IOWA HISTORY PROJECT
“When Rafters Ruled”
The Career of Capt. Jerome E. Short
A graphic story of his 55 years of service on the Upper Mississippi. Edited and copyrighted, 1933 by Captain Fred A. Bill, St. Paul, Minnesota
His Record Trip
On our way up one trip just below Genoa, we spied a deer walking down the bluff with head p like he was the great “I am.” He paid no attention to the chancy puffing along and walked into the water. I stopped the boat in order to let him get away from the bank so we could head him off if he took a notion to turn back. The men had lines ready to lasso him but I ran down stairs got out a skiff a bunch of brail line and the race began. Nailed Mr. buck with my lasso just as hi fee touched bottom., for the bar extended nearly half way across the river. He gave one lunge but we had him, although if he had gotten ten or twenty feet farther we would have lost him. It took pretty nearly all the crew to get him on board, for he was a monster, but we landed him and started up the river. Pretty soon Charley Barnes, the mate, came and said, “Lome, we have him tied to a hog chain in the deck room, what are you going to do with him?” “Make a pet of him,” I said. “Make a what of him?” Said Charlie.
“Isn’t he a nice specimen of his race?” said I. “Yes but the most unsociable pet I ever met up with. The men have not go through the deck room and have to go back and forth through the engine room door and on to the guard.” Charlie said. “Well, hog tie him or
rope him in some way so as to let the beast know you are his master, I said. “ Thank you,” Master Charlie replied. “ But I do not care for the job.”
We managed to keep the animal until we started down the river, and then we butchered him and had a lot of choice venison both for the crew and some to take to our homes, C. Lamb& sons had the head and horns mounted and put over their office door and it was still there when I left the employ of the company, in the fall of 1880.
Another trip was from La Cross and was the quickest trip I ever made to Clinton and return. We were out a little less than four days. Capt. Dan McDonald came to the boat as we were taking coal at the Robison yard at La Cross on our return and asked where we went that trip. I told him to Clinton, but could see by the way he looked at me that he did not believe me and then asked where we left the raft. I told him one piece at the Gardner mill in Clinton slough and the other at the upper mills. He then said, “Do you realize that you made he quickest round trip La cross to Clinton that ever was made?” I told him that I did not think about it but that we did not put out a line on the entire trip until we landed at Clinton.
Up to that time I had never considered the length of a trip to amount to very much. Just went along trying to get there and back as fast as possible, but now I began to figure on time and to study as to how possible delays might be avoided.
Among other things I decided to give more attention to the balancing of the raft.
Generally speaking a boat should be placed in the center of the stern of the raft for the best towing service. However, if the raft should be heavier on one side than the other she must be moved over a little from the center on the heavy side. It goes without saying that when possible a raft will make better time if it can be pushed straight ahead. Therefore, the less the boat is “niggered”-her stern pulled around from one side to the other in order to point the raft in different directions-the better time can be made.
My first experience in this matter was in the late 60’s when on the G. B. Knapp with Captain Cy. Bradley. The Minnie Will, belonging to Captain Bradley, was in charge of Capt Hiram Baise and each boat had sixteen rafted strings of logs and both were approaching the Dubuque bridge, the Minnie Will ahead. Capt. Bradley left the Knapp, taking me with him, and went to the Minnie Will leaving the mate in charge of the Knapp, Captain Bradley ran eight strings, that had oars on each end, through the span and Capt. Baise ran the other half through the draw with the boat. Both captains the then returned to the Knapp- to do the same thing over again-leaving me to couple up and keep out of the bank until Capt. Baise could return. I got the two pieces together and went along pretty well but just below Catfish we were getting pretty close to the bank so I started the men on the bow to pulling to the left. Soon Captain Hi came on board and called to me to stop pulling to the left and pull to the right. At the same time he stopped the boat and started to backing and then moved the boat over the center of the raft. He asked me why I had not done that as soon as we coupled up and I said that I did not thin anything about it. By towing on one side of the raft I had her in just the right position to have knocked Two Mile Island off the map-or sent a raft into individual pieces-but for the timely arrival of Capt. Hi. That was my first lesson in balancing and I never forgot it. When a boat is “niggered” around to either side, the slack of the guy line is taken up and the strain on the corner of the raft pulls that corner back a little and really stops the progress of the raft, but not enough to be noticeable. I early learned to get the boat as near the balanced center of the raft as possible, put up a pole at the center of the bow of the raft and then experiment with the rudders to see if the raft was properly balanced. If it was, in a good piece of river, shifting the rudders side or the other would change the pointing of the bow, of the raft in a very short time. At a good stage of water in a good piece of river I have run rafts many miles by the rudders of the boat without using the nigger.
