IOWA HISTORY PROJECT
Saturday Evening Post
E. H. Thomas
WANTED FOR THE BOATS
Hold Key To Situation
Steamers do Not Receive Shipments, River Will Not be Used
In these latter days it is seldom that we hear of one railroad
corporation fighting another. If
they have a difference they get together and settle it.
During the 60’s the railroad officials had not yet got onto the
pool, or combination plan of running their business.
They could be depended on to line up against the boats, but now
and then there would be a disagreement and a row between two rival
corporations. At one time in the 60’s the Rock Island and C. B.
& Q. companies got at it. At
that time Dallas City, Keithsburg, New Boston, Port Louisa, Muscatine
and Andalusia were great grain points.
I have counted as many as 500 teams waiting their turns at the
warehouses in these towns, mostly loaded with corn.
There were two markets for the grain, St. Louis and Chicago.
The grain buyers would figure the price in these two cities and
the difference between the water and rail rate, and then ship to the
point where they could do the best.
If the price was the same in Chicago and St. Louis, the grain
would go to the latter city by the boats the cheaper water route.
There came a time when the price of corn went to a low figure in
St. Louis and remained that way for two years.
Under such conditions the corn was shipped to Chicago.
The C. B. & Q. officials discovered that all of the grain
between the rapids was being taken by the Northern Line boats and
landed at Rock Island, from whence it was shipped to Chicago on the Rock
Island road. There appeared
to be some sort of a deal between the Packet company and the Rock Island
company. The Burlington
officials were not pleased with this arrangement, and made a roar, but
the shipments continue to Rock Island.
I had been at Keithsburg during the winter, where I owned a half
interest in a newspaper. Along
in March I received a telegram from the owners of the tow boat Pearl,
saying that they wanted my services for the season. I at once sold my
interest in the paper and went to Muscatine, where the Pearl was in
winter quarters. We discussed the prospects for business for the season,
and I told the owners of the Pearl of the fight between the C B. &
Q. and Rock Island companies. I
then went to Burlington and made my proposition to the Burlington
officials to put the Pearl and four barges in the trade between
Andalusia and Burlington, make a cut of 10 cents per hundred pounds, and
to divert the grain business to East Burlington, and send it to Chicago
over the C. B. & Q. road. We
then agreed on the proper division of the freight money, on the basis of
a ten per cent cut. I then
visited all the grain buyers and shippers, and they agreed to stay with
the Pearl, on our proposition to reduce the freight charges.
Then the fight commenced for the corn sacks.
A contest between the C. B. & Q. and the Pearl and the
Northern Line Packet company and the Rock Island railroad.
We gave through bills to Chicago from all points between
Andalusia and Burlington and got the corn.
We used four 500 ton barges, two at each end of our trip, two
loading above and two unloading into the cars at East Burlington.
The Pearl had ample power and hustled the barges up and down the
river. When the Rock Island
and Packet company found that they were up against it, they tried
various plans to intimidate the shippers, but the latter stayed with us
during the season. The next
spring I went back to Burlington to make a new contract.
When I walked into the office and made my business known, the
agent handed me a telegram, and it was from the general office of the
Northern Line Packet company. And
this is what it said, “Make no contracts with outside boats.
We can and will handle all of your business.”
I asked the Q. agent what he proposed to do about it, “ We do
not care to get into a lengthy warfare with the Rock Island company.
I will not make a written contract with you for this season.
However, you know what we did last year, and if you bring the
corn to East Burlington, we will most certainly haul it to Chicago.”
On this verbal contract we brought the Pearl and barges out of winter
quarters and went at them again. There
was one peculiar thing in this contest.
I expected the Packet company and the Rock Island to make a heavy
cut, a starvation rate, in order to drive us out of the business.
But to my surprise they did not do this.
With the boats we could have made a still lower rate, but we were
not forced to do so. The
Northern Line boats refused to come down to our ten cent cut.
Their plan was to intimidate the shippers and force them to ship
via Rock Island at the higher rate.
Toward the later part of the season they succeeded in frightening
a few of the shippers and they deserted us.
However, the Pearl held the bulk of the business, and made some
money during the two seasons. Along
in the fall of the second season there was a change in the market.
Prices were better in St. Louis and thereafter the grain went
down the river.
