Chapter XLI

Burlington Saturday Evening Post

Capt E. H. Thomas



Few Serious Accidents on the river  

Severe Penalties for violations of the Marine Laws-blessings of Marine Hospital System  

  As I have stated, during the years I was on the boats, there were but few accidents and but few deaths, considering he large number of boats and men employed, and the thousands of passengers transported from one point to another.  This can be accounted for by the fact that the government exercised complete control over the business and through its officers enforced the marine laws.  None but competent men were permitted to operate the boats.  The captains, mates pilots and engineers were required to serve an apprenticeship at the business, undergo a strict examination, and to also carry a license and a copy of the marine laws.  The inspectors made frequent trips over the river, and knew the condition of the hull and machinery of every steamboat.  In addition to this, government detectives, or as we called them “spotters” were employed.  Then again, under the law all who held a license were made informers.  It was our duty to report all violations of the law, and where a fine was imposed, the informer, received one-half of the amount collected.  We never knew the day nor the hour when the spotter would be on our rail.  I have often thought if this government system was in force upon the railroads of the country, the number of railway accidents would be largely reduced and the death roll much shorter.  These spotters were not “mixers,” at least not with the steamboat men.  Out side of their lectures on steamboat laws and the performance of our duties, they had nothing to say.  They came and went one after another, and during all of my time on the river, there was but one of then I could identify.  He appeared to be very active, and was around to see us oftener then dome of the rest of them.  What his real name was I never learned, but some steamboat man gave him the title of “Hawkshaw Smith and he was know to us by that name only.  When the news was passed along the line that Hawkshaw Smith was in our district we kept a sharp lookout for him among the passengers.  On one occasion Hawkshaw boarded one of the through boats on her down trip to St. Louis.  The engineers of the boat was a good one, but he was caught in Hawkshaw’s net.  It was the custom of the engineers to get a good head of steam, and use it in cutting their half circle at a landing. This is what the engineer did on this occasion in rounding to at St. Louis.  He had worked his steam up above the limit allowed by law, and as the boat approached the levee she threw some heavy swells upon the shore.  It so happened that while the engineer was handling one of the engines, Hawkshaw Smith was standing in front and near the steam gauge.  Pulling a small book from his pocket, the detective made a record of the steam pressure as shown by the gauge.  The head engineer was then and there ordered to place the boat in charge of the second engineer, and to at once report to the inspectors at the custom house. He obeyed the order, and on the showing of steam pressure made by Hawkshaw Smith the engineer lost his license.

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