It had always been the custom to double trip at the Dubuque bridge and I began to consider the idea of running the raft whole through the wide span to the right of the draw. The double tripping cost us from fur to six hours, in which time we might be some fifteen or twenty miles down the river. So I decided to give the scheme a trial, but did not realize that I was up against.
On the trip that I decided to try running this bridge we had a raft 238 feet wide. The clerk, D. C. La, measured it in three places so I was satisfied it was correct. The distance between the piers was 240 feet, not much margin. I had plenty of nerve until we had passed the last place at which we could land to split the raft and then my legs began to get shaky and my heart to thump, and I knew I was going to hit the bridge. Told the clerk to call Bresee, my partner and second pilot, and tell him I wanted to see him. Bresee stuck his head up through the stairway and asked me what I wanted. I told him I was going to hit the right hand pier. He asked, “What are you going to do that for?”
“Oh, just for luck,” I said. “Well, what do you want me to do?” “You get an axe, go down on the bow of the raft and wherever that pier wants to come through the raft you cut the cross lines and let it come through, but be sure and keep far enough ahead of the pier so as not to get yourself mixed up with the loose logs. Have the mate put men on the right hand corner with lines so that hen a chunk lf the raft gets below the pier they can catch it and keep catching as best they can until I can get the boat through the draw and hooked into the raft again so we will not lose any more time or logs than necessary.”
As good luck would have it the smash up was not so bas as it might have been and he pick up of the loose logs did not take long but the cutting of the cross lines was a serious matter as these lines were taken out of the large coils in just the right length for a half raft.
When we reached Clinton the news of the smash-up was there ahead of us and I never did find out how it got there. Mr. Lamb sent for me to come to the office and of course I went, thinking he jig was all up with me. He started the interview by saying, “Loman what was wring with you and the Dubuque bridge?” I said that I thought I could put the raft through whole and thus save some time but after we had passed the last place to land that I must have lost my bearings, got excited or something and I just hit the bridge and that was all there was to it. He said that cutting good manila cross lines was pretty expensive business just to save a little time. I replied that if he had been there and seen the situation that he would have ordered them cut, as it was the only thing you do as there was no time to untie either end of the lines. “Well,” he said. “I do not want any more of that kind of work!” I said; “Mr. Lamb, you cannot be here in your office and tell me what to do on a boat miles away. I am satisfied you would have done what I did under the same conditions. I may be bull-headed, but I am going to have another try at that hole under the Dubuque bridge before I give it up as a bad job, and the crew of the Chancy are just as anxious as I am to see if it can be done.”
And so we parted, about as we had met. The old gentleman and I had a good many “spats” in those days but there was nothing in any of them that interfered with our mutual friendly feeling. One thing, though, that he insisted upon that I never could be reconciled to. Should the second pilot of the Chancy make a mistake and get into trouble that would cause loss of time or damage I would get orders to pay him off and I had to let out three pilots on such orders and I disliked it very much as all were good me. The order to discharge the first one George Carpenter, was brought to me by Lafayette Lamb. I began to argue with “Lafe” and tried to have him talk with his father and let me keep George as he had not done anything to warrant discharge, just got stuck for a day at Bellevue slough, a thing that was liable to happen to any of us. But it was no use, he had to go.
The carpenter family and our family lived as neighbors for many years only a street between us and we were the best of friends. Chris Carpenter and I were the only ones who quarreled. He was about twelve days my senior and we had a fight when we were about ten years old. The fight must have been a draw for when it was over I thought Chris had licked me and he thought I had licked him and we were so afraid of each other that we were warm friends ever after.
This summer the company built a new sidewheel ferry called the Augusta-a fine boat- well adapted to the purpose. This left the Emma out of a job and Mr. Lamb told me to take her and go to Beef slough and bring out all the logs they had. I found three rafts and took them out as fast as possible. Got the three below Winona and the Artemus came after one and then I wrestled the other two down by spells until the Artemus grabbed another at Johnstonsport. This was the last work that fall.
On one trip we met the James Means, Capt. Jack McCaffrey, in Bad Ax bend with no oars on either bow or stern of his raft. The oars were all there but not hipped up. This was, I believe, the first attempt to run a raft with no oars in commission. A little later Capt. Paul Kerz, with the J. W. Mills was the first man to run a raft with no oars on the raft. That was the commencement of the saving of much expense in the cost of rafting.
After the close of navigation I found additional home duties awaiting me that made life sill more real and Happy. Our son, Leslie Dean Short, was born on July 13, 1875, but do not think I did not find it out until the close of navigation!
Transcribed by Georgeann McClure