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
Enters Streckfus Employ
Capt. Jerome E. Short
Capt Jerome E. Short as he appeared March 4, 1933, upon the occasion of his eighty-third birthday, is shown above. He appears much as he did last summer when visiting Clinton friends and scenes familiar to him in past years. He retains all his faculties except for slight deafness. He visited The Herald office when in Clinton and showed keen interest in happenings on the Mississippi as related in the old files of the Herald from which he gleaned information used in his story.
During the winter of 1913-1914 I engaged to go with the Streckfus Steamboat Line and early in May 1914, received instructions to report at St. Louis May 8, to take out the steamer W. W. Capt. Charles Trombley, in the excursion trade.
(Note:_ The Writer had some experience in the rafting trade and in the packet-freight and passenger-business but he never worked on a strictly excursion boat. Rafting generally speaking, after running with boats was in vogue, was a lazy life for most of the crew. Of course the pilot was busy and had to be alive all the time when on watch. The engineer had a monotonous life. He must keep awake, see that everything was running all right and keep plenty of water in the boilers, but it was tiresome to sit hour after hour and seldom answer a bell. The clerk had other duties besides keeping the time of the men and looking after the supplies so he was not quite so badly off. Unless the pilot would get the raft into trouble there was little for the men to do after the raft was “lined up” and they were under way. In the packet trade there was a landing to e made every few hours new people to meet and a variety of things came up to keep the moss off all the officers and crew. While we cannot speak from experience we imagine that running an excursion boat is pretty monotonous. The same old story day by day, with a different lot of people every day, but about the same motions to go through.
To show how the pilot sees the work we will append the diary kept by Capt. Short on the W. W. for a portion of the month of May, 1914, which may be taken as a fair sample of life in the excursion trade. F. A. B.)
Residents of cities and towns bordering the Mississippi may recall from the photo shown above a scene familiar to their eyes twenty and more years ago. The steamer “Quincy” of the Diamond Jo Line, a side wheeler, plied between St. Louis and St. Paul for many years in the packet trade. It now has been converted into an excursion steamer. Captain Short made only a few trips on the “Quincy” when in the employ of the Streckfus company.
Log of the Steamer W. W. of the Streckfus Steamboat Line
Capt. Jerome E. Short
May 8, 1914. Left St. Louis 8:30 a. m. Captain Charles Trombley in charge. Stage of water at Alton bridge 6 ft. 3 in. Landed for the night at Parker’s Landing 7:35 p. m. West wind all day.
May 9 Left Parker’s Landing 4:15 a. m. Tied up for fog at hole in the Wall 5:40. Departed 6:40. Through Louisiana bridge 10:50. Water 5 ft 4 in. Arrived Hannibal 2:45 p. m. There all night.
May 10 (Sunday) Left Hannibal with excursion No. 1 8:45 a. m. Gauge on Hannibal bridge 9 ft. 3 in. Arrived Quincy, 11. Left Quincy 11: 10. Gauge on Quincy bridge 7 ft. Arrived Keokuk lock 4:30 p. m. Locked through with steamers Black Hawk and G. W. Hill. Returned to lock at 5:10. Left lock 5:15. Arrived Quincy 9:10 Dep 9:20 Ar. Hannibal 11:15. Dep. Up at 11:45 p. m.
May 11 Passed Quincy 2:45 a. m. Ar. Keokuk 9:15. Lay at levee all day and night. Too rainy and cold that we could make a moonlight excursion scheduled for that evening.
May 12 Left Keokuk 4:30 a. m. Had trouble getting into the lock on account of a heavy northwest wind and a dredge being in the way. Out of lock at 5:40 and tied up at Sixth street landing to repair fantail broken in contact with the dredge. Dept up at 1 p. m. with fantail partially repaired. Passed Nauvoo lower light 2:18. Water on Burlington bridge 6 ft. 3 in. Ar. Burlington 6:10. Took out moonlight excursion No. 2 at 9:45. ret. 11:15 Heavy northwest wind all day Lay at Burlington all night.
May 13 Left Burlington 10:30 a. m. Ar. At Keokuk pool 2:30 p.m. finished repairing fantail and left 7:00 through lock 7:30 Ar. Quincy 11:00.
May 14. Left Quincy 9:10 a. m. with excursion No. 3; Canton 11:45. Warsaw 2:40 p. m. Ar. Keokuk 3:20. Dep. Down 5:40. Landed at Warsaw. Alexandria and Canton and Ar. Quincy 9:30 there balance of night.
May 15 Left Quincy 9:30 a. m. Ar. Hannibal 11:45. Water on Hannibal bridge 8 ft. 3 in. Left Hannibal with excursion No 4 at 3:30 p. m. Ar. Quincy 6:20 Dep. Down 10:45. Ar. Quincy 6:20 Dep. Down 10:45. Ar. Hannibal 12:30 midnight. There balance of night.
