins dying out. Both of the local shipyards eventually closed. The last ferry recorded as being built and operated here was by J.R. Helson and Capt. Clyde Randolph in 1925, the City of Metropolis.
Anyone who has questions concerning the Aug. 27th scan day, or the Nov. steamboat celebration can contact Ann Laird at 524-4120, or Robert Swenson at 967-3016. Arrangements can be also made to privately interview individuals at their convenience. Other information is also available on the Metropolis Tourism website at www.metropolistourism.com.
~ In an email from the Metropolis, IL Steamboat Committee
Oral History Collected aboard the Belle of Louisville on October 8, 2010
My name is Clyde James and I’m just telling a little story about riding the old IDLEWILD, which was the prior name of the Belle of Louisville back in the late thirties or real early forties prior to World War II. The King’s Daughter’s Circle from Madison would sponsor a shopping trip to Louisville and the IDLEWILD would pick passengers up early in the morning, on Saturday morning, and go to Louisville and all the folks would get off and go shopping and then sometime in the afternoon when they would head back to Madison, all the passengers would go back. But I can remember that as a small kid and all the old coal fired boilers down there and them stoking the coal down there and the fire and I just can’t hardly get over how much it has changed but how much it is still the same as far as the boat is concerned. But when I was a little kid I’d watch them stoke those boilers and I would think: “They’re going to burn this place down!” And it was really interesting. Then sometimes, the weather is beautiful today, but I’ve ridden when it wasn’t so pretty and the waves would break up over the bow and I was sure that it was going to sink. But little kids, when they are in their early years, before their teens, they dream a lot and have a lot of fun. It was a lot of fun and riding this trip back from Louisville is a pleasant memory.
What do you remember most from being on the belle during those shopping trips?
I don’t even remember going shopping; my mother enjoyed that. But I just remember going down to the lower deck and watching them fire the furnace. And the old flames firing out of that furnace and the smoke and it was just fantastic. That is probably my most vivid memory—them firing that furnace.
Can you describe them firing the furnace some?
It was two or three metal doors that would open and there would be two or three people down there and a big pile of coal on one side and they would take the big scoop shovels and throw that coal in there and when they got her up where they wanted they would slam the door shut and go to the next door and throw some more coal in and it was really something to see.
You mentioned that some things on the BELLE have changed and some things have stayed the same…
Well primarily. I don’t recall if it was all enclosed like it is now for one thing and of course back then I know that back then, they didn’t have air-conditioning. And of course the biggest change is the way they propel with the diesel now instead of the coal; and it’s so quiet instead of hearing the old steam blowing off and all that, but it’s just wonderful.
Do you remember anything about the BELLE in particular? What you heard about it or coming on it when you were little?
I don’t remember if there were other kids. My brother and I would stay together. There probably was other kids but I don’t remember that. For me that’s been sixty years ago.
What did you all do to entertain yourselves on the boat when you were coming down to Louisville?
We would walk around and look at things; just like I am doing right now! Just watch things; watch people and watch the boat. I love to watch the paddle wheel when it stirs the water up and turns the water.
How prevalent was the steamboat Industry and the IDLEWILD in the culture and community in Madison?
Well I can remember when we were a little bit older maybe, we would get an old john boat and go out on the river, and the Greene Lines—they had the CHRIS GREENE and the TOM GREENE, were the big old tow boats, and we would see those two boats coming up the river in our little old john boats and we would head back to shore because we knew the waves would sink us if we didn’t get to shore quick. And that was probably in the early forties or mid forties and I can remember that. But Madison was pretty much a shipping area. I can go back in the later years, I worked at Rotary Lift in the sixties and most of our pike was shipped in from the steel mills in Pittsburgh and Youngstown, Ohio and come down the river where we would unload the barge where they have the gazebo now and they are fixing it up—But it used to be an unloading facility. We would buy a four-hundred ton barge of steel every three months. Unload that steel and truck it up to Hanging Rock Hill, that’s where the New Hill Road, where you come up Old State Road Seven is. We would deliver is to Rotary Lift and that was probably in the mid-fifties.
Was it mostly steel that they were transporting?
That’s what we bought. Of course, when I was a kid, we heated with coal in the winter time and had an old coal stove and Tommy Thomas had the coal yard down there and all of that coal was unloaded. There was two coal companies actually, The Old Madison Coal Company and the Central Coal Company. And were the gazebo is now was the Central Coal Company. Tommy Thomas owned that, Stanley Thomas was the old man, but his boy, Tommy run it after that. They would unload the coal and load it into trucks; I think they even loaded it into railcars and shipped it north of here from Madison. It’s like somebody once said, Madison was a driving down and they built the railroad in and everybody left and went. It’s not really true but it’s a special story. The railroad was used quite a bit for hauling coal up the railroad to probably North Vernon and Columbus and areas north of here. But Madison was a pretty big shipping port at one time.
How has the dynamic of Madison changed since it’s no longer a big shipping port?
I don’t know if that was a big income thing but a lot of supplies came in. But of course with the modern trucks, back then a truck couldn’t haul what they do now. The rail line went down the tube basically and so now everything is handled by trucks. But the dynamics haven’t really changed that much. It used to be that the industry was downtown and now it’s up on the hill. But other than the move from downtown to up on the hill—it the same thing.
How has the river changed? Is it strange not seeing all the river traffic?
No, it’s always been a lot of recreational vehicles as much as anything. I still love to watch the barges go up, there is still an awful lot of river traffic going up and down, they just don’t stop at Madison. They do slow down sometimes and let a little skiff come off and they will load supplies in for their crew, I think they buy groceries and things like that. But they don’t actually stop and unload freight anymore. It’s still the good old Ohio River.
Do you have any stories about Hanover?
Not really because I lived over on the other side of town and went to Central High School and growing up hardly ever went to Hanover.
Oral History Collected aboard the Belle of Louisville on October 9, 2010
Mary Knight, Lee Ann Wallen, and Peggy Nichol
What stories do you guys have to tell me today?
Mary Knight: Well we have been river lovers for a lot of years. I think it all started, my sister (Peggy Nichols) and I grew up in Lebonworth, a little river town on the Ohio. Back in the sixties, we would go down under the hill when the DELTA QUEEN would be coming through, the word would spread and everyone would congregate down there and watch it lock through, Lock and Dam 44. So we fell in love with the DELTA QUEEN. We would think: “Oh someday we want to take a cruise on the DELTA QUEEN.” You know, it was a dream. Well then in 1981, Lee Ann and I, I met her in college, and we finally got to take our first trip on the DELTA QUEEN.
Lee Ann Wallen: Yeah we went from St. Louis to Cincinnati on a five night (M) Fall Foliage. (L) It cost us about $609 per person and boy did we love it. We didn’t get off the boat the whole time we were on the trip. And so when we finally did land in Cincinnati, we couldn’t hardly walk; we were dizzy. And the noise, the traffic, and the horns, and the silverware and dishes clashing in restaurants, for like 48 hours we probably could have been put in the hospital, we were so nervous. But that just started one of many trips.
Mary Knight: And it was really neat because it was on that trip, Captain Russell was the captain then and I got to go up in the pilot house for the first time ever of the DELTA QUEEN and watch the sunrise. And it was just like “Oh My!”
Lee Ann Wallen: Is that when you went up there and he saw you over his shoulder and said “would you get me a cup of coffee?”
Mary Knight: Oh that’s when the other captain came on duty and he said “Get me a cup of coffee.” And I said “Ok.”
Lee Ann Wallen: And he said “Oh, you’re not who I thought you were.”
Mary Knight: “You’re not my crew are you?” So that was a wonderful trip. We fell in love and wanted to do more. Well then the next year, we brought her (Peggy Nichol) on board. The NATCHEZ came to Louisville to be in the steamboat race with the DELTA QUEEN and the BELLE OF LOUISVILLE.
Lee Ann Wallen: It was 1982.
Mary Knight: 1982. And Peg and her husband Barry and our friends from Florida
Lee Ann Wallen: My husband, My Dad
Mary Knight: Your husband. Your dad. We just had a wonderful time. Paid $15 for tickets to cruise on the NATCHEZ during that steamboat race and we had a ball.
Peggy Nichol: And we won the race.
So what did you guys do on the boat?
Mary Knight: You really want us to tell you what we did on the boat?
Lee Ann Wallen: What happens on the boat stays on the boat.
Mary Knight: Right
Lee Ann Wallen: Let’s just say I won a floozy contest
Mary Knight: and I made it up to the pilot house again. I think I’ve been in the pilot house of every steamboat, including the BELLE and I am an Honorary Captain of the BELLE OF LOUISVILLE, was signed by Mitch McConnell
You need a badge for that!
Mary Knight: Well I got a big certificate with pictures on it.
Lee Ann Wallen: One little footnote to our first trip. You’ll check in your historical archives of musicians; Alice and Vick Tooker were great musicians. He played with the preservation band in New Orleans but anyway he was on the DELTA QUEEN on that trip we took and that was something to be on there with him and his music and we didn’t know his history till later. He was a great musician.
Mary Knight: We got to be friends and he gave us a bunch of his sheet music…
Lee Ann Wallen: and a few bloody marys
Mary Knight: and Irish coffee for breakfast.
Mary Knight: Peg and I took a trip on the AMERICAN QUEEN. But the BELLE OF LOUISVILLE has always been my favorite steamboat. I’ve always loved the BELLE OF LOUISVILLE the best of all the steamboats, and I’ve been on them all.
What are some of the iconic memories of the Belle of Louisville
Mary Knight: I used to live in Louisville when I was going to the University of Louisville and the calliope was on top of the boat and Travis Vos Konsellos was the calliopist and we became acquainted and I would come down in the evening and it would be a day just like this, the sun would just be shining – beautiful you know. We would go up and the calliope would be playing and we would look over the whole city. We did that several several times and we used to dream and talk about how Louisville needed a park, and we would stand up there and dream and make our thoughts about that. But one of the neatest trips that I ever had was to Madison, Indiana. They sold tickets and had passengers going to Madison but coming back it was just a few of us that were acquainted with the crew and we were able to find out that we could get a ticket to come back. And it was night time and it was just beautiful. The moon was out and everything and boy they were rolling it and the smoke was just rolling out of those stacks. It looked like something out of Mark Twain. You just can’t imagine it; you just had to be there. It was just wonderful. So I’ve been to Madison two or three times.
Lee Ann Wallen: How about the time, it was a Tall Stacks Excursion; the three of them were going down to Cincinnati. It was the BELLE and the DELTA QUEEN and anyway, the BELLE broke a bucket and we were late getting wherever and had to stay a long time and the next morning we were fogged in and couldn’t get out.
Mary Knight: yeah we stayed at Carrolton. They dropped us off at the Carrolton side and the band was there to meet us, the High school band and everything. It was just great and then we found this bed and breakfast and these people were just wonderful, took us everywhere, and brought us down to the boat the next morning to see us off.
Lee Ann Wallen: The high school band was there to greet us. And one of the neat things too about steaming on the upper Mississippi is all of the locks. There are like 22 or 23 and people will come out in the middle of the night. It will be three in the morning and the flood lights will be on and the bleachers will be full of people who have come out just to see the DELTA QUEEN o whatever queen lock through. And you can carry on a short conversation—People want to know where you’re from, and how far you’re going, and what you’ve been doing and is this your first trip. And you just carry on this big conversations. And my husband would toss half of the boat to them. He would do ashtrays and souvenirs and they finally made the law that you couldn’t throw anything anymore because he kept hitting people—so that’s his fault.
Mary Knight: yeah we’ve had some wonderful times.
Lee Ann Wallen: And one time I was on the DELTA QUEEN in Pine bluff, Arkansas and we were just starting back out and we got stuck in the sandbar and it was pretty precarious for awhile because we didn’t know what we were going to do and here come all of these tows—it was like bees to honey because they knew they were going to have a pay job. They were going to pull this boat off and make history. I am pretty sure that it was Captain Gabe Gary and he said “No, were not doing that. I’ll work it off...I’ll get it just give me time. If I have to use them to tow me or push me off, I’ll have three days of paperwork and we will never make port.” And so he did, he worked it off. But that mud and sand was coming up out from under that thing but he finally got her loose and said “Bye Bye boys!”
