IOWA HISTORY PROJECT
Saturday Evening Post
Capt E. H. Thomas
ON THE DES MOINES IN N THE ‘50’S
Herself in On Season Operating a Ferry Boat at Keithsburg
Captain Ad. Hine and relations of Keokuk, owned a number
of steamboats, and some of these steamers were used on the Des Moines
river during the ‘50’s. there
is a superstition among the river men that to name a boat after the
owner, or say member of the family, brings bad luck to the vessel.
That it will make no money. This
did not appear to hold good with the Hines, for several of their
steamers had the family names, and were money makers.
Charley Patten says that the Clara Hine earned
sufficient money in one season to build another steamboat called the
“City of Des Moines” this
was done on the Des Moines river. I
have in my possession a bill of lading, which shows that the Clara Hine
landed a bill of goods at Ottumwa in 1850.
Before the building of the wagon bridge at Keokuk the Hines owned
some good ferry boats there. It
required three of them to handle the business back and forth across the
river there. The Keokuk and
Gate City were large steamers with good power, and they had one smaller
one. When the wagon bridge
was completed the ferry boats were out of business.
I was told that the Hines invested quite a sum of money in the
toll bridge. The ferry boats
were for sale.
Early in the fall I was at Keithsburg working at the printing
business and I boarded with a man named Lloyd.
He had received a charter for operating a ferry at that point
but had no boat. He wanted
me to make a trip on the river and purchase one.
I found that his collateral with which to secure a boat consisted
of 80 acres of land near New Boston and a subscription or donation from
the business men of $1,000. There
appeared to be nothing in it, but Lloyd finally induced me to make the
trip. Paying for my time and expenses.
It looked like a wild goose expedition, or chasing a Jack o’
lantern in the swamps. I
learned that there were four boats on the market, three at Keokuk and
one at Quincy, and I sailed for the former place.
Arriving at Keokuk, I had an interview with Captain Ad. Hine.
He told me that the three boats were for sale.
I then offered to give him the farm and the $1,000 for the
Keokuk. He turned me down
saying that he must have cash. I
left his office and started for the landing to take a boat for Quincy.
He called me back, and asked me about the land and the
subscription. I told him
that I had never seen the land, but that Lloyd had informed me that one
corner of the field was a little sandy, but the balance of it was all
right. Also that the
subscription was good, would be paid
by business men. We finally
closed the deal for the Gate City, and I telegraphed for the deed.
I remained in Keokuk two days, and some of the people informed me
that if I got mixed up with Ad. Hine I would get the worst of it.
That he was a very shrewd fellow, and always got the best of a
deal. This was my first and
only purchase of a steamboat, but I had looked her over.
Land was cheap in those days, and I thought I knew what I was
doing. In fact, I was highly
pleased with my trip to Keokuk, and so expressed myself in a telegram to
Lloyd. On the third day the
deal was closed. I took
possession of the Gate City, hired a crew and sailed for Keithsburg. The
Gate City was a very large boat, with broad decks.
Her machinery was all housed and located in the center, so that
the teams could drive entirely around it.
She had two large engines and a large wheel, the latter working
in a recess or tunnel. Her
hull was of heavy oak plank. From
the bow back 50 feet her sides were covered with iron plates.
She was built for ramming the ice, butting her way thro it.
Her draft was three feet, and she could take 25 two horse wagons
at a trip. We made a
successful run to Keithsburg and there gave the people a free ride.
Lloyd sold a one third interest to a man named Coonred.
As neither of the owners had any knowledge of the business.
I was made general manager, advertising agent and pilot.
We at once commenced regular trips from the town to the Iowa
shore. It was a three mile
run, down stream, and across the rocky crossing under the foot of the
island, and then up the chute to what was called Prairie Bank Landing,
where there was a warehouse. There
were some big nigger heads in the chute, as well as on the river
crossing, as I learned by bumping them.
Occasionally when we had a heavy load.
The business men were well pleased to have
boat connection with the Iowa pilots, and the farmers gave us a
good patronage. However, I
soon discovered that the Gate City, with her heavy machinery, was a coal
eater, and to make the thing a financial success we must have more
business. During the fall
and all through the winter there was a heavy emigration to the west.
The roads leading to the river were lined with the covered
wagons. But they were going
to the Muscatine, Rock Island and Burlington ferries.
To turn this travel we covered the county east with sign boards,
with the inscription: “--miles to Keithsburg.”
Largest and Safest Ferry Boat on the River.
Carries 25 Teams.”
This was no exaggeration. The
Gate City was the ferry boat on that part of the river.
The sign boards in behind the other ferries brought results.
The tide of travel was turned to Keithsburg and the Gate
City, and for five weeks our average was fifty six teams per day, at one
dollar each. About
this time it turned cold, and the river was full of floating ice.
The river was closed but two weeks that winter.
During the balance of the time we were butting the ice and making
our trips. It was a hard
winter for the crew. The
engineer was compelled to stay up nights with his pumps and water pipes,
and my place in the pilot house was a very cool job.
As a result of my exposure I had a violent attach of the
rheumatism in March, and went from the pilot house to my bed, where I
remained for about five weeks. This
was my last work on the Gate City. She
was operated for a portion of the next season the business let go, she
got in debt, and was sold by the U. S. marshall.
Two bankers, who held a claim against her, bid
her in for $2,000 the
bankers sent her to the Rock Island boat yards, where she was remodeled
and repaired, and converted into a stern wheel steamboat.
Milo Pruden was made captain and pilot, and the Gate-City went
into the Davenport and St. Louis trade.
Later on she was operated between St. Louis, Kansas city and
other Missouri river points. While
in this trade her clerk disappeared, and it was alleged that he took wit
him about $1,500 in cash which belonged to the boat.
Soon after this incident she was sold to other parties.
In after years the two bankers told me that their steamboat
experience cost them about $15,000 more than they got out of it, and
that they were not looking for any more such investments.
They were not the only river men who were stung in those days.
The country was and is now full of men who without any knowledge
or experience imagine that they can run a steamboat or a newspaper. The
lapse of time ahs shown that a large majority of them have failed.
The cornfield sailor should not invest his money in steamboat
property. It is a very
hazardous business, even under the management of experienced river men.
And in my opinion, the school teacher, the preacher and the
lawyer should serve an apprenticeship in the newspaper office before
they invest their money in the business.
Several years after the Gate city had left the upper Mississippi
river, I one day landed my boat near another steamer.
From the latter came a hail.
An old gentlemen who stood forward of the cabin called my name.
It was Ad. Hine. He
wanted to know if I had ever seen the 80 acre farm near New Boston. I
answered that I had not. “Well”
said he, with a hearty laugh. “I
have“. At the time we made
the steamboat deal, I understood you to say that the corner of that
field was a little sandy, but the balance of it was good corn land.
Now, the fact is that it is all sand, and it is the fine,
drifting kind. The wind has
piled it up in mounds and ridges. This
sand is probably good for making plaster or glass, and the only way I
can ever get even on that Gate City deal is to sell the sand.”
I tried to explain that I was only an agent and traded him the
land on Lloyd’s representations, but he would not listen to my story.
“Not a word out of you,” he said. “I have been a very
active business man, and have made many deals in steamboats and other
property, and have been quite successful.
But it is a standing rule with me that where the other fellow
gets the best of it I keep still. I never squeal and I am not squealing
now. But, I do think that
you should look at the market for that sand.
It is all right. When
you land at Keokuk come up to the office and see me and we will have a
That is the sort of a man Ad Hine was. A good jovial fellow and a successful businessman, a money getter whether running a steamboat or engaged in other business.
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