May 16 Left Hannibal 4:30 a. m. Ar. Quincy 7:15, left 9:00. Ar. Canton 11:30 Dep. Down with excursion No. 5, at 2;15 p. m. Landed La Grange 3:00 Ar. Quincy 4:00 water on Quincy bridge 8 ft. 2 in. Dep. Up 9:10 La Grange 1;30 Ar. Canton 12:00 midnight Dep. Down 12:10 midnight.
May 17 (Sunday) Ar. Quincy 1:30 a. m. Dep. With excursion No 6 at 8:50 Ar. Canton 11:20. Ar. Warsaw 2:10 p. m. Ar. Keokuk 2:45 Dep.. down 6. Landed Warsaw and Canton and Ar. Quincy 9:50 Tied up to clean boilers.
May 18 Left Quincy 10:30 a. m. Ar. Keokuk 4:15 p. m. Left with excursion No. 7-moonlight-8:30 Warsaw, 9:05 Ar. Keokuk 10:30 Ar. Warsaw 11:30. Tied up for the night.
May 19. Dep. From Warsaw 4:30 a. m. At Quincy 7:20. Left 9:00 Ar. Hannibal 10:55. Dep. With excursion No 8 moonlight down stream 8:30 p. m. ret 11:15 tied up for the night.
May 20 Left Hannibal 4:30 a. m. Ar. Quincy 7:00 Left down with excursion No. 9 moonlight 8:30 p. m. ret 11:55. Tied up for the night.
May 21. Left Quincy 4:30 a. m. Ar. Keokuk 9:50 Dep. Up 2:oo p. m. with excursion No 10. In lock 2:10 Ar. Ft. Madison 4:45. Dep down 9:00. In lock 11:10. dredge and rock barge in the way below lock and one dredge at lower end of draw pier took up one-third of chanel. Ar. Keokuk 11:45 p. m.
May 22 Left Keokuk 12:10 a. m. water on Burlington bridge 6 ft. 9 in. Ar. Burlington 5:45. Dep. Down with excursion No. 11 at 9:50 Ar. Ft. Madison 11:55. Dep. 12:00 noon Inlock 2:00 p. m. Ar. Keokuk 2:30 Kep. 4:15 Ar. Ft. Madison 7:05 water at Burlington bridge 6 ft. 2 in. Ar. Burlington 10:05 tied up for the night.
May 23 Left Burlington 4:00 a. m. Keithsburg bridge 7:50 water three ft. 6 in. At Muscatine 11:45 Dep. Down with excursion No. 12 moonlight 8:30 p. m. Ret 11:15 Dep. Up 11:25.
May 24 (Sunday) landed below Buffalo 2:00 a. m. Left 4:00 Ar. Rock Island 6:00. Left 4:00 Ar. Rock Island bridge 6 Ft. 4 in. Had a little trouble in getting into Moline lock. Through lock 9:50 Moline lock. Through lock 9:50 Ar. Moline 10:00 Dep. Down with excursion No. 13 1:30 p. m. Landed Rock Island and Davenport, leaving Davenport 3:00. three men in a boat started out to enjoy rolling in the swells from the wheel but got too close and their skiff capsized. Capt Trombley ordered me to stop and back up while he launched a yawl and sent men out to pick them up and take them ashore. This was done and the life saving stunt cost us a half hour’s time. The steamer G. W. Hill took out an excursion from Rock Island and Davenport down river and left a short time ahead of us. Ar. Muscatine 6:10 Dep up 7:00 a little ahead of the Hill Ar. Davenport 11:10 at Rock Island 11:20 beat the Hill tied up for the night. People returned to Moline by special conveance.
May 25 Left Rock Island up 5:00 p.m. Ar. Moline 6:00 Dep down with ex 14 at 7:15. Landed Davenport and Rock Island. Left R. I. 8:30 down. Ret. To r. 11:25 and tied up for the night. People returned to Moline by special conveyance. This to avoid the dangerous rapids at night.
May 26 dep. Up 4:00 p. m. water on R. I. bridge 6 ft. Ar. Moline 5:00 Dep. Down with excursion No. 15 at 7:15. Trip same as yesterday. Lay at Davenport for the night.
May 27 Left Rock Island 4:00 a. m. Head of rapids 6:45 Water on Clinton Bridge 7 Ft. Ar. Clinton 9:00
Here I got orders to return to St. Louis ad parted company with my very good friend Capt. Charlie Trombley, with whom it was a pleasure to work.
By the way, Charlie told me this one on himself. Before he had become familiar with the river and secured his license he used to spell his father at times and the old gentleman would trust him alone in such sections as he thought best. One evening he was steering up through crooked slough and made the first bend all right but when facing west he followed the left hand shore and got into the slough and she began to labor. The father rushed in and said: “Charles, where yo go wiz dis boat?” “I am right in the channel, father.” said Charlie. “But, Charlie, seem to me I never see de pon il’ grow in de Chan’l
(Note:- the memos above will give an idea of the excursion business. One continued round of pleasure-if you happen to like it. Captain Short has a log of his various excursion trips and should any one wish any more detail of this now popular business the genial captain will be glad to let any one have access to these logs who will call on him at his home in Peoria Heights, Ill. F. A. B.)