Mary Knight: I think that the neatest trip that I ever did on the BELLE was a short trip, and it was down here in Madison on the Kentucky River. And I had cruised down of the BELLE to Madison. For some reason, my friends couldn’t go that year, so I went by myself. And I went on that trip that night and I have never—it was incredible. You had to lean over to see the water. It looked like the boat was just being… There was no water on the sides. And the tree limbs would brush the top. And to the sides and stuff. And these people were sitting there fishing and all of a sudden, you could see the look on their face because this huge steamboat right in front of them. And then we got down there where you had to turn around. Well back then we had Captain C.W. Stoll and Captain Largen, both on those trips and boy they knew what they were doing. And they got it turned around but boy that was something. That was one of the neatest trips that I ever had—Just like you could reach out and touch those trees and stuff. And it was loaded, I mean, they were at full capacity as far as passengers.
The only other thing I really remember is the AMERICAN QUEEN and how it got stuck on its maiden voyage and how it got stuck on a sandbar in Troy, Indiana. And I was working, every day after work—it was an hour and a half drive and I would drive to Troy, Indiana, and sit there on the riverbank watch the progress. And I did this every day after work until they finally got her free. And we went back for the anniversary of that. They had the queen come back.
Lee Ann Wallen: It wasn’t the queen’s fault. The Corps had opened the dam and lowered the water level and didn’t notify her and she had choked a stump and so she had just pulled over and the next thing they knew, they had dropped the water out from under her and she wasn’t going anyplace.
Mary Knight: The biggest steamboat in America was stuck in Troy, Indiana.
Lee Ann Wallen: “Thanks for the heads-up” So they had to wait for the pool to rise up again basically.
Peggy Nichol: The saddest memory of the BELLE OF LOUISVILLE is when it was sinking.
Lee Ann Wallen: Oh gosh Yes, we all had that alert.
Peggy Nichol: And I had worked in Louisville and I would go down there on my lunch hour and just sit there and look at it. And she was out of town and flew back in and I picked her up at the airport and I said “Mary, I’ve got bad news.” And she said “What?” and I said “The BELLE is sinking and they don’t think they can save it.” And she started crying and we had to go to the riverfront, we couldn’t go home.
Lee Ann Wallen: And that was sabotage, somebody opened it. A disgruntled former crew member.
Peggy Nichol: And that was really sad and we sat down there and cried.
Mary Knight: And remember the derby race when there was a bomb threat? And they had to disembark. But we got a lot of wonderful memories, but I really love the BELLE.
Can you describe a little bit of your emotional attachment to it?
Mary Knight: They were talking about turning it into a museum and everyone was up in arms, and as you can see it didn’t work.
Peggy Nichol: And that was just because so many people were upset about it, I was so mad. I was so mad at the city. For them to even consider doing that to the BELLE OF LOUISVILLE, to me just told me right then and there that they had no idea what this steamship is. They just have no appreciation, if they could even consider,
So what does the BELLE mean to you?
Mary Knight: What the BELLE? It’s almost like family.
Lee Ann Wallen: I believe it’s your left or right arm, its part of you.
Peggy Nichol: It’s like losing part of your family, when it was sinking. You cried like it was someone in your family that was drowning.
Is it the crew or the boat, what about the boat feels like family?
Mary Knight: Well its history, for one thing. But I will say that back in the beginning, it was the people. I got to know the people. A lot of the crew members and one of the engineers was from Marengo, which is in the home county where we were from. And security wasn’t quite so tight, it was more relaxed. And you just, what happens is that, a steamboat like this becomes a big part of your life. It becomes a lot of your favorite memories.
Lee Ann Wallen: It’s a place that you can come and always feel better.
Peggy Nichol: and at lunch time, when I worked in Louisville, I would come to the Indiana side. I would drive across the bridge and sit over there in the park and I made it when it was the time it would go out and they would play the calliope and I would just sit there and look at it.
Lee Ann Wallen: The way it just echoes in the hills, the calliope.
Mary Knight: You see, used to, we could bring picnic baskets on. One trip that Lee Ann and her mother in law and I made to Madison, It was foggy and cold and rainy and wet. It was one of the best trips we ever had; we brought homemade chili and coffee.
Mary Knight: and the whistle
Peggy Nichol: It gives you chills. There is not another steamboat that has a whistle like the BELLE OF LOUISVILLE.
Mary Knight: No, you would know it anywhere.
Lee Ann Wallen: Yea you would recognize it.
Mary Knight: I don’t know it’s just a really important, I mean, I have scrapbooks that we have made over the years. But finally I’ve had to get rid of a lot of stud because I just couldn’t keep up with it. But it’s just a very important part of my life from when I was very young. Like I said, seeing the DELTA QUEEN going to Leavenworth. And, in back in 1964 they had a riverboat festival in Leavenworth and they charted the BELLE OF LOUISVILLE and the IU SHOWBOAT. And it was a big festival that they had going there. They had the button-mill going and everything. It was great.
Peggy Nichol: And Leavenworth has a population of about 250 so it was a big deal.
Mary Knight: it was one of those towns that was destroyed by the flood and they rebuilt it up on the hill. Well back when jack Stevenson was still living, he loved the river and he had one of the original skiffs. Leavenworth had one of the largest skiff-making factories in the whole world, right there in Leavenworth before the flood in old town. And he had one of the original skiffs. And he had all of this wonderful steamboat memorabilia. He’s passed on now but I used to go in when I was home from college but I would go in the store and Jack and I would talk for an hour or two, just sharing river stories and everything. The BELLE has been around a long time. Our 4-H groups used to go on trips on her.
Lee Ann Wallen: Well everybody has a memory from the BELLE
Peggy Nichol: My retirement party was on the BELLE because they knew I love steamboats.
Mary Knight: And this is actually her birthday present today.
Lee Ann Wallen: But we’re just happy that the Rivers Institute is in place and going well. We’ve followed it and are real pleased. It’s very impressive.
Mary Knight: I wish they had it when I was young.
Peggy Nichol: I told them I knew where they would have been in college if they would’ve had it.
Lee Ann Wallen: We would have been to Hanover in a minute.
How does the BELLE facilitate your relationship with the river and wit the surroundings, is the appeal of the BELLE because you’re on the river?
Mary Knight: No, it’s both. Just like I can go sit and look at the BELLE, I can do the same thing with the river and so you can put them both the same sentence type thing. They both have the same feeling, but when you put them together, that’s it! And there is nothing like the peace of being out on the river.
Lee Ann Wallen: I call it my pound of Prozac, it’s worth every bit of it.
Mary Knight: back when dad was living, dad and I used to go down to the river in the evening. And actually he was a retired railroad man. But we would go down to the river and dad and I were real close and he would tell me all these old stories from the past and we would just sit there on the riverbank and he would tell these great stories. In fact, a while ago, when we were looking at the ripples on the water, I wrote a poem about that from a day that dad and I were down at the river and the water looked just like that. So I wrote a poem and I called it “Little Ripples’
Can you talk a little bit about the culture of the river people?
Mary Knight: There’s a connection among river people. It’s like boat race day; there are very few river people on the BELLE OF LOUISVILLE on boat race day. And you can tell it. Like when they had the bomb threat, there were people complaining about how they had to get off the boat and how that interrupted their plans and everything but you didn’t hear anyone talking about what might have happened the BELLE OF LOUISVILLE. I mean it’s like they didn’t pay attention to the assault on the BELLE OF LOUISVILLE. It was just an inconvenience for them and it made me angry. I thought, why are you even on there, you don’t even deserve to be on there. Of course I can never afford to be on the BELLE on race day but it just really bothered me. I think that’s the difference, there is a feeling or compassion or emotion that you have for the river. For example, when we were on the DELTA QUEEN, we were sitting there and I will never forget that Captain Russell came up and he struck up a conversation with us and as we started talking, one of the things he said was that “You can always spot a river person, there’s something about the look in their eye and on their face when there on the river. You can tell who loves the river from those who just enjoy it.” And that’s it, you really love the river.
Peggy Nichol: Even when its flooding, I mean even when it’s at what people think is its worse. It’s still beautiful.
Lee Ann Wallen: and it’s so different. I mean how many times have been to Madison and it’s still beautiful and different.
Peggy Nichol: and when the river was high, and I would be driving home from work, sometimes I would just go down and drive along the river because it looked like the BELLE was sitting on the highway. Because it was up so high and it would look like the BELLE was on the highway; it was an amazing sight. And there’s always a concern, “Is the BELLE going to get damaged?” It’s like worrying about your family.
Mary Knight: But you think about the river itself, the river is always constantly moving and I like that about it. And the other thing about the river is that it’s beautiful and as long as you respect it, it can be a source of great pleasure. But if you get careless and reckless, it can also be very dangerous. So it’s like a relationship to that part of the world. But it’s that constant moving; I like that. It can be gentle, it can be strong, it can be just about everything.
Can you talk about some of your memories of the captains; I know that you have mentioned C.W. Stoll
Mary Knight: Captain Stoll I didn’t know that well except from our trips on the BELLE. I remember that we had some conversations and would talk about river stories and about Leavenworth. Captain Larkin and Captain Russell. Captain Russell was with the DELTA STEAMBOAT CO. and of course Captain Larkin was captain on the BELLE OF LOUISVILLE for years. And those are the two I remember most. A lot of wonderful memories and the thing is, they could tell you these wonderful stories and some probably weren’t completely accurate, but that’s river lore.
Do you recall any of the stories that the captains told you or that your father told you?
Mary Knight: well my dad was a railroad man, but I do know one. His name was Sam Knight. And this was way back when Lock and Dam 44 was still in Leavenworth and he hauled water, because they didn’t have public water systems. He hauled loads of water in great big water tanks on the truck and they called him to bring a load of water down to one of the boats in Lock and Dam 44 and he had to drive out there to get the water to the boat and they gave him a silver dollar that he had for a long time. But he used to tell me about that story about driving out there to deliver the water. They used to tell us stories about the steamboat races and I remember Captain Larkin telling us stories about my hometown of Leavenworth and when we came through Leavenworth on that very first DELTA QUEEN steamboat trip, they blew a salute to the town of Leavenworth and that was probably one of the most touching things. I will never forget that, that was such a thrill.
Peggy Nichol: and the river town is different too. Because at Leavenworth, people would try to get ahold of the calendars to know exactly when the boats were coming through. And it was always and exciting time. So I think that river towns are different too.
Lee Ann Wallen: People love to see the boats go through.
Mary Knight: Like I said, we just used to dream when we would see the DELTA QUEEN and dreams come through.
Peggy Nichol: We probably have hundreds of pictures of boats coming through.
Lee Ann Wallen: Yeah, we have trunks full of pictures.
How has the BELLE OF LOUISVILLE changed or the river changed?
Mary Knight: Well obviously they have air-conditioning now, and elevator. But I do remember that time when they were redoing parts of it and how we wanted to get just a piece of the wood or something. Just any little thing like that. But it hasn’t really changed, the structure has changed. Well they added the bar; I remember when they did not have a bar at all. And remember every time you went on the BELLE they would do the chicken dance. My granddaughter when she was first born, she was born in August and in September, I took her on her first trip and she just loved it. She just slept, she just loved it. And she still just loves the BELLE OF LOUISVILLE. She’s seventeen now.
Lee Ann Wallen: I love that little rumble of the paddlewheel.
Mary Knight: Now her mother gets sick on the river.
Peggy Nichol: Her mother is not a river person, but not to go on the boat.
Mary Knight: A lot of wonderful memories and this is another one. We were just thrilled when we saw this.
Lee Ann Wallen: Oh yeah, thanks to the River’s Institute.
Peggy Nichol: I hopefully, you’re going to do this again.
How has the river changed?
Peggy Nichol: I think that it’s cleaner.
Mary Knight: Well it’s pretty dirty. I had this dream job one summer at the Leavenworth marina and there was an oil spill and there wasn’t much river traffic because you couldn’t swim. It was coming down from Pittsburgh. And so we had this wonderful job where we sat out on the dock and a boat would come through, maybe one a day and that was all we had to do. The thing I remember about them changing the river is when they took the locks out. They took five between Camelton and Louisville out. That just broke my heart, when they took the Lock out at Leavenworth—I cried.
Lee Ann Wallen: She was going to buy the lock house and renovate it.
Mary Knight: That was a dream. I wanted to make a museum out of it.
What was the attachment to the locks?
Peggy Nichol: Watching the boats go through.
Mary Knight: Well the Corps of Engineers had the property and kept it beautiful.
Lee Ann Wallen: Like a park.
Mary Knight: Picnic tables and everything. And people would gather to watch the DELTA QUEEN lock through, barges too but man when the DELTA QUEEN was coming to down, I mean you’d have bunches of people come down.
