Chapter XLVIII

Burlington Saturday Evening Post

Capt E. H. Thomas




Shippers Must Sign Up Tonnage and

Then Stay by the Boats  

   I have never been able to attend a meeting of the Mississippi river Improvement Association, which has been doing some good and effective work for the cause of water, but I hope to be present this year.  This week I received a circular from the secretary containing the proceedings of the last meeting.  It contains many good suggestions, and I give a portion of them as follows.

   So important has this question become that the Upper Mississippi river Improvement Association was organized in 1902 for the purpose of inducing the government to improve that stretch of the river lying between the mouth of the Missouri River, and Minneapolis, so a permanent depth of six feet, at low water, would be obtained.

   The success which has attended its efforts is know to all. Not only is the government now committed to the six feet depth proposition, but it is practically assured the entire improvement will be completed within twelve years, or by 1922.

   The first and essential, step this secured, the next, equally prominent, is the use of the river by shippers.  For of what practical purpose will it be unless used extensively as a mode of transportation.  Unless so employed, what justification is there for the expenditure by the government of the millions of dollars required to improve it?  If shippers decline to avail themselves of it and do not increase the tonnage of shipments by water, in excess of present amounts, will not Congress hesitate to make needed appropriations, and declare the people do not use the river as a commercial highway in a manner commensurate, therefore expensive improvements are not justifiable on the Mississippi River?

   Sufficient tonnage of freight must be offered, both local and through to keep boats profitably employed throughout the open season.

   Without these two factors no one will care to invest money in such enterprises If there is a demand for improved methods of water carriage it will be supplied when the capital is convinced of its being real and not theoretical.

   Shippers in all the towns and cities on the river, as well as those continuous to it, control this subject and must be responsible for any failure to secure its early and complete realization.

   This association has undertaken to present before the shippers in the upper valley the general proposition of making greater use of the river than heretofore, and urge earnest and helpful co-operation and by increasing shipments by boat.

   It should be insisted equally, that boat lines must give the best service possible.  Certainly in time and speed of boats handling and care of freight, and more of activity in soliciting tonnage by agents of the water lines in prerequisite which carriers by water must give needed attention.

   Rates of freight charged by boat lines must be made in keeping with water transportation, giving to shippers the benefit of low cost of carriage which they expect from water lines, which are free to establish their rates, through and local, without restriction.

   The foregoing covers some of the points I have been endeavoring to make thro the columns of THE POST .  That if we expect a revival of water transportation and the appropriations from congress, we must use the river now.  The association should go a step farther.  As I have here to fore suggested: hold meetings in all of the towns and cities from St. Louis to St. Paul and induce the shippers to sign up. Put up sufficient money to purchase at least two boats and ten of the modern steel barges and in addition enter into a written contract to furnish sufficient freight to keep the boats busy during the boating season, as the merchants of Kansas City and St. Louis have done.  When once established on this basis, the enterprise will prove a permanent and paying thing.  When steamboatmen see that the shippers and merchants are really in earnest, they will co operate with them, put money into the boats and operate them.  Urging the shippers to patronize the boats will accomplish little or nothing.  If they now want water transportation these shippers should be required to take a financial interest in the business.  All steamboat men who have had any experience will tell you that they have no faith in promises and pledges.  This plan was worked out, and to a finish, in the 70s and 80s.  We could not induce the shippers to stay with the boats.  They used us for a time in order to reduce freight charges, and then shipped all of their stuff by rail.  This is history, and like conditions now would bring the same results.  As I have said before the one thing needed now is a campaign of education among the shippers on the upper Mississippi.  If a combination of steamboat men and shippers can be made on the plan I have suggested, the tow boats and barges can be placed on the river, and successfully operated.  Let the government work go along, but we do not need to wait for its completion.  The river is now navigable and for the only things needed are the boats and the business. 

Return to Table of Contents - Life on the Mississippi

Return to Iowa History Project