A prominent U. S. engineer, who has the rank of Colonel, said to
me recently: “had it not
been for the agitators the work of river improvement would have been
dead long ago.” This is
probably true. Many of these
men in different parts of the country are doing good and effective work
among the people explaining to them the benefits to be derived from the
cheap water transportation. Among
these men is a Captain Douglas who has explored the
Mississippi from its head to the gulf, securing
information as to the channel of the great obstructions, etc.
he has also issued a number of pamphlets giving his ideas as to
boats and rivers. All of
this has been done at his own expense, and he is entitled to credit his
vigorous efforts to educate the people.
But, from a perusal of his articles I conclude that he hails from
one of the lake cities. As
to the construction and use of boats he appears to have lake ideas.
Some six or seven years ago Captain Douglas organized a company,
built a steamer and some barges and attempted to operate them between
St. Louis and New Orleans. His
idea was to use a powerful tow boat, and tow the barges in tandem,
behind the steamer. The
steamer was equipped with two propeller wheels seven or eight feet in
diameter with heavy machines to drive them.
The diameter of the wheels necessitated a deep draft boat, as his
wheels had to be submerged in order to get the power out of them.
This new departure in navigation, proved a failure for two
1. On account of its
deep draft there was not sufficient water between St. Louis and Cairo to
float his tow boat. She went
aground during the low water season, and
2. Any experienced
river man could have told Captain Douglas that towing barges behind a
steamer was impracticable, on account of the “flanking” of the
barges in the bends and on the crossings.
This system of towing will do on the lakes where the boats have
plenty of room to flank around, but not on the river.
Captain Douglas now has another new plan for a powerful tow boat,
which he believes will be the thing on the Mississippi river.
This objection to the powerful tow, boat which are now doing such great work on the Ohio river in the coal trade, is that the wheels put too much of a load or weight on the stern of the steamer. He calls attention to one of these powerful tow boats which uses a bucket 40 feet in length. To remedy this he proposes to use a double hull with a wheel on each end of it, one on the bow and one on the stern, each using a bucket 20 feet in length. In other words to cut the big wheel in the center and place one half of it at the bow of the boat, between the two hulls. To also use two sets of rudders, one forward and another on the stern of the boat. Now I am aware of the fact that in these latter days a man who does not favor all new ideas presented, is called a stand patter and an old fogy, but never the less, after the many experiments in wheels and hulls, I have failed to discover anything which I thought so good as the old style stern wheel tow boats. They did the work in the old days, and they are doing it now on the Ohio and lower Mississippi rivers. The only needed improvement I have noticed in these boats are their steel hulls. With steel hulls properly constructed well stiffened with keels on and water tight bulk heads, and well appointed with hog chains, the weight of the wheel on the stern will cut little figure. With her boilers and engines in proper position, the stern and engines in roper position, the stern wheel tow boat can be trimmed up on an even keel. In a recent article, Major Montgomery Meigs, who has spent many years along the river, as a government engineer, says that the buckets of a wheel should be “feathered,” as the oarsman feathers his oar. I agree with the major on this proposition, if it is possible to do this without using too much machinery to change the position at the bucket after it makes its pull. If the bucket can be brought straight up out of the water after it has finished its work, or pull, it would relieve the engines of a great load, and largely increase the power. The transportation of freight up and down the river at a cheap rate, is the thing desired, and what the people appear to want. This can be done by the use of such boats as we had in the old days, the Louisville, Kentucky, Little Giant, Bengal Tiger and others. Any of these tow boats could and did handle from eight to ten of the 500 ton barges. The main issue now is to get the boats started, and to provide sufficient business to keep them employed. As I have frequently stated, in my opinion this can be accomplished through a combination of the shippers, and the steamboat men, each having a financial interest in the fleets of boats. The shippers to furnish the freight and the river men to operate the boats. On any other plan, my faith is weak in the matter of restoring and maintaining the cheap water transportation on the Mississippi or other rivers. Business for the boats is, or should be, the first thing to be considered in this movement. The depth of the channels will have little to do with it, for if the shippers and the people take no interest, the rivers will not be used. As I have stated in a former chapter, the thing needed at the present time is a campaign of education among the shippers of the different river cities.
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