Lee Ann Wallen: She was a big draw.
Mary Knight: Also, as a kid, in 4-H in everything, we’d have picnics and all these kinds of stuff down there and so it was just wonderful memories from a very young age. I went down there just the other day and the state owns it now and it’s just not what it used to be. But the steps that go down, that you used to go down the lock are still there. And I call that my secret staircase. And my granddaughter one time, I was taking her down there and I said, “I’ll show you something special if you promise not to tell,” And she said “What is it Grandma?” and I said “I have a secret stairway to the river.” “Really Grandma?” And I showed her that because it’s kind of growing up and you have to go around it but then you can still go all the way down to the river there. And so we have our secret stairway to the river.
Peggy Nichol: One of the big things in the river is that when I was in high school I worked at a restaurant in Leavenworth and people came from all over to eat catfish caught in the Ohio River but you can’t even eat the fish caught in the Ohio River now so that’s a big change because we had a lot of people come just for that reason.
Mary Knight: yeah, it looks pretty bad at the bottom. When I was working at the marina, one of our boats sunk and I went down, they had a rope hooked on and the guys didn’t swim and they were afraid to do it so I said “Well I’ll do that.” So I went down and hooked the rope on to the boat and it is pretty yucky down there. It was the Horseshoe Bend Marina. That was years ago.
Peggy Nichol: I worked for Marie Goldman and she was well known for frying her catfish and they would come from Louisville and all over just to eat the catfish. But even back then, we had to put lemon on it, before we could use it, to take the oil taste out, even those many many years ago. But it still was a big draw.
Mary Knight: There was a couple of men down there who made their living a-fishing.
Lee Ann Wallen: You want to tell about our paddle-wheeler?
Peggy Nichol: That got stuck out in the middle of the river.
Lee Ann Wallen: In 1976 we bought a homemade 28ft paddle-wheeler with a vock-saw inboard engine, air-cool and we painted it red, white and blue, since it was ’76. And we were going to go to New Orleans; we had the deck plan laid out. Anyway, it fell off the trailer, came off the hitch and went into a ditch on the way down from our house to the river and the wrecker pulled it back on and pulled the side of the boat off. So we had to hammer that back and the next day we got it in the river, ready to go but something had happened to the steering mechanism so it would only go in a circle.
Mary Knight: The only gear it would go in was reverse.
Lee Ann Wallen: In a circle, in reverse. And so we finally got it on this island and tied it up and we called the coast guard to rescue us and they said it would be three days. We just told the people on the other side that we’d stay over there but they made us come in and it became a fishing dock. We never went anywhere with it but we had fun for about a year. Dreaming up—it was a paddle wheeler!
Mary Knight: We had dreams. I would go up to Anderson, Indiana and see the paint. It was good-looking and I was planning these little cots and coolers and everything. We were planning the people who could come along; we had relatives in St. Louis and so forth. We were seriously going to New Orleans in this boat. I think we had read Shanty Boat.
Lee Ann Wallen: Harlan Hubbard’s Shanty boat- it’s his fault.
Mary Knight: We were going to do the same sort of thing. But our boat never did make it.
Lee Ann Wallen: But we didn’t stop dreaming.
Mary Knight: Never stopped dreaming, but we never did make it. But we got it out in the middle of the river and we were cross-ways and we had it tied—had wrapped the rope around this tree, because we saw this barge coming and when that barge came, it took everything we had to hold that boat. We thought we were going to lose it. Then some guy in a little skiff came in and took us in.
Peggy Nichol: One of the guys that fished down in Leavenworth was rescuing them.
Mary Knight: But you know what, see there’s the other thing about the river, you don’t mind stuff like that; that becomes part of your history and part of your memories. You become closer.
Lee Ann Wallen: It brought a lot of people together. Everyone always said “Remember that paddlewheel?” That’s about all I know.
Mary Knight: Yeah, we’ve had a lot of fun.
Lee Ann Wallen: Hope to continue. I have a seventeen foot deep-v fishing boat that I bring down to Madison or wherever a lot and I used to have ladies day on the boat- just women, I’ve done that probably fifteen or twenty trips. And I have stories about that too. We put in down there at Lawrenceburg and go to Cincinnati and have lunch and come back, just the four women. But one time we ran out of gas, one time the boat fell off the hitch, one time we got there and the restaurant was closed, out of business. But I still go.
Oral History Collected aboard the Belle of Louisville on October 9, 2010
My name is Joan Siewart and I live in Jeffersonville, Indiana and one of my funny stories is that before I was married, my fiancé said that we would take our honeymoon down the river on his boat which was a sixteen-foot run-a-bout and when I said that in front of somebody, he just laughed at me because he said that there is no way that you could go to New Orleans in a boat that size, but I didn’t know any different, I thought you could! After we were married, we would camp out on the riverbank between Jeff and Madison. In watching the riverbank today, I don’t even see a place where you could pull up and lay down, much less sleep and not be in danger of rolling into the water. I am just amazed at how little bankage there is beaches. And when I was a kid, this was like 1954 or so, we swam in the river; well I couldn’t swim but my uncle took us on a boat from the Conservation Club at Utica to Twelve-Mile Island and there was a beach on the end of the island where you could get out of the boat and play in the water or whatever. That’s gone too, it’s eroded away and it’s just a ridge. I have pictures of people standing in the water in the river that comes up above their knee but there not waist-deep or neck-deep in the water and that’s from the early 1920s I would say. My father was born in 1916 and I have a picture of him rolling in the mud of the river and it looks like maybe a ten-foot stretch of mud between him and the bank, between the trees and the river because there is trees in the picture and then there is water. It’s one of those mother-things that you say “you can’t play in the mud!” I mean, he’s just muddy all over from rolling and playing in the mud. So those are my river stories. I have a pin of the AVALON, an ornamental pin. The circle is only about as big as my fingertip and then it has the pilot wheel attached by chain. That was from about 1954 and I was going to wear it today but I forgot about it until I was already on the boat and I had even written it on my list of things to do and still missed it! Anyway, that was probably the first time I was on the AVALON in about 1954.
What do you remember from that trip?
Oh I was so impressed. It was such a gigantic boat and of course I know it looked much different than it looks today but I really can’t remember the differences. Now, talking to, I forgot the lady’s name downstairs, anyway, it’s immaterial, she was relaying how the boat has changed over the years because I remember there being a ridge on the edge of the dance floor where you had to be careful not to trip or turn your ankle. She said that’s where the wall used to be and when they took the wall out to enlarge that deck, that had originally been the outside part of the deck and they just left that until they just replaced the floor a year or so ago. I think they have done a marvelous job in closing the back deck so it could be air-conditioned.
What was it like dancing on the deck?
Oh well, I was such a kid, I don’t remember dancing at all. I mean, I’ve been on the boat many times over the years but never on a moonlight cruise. Well that’s not true, I did go on one moonlight cruise. It was about twenty years ago and it was fun. I don’t have any stories to tell about it.
Can you describe it at all?
Well on a midnight cruise, people are more dressed up and they come on to party more than look at the river and when you come on the daytime, all you do is look at the river, the scenery. Two of my kids have chosen to spend their birthdays on The BELLE and run around. You know, go up and down the steps and around this deck. It’s just something that you unfortunately take for granted when it sits in Louisville and you think “Oh I can go there anytime, let’s go someplace else.” So this is a great opportunity to go to Madison. I was really excited when I found out about this trip because Twelve-Mile Island is as far as I have ever been. I work for the Corps of Engineers and so we have gone through the Locks on the BELLE twice when they were getting ready to enlarge the lock chamber. They took us through that first day and when they had it completed, we went through the new lock and that’s a real experience if you’ve never been through the locks on a boat.
Can you describe it any?
Well, you see things on the boat that you don’t know what they are but the great big knobs on down on the deck where you first come on the boat and there are all these gigantic ropes that they throw over to the shore to tie off the boat—those ropes are used on the block walls, there are knobs in the lock walls and they put them on there and as the lock fills up with water—and the purpose of the lock, if you don’t go through this process, you don’t even realize it but the lock is there because of the Falls of the Ohio and the boat can’t go over the Falls so the Corps of Engineers built the lock system. The river above Louisville, east of Louisville, is higher than the river by New Albany. So you go into the lock chamber on the upper end, its full of water and then they close the lock chamber after the boat is in and the boat is tied off and the water goes out of the lock chamber. So then, when they open the lock gates on the other end, you just glide out. And its somewhere between a fifteen-foot and a twenty-foot drop in the water and that’s just, without sounding grandiose, is an engineering feat that most people don’t even know exist and they don’t understand why the operation of the gates on the river are there. I’m proud to be an employee of the Corps of Engineers for the work that we do; and I’m just a little cog in the wheel.
How would you describe your relationship with the river or how the river and the BELLE OF LOUISVILLE has impacted your life?
Mostly, it’s just like an observation from afar because I’m really not a river person. I have been in the river. When I was newly married and we had the boat and wore a life-jacket, I could get in the water. I never could swim. I heard somebody else say earlier that they think that the water is cleaner today and I guess maybe it really does look cleaner today but I didn’t have any reason not to get into the water. Now it’s been forty years ago, but I didn’t think anything about getting into the water. No matter how muddy it was, I didn’t think about it being polluted. You know, we didn’t talk about pollution forty years ago. I never did learn to water ski, especially in the Ohio, I mean that was just petrifying that you would get up on skis in the Ohio River, but my husband did—you know, he was good at it. So it’s just that you respect the river for the danger of the river but you appreciate the beauty of the river. I appreciate the beauty of the river. And right now, I only live three blocks from the river and I go back and forth every day, Twice, to and from work, but today is just the most beautiful to be on the BELLE going up the river with all the trees changing and everything. I can imagine that the Rhine or the Blue Danube, or anything in Europe, is no more beautiful that what we have right here. Now one thing about Hanover College; I have written a family history and originally I saw a newspaper clip about a half-inch that said that my great-grandfather was home from Hanover College visiting his parents. It was in an OldenTime review columns. It’s probably been fifty years ago that I saw it, and it looked like it was fifty year old news at that time so I am talking about a hundred years ago. Then is this history, I found a card where he was presented with a Golden Legion or something like that for his fraternity and I can’t tell you what fraternity it was but I did write to somebody at Hanover and asked if they could verify that he had been a student there and because I was so vague in my information, he didn’t give me anything more than that. I’m thinking that it was about 1882 and he probably only went one year.
What was your grandfather’s name?
John Dellinger. And when I started doing this history, my uncle’s name was John Dellinger also and I was telling him about what I was doing and he said “You better not find that we’re connected to that other man, spelled with an I.” You know, John Dillinger. And I said “No, we’re not related to him.” I would like to go to Hanover sometime and see if I could get more information about that. I doubt that he graduated, probably only went there the one year, came home and got married in the late 1880’s and had my grandmother and other children. Anyway, that’s my Hanover story and my river story.
Oral History Collected aboard the Belle of Louisville on October 9, 2010
My name is John Hiatt and about thirty-eight years ago we had a twenty-one foot Starcraft Cruiser that we brought my wife, daughter, and myself down to the Ohio River off of Lake Monroe. We were running it on Lake Monroe and decided that we wanted to go down the river from Madison to Cincinnati to go to King’s Island, but it wasn’t called King’s Island. They had a park on the water at Cincinnati but I’ll be darned if I can tell you what the name of it was. It was a real nice park and King’s Island bought all the rights and turned it into King’s Island at some point in time but what we remember the most about it is that a twenty-one foot cruiser just bounces up and down. It just bounces and bounces and bounces and bounces and if a barge went by it was like going up a mountain and coming down a mountain. That boat just went everywhere on the water and I mean everywhere and we slept on that thing that night, unbelievably, but we did sleep on that thing. We got up the next day and went to the park and then came home and we swore that we would never ever take that boat on the river again! And we thanked god when we got back to where we had the trailer to get that boat on and get it out of here. It was a challenge and a half and nothing like we had expected nothing at all. But that’s my river story. You just didn’t realize how small your boat was compared to a barge going by and the wake that it left. That’s a long time ago, a long time ago.
How do you feel about the BELLE OF LOUISVILLE today?
Oh I think it’s a nice ride. I think that it’s great. I think that it’s enjoyable; it’s relaxing. When you’re seventy-one years old, you can sit here and enjoy it. It’s very nice.
How would you describe your relationship with the river?
