Chapter XVI

Burlington Saturday Evening Post

Capt E. H. Thomas    



So named as a result of rivalry in dress

When Five Steamers Were aground at the Head of Rush

Chute -- 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 them. 

   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.  


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