Chapter XLIX

Burlington Saturday Evening Post

Capt E. H. Thomas



Plan Works Well With Missouri River Boats-- Old times By Fred A. Bill


  As I have stated a number of times, the difficulty in the reclamation of water transportation is to find some plan thro which the shippers will patronize the boats and stay with them.  I have all along insisted that in some way there must be a combination of the steamboat and shipping interests, in order to make the business permanent.  All old time steamboat men, with their experience of the past, take the same view of the matter.  The steamboat man who invests his money in boats, without some guarantee of business, is going into a chance game, and the chances are largely against him.

  I have been watching the Kansas City and St. Louis venture with some interest, and under the contract system with the shippers, it appears to be a success.  This company commenced business between the two Missouri cities three years ago, with one tow boat and two barges, the steamers being of the tunnel, shoal water propeller type.  The company now owns and is operating four tow boats and 16 barges and doing a good business.  Thro the kindness of the secretary of the company, I have a copy of the contract made with the shippers of Kansas City, and it reads as follows:

   1.  For value received the undersigned hereby sells to the order of the K. C. Mo. River Navigating Co. , the sole and exclusive option, until Dec. 1917, to transport in each navigation season, from April 1 to October 1, 25 per cent in weight of all freight shipped to or by the undersigned during such season, that can be moved on the Missouri river, the routing of which the undersigned can control.

  2.  The rates to be charged by the Navigation company, from landing to landing, shall not exceed 80 per cent of the present rail rate between the points at which such landings may be located.

   3.  From the rates charged by the Navigation company the undersigned may deduct the reasonable cost of procuring the necessary marine insurance if the Navigation company does not provide such insurance.


  It will be seen that his company has been carrying freight for three seasons at 20 per cent less than the rail rates, and that it has also been paying the insurance on the cargoes.  It will also be noticed that the contract made this year is for five years, and slip states that the rate of not more than 80 percent of the present rail rate shall run for that period.  Should the railroads make a cut, it will not affect the price paid to the navigation company as the latter is fixed for five years on the present rail rate.  The contracts being signed by responsible firms they appear to be good and bring the business to the boats.  The secretary writes me as follows:

  “We are pleased to enclose herewith forrn of freight contract which has been signed by most of our shippers.  We have not at any time found it necessary to enforce this contract, as to the shippers appear willing enough to patronize the line on such shipments as can be moved our way.   A. W. Mackie Secretary.”

  So it appears that this system has been working successfully on the Missouri river for three seasons.  Would it not assist the cause to adopt this contract plan on the Mississippi river?  It gets the freight for the boats, and this is the one important thing. It also gives the steamboat man entire control of the boats and the business, and is rather better for the shipper than to own stock in a steamboat company.


  I have a letter from Capt Fred A. Bill of Minneapolis, Minn.  The Captain is a busy man up there, but he sits down occasionally and lets his mind wander back to the good old days when we were all young men, and hustling the great fleets of boats up and down the Father of Waters.  His communications are always interesting to me, and I know they will be to the readers of THE POST, so I give his latest below;  

Capt. E. H. Thomas,

       South Ottumwa, Iowa

   Dear sir:-  In one of your recent articles on old times on the river you mention the fact that the steamboatmen usually chose some small town as a place of residence or to pass the winter.  This was universally true and reminds me of two places not mentioned in your articles which were known to harbor river men either permanently or temporarily to a large extent.  In fact nearly a majority of the inhabitants of both places were connected with and got their living from the river.

  These places are Albany Ills. and Read’s Landing Minn.  It was an old time joke that at Albany every winter the pilots there had the entire river laid out in the ashes of some old time fire place with all the islands, crossings and bad places and that many a novice got his first ideas of the river from listening to the old timers as they would trace them with  finger or a stick in the ashes and show how they made this or that difficult crossing.

  Be that as it may the good old boys lived there and it is well to remember them and this brings to mind the names of some of them, most of whom have passed to the other shore

  At Albany we remember distinctly Chris Carpenter, George Carpenter , Sam Hanks, Steve Hanks, Abe Mitchell, Frank Wild and Al. Withrow.  There are many others whose names we cannot now recall.

  At Read’s landing we knew them better and have listened to many a warm discussion as to how the channel was at different times at various close places and as to how rafts and boats should be handled at those places in the lobby of the American House, which was kept for many years by James Pauly and was headquarters for all kinds of river men both winter and summer.  Among the well remembered ones are E. C. Bill, Ezra Chacey, P. P. Chacey, Dan Davison, W. B. Dustin, Hugh Douglas, Tom Forbush, E. E. Heermann, J. P. R. James, Tom James, L C. Malin, Eli Minder, W. W. Slocumb, W. R. Slocumb, Wm Smith, known as “noisy Bill”  from the fact that he rarely spoke.  Harvey Smith, Jerry Turner, Steve Withrow, Jack Walker, Wm. Wooden, Wm Young, Jack Young, Henry York.  In addition, to those , most of whom were Mississippi pilots, there were numerous others who made the river their summer home.

  In a conversation with Mr. Geo. B. Merrick some time ago regarding his book, “Old times on the Mississippi,”  he remarked that the greatest compliment he  had paid to him on the work came from and eastern man who wrote rather questioning the veracity of some of the statements in the book and adding that if true that it certainly was worth ten years of any man’s life to have lived in such stirring times.  Is it not so?  As we look back upon them our admiration for the men of those times is increased and we are glad to add a little to their kind remembrance when we can.  Yours truly

                                   Fred A. Bill

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