We like water. We have lake property. My wife and I are water people. We like to be around the water, near the water, so we like water. If we could live on the Ohio, we would. Its a hundred miles away from where we live now, so it’s not possible.
What is the draw for you of the water?
It’s peaceful, just peaceful. I mean, where we live now is a little hundred-twenty-two acre lake and we can go up there and just sit and relax and enjoy it. We don’t have to do anything, we just enjoy it. We got a pontoon boat up there that we hardly ever take out; we just watch everybody else out there. It’s just relaxing. I had a forty-two foot houseboat on Lake Monroe and we turned that into a twenty-one foot or twenty-two foot cabin cruiser into a forty-two foot houseboat for that little girl that liked to drive us crazy on a small boat and when I sold that, I didn’t think that they would ever talk to me again until I bought that lake property. Then I got back in the family again, but I had to buy lake property to get back in the family because we’ve always been around water. Boating got so expensive on Lake Monroe that we couldn’t afford it.
What was it like being on the houseboat; what do you remember most about having a houseboat?
We would come down on Friday night, go across the lake, tie up to a tree, and stay there until Sunday afternoon and come back across, park the boat and go home. You didn’t run the boat that much, you couldn’t afford to run the boat that much. You had a fifty-gallon tank. If you have guest down, what always amazes me when you have guest down—“We’ll take us around the lake.” Well that sounded nice but if we took them all the way around the lake, we used forty-six gallons of gas and back in those days, gas was three dollars a gallon on lakes. It was not a quarter a gallon or fifty cents a gallon; you were paying pretty good money. Nobody understood that it cost a lot of money to do those boats because they were so heavy and you have ones who aren’t on there. It’s nothing to go through fifty gallons of gas in a weekend. So you just didn’t go very far, you were kind of conservative in where you drove it. We enjoyed it. We enjoyed it. Now we would bring our parents down and they would fish off the back of it for croppy. They would have maybe twenty; thirty croppy and we would skin em, fry em that night for supper. That was your meal for Saturday night and your meal for Sunday morning; it was fresh fish. That was the big fish down there, was croppy.
What is the difference between being on water, even just for the weekend and being on land?
I think that the river is more treacherous than being on a lake because you’ve got to know more about the river thank you do about the lake. Even today, like on Lake Monroe, you better know a little more about water thank just getting to the water and getting on it. Because there are so many boats out there. I’m seventy-one years old; when we owned the houseboat, I was in my thirties. So there has been a big difference in boating and the amount of boats on the water and the power of the boats is much greater today than back then. And I think people were more safe, or more conscious of being safe back then than they are now. I don’t think people are conscious of what can happen with the skiing and the skidoos out there running up and down. I personally think that it’s not as safe as it used to be. Now I think that the river today is safer than it was because they’ve put more locks in and they’ve taken the water and slowed it down quite a bit from back then because back then they didn’t have the locks, they couldn’t control the river’s depth. If you had a rain, this thing, back in those days, would go two or three foot if you had much of a rain over two days or three days where now you don’t see a difference hardly at all because they’ve got a way of controlling it. But even the little lake that I’m on, it’s a chain of lakes and if we get a lot of rain, that lake can go up six foot in twenty-four hours. So that’s a lot of feet when you are talking about water. So people who don’t own lake property or who aren’t around lake property, they don’t understand how that lake can change so drastically. It definitely can, it can change because there is nowhere for that water to go, it has to run off. Like now, the lake is actually ten-feet down because we have not had any rain in Indiana so its teen-foot lower than what it was back in March. Now if we get any rain or snow between now and Christmas, that ten-foot will come back up and will go through winter. But right now, it’s really much lower than it was. We’ve got trees that were right on the lake, now those trees are here and the lakes down here. It changes. People that don’t own lake property haven’t been around lake property, go buy lake property and they don’t understand that till they get there and see it.
How would you describe your relationship with the river?
A love affair. I like it, my wife just loves it.
How has it impacted your life?
Made it happier. It’s more restful
Oral History Collected aboard the Belle of Louisville on October 9, 2010
My name is Pat Hiatt; I live in a suburb of Indianapolis. Back in the sixties, the early sixties, I had two cousins we attended Hanover. It was Claremont “Monty” Seikerman and his sister Pam and when Pam was there, she was elected Queen of the Madison Regatta. Unfortunately, their lives have not turned out wonderful. Monty lost a daughter when the airplane going from New York to France exploded and everybody thought it was a bomb and it was mechanical-type failure. I love this trip, just seeing the water. I think Hanover’s a great place in a beautiful setting and that’s about it.
Oral History Collected aboard the Belle of Louisville on October 9, 2010
My name is John Whitehead and I have a long history with the BELLE OF LOUISVILLE family-wise, the boat was originally tied up at my father’s marine fueling facility in Louisville, Kentucky. The mayor at the time asked him if they could tie the boat up there for free. The boat was in rough shape when she came down the river but they had public painting parties where people would come. You would come down to the boat and wear your old clothes and you would paint on it because she was in such rough shape. We thought that was great fun when we were ten or twelve years old and ever since then, we’ve always gone out on the BELLE every year many times. My family home was on the river in Louisville near Six-Mile Island and every year they’d have the Great Steamboat Race and my parents would go on the boat and I would have a big party at their house while they were gone and the party could only last about four hours and then I had to run everybody out. A lot of notables, I saw Peter Graves who was on Mission Impossible. I saw Fess Parker who was on the boat who was Davy Crocket. My parents met John Wayne when he was the grand marshal of the Derby Parade and there’s pictures of him downstairs wearing a BELLE OF LOUISVILLE hat. There’s been a lot of celebrities on here. Hopefully she’ll paddle along forever.
What kind of shape was it in when it was docked at your parent’s marine fueling facility?
It was in terrible shape and it didn’t work, this was prior to the new boilers being installed. The stage, the stage is the thing that you walk on and off out there, that’s the stage. That was tied to the boat and hanging on the side of it and the windows were broken. It had been tied up in Cincinnati. I think they paid $34,000 for it at an auction. Like I said, I try to ride every year, I am really looking forward to the hundredth anniversary of the boat in 2014 and I think that everybody should enjoy and preserve the history of the river through the BELLE.
What were the painting parties like?
The guy downstairs with the scrapbooks, he’s got photo clippings of them and there’s people painting. They just gave you a bunch of paint and you just start painting on the deck or on the bulkheads. It was kind of haphazard, just to beat the rust.
What did you do when you ran around the boat when it was docked?
Well we crawled all over it and went through every compartment. They used to have a jail on the boat and they locked me up in that when I was a little boy just for the heck of it but they used to lock up unruly passengers when they had dances and they ‘d get drunk and they would throw them in there and let them sober up. That jail is now at the Howard Steamboat Museum in Jeffersonville, Indiana. I am in the Propeller Club and we had it taken over there from JeffBoat and installed outside at the Howard Museum as kind of a project. We didn’t want to see it just go to the scrap yard. I found all kinds of objects; we donated most of them back to the BELLE. There was a roll of tickets and you could ride on the AVALON for fifty cents for an afternoon cruise. This boat’s gone more miles and been more places than any other steamboat. She’s outlived pretty much all of her competitors.
What would you say that the steamboat means to the community?
The BELLE OF LOUISVILLE, we feel, is a living, breathing entity almost.
Do you remember anything about Rose Island?
I was just up there recently, walking around and the swimming pool is still holding water. There’s cisterns and it’s not developed yet, there’s no path, you just got to go by your boat, pull up in your boat and then hike up to the hill. It’s pretty rough going, you want to suit up and have your real boots on, not your flip-flops. Rose Island—this boat used to cruise up there every Sunday and Saturday afternoon. They say what ruined steam boating was air-conditioning and television because in the old days, this was the only place that you could get cooled off in the afternoons from what I’ve heard. We travelled on the AMERICAN QUEEN and the MISSISSIPPI QUEEN, I’ve been on all of the six boats—we’ll there’s only three now: the JULIA BELLE SWAIN, the NATCHEZ, and the BELLE OF LOUSIVILLE, but we’ve traveled on them so I’ve gone the whole Ohio River, the whole 981 miles. I’ve gone from O’ Claire, Wisconsin to New Orleans on the Mississippi river when I used to work on the barges.
Can you talk about that a little bit?
The barge life? That’s funny because I was the only long-haired kid on the barges at the time and I was a company boy in addition to that so that’s two strikes against you. A company boy’s father got you the job and then if you had long hair, you were a hippie and so everybody else was a red-neck, a serious red-neck, and they didn’t like hippies but it was a good job for a young man that’s single. You would be gone thirty days and I’d take off sixty instead of—you’re supposed to only take off thirty, and go to South America and things.
What did you do on the barges?
I was a deckhand on the barges. My first job was going from Dade Park, which is Ellis Park in Kentucky, bringing coal to this power plant here and on my first day I thought that I had made a very large, large mistake because the work is very difficult and hot in the summer and cold in the winter.
When was that?
That was probably between 1973 through 1976.
Did you work for JeffBoat too?
I worked for American Barge Lines and I’ve worked for the JeffBoat shop barge and I worked for Alter Company in Iowa and they have Casinos now. I’ve been a River Rat my whole life. I grew up and my father was a River Rat. Now I live near the river, I am a caretaker for a historic estate down near Louisville and I guess that about sums it up.
How would you describe your relationship with the river?
It’s a life-long love affair with the river, occasionally love-hate because my family home was flooded many times. Last time, in 1997, it had pretty much destroyed the house, we sold it but we’ll go right by my family home today, it’s just upriver from Louisville.
Oral History Collected aboard the Belle of Louisville on October 9, 2010
Pete O’Connell and John Whitehead
John Whitehead: (About Captain C.W. Stoll) He had what looked like a typewriter case and he kept like whiskey and gin in it.
Pete O’Connell: Did I tell you about the first time I met him?
John Whitehead: No.
Pete O’Connell: When I first started on the BELLE, there was a board meeting on the BELLE OF LOUISVILLE and Joey Larkin told me to “come on the boat and help Captain Larkin and Captain Stoll with his type-writer case, take it up to the boardroom.” So I said “Ok.” I reached inside the car, and picked it up and it was leaking on the floor. I said: “Captain, Captain Stoll’s typewriter case is leaking and I think it’s from booze.”
John Whitehead: Now Captain Stoll is a really a character and he was a Bomb-e-baunt. He wrote his own funeral, everything—the music, the opera music, that he wanted playing and his family was very wealthy, they owned the oil company and his sister was kidnapped in Glenview, Kentucky in the twenties or thirties and they paid the ransom and then they got his sister back from them. They caught the kidnappers and I think they killed them. But Captain Stoll is about as colorful a character as you could ever come up with on the river and just as knowledgeable. He could have a few belts in him and he could really get going then! I’ve heard him in the house, playing the piano with John Hartford. John Hartford and I one night, he was the night watchman on the NATCHEZ I think, when they came down there for the BELLE race, well I leave the bar and tell my Buddy “We’re gonna go down there and meet John Hartford.”We walk down there and there he’s sitting there in the dark, playing the banjo. We sit down there all night with him on the city front of Louisville and just listening to his stories and he was a real character too. Captain Hawley in New Orleans, Clark Hawley….
Pete O’Connell: How long was he captain?
John Whitehead: I think he was captain maybe seven or eight years. He and captain Hammond, they lived, there was a wharf boat called THE RENOWNED which used to be tied up in Louisville, it was an old steamboat and they had a sleeping quarters on there and I remember Captain Hawley, he’s a Bomb-e-baunt too, but he had nice oriental rugs and artwork from Europe in his little room on THE RENOWNED. I helped move them when he moved to New Orleans; I drove their truck down there too. They were going to become Captains on the NATCHEZ, it was just coming out of Burgeron Shipyards and Dock and Rodney decide that they want to drive the truck and I’d been driving it and the first thing they do is run into the gas station over-pass, tore the roof off the truck and when we took it back down there by the superdome, they’re going “Good god, they let that truck leave Louisville?” It said slight damage and it was dinged up, it was peeled back when we got done with it.
Pete O’Connell: Did you tell him he should’ve stuck with steamboats instead of trucks?
John Whitehead: Yeah, they should have.
Oral History Collected aboard the Belle of Louisville on October 9, 2010
Bill Smock: Bill and Cathy Smock. Growing up next to C.W (Stoll) and Charles and Christy Stoll, his daughter and son, Charles and I would spend every Saturday that I would sleep over at his house, on the BELLE. We would come into the Pilot House and the most unusual thing that I did, they won’t allow you to do anymore, one was to, when you’re on the top roof, as you go under a bridge, you walk backwards and look up and you get this unusual feeling of…
Cathy Smock: When you’re walking on the BELLE OF LOUISVILLE’s roof, he’s talking about.
