IOWA HISTORY PROJECT
Saturday Evening Post
E. H. Thomas
OLD WHITE COLLAR LINE
named as a result of rivalry in dress
Five Steamers Were aground at the Head of Rush
-- Bad Places Between Burlington and Skunk River.
As I remember it, the official
title of the Davidson Line, the name under which it was incorporated,
was the Northwestern Transportation Co.
Later on it received a second or “nickname,” and was ever
after known as the White Collar Co.
and thereby hangs a tale. As
I have told you in a previous paragraph, the pilots on the St. Louis end
of the river were some what extravagant in the matter of dress.
As a part of their outfit, they wore a cloth shirt, brown,
lavender and other colors. These
shirts were made in St. Louis, cut to fit.
In lots of six, they cost $3.50 each.
And this is the way the pilots ordered them; each took a half
dozen. I have a distinct
recollection of going out to the shirt factory, and there coughing up
$21 for six shirts. I felt
that my salary did not justify the investment, but it was the custom,
and it had to go. The
collars of these shirts were made of the same material and sewed into
Now it came to pass that these pilots with the brown and lavender
shirts, on their trips to St. Paul, discovered that in the matter of
dress, they had been outclassed by the men handling the Davidson boats.
The latter gentlemen had gone so far as to discard the time
honored cloth collar, and were wearing a white one, made of the finest
linen. It was attached to
the shirt with gold buttons, and when soiled, could be removed and sent
to the laundry. This aroused
a feeling of jealousy among the pilots from the St. Louis end of the
river, and the commenced calling Davidson’s men “White Collar
Crowd,” and when referring
to the line called it the White Collar Co.”
The people in the different towns took up the cry, and the
Northwestern had a new name. Commodore
Davidson accepted the title, and at once ordered white collars painted
on the chimneys of all his boats. Some
of the boats now in operation are still wearing the white collar.
I remember that the year 1868 was a dry low water season.
The two high places were at the head of Rush chute, just above
Burlington and just below the little town of Cap Augris, Mo.
There were other shoal places between Davenport and St. Louis,
where we would rub the sand but go over.
At the two places named there was but 30 inches of water.
There were five steamers aground at one time at the head of Rush
chute. The boat on which I
was employed was the fifth to land on the high place.
We attempted to go between the other boats and jump the reef.
Boats will sometimes do this, hit and jump, hit and jump, until
they get over the bar, but in this case our plan was a failure.
Our boat went hard aground, and we remained there for 15 or 16
hours. With lines ahead to
pull, and spars set to lift and push, and the nigger engines at work,
the five crews were a busy, noisy gang.
Within 24 hours the five boats were forced over the bar, and
continued their voyage to St. Louis.
At Cap Augris the water got so thin that it became necessary, to
“light” over the bar. With
barges take our freight over the bar a little at a time, reloading it
below. With all of the
trouble the boats were kept on the move.
The freight was on the banks and in the warehouses at the
different towns and it had to go. If
the boats went aground they were pulled and sparred off the sand, and
finished their trips.
The best of them will sometimes lose their marks in the night
time. Between Burlington and
the mouth of Skunk river was a bad place in low water.
There were a number of square crossings in this short distance.
On the down steam run it was necessary to get your boat down
under the sand reefs, and make a straight run for the other shore. One
of these crossings was shoal, and a story was told on one of the boys in
reference to it. Bill knew
the river along there well enough and spent his life on the boats, but
was of an excitable nervous temperament.
He was always looking into the future, and loading up with
trouble before it got to him, making sure that he would hit the sand of
the rocks at some point ahead of him.
It was said that Bill came down on to the Skunk river flats one
dark night with the prediction that he would hit the shoal crossing.
When he got down there among the reefs, his head went wrong, and
he made the shoal crossing three times before he reached it, and on his
fourth trip across the river went up on to it, high and dry.
[This may not be the end…]
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