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
Leaves Lambs Employ
In 1880 it was get the logs down! And we sure were pushing them down. One trip I had for a partner Perry Langsford, who lived in Albany, where all good pilots come from –except Tom Forbush who lived in St. Louis. Tom once made a trip with a floating raft from Stillwater to Maple Island, about four or five miles below Alton, in nine days and a few hours, a record never beaten to my knowledge.
(Note:- we have to take exception to our friend in this statement. We will concede that all pilots from Albany were good ones and the celebrated “ash-pan school” of that burg turned out some of the best but it did not have a monopoly! Le Claire, Read’s Landing, Pepin and Stillwater-as well as some other places-were the homes of many “stars,” – F.A.B.)
When my partner went home for a visit I told him we would leave at 4 o’clock the next morning and he said he would be back before that time. Next morning he had not shown up but we left on time. I stood at the Chancy’s wheel until we got to Beef Slough; got the raft out of the slough and started down the river; got through the Winons bridge, ran that night and had both pieces through the La Cross bridge when I saw my partner standing on the La Crescent landing. The mate sent a skiff out and brought him onboard. Was I glad to see him? I’ll say I was. He was the best man to get along with I ever had unless it was Toll McDonald.
It was a good year for rafting. After the channel got settled from the spring rise and we had sounded out all the bad places we were pretty well posted and the only trouble we had was at a few places on some shoal bars.
The members of the company did not seem to take the individual interest in the boats they once did but about this time we had a new storekeeper-William Young, a son-in-law of Chancy Lamb-who knew the business thoroughly and was a great help to us in getting in supplies.
We had been very fortunate with the Chancy as to accidents and had not given the boss carpenter, Jim Saunders, any special work. He was an elegant workman but he did not love work and was a constant growler when he had anything to do. One trip at the foot of Dark slough, going up stream, we hit a big snag. It just missed the steam and slid up alongside the hull on the starboard side and came out through the deck about opposite the bits and stuck up above the deck about fifteen feet, bringing us to a sudden stop. At first we thought it came through the hull, but soon found we were all right as to danger of sinking. The root was thoroughly, imbedded in the sand so we cut the snag off even with the deck, backed away slowly leaving he snag standing up in plain sight, nailed a board over the hole in the deck and went on. On the same trip we hit something that knocked off the center rudder and before we could stop the boat all the buckets but two had been broken between the two center flanges. We sawed off the two buckets, got the rudder on board and went ahead with a sort of a side wheel-sternwheel boat. It was some satisfaction to us to imagine the exercise Saunders would get in growling about the work when he would see what had happened.
I found hat towing a raft with one third of the buckets gone made a lot of difference. We could not carry over 100 pounds of steam as more would make the wheel go around like a buzz saw and make the engines liable to run through themselves. However we got along all right and delivered the raft in the usual manner, the delivery of course, giving every one a chance to see the condition of the wheel. When we got to the landing Mr. Saunders was there to receive us. He looked at the deck, went back to the wheel, and then went to the mate and told him what we ought to have done finally he got around to me and began a tirade about the work it was for him and loss of time for the boat and seemed to infer that we had done the damage on purpose until I said that it was little he cared about the loss to the boat, but that it was only a little work for him and that he was grumbling about and if it was such a hardship if he would send the buckets down the crew would put them on and probably do a better job than he would do. The result was that we did strip the wheel and put on the buckets but left him to hang the rudder after a new stretcher had been made. We bragged a good deal about the good job we had done, which he did not like a little bit. That was the most damage to the boat while I was on her.
After the rafting season was over Artemus gave me instructions to take all the barges seven in all I believe-and go to Lansing, load them with wood and bring them back to Clinton. Get it where it was the most convenient on the bank and for the best price we could find. Only one boat crew could be necessary and Bill McCaffrey would go along with six men to do the loading. Well, that was right in my hand and I saw myself having the time of my live in a nice hunt that I had longed for some time. Took a good cargo of ammunition and was all set for a good time.
We got up to Columbus, just below Lansing, and commenced loading. The water was so low that we could not get close to the shore and had to make trusses and bridges to get on to the barges. It was slow work and I had plenty of time to hunt-but lo, and behold, there was no game. It was too late in the season and most of the dead sloughs were frozen over and I was very much disappointed. There was more discouragement ahead as the wood was coming on very slowly and the men were getting discouraged, their shoulders were sore and their necks from the ears down were chapped. All the sacks and packs we could find were used to protect the shoulders. We carried the wood on hand barrows and in that way helped the poor shoulders. The mate worked as hard as any one. I did all I could to keep the runaways in good order, ranked wood on the barges and encouraged them in every way possible. In about ten days we had the barges loaded with all the wood they would carry and then I discovered that we were overloaded. This was a freight job and raftsman did not know much about freighting.
There was one place I was especially afraid of and we landed when we came to it. McCaffrey and I got into a skiff, each with a sounding pole and had a couple of men pull us back and forth over the bar taking soundings for over three hours, finally deciding where the best water was, and the best we could find was two feet and six inches and we were drawing nearly four feet in some places. We discussed a number of schemes but finally decided to pull out, head for the best water, shoot her into it and see what would happen. We did it and every barge and the boat was planted good and fast we then laid a line ashore. In order to pull in the proper direction we had to throw the bight of the line over the stem of one of the barges. This stem stuck up above the barge about 18 inches. After we were all ready to pull it was about dark and we called it a day and all turned in for a good night’s rest.
Next morning we were at work early. I was in hopes we could pull the outfit over with the line without trouble but she did not budge after we had all the strain on the line we dared put on. Then I set the boat backing slowly to throw some water under the fleet and when she stopped we all took a little jump ahead. That was encouraging so we tried it again. This time brought more trouble. As soon as the line was taut the stem of the barge broke and she soon filled with water-but fortunately could not sink! We put a tarpaulin over the break, started the steam pump and had the water out in about an hour. Then we went back to pulling straight from the capstan, with the backing scheme when we had a good strain on the line, making some progress every time.
Then I decided on one grand coup. When I blew the ready whistle as a signal McCaffrey was to give the nigger all the steam there was and work her full stroke. We got a heavy strain on the shore line, I backed the boat slowly, piling up the water as much as possible, then came ahead on her strong, blowing the whistle at the same time. The nigger did its work and the entire fleet went over with one big lunge. We backed into the bank, landed the fleet in good shape and turned in, for it was then dark, for another good rest that had been well earned.
We delivered the wood at Clinton the next day, laid up the Chancy for the winter, thankful to get home. That was my last work for C. Lamb & Sons, but I did not know it at the time.
While a good many times I thought I had a “kick coming”-and perhaps I had –my nine years service with the Lamb people were pleasant. They paid me good wages and always as agreed and allowed interest on any money I left with them. We had a good home, all paid for some farm loans bringing a good rate of interest and some other property. Mary Helen had run our home economically and taken the best of care of our two boys. When she needed money she went to the Lamb office and I felt thankful that fortune was smiling one me and that I was able to have many things denied to me in my youth, as well as to make easier the life of my blessed mother, to whom I owed more than I could ever pay. At the same time I had the satisfied feeling that I was giving my employees the best service I could and was working in their interests all the time.
Transcribed by Georgeann McClure