Bill Smock: Up by the pilot house. So you look up at the bridge and you walk backwards on the roof as the BELLE’s going forward.
What was that like?
Bill Smock: It was very sort of disorienting and Charles and I sort of loved to do that. C.W. would—the calliope at that point was up on the roof itself, the keyboard wasn’t below, and C.W. one time let me play ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’. C.W. let me play ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ on the calliope.
Do you know when that was?
Bill Smock: 1968, I was ten. The home where C.W. lived was called Rock Hill. It’s off of Mockingbird Valley. The home where C.W. and his first wife Mary Jane and Charles and Christy lived was built by a merchant from New Orleans who would come to Louisville to get away from the heat and malaria of New Orleans. And so it was built back in the 1850’s, this beautiful antebellum mansion overlooking the river. In the home at some point before they purchased it, there was a woman that died and the story goes that this was the night of her engagement party and her fiancé drove the carriage off the cliff and so she became depressed and at that point the house had what was called a free-hall stairway, which was a stairway with a room underneath it. She went in there and basically closed herself off from the rest of the world and so she died of a broken heart and probably malnutrition. She still haunts the hill and growing up with Charles, we would always look for the ghost. Charles said that things would happen in the house, things would turn on, chairs would move in rooms where—and he could hear them upstairs moving while he was downstairs and at one point Doc Hawley lived with the Stolls and Cathy can tell the story because he told it to us of when he actually talked with the ghost.
Cathy Smock: I just too vaguely recollect it, go ahead.
Bill Smock: He was walking on the hill one night and met this women and they had a conversation and then all of a sudden he turned around and she was gone.
Cathy Smock: He was very comfortable admitting the he actually; they were kind of back and forth. I think he was concerned about her.
Bill Smock: Yes
Cathy Smock: He said “Are you lost?” Or something like that and she spoke back. It’s stunning to hear an adult, old man, talk about it. It’s remarkable.
What is your all’s relationship with the BELLE?
Bill Smock: Only growing up and spending Saturday mornings on it as a child.
What would you do?
Bill Smock: We’d basically, since Charles’ father was the pilot, we had the run of the ship, so we would go into the Captain’s Quarters and go up to the pilot house, walk around the roof, and play the calliope.
Cathy Smock: Some of that river-lore, if we digress back to the house. The night that that women’s finance died, the story was, and it was in the newspaper, that the young man probably had been drinking to excess at the party, celebrating something like a bachelor party there at the home and this was a big old home where people would come. This was a New Orleans riverboat captain and people would have, back in that day, homes up north on the river out of the malaria-delta and only the wealthiest kinds of people could have such circumstances and this was one of those homes up on a bluff with a pillared portico looking down over the river and it had a carriageway that went between the portico and the cliff face and there was a race of carriages. The young men, drinking to excess were racing their horses and the women were either on the portico or the balcony of the second floor waving their kerchiefs and cheering on their champions and there in front of God and everyone, a wheel got too close to the edge and the carriage, fiancé, and horse all plummeted to their doom and then this women haunted that hill and that house forever after that.
Bill Smock: You’ll be able to see it on the way back.
Cathy Smock: Yeah, we’ll show you the house we’re speaking of.
What was it called?
Bill Smock: Rock Hill
Cathy Smock: You can look up some of the historical documentation in the newspaper of this event or at least of the family. And one night Bill and I, our experience of haunts, on that hill—whether it was she, we don’t know, but we lived in the house next door and we were house-sitting; his parents were out of town and we were house-sitting, when we were first married and I always felt like it was partly our recent marriage and the intensity of our youthful affection for one another that perhaps drew this spirit out of that house where she resided because the night that we were house-sitting, it was in the early days of the technology of alarm systems in private homes, so they were pretty primitive but there were doors that were keyed into the system and lights that were keyed into the system. We were in a back bedroom of the house, we had all the doors shut between us and the principle chamber of the house and we had the dogs back with us in the bedroom and none of those doors could be opened without tripping the alarm system. We had the alarm system set because we were kind of scared to be there without it, I don’t know why. Anyway, we were awakened by the dogs suddenly just going ballistic by the bedside and both he and I experienced this profound sense of chill and inertia which was remarkable because if you knew anything about who he is, he’s kind of a cock type person and usually jumps quickly to the ready if there is any feeling of potential threat and these dogs were behaving as if there was someone at the door. And we sort of straggled to get up, or at least he did, I was basically immobilized, by not fear, by this feeling of cold and suffocation. I just stayed in bed. He got up and our bedroom door was open and it had been shut and it didn’t set the alarm off, he walked through it and through the hall door, which should have also set the alarm off. There were zones in the house that they marked. And then, an exterior door was open and the dogs went running out it, so the electrical system was completely failing and it had been set and we knew it. Bill went chasing. The dogs went running out the open door and Bill went running like as though a burglar had been in the house. He went running after them and when he came to the door, there was...
Bill Smock: There was a white figure.
Cathy Smock: There was a white figure in the yard and the dogs saw it too and lunged out into the yard after this white figure which then receded as quickly as you noticed it and the dogs went chasing after it and then were left sort of running around in a circle chasing their tails and one another in the middle of the field when it vaporized. So Bill saw the white filmy thing and so did the dogs. This may be the first recorded, since you’re recording this, case of a dog seeing a ghost but it was witnessed that they saw it too. So that was our experience of what we think is the haunt on that hill.
Oral History Collected aboard the Belle of Louisville on October 9, 2010
My name is Alan Bates. Maybe I should tell you about Captain Jesse Hughes and the KATY PRATHER. A fellow from the Cincinnati Library went up to interview him and his technique would rock them; he would stick the microphone right up in somebody’s face and say “Tell me a river story Captain!” and the first guy he went to was Captain Jesse Hughes, who was a practical joker. So Jesse went around in this convention hotel and told all the other captains what he had done. The story was about the KATY PRATHER going up Brush Creek which is up in West Virginia somewhere and they loaded a load of turkeys but the river fell and the boat was stuck so the mate nailed the turkeys deep to the deck, fired a shotgun and blew the boat out. That’s a terrible old joke but one after another, every captain up there told that poor guy that same story. It was very embarrassing I’m sure. But it’s hard to just come up with a river story. That guy there, Captain Pete O’Connell, I helped get him his license by questions and answers and things. I’m older than all these other guys here, much older. That means I got here first. But this boat is kind of a school really, they make officers on here for themselves because there’s no other place and the NATCHEZ, the big steamboat down there in New Orleans, for example, all of their officers came from Louisville, Kentucky because they learned how here, not that that’s any glitter on my star, but that’s what the boat does, along with being a boat, having passengers and all that. I’m just trying to think of something.
Can you talk any about piloting?
Well I never did become a pilot because I could never develop that carefree disregard for other people’s property. And believe me, you had to be young to do that and slam into a few things, sink a barge or two, but I didn’t start until I was in my forties. I was too cautious. Passengers are the real stories on here. They seem to develop in phases. They will go along for awhile and then suddenly everybody has an urge to jump overboard, nobody know why. Or back out the light bulbs that line the decks and throw them at motorboats. Well Captain Clark Hawley who was on here fixed that. He got his deck crew together and they screwed all those light bulbs in, but just as tight as they could. Then he bought a jar, an industrial size jar of Vaseline and he coasted every light bulb on the deck with Vaseline. Well in the summertime, we have some of these little green bugs—they look like miniature grasshoppers or locust, and a guy would grab one of those light bulbs and he would come down with a hand full of goo, green bugs and Vaseline and then his next move was to wipe it on his pants. But that pretty much stopped that habit. We had a girl jump overboard one night who wanted to commit suicide at her graduation breakfast. And I can tell you because I was looking for her that the Ohio River is mighty big at three in the morning looking for a swimmer. She changed her mind when her feet hit that cold water. For awhile we had to put people in jail for walking the rails around the upper deck that became the style for awhile. We very seldom have had any fights on here, but one time we had a fight on here. Five men wanted to beat each other up so they put all five of them in the boat’s jail which is not as big as this table and five good friends came out after about after about twenty minutes.
What’s your favorite part of the boat?
I like to ride in the pilot house. The second best, in the engine room. The pilot house is the perfect place. It’s cool; all the liars gather there and try to out-talk each other. Oh! Here’s an incident that’s a little bit risqué, one night, we were plowing on up the river and we had a teenage boy in the pilot house who wanted to collect the salty pilot house talk. Well what you talk about in a pilot house is “How is your tomato crop? Are you gonna buy a new car this year? What do you think about the president?” We don’t talk about the river all the time and it was kind of quiet and all of a sudden, the Captain said “God Almighty Alan! Look yonder!” Well we had a teenage trip and all these teenagers were yellin’ and whoopin’ and carrying on and I look and here was a young lady doing the twist on the guntle of a cabin cruiser and she had on silver nail polish… and nothing else. She was pretty clear into the core and those kids really loved it so the next thing you hear is the pilot, Captain Haress Underwood who said “Here Alan, you hold her, I’ll put the light on her!” So he turned the searchlight around and when she got in the spotlight, she really went to town. Well that was all she was wearing and she was a pretty girl.
What is your favorite feature of the boat?
I guess the steering and the handling of it and then close behind that, I’m interested in the mechanics of the engine room. I’ve been involved in learning what the horsepower of the boat is, you’d be surprised how little horsepower there is. She’s rated at four-hundred. Right now she’s probably running along at about two-hundred and twenty-five horsepower which is not as much horsepower as a Chevrolet car, but then again, we’re not doing ninety miles an hour. But then, that’s my two favorite places. When I was on here, I was the mate and what that amounts to is being a boss-janitor because the mate is in charge of everything on the boat expect the pilot house and the engine room and his crew keeps the boat clean. So I’m an expert janitor, yes indeed. And when I took my coast-guard examination to become a mate, they didn’t have one question about janitoring! What else?
How would you describe your relationship with the river?
My mother explained it one time by saying that pre-partum, she went on an excursion on a boat named the HOMER SMITH and she thinks the whistle inspired me after I managed to get born. It’s a clever story but not a whole lot of truth to it. We’re passing an interesting farm; it’s called Payne Plantation and a man and his wife lived there named Bernard and they planned to make it into an amusement park sort of thing and the historical connection was that this plantation was a stop-over for the underground railroad for a little while. I’ve about run out.
Oral History Collected aboard the Belle of Louisville on October 9, 2010
Jerald W. Jerry Sutphin and Alan Bates
Jerald W. Jerry Sutphin: Jerry Sutphin and I’m from Huntington, West Virginia.
Alan Bates: He wrote a book about Canalia River steamboats.
Jerald W. Jerry Sutphin: I got interested in the river when I had come back from the army and I had went to work for the Corps of Engineers in Public Affairs. It was in 1964. Very early in getting interested in the river and getting captured by the river, I had the pleasure of meeting a lot of good people, including people like Alan here, but among that group was a guys named Captain Frederick Way Jr. from Sewickley, Pennsylvania. Captain Fred and I became very close, we sort of clicked the first time we ever met and became kind of two kids playin’ around. One of the things we did with all that was that there was a book, a catalogue actually, a steamboat catalogue that had been put out by the James Reese and Sons of Pittsburg Pennsylvania and it was called the James Rees and Sons Catalogue, I had never found a copy of it, I was looking for one and I visited Captain Fred in Sewickley once and I asked him about it. I said: “I keep seeing this reference to the James Rees and Son’s Catalogue,” and I said”I can’t find one.” He said “Well that’s cause there aren’t anymore!” I said “I’d sure like to see one.” He said “We’ll I’ve got one.” So he went and got it and we were looking through it and I said, “You know, somebody outta reprint this.” He said “Well why don’t we do that?” I said “Ok, let’s do that.” So he and I ended up reprinting the James Rees and Son’s Catalogue. The very good fortune about this was we found, I did the actual printing of it in Huntington. I actually found the exact paper that had been printed on the inside—the white cop and then I actually found the cover stock which was a soft-bound cover stock; it was the same exact paper that had been done originally in about the 1930s, maybe earlier than that. Anyway, that was how I associated with the BELLE OF LOUISVILLE—and of course many of the other people I met in my interest of all this. As Alan said, all the people you get to know were the best parts and I met Captain C.W. Stoll and his wife Lucy and for whatever the reason, we clicked. We got to know each other and met each other and liked each other a lot and as a result, the first time I ever took a DELTA QUEEN trip we went with them, they had a family cruise and included us. We would take the BELLE OF LOUISVILLE trip, I would come to Louisville just to ride the boat, and they would allow us to stay with them and so we rode the BELLE OF LOUISVILLE innumerable times. I would bring my friends with me or my family, I would bring my brother with me and my wife and we would come and ride the BELLE. We actually rode a number of these October cruises back when they would do the October cruise to Madison and then they would go the next day, on Sunday, go up to Lock One in Carrolton on the Kentucky River and then come back down. Going back that evening, the boat was virtually empty, there wasn’t many people on board, just the crew and the associate crew and some of free riders—there’s freeloaders like me and we would ride back from Madison to Louisville as the sun set when we left Madison, it’d usually be dark. I have a great love for this boat; it’s always been my favorite boat because even though I spent a great many years working on the DELTA QUEEN in the summer months doing programs, this boat was the epitome of the Western River Steamboat. By that, I mean it had the big two stacks, it had the broad red wheel in the back, it had the pilot house midship whereas the DELTA QUEEN, you know, had the one single little stack behind the pilot house which was in front. So this boat has always been my favorite boat because it’s the last of those true Western River Steamboats. I’ve had the good fortune and blessing to be able to ride and work on a lot of these boats. I spent about fourteen or fifteen years working most summers on the DELTA QUEEN, the MISSISSIPPI QUEEN, the AMERICAN QUEEN. I did programming for the River Barge Line which carried people on it. So it led to what was in the little avocation fun hobby that got completely out of hand and I ended up spending most of my adult life doing things with this. I’ve been a part of a group called the Sons and Daughters of Pioneer River men since the sixties. I was president of that group and board member for I guess over forty years. In so doing, my interest in all of this kept growing and growing. I’ve ended up doing a permanent exhibit at the Smithsonian because of this association with the river. I’ve written one book called Sternwheelers on the Great Canal River. And like Alan, I was one of the authors on this Full Steam Ahead, the bicentennial celebration book. I wrote a seventy-nine page essay for that, to go in that. And it just seems like I go from one thing to the other associated with the river. I left the Corps after twenty years of working there and started my own business. A major part of my business became doing river things. I was an artist, a graphic designer, a photographer so I did a lot of visual things but in all that I began to get involved in doing a lot of river things. We had a major river exhibit at Huntington called “Ohio River Odyssey” at the Huntington Museum of Art, which, not because I worked on it, was probably one of the best exhibits on the river I’ve ever been associated with. It was an outstanding effort. I later worked on the river barge that traveled down the river called “Always a River”. That program was very well involved with and I think Alan was involved with it as well. So there were a lot of things that you found yourself doing, you become, not a self-proclaimed expert but someone else keeps telling “Go see this guy” or “Go see that guy” and you find yourself involved with these projects. And right now, of course, we’re both involved with the Bicentennial Celebration of the first steamboat on western rivers, which will be next year in 2012. We’re working hard to get it publicized and get people to realize the significance of the riverboats and of the steamboats and what they did. As a part of that, I just completed a hundred and ninety-six image DVD movie which is now on sale to tell the story. Hopefully the school children and other people who will appreciate the fact that the rivers and the boats have played a significant role in American history and American growth and development.
Can you talk about that a little bit?
Jerald W. Jerry Sutphin: Yeah. Its remarkable when you stop and really think about it when all the Europeans came to America and began to move west, and all of them did virtually, they began to have to cross the Appalachian chain of mountains, which was a major obstacle and many of them walked and some rode and so forth but when they reached the peak of those mountains, they began to realize that there were streams flowing in south-westwardly directions, many of which were the route they took. And it might have been rough at first because the streams were small but they would build bateaus or canoes or bark canoes or dugouts or things like that and float things down but once they got into the valley, like into the Canal River Valley, they had an opportunity for a bigger stream. Now the Canal River is only about a hundred miles long, it’s the Great Canal River, but they would build flatboats and keelboats and other boats and they would begin to build these boats to carry their family, their livestock, their worldly positions down the river with them and to do this, they would build boats. So they became the super-highways, the interstates of the day in more ways than one; including the fact that they attempted to have upstream and downstream navigation, which led to the building of keelboats and the keelboats were pulled back upstream with manpower so it became a different thing. This led of course to the evolution in the early seventeenth century the invention of the steamboat in England which was carried to America and they began to use it for powering a lot of things including riverboats. When that happened in 1811 on the western river, the Mississippi River riverboats, it changed the world of America and they became the harbinger of bringing progress, trade, development, settlement through the entire heartland of America from the Appalachian Mountains to the foothills of the Rockies, it was steamboats. And proof of this to me is there are thousands of pictures of steamboats so everybody must have loved the boats. There had to have been a reason, from snapshots to formal portraits there are pictures of boats, steamboats, towboats, showboats, ferryboats, dish boats, juntboats…
Alan Bates: Gunboats.
Jerald W. Jerry Sutphin: Any kind of boat that you can think of because America really became a rivering society at that period. This all began to change after the Civil War but it continued well up into the 1930s so they’ve always been a significant part of American history but an overlooked segment of American history because our educational system has failed to inform and educate our young people about the significant role of our rivers and what they have done for this nation.
How would you describe your relationship with the river?
Jerald W. Jerry Sutphin: On a personal basis, I would tell you this, I had a very very dear friend who is now passed away. His name was John Hartford. He wrote Gentle on my Mind and a few other things. You may know the name. John, we were talking about this one time and I asked John, I said “John I know that you lived in St. Louis and I know how you got interested in it because Ruth Ferris was your grade school teacher and sort of dipped you in the river early in life.” He said “Yes, but I’ll tell ya, you don’t get interested in the river, the river gets interested in you.” And I’m not so sure that he wasn’t absolutely right. I didn’t grow up near a river; I grew up near the headwaters of the Gayandot River in West Virginia which was hardly navigable. When I got hooked on this, by a lot of friends and people I met and things I got to do, it ended up that it became a major portion of my life. As a result, I have about; I’ve collected about eight or nine thousand photographs or negatives. I have a rather sizeable library on the river history and, just like today, I’m out here riding a boat for a reason and I’ve been involved with doing that now for well over forty years. I don’t know anything else that I could say that would really change it though.
Oral History Collected aboard the Belle of Louisville on October 9, 2010
Bill Warner: My name is Bill Warner. I’m here on this lovely afternoon on the BELLE OF LOUISVILLE on October 9th and I’ve been asked, sitting with my friend and brother Alan Bates, to talk a little about the BELLE OF LOUISVILLE when we first bought it. That was in 1962. There were basically three people involved; one of them was Charley Farnsley who was then a law partner of Judge Cooks and a former, very well-known mayor of the City of Louisville. Another player was Mr. Jay Douglas Nunn, who was then kind of an urban affairs and general specialty reporter for the Courier-Journal, which I think very much underrates what he did. He was an urban designer by trade, he was a journalist, but he and Mayor Farnsley found out that the steamer AVALON was sitting up in Cincinnati, was about to be auctioned. They came up with the idea of buying the steamer and bringing it back to Louisville as a symbol of civic pride; an icon of the city was very much in their thinking. So they got together. Nobody had any authorization from their respectful governmental authorities to do anything. Basically, the three county commissioners, who governed along with Judge Cook, were all very good men, very prominent men, they took no position on it essentially. They didn’t say “don’t do it” but they didn’t say “If you do it, we’ll ...” they kind of said “Well we’ll get back to you” and they never did. So they went up to Cincinnati, bought the boat. I guess it was towed back to Louisville by somebody.
Alan Bates: Yeah.
Bill Warner: It ended up on the Fourth Street Warf, which looks a lot different—looked a lot different than it does now. It still had probably what was the original cobblestones going back to the civil war or earlier. The boat was tied up. It was cold-ironed, what we Navy people call ‘cold-ironed’. Alan and I were talking earlier this morning, or this afternoon, about the mooring lines that they sent along with the boat. They looked to me like they ransacked all the lockers up and down the river for about fifty miles to get the worst, tattered, lines they could find. Incidentally, I am a retired Navy captain, so I know something about ships and mooring lines and so forth. It was just a miracle that these lines held. Nobody else, of course, could not spend any money on the boat. One of our leading citizens filed a lawsuit which said that the warrant that Judge Cook had issued to buy the boat was illegal; that ended up in court. In the meanwhile, we had no money to do anything. At some point during this poverty process, Alan came on board and we had an informal board we set up to loosely-- and clad glass was on that, Steve Click…
Alan Bates: C.W.
Bill Warner: C.W. Stoll, various people. They were kind of an advisory board and so basically, for many months, until we were able to get some help on board—I mean one of my jobs was to go down and check on the mooring lines. I did so with increasing concern as they deteriorated.
Alan Bates: (Mooring Lines) that’s what you tie her to shore with.
Bill Warner: There big hawsers, big long ropes, thick ropes. They wharf had, what I would call rings, there is no naval equivalent of that, I don’t know what they them, but they’re…
Alan Bates: We call them rings.
Bill Warner: Ok, They’re rings set into concrete. I don’t remember what we have which are called bollards, which are kind of standing stubs that you can put a line in. So the mooring lines ran from the BELLE to the rings to keep the boat against the shore. We, along with the advisory board, with Alan and his followers, Alan at the time was probably our best-known river guy. Was and still is, I think a licensed master and mate and knows river-lore; taught me a lot. I’m a seagoing guy and I had a whole new lore to learn of the river, particularly how to pronounce ‘calliope’.
Alan Bates: You always gotta remember its ‘CAL-E-OPE’.
Bill Warner: ‘CAL-E-OPE’.
Alan Bates: And it’s played by a ‘PER-FESS-ER’.
Bill Warner: A ‘PER-FESS-ER’, that’s correct.
Alan Bates: Not a ‘PROFESSOR’, ‘PER-FESS-ER’.
Bill Warner: And not only that, but at sea and naval vessels, if we get closer than five hundred yards to another vessel, we go to general quarters and get ready to collide. The river people routinely strap razors on the fronts of the tugboats and shave each other with them; I had to learn that. But at any rate, we assembled a large corps of volunteers who began to bring the boat up to standards and of course before it could do anything; it had to be licensed by the coast guard.
Alan Bates: Yeah.
Bill Warner: And pass a whole bunch of standards. The engine, everything was deteriorated. Alan reminded me this morning that, or this afternoon, that a lot of moveable equipment had been—essential moveable equipment like fire hoses, had, well what shall we say, escaped.
Alan Bates: I say stolen.
Bill Warner: Yeah. Right. So that was a long process. Just hundreds of volunteers, I mean people who would come down to paint and scrape and suppliers. I hope somewhere we have a record of them but I mean the whole community, with the exception of a few politicians on the other side of us, pitched in. What we were shooting for, the first event on the BELLE, was a dinner at which the governor of Indiana and the governor of Kentucky attended. I guess there was what, Alan, a couple hundred people on the ballroom?
Alan Bates: Yeah, probably four or five hundred.
Bill Warner: And of course we had no facilities to cook anything so I had to be catered. At that dinner, we had a lot of our historian friends. John Hunt-Morgan was a Civil War Confederate Cavalry General who had—Kentucky during the Civil War was kind of a swing state. Louisville and that area was pretty much union. In fact, General Grant and his staff had their headquarters here but John Hunt-Morgan ran the Kentucky legislature out of Frankfurt and they met in the Jefferson County Courthouse for like what Alan, like three years? Two years or three years?
Alan Bates: Something like that.
Bill Warner: Yeah, but he eventually he got greedy and he was having so much success in Kentucky that he took his troops across the river and tried to terrorize the Hoosiers. The Hoosiers, they captured em’ and they took his flag, which, in those days, that was worse than taking your horse I guess. But at any rate, one of the events that occurred, and one of the headline events at the dinner, was that the governor of Indiana returned General Morgan’s flag to the governor of Kentucky with great fanfare and so forth. But eventually, that I think was where we turned the corner. We were able to get political support, money. Alan, I don’t know how many hundreds or thousands of hours he put in this thing but we were able to get the boat up mechanically. Certainly, in terms of—Nowhere near what it looks like now, I mean, it was still very primitive. Somebody asked me, I’m gonna ask Alan here, about the nineteenth century metal ceiling on the ballroom. My recollection was that that was covered, when we first got it, with wood.
Alan Bates: It was rotten acoustic tile.
Bill Warner: Yeah, they had acoustic tile over that beautiful ceiling on the ballroom down there which we found and uncovered. It’s still there.
Alan Bates: That’s ceiling was the very first thing we went after. I had three garbage men and their foreman as my total crew.
Bill Warner: We did, we got the mayor of the City of Louisville to dispatch a crew and they were all of the opposite party and quite surly about being assigned to a republican project till Alan with his charm and professionalism won them over and they became great enthusiast.
Alan Bates: Tell em about the nickel in the judge’s drawer.
Bill Warner: Nickel in the judge’s drawer?
Alan Bates: Judge Cook would receive these complainers in his office and they would gripe and raise cane about spending all that money on an obsolete steamboat and he kept a supply of nickels in his desk drawer and he’d give them one nickel and say “Here’s your share.”
Bill Warner: “Here’s your share.” That’s right and Bill Cogger did the same, he got as much complaints. I think one of the things to put that in perspective is that the first budget that that administration handled, which would have been the ’61-’62 fiscal year for county government was a million and a half dollars. The last budget before merger in 2003 was about 220 million and a lot of that was occupational tax but I mean the government was really very small so $34,000, for a lot of politicians today, that’s not even pocket change. But $34,000 was an enormous amount of money, money that we certainly didn’t have budgeted. But that’s true, Cook would do that. Occasionally, we would mail him to somebody. But I guess the next big event that we geared up for was the race, the Great Steamboat Race.
Alan Bates: Yes, the race with the DELTA QUEEN.
Bill Warner: We had the first on in ’63.
Alan Bates: Yes.
Bill Warner: In connection with Derby.
Alan Bates: We lost a twelve mile race by six miles.
Bill Warner: Well that’s true and the tradition, which Alan also taught me, was that steamboats were equipped with deer antlers and that the prize for the first steamboat race was to be deer antlers. We did not know where to get deer antlers, other than going out and shooting a deer, which was not recommend, but at any rate, it turns out that our executive administrator in our office, a lady named Joanne Kosrog, who is now retired and living in California, her husband was, shall we say, eccentric in a way, they had a set of beautiful antlers that he had gotten from someplace.
Alan Bates: And they were elk antlers though.
Bill Warner: They were elk antlers?
Alan Bates: Oh yeah, we wanted deer antlers, but we got elk antlers.
Bill Warner: Ok. Well they were dealing with a lot of city boys like me that didn’t know the difference. But at any rate, we got those antlers from Kenny and Joanne and gilded them and that was the first prize. Then the race, I guess, has gone on almost every year since then.
Alan Bates: Up until the DELTA QUEEN retired.
Bill Warner: Yes. Right. Some years we had three boats in the race, we had
Alan Bates: JULIA BELLE SWAIN
Bill Warner: The JULIA BELLE SWAIN got in it.
Alan Bates: Oh and one year there were four. The JULIA BELLE SWAIN, the NATCHEZ…
Bill Warner: Right, I remember the NATCHEZ, I rode the NATCHEZ.
Alan Bates: And the DELTA QUEEN and the BELLE OF LOUISVILLE.
Bill Warner: There was all sorts of cheating in the race, I remember that. One time we had the JOE TAYLOR run out from behind Six Mile Island and push our stern around and head it back down where the DELTA QUEEN was still struggling but that’s how it got started. It was a lot of fun and what they’ve done with it is just wonderful. I’m serving on the, and have the honor of serving on the Centennial Committee. The BELLE will be one hundred years old in 2014. We have a volunteer committee that is working on putting together a series of events on that and actually, 2012 will be the 50th anniversary of its being here in Louisville as the BELLE. But that’s it.
What would you say that the river means to each of you?
Bill Warner: I was raised on the Mississippi River so a river, although the Mississippi River is much different from the Ohio in that it’s not a recreational river like the Ohio is, and also I’ve been around the sea and everything my whole life so it’s important to me to be around water. It’s a terrific asset. We have some people in Louisville that are complaining because the MSD is spending 850 million dollars to clean it up and I think it’s great that they’re doing it and pretty soon will be back to where you can fish in it and so forth but it’s a great asset. Well I mean, if it weren’t for the Ohio River in particularly the Falls, Louisville wouldn’t be there. Louisville was started as a sort of camp settlement where the Falls was a far as people could get with their flat-bottomed boats. They’d have to stop and portage by land and then reboat so that was then… When did they get the Portland Canal, about 1830?
Alan Bates: It was finished in 1830, yes.
Bill Warner: So they had a canal that went through and now we have this magnificent locks and dams but it’s just an incredibly important geographical feature for the city and to me personally. I love it. I love getting out on it. I could do this every day all day.
Alan Bates: Oh my, I just like everything about it and I’ve been here when it’s so miserable that you could hardly stand it and still loved it. For example, one time we tore out a part of the deck on a beautiful Friday afternoon in January and when we came back to put the deck back in on Monday, it was thirteen below zero and a strong wind but I loved it anyway!
Bill Warner: I’m the same way, I love the river, the sea and particularly the beach in any weather, I mean, whether it’s thirty below and blowing or a sunny day like this. It’s just very, and of course I’m told by smarter people than me, that all of us are descended from the sea from one way or the other, from the point of evolution. That’s why we have salt in our blood, because of that.
Oral History Collected aboard the Belle of Louisville on October 9, 2010
My name is Dennis Adkins and I live in Southern Indiana, Georgetown, Indiana. In 2005, that’s when they still had the International Bluegrass Musicians Convention in Louisville and that was like the last year that they had it there and then Nashville snatched it away from us, which is something that really upset me. I couldn’t believe that they let Nashville grab that. When Nashville saw a dollar to be made they decided “Well we may want this down here, ya know for our music industry.” Anyway, Louisville and Mayor Jerry, or whoever the powers may be, let them snatch it away from us. But that was the last year that they had the International Bluegrass Music Association, IBMA it was called, they had the convention in Louisville and John Hartford had died the year before and he was a promoter of the riverboats and like I said, he was a steamboat captain, certified steamboat captain himself, and he was a songwriter, musician, and they had a cruise to benefit him, or honor him in 2005. They had his son there which is James Hartford and his daughter also was on board, I can’t remember her name though. John Hartford’s daughter was on also. But they had a lot of other musicians there also, like Tim O’Bryan, Lori Lewis and Tom Rosen and a lot of other musicians were there. Like I said, I think that was 2005. After that was when the music festival left and I was talking to Lori Lewis and some of the other musicians and they were really really disappointed that the festival had been moved away from the river, you know, away from the Ohio River to Nashville and they were really upset about it. With the powers at be, there wasn’t much you could do about it. And then, let’s see, what else. I guess that’s about it about that. Like I said, I’ve been on the BELLE. Like, in 1999 we went on a BELLE cruise through the locks and dams and my daughter was like in the first-grade and she wrote a Young Author’s thing, they had a Young Author’s program, and she had wrote a book about our experience through the locks and dams, going downstream from Louisville on the BELLE. That was before they built the new locks and dams. We really enjoyed that trip. I think that they still do that but we were wanting to go back and do that. She won the Young Author’s Award by writing that book about our experience through the locks and dams and I’ll never forget that. I mean, I’ve been on the BELLE several times for different parties and functions and stuff like that. Always tried to patronize them, you know, whenever we could. That’s about it.
What does the BELLE OF LOUISVILLE mean to you?
What the BELLE means to me is tradition. The BELLE is always in the news; it seems to me like, for one thing or another, for whether it be for tragedy or good times. It runs the full spectrum and it seems like you’re always hearing about the BELLE; you know, “what’s the BELLE doing?” and “The BELLE gonna sink” or “Somebody is trying to sink the BELLE”, its all good you know. It’s like an old shoe. You can’t always count on the BELLE to be there and to be like a city landmark, a state landmark for Indiana and Kentucky. Steeps you in tradition; it’s just a good thing. Hopefully they can persevere for years and years to come.
How would you describe your relationship with the river?
Well I’ve always live in Southern Indiana close to the river and I’ve had a lot of good times on the Ohio River. Fishing or boating, or whatever it might be you know. My friends have always had boats, I’ve never owned an actual boat myself but I’ve always had a lot of good times on the Ohio River you know. I remember one time we were watching a big buck swim the river, on our—we had a little run-about, watching a big buck trying to swim the river and he was like halfway across and we started messing with him, being the youngsters we were and teenager. Finally I told them, I said, “You’re gonna drown that deer you know!” and finally they let him go and he made it across the river. This was in Brandenburg area. I thought, “He’s not gonna make it to the other side, he’s gonna drown.” Well he the other side of that bank and went straight up a cliff like he wasn’t winded at all—I mean it was just like a vertical cliff and he just ran straight up that thing like he wasn’t winded at all, it was fascinating to me, you know, the power of that animal. Just swimming in that river and us messing with em. Its things like that you know, that you remember about the river. All the barge traffic there, the incidents that they’ve had there with, you know, barges sinking and all the time barges breaking away and it’s just always something. The river means a lot to the Louisville area, I don’t think they realize the resource that they have sometimes, with the Ohio River. It just seems like recently they’ve woken up and realized the potential that the river has for the community and stuff. Of course with Thunder Over Louisville, they’ve capitalized on that. The river means a lot to me. I hope that they do this cruise every year because I’m going to try and get on it if they do it. Of course, my daughter going to Hanover—Hanover basically got started by the Ohio River. Back in the day, you know, one of the main reasons you could get to Hanover was by the Ohio River. That the way a lot of people arrived at Hanover College. If you notice, right there at the river, near Hanover College, there is like an old parallel tree line there where the old flatboats used to come and deliver students and they would walk up that hill and there would be other students down there helping them pack their stuff up there to go to college. It was the 1800s. I forget now how old the college is but it’s one of the oldest colleges in the United States but the Ohio River is basically one of the reasons that they became successful when it got established, you know, because of the availability of the travel of the Ohio River. Hanover has it steeped in the river tradition too. That’s about it I guess.
There was a tradition with some buddies and I that every year, we would make our homemade raft and we would travel from New Albany to Tell City on the river. One year I remember we had like, we had a Honda motorcycle and ran it through a combine reel; we made our own paddleboat! We had like fifteen forward speeds and like five reverse speeds. As we went down the river, we would collect drift wood and whatever stuff would be floating in the river and we would add it to our raft. I remember one year we found this big giant Pink Panther that was floating in the river and we pulled it out of the river and nailed it up on the raft but every year we would try to do that. One year I remember we took like an old farm wagon and put a bunch of barrels underneath it and rolled it out into the river; it still had the wheels on it and everything and we rolled it out to the river. Louisville had, they used to have a raft race, in Louisville, before, now they do the ducks—they float the ducks down the river. Well back when that first all got started, they had an actual raft race where you bring your own raft. They only did it a couple years because it got out of control. It had to be the late 80s, yeah, maybe early 80s, but they did it for like two years, I think. That’s when we took the farm wagon with the wheels still on it and put some barrels underneath it and then we threw all our coolers and stuff on there. I remember we finished dead last. The Army Corps of Engineers ended up towing us back upstream to a ramp and we pulled the raft out, still on the wheels, on a ramp out there and took off, loaded it on the back of a truck and took off. I completely forgot about all that.
What was it like going down the river in a raft?
It was hilarious. I mean we were all, I mean we had coolers of beer and it was just like out of control. It’s no wonder that the Army Corps of Engineers made them quit doing it because it was just too much fun. I know we had like a dozen people on there at least. You know, it was just like riding the river level just enough to keep us out of the water. But I remember that. Then they did away with it. They started doing the duck thing and different things but yeah, if you research that you’ll see that they did that. I think they did that for a couple of years maybe but we were involved with that and I completely forgot about all that. That was something else because it was on the river.
Where would you all go, from Louisville to where?
Well we lived in Laconia, Indiana, which you know, they have their own—they have a few ramps down in that part of the river too. But we would bring the farm wagon up and go to Louisville; like Cherokee Park was the entrance point I think. That’s where we put the farm wagon in the water. Then we would coast down. We didn’t even make it to like the bridges. We were just; we were dead in the water, basically. Then I remember the Army Corps of Engineers because we were the last ones in the water and they were wanting us out of there bad, you know. So they ended up towing us back to the ramp, then we pulled it out. Yeah, they did away with that, I think we – I like to think that we had a big part in the elimination of that. That was just a little P.S. to the story.
Oral History Collected aboard the Belle of Louisville on October 9, 2010
My name is Robert Bladen.
What is your relationship with the river?
Well I was raised—born and raised on the river. Been on the river practically all my life, except for the time that I was in the service. I was born up close to Bethlehem is, you know where Bethlehem is? Bethlehem is my old stomping grounds. I used to ski and I took the kids, I got two daughters, got them in the water real early. I got them swimin’ and skin’ and we just, that was our usual thing every weekend during the summer you know. The kids liked to play and like I say, I love the river. We’d take the trips. I can’t tell you a whole lot; I’ve never had no exciting experiences.
What is your favorite memory on the river?
Favorite memory? Just being on it, travelin’ on it and taking these trips, day trips, just takin’ day trips. That’s about all, that’s about the best I can remember.
What do you find attractive about the river?
Well, just spend the day on the river and everybody gets every once and awhile we’d stop and it was a hot day, just stop right in the middle of the river and take a swim off the boat you know. Swim for awhile and get back in and either keep coming down the river or back home. We come down here to Louisville several times, just take a trip and go to Captain’s Quarters and down to King Fish, just pull in and have dinner you know. Thems the things I remember most, just stuff like that. I’ve had no really exciting incidents or anything happen. I fell off the boat one time into the water runnin’. I was bully-jumping and I didn’t have no life jacket or nothin’
How did you get back?
Well the guys on the boat, they throwed me a line pretty quick, I didn’t have to stay there very long. Of course I was always a pretty good swimmer. Anyway, they just throwed me a line and pulled me on over to the boat. I did fall off into the river one time. I had a little trouble getting back on but not a whole lot, kind of scared the ones on the boat there because they didn’t know how well I could swim, you know. It wasn’t no big deal. But actually, I’ve got no incidents really.
When did that happen?
That’s been several years ago. It was quite a few years ago.
How has the river changed throughout your lifetime?
Well the river itself hasn’t changed a whole lot; a lot more traffic on it then what it was when I was growing up. Didn’t have nothing like the traffic that’s on the river now. But the river itself is just about the same old river as it was when I was a kid. I started playing in it when I was, I just can’t remember how old I was when I learned to swim, but as long as I can remember, I’ve known how to swim. I just spend a lot of time on the river. I used to get out in an old john-boat, my mom; she’s giving me heck all the time. I get out in this john-boat by myself, you know, driving around, riding these big waves from these big steamboats. They’d make a great big wave you know. I’d always like to get out and ride them. I’d just get in the john-boat, take off and get out there and ride them waves and my mom would get upset about it.
What steamboats did you see?
TOM GREENE, the CHRIS GREENE, the GORDON C. GREENE, all the old Greene Line. I don’t know whether you know or remember any of them, probably the Greene Line you’ve heard of. See they were packets. They run between Cincinnati and Louisville and they had daily trips, you know, and I’d know when it’s coming. I’d see it and I’d get in the john-boat and get out and get in behind em, where the big waves were, you know, and ride them waves. I always liked to do that. Of course mom, like I said, mom would raise heck but I’d still done it.
Is this your first time on the BELLE OF LOUISVILLE?
This is my first time taking a cruise like this yes. It is. I like to do this. They don’t have the cruises very often.
What does the river mean to you in your life?
Well I just like it; it’s just a pleasure for me. I like it. I live on it. I live on it now, my place runs right to the river. I live up in Milton, you know where Milton is? Well that’s where I live and my place runs right to the river. When I had my boat, I had my boat and my docks right there all the time you know. I’d just go down over the bank, hit the boat and go whenever I wanted to go. The river means a lot to me, I like the river. Always have, probably always will. I’ve done a lot on it, not any long trips—I’ve been to Cincinnati, been up Kentucky River about eighty miles, that’s about as far away as I’ve been, you know, taking trips. I’ve spent a lot of time just taking day cruises down here or up to Cincinnati or someplace. I’ve really enjoyed it, I really enjoy the river. I always have and probably always will.
What do you think that the river means to the community?
Well I think it means quite a bit to the community. There’s a heck of a lot of traffic, commercial traffic and all on the river. A lot of these towns, cities, get a lot of their supplies from the river, you know. I think it means quite a bit to any town along the river.
When you think of the Ohio River, what memory comes to mind?
Just gettin’ out on it, travelin’ on it I guess. No special times, just being on the river, riding on it, taking these trips with groups you know. Get a group together for a day, like come down here to Louisville and spend a day or go up river to Marcum Dam up in that area, just spend the day ridin’. We usually stop someplace and eat and have a good time. Come down here, we come down here to Kingfish quite a few times. To order Kingfish.
What is it like to navigate on the Ohio?
It was good. I mean the only biggest problem I had at times, come down in this area and there would be a lot of sailboats out. You’d have to watch sailboats out real close because they know they got the right-of-way and some of them just seem like darin’ you to hit em. So you’d have to be really careful when you got down to this—they don’t have it like that anymore, back here is newer and there were sailboats all over the place and you’d just have to watch when you get down to this area or Louisville area. Like I say, they’d just run right in front of you, darin’ you to hit em. If you did, you’d be in the wrong you know, they got the right-of-way. So that was the worst part of that, just coming down in this area. I used to come down here quite a bit, stop at the Kingfish or Captain’s Quarters.
Do you have any comments on the impact of the river on history?
Well not a whole lot. It’s got a lot of history and all that to it, a lot of history to it. The steamboats years ago, that’s the main way of traffic back there years ago was the steamboats on the river right here. I haven’t got much else to say about that.
What do you think of the BELLE OF LOUISVILLE?
Oh this is great! This is great.
What is your favorite feature of the boat?
Just to ride in it. Ridin’, just seein’, lookin’ at everything on the shore, the other people going by, you know. To me it’s just enjoyable, I like it. I’ll probably do it again if they ever take another cruise.
Oral History Collected aboard the Belle of Louisville on October 9, 2010
My name is Jerald W. Jerry Sutphin. I’m from Huntington, West Virginia. In looking back and reflecting on what I said earlier, I guess I’d like to probably talk a little bit about some of the things that have evolved through the years on the river. I just came down from the pilot house on the BELLE OF LOUISVILLE and I realized that when you’re in a steamboat, particularly one like the BELLE, things have not changed a great deal. There’s more high-tech equipment there of course, than there was before but it’s still a great pleasure to stand in the pilot house, look out over the head of the boat, and realize that for ninety-six years or more, this steamboat has been carrying passengers and people and introducing them to the river. When you stop and think about, going back into the pilot house and talking about high-tech things, you begin to realize that now days, on a modern diesel towboat that it is just a floating high-tech machine. It has the very highest, efficient diesel-powered engines. It has sonar, radar, satellite phones. It has sound-depth finders in the head of their tows so it has become a high-tech business. You have very highly-trained and skilled crews on board, including the pilots, the engineers, and the deck-hands. So technology has not been surpassed on the river, because it’s probably one of the oldest modes of transportation, but still, in 2011 and in ensuing years, it’s still one of the most high-tech forms of transportation there is in America. In saying that, I think it’s interesting to note that river-shipping in American waterways today is the cheapest ton-per-mile shipping there is. By that I mean it cost less to ship one ton one mile on a river than any other way than there is in American transportation. This is one of those overlooked things too. You also have to recognize the fact that on the American rivers today, many of them, the Ohio River, the Upper Mississippi River, the Great Canal River, The Illinois River, there are a series of locks and dams. Now, locks and dams act as a water stairway for a lack of a better way to describe them. The dams create pools and the locks are what they use to get past the dams and it’s a highly efficient system that has been developed since the early 1800s. When you stop and you realize that all Western Rivers at one time were very very seasonable rivers, and in saying that I mean that the rivers in the summer would get very very low. So low in fact, that you could walk across the river and that includes the Ohio River. I have photographs that show horse and team going across the Ohio River and the water’s so low that the wheels on the wagon were hardly getting damp. So it was not an uncommon practice up until actually about 1930s, 1940s it began to change a great deal. So they began to build early locks and dams on the Ohio in the 1880s, same thing on the Great Canal and these locks and dams would create year-round navigation and this was extremely important for particularly the towboats. By this time the packet boats were already thinning out because of competition with trains and also the idea that the internal combustion engine was now having a great influence on the American public, particularly in trucking because you could truck things from one point to another probably quicker and easier than you could put it on a boat and it was probably a little cheaper at that point. Short-trade packet boats were going out of business but towboats were coming on strong and I mean steam stern-wheel towboats with that era. In doing that, these steam towboats would carry bulk commodities, principally coal, sand and gravel; some would have petroleum products, and perhaps other things that they could not ship otherwise, chemicals. So it was not uncommon then for these boats then to become the prevalent boat of the river. With the advent of the passing of the packet, you begin to see more and more towboats and this meant that it was a part of the national economy and the national welfare to keep the rivers open. And in so doing, of course, this meant that the locks and dams became a major thing. For those having an interest, it’s an interesting thing to study these locks and dams. The new ones on the Ohio River have twelve-hundred foot lock chambers which are bigger than the Panama Canal lock chambers. This is a little known fact that that they’d be interesting to people who have an interest in engineering or construction-design things to study those locks and dams that have been prepared and built by the Corps of Engineers which is a federal agency, part of the US Army but it’s one of the few, if not the only, US Army unit to have a civil works program and that is building locks and dams and maintaining the river for year-round navigation. And this started in the 1809 so to think about that you think how rivers have really been important for all that period of time. My personal interest has led me to do a lot of things on the river and with the river that I never ever imagined or envisioned myself doing. Growing up in a small town in West Virginia, going to school and studying art and journalism and things like that I began to realize that that was probably what I’d end up doing but I went to work for the Corps of Engineers and stayed with them for over twenty years and I learned then about the river but I really got fascinated by the boats by working there and it led me to go on to do other things. In 1980s, middle early 1980s, I left the Corps and started my own business and I not only did graphic design and visual works and artwork, visual communication projects, I ended up having a major portion of my company do river projects. I was involved with doing a number of exhibits. One or two of the biggest ones was the ‘Ohio River Odyssey’ that was done by the Huntington Museum of Art that led to a job with the Smithsonian Institution where I did a series of short films and helped to write the scripting and actually do the production work out on the field with a film crew which became a part of the permanent exhibit in the American history technology museum with the Smithsonian and later I ended up writing a book. I then got involved with doing another major exhibit unit which was ‘Always a River’ travel barge that traveled from Pittsburg to Cairo back to Charleston, West Virginia, then brought down to Louisville and the exhibits, many of them were taken off and are now housed in the Falls of the Ohio Museum. I am now a part of the Bicentennial Committee for trying to work up the celebration for the first steamboat on the Western river. And 2012 will be the two hundredth year of the first steamboat on Western rivers. So it seems whether I want to or not, I stay involved with the river and river history and it’s something that I have developed a great passion for and believe in fully and I think that it’s something that more Americans need to know and understand and hopefully your doing these interviews will lead more and more young people at the college level to fully understand this and look into it, see what it’s like, see what you find out about it, see what they can do to help people in the future understand the rivers of America. I think that’s it.
Stole-away on a Steamboat
My great great grandfather, John Tetley, Sr. was born in Halifax Yorkshire, England in 1801. He was married there in 1823. Two children were born in
England. He came to America in the late 1820’s. They had a total of nine children, with some dying young.
One of the nine children was my great grandfather, William Tetley who was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1835. His father, John was a gunsmith by trade, with William learning as an apprentice to him and his partners. Some-
time later they moved the business to Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.
When William was a young adult, around twenty one years of age, possibly 1856, he stole away on a steamboat coming down the Ohio River. He was
discovered at the Falls of the Ohio River in Clarksville, Indiana and was kicked off.
This story was told to my father, Walter Tetley by his grandfather,William as he spent time with him, when they both lived in Illinois. William had nine
children and was also a gunsmith. I now am very fortunate to own one of the guns he made. Besides living in Pennsylvania, he had lived in Kansas, Missouri
and Illinois. He died in 1920.
The strange and ironic thing about this story is how it evolved. William’s youngest child was my grandfather, Robert Tetley who was born in Pana, Illinois
in 1877. He worked for the New York Central Railroad in Illinois and eventually transferred to Indiana, locating in Indianapolis, Jeffersonville and eventually
building a house for his family in Clarksville, Indiana in 1923, not too far from the Falls of the Ohio River. This is where I lived all my childhood.
Rowena “Tetley” Gullion
April 11, 2011