I was glad to have a few hours in the old town that was our home for fifteen years and spent the day very pleasantly in calling on and visiting with old friends and left forSt. Louis by train that evening.
ON arrival in St. Louis learned that I was assigned as pilot on the Sidney, in the excursion business. Capt. Roy Streckfus was in command, Capt. J. H. Laycock my partner and John Pemberton chief engineer. We left St. Louis at 11:10 p. m. on May 29 and were steadily in the business until September 14. During this time there were very few places from which we did not run an excursion between St. Louis and St. Paul and from the more prominent ones several were run.
It was a very pleasant season and I have this to say of Capt. Roy Streckfus that he was the most agreeable man I ever worked with. He was master of his boat from keel to pilot house but it was always in a very pleasant way with never a grouch, no matter what happened. If a pilot got the boat into trouble from any cause what ever he had no criticism to offer but set to work to get out of the trouble as quickly as possible and always in a cheerful manner. He always welcomed suggestions and was ready to listen to any employee at any time. We had no serious trouble during the season but he was always cool and collected in that we did have, and he would not tolerate any excitement or bad language on the boat.
Immediately after leaving the Sidney I went home and was feeling fine and mighty glad to see the place again. Started to do some work around the yard but in a short time I was all in and had to quit. Next day I tried it again with not much better success but with no especially bad feelings, just tired. That evening our son, Leslie, took Mary Helen and myself for a ride around the city. We had not been out long until I began to feel badly so we went home. I was put to bed and a doctor called and I knew nothing more for six weeks. The first recollection I have is of a neighbor saying: “Look here, old man, it is time you were getting out of bed, you have been here six weeks!”
After I had partially recovered from the trouble-typhoid fever- there was an aftermath as bad as the disease. Pains in my legs and clear to the ends of my toes. Tried electricity, massage and what not but got only temporary relief and when the pain was on it was much worse than the absolute knowledge that I was going to hit a bridge-and believe me, that is some feeling!
One day a neighbor, a chiropractor, which was about the only kind of a medic we had not tried, came in for a visit and suggested that he try his hand on my case. I had reached a point where death was preferable to the pain I suffered and told him we would be glad to try anything. So they took the bundle of bones out of the bed and laid them on some quilts on the floor and the chiro went to work. I was soon sorry. I spoke for the pain I had been having was pleasure compared to the torture he gave me for about fifteen minutes. Then they put me back in bed and I soon went to sleep. Well, I got six or seven of these treatments and then was able to be taken to his home where he said he “could treat me right” and it was not long until he was walking me, not blocks but miles, and I was in pretty fair shape without a pain and felt I owed Dr. George W. Smith a great debt that money could not repay.
On the opening of navigation, 1915, I was in pretty good shape and eager to get to work. Had arranged to put in the season with the Streckfus people and arrived in St. Louis on May 21. In company with Captains Tom Dolson, Gus Siefert and Darling made a couple of trips on the Dubuque to Burlington for the purpose of posting up. Left on the Sidney, Capt. Roy Streckfus, for excursions on the Illinois River, May 30.
There were some changes in the plans of the management and June 1, Capt. Roy received instructions to send me to Hannibal to make a couple of trips on the Quincy to St. Paul. At the suggestion of Captain Roy, I went home got Mary Helen, and we made a couple of very pleasant trips on the Quincy and got the Sidney at Mc Gregor on June 18. Made an excursion out of Mc Gregor, North McGregor (now called Marquette),
And Prairie du Chien that evening and continued in the excursion trade on the Sidney making most of the towns on the upper river, including St. Paul, until Sept. 13. In all some 116 excursions, all very pleasant and successful.
Soon after my return home at Peoria, I received a wire from Capt. Roy to come to St. Louis and then went as pilot on the Sidney, which was in the trade between St. Louis and Calhoun county landings until November 4, making a very good and fairly long season.
On one trip we were coming down with a good load of apples and were at the head of Turner’s Island when we changed watches at midnight. I told my partner, who was to relieve me, that I had noticed when coming up a new snag in the river just below the island and if he did not mind I would run her down past that snag. He did not say a word but took the wheel and I left at once and went to bed. When I was called to take the 4 o’clock watch the boat was landed about a mile and a half below where we changed watches at midnight. The crew was busy repairing one of the rudders. As usual, there was not a word out of Captain Roy. When we were in for it, “get out of it as quickly and as easily as possible,” was a sort of motto of his.
(Note-There were pilots-and pilots. Generally they worked together and each was glad of suggestions from the other that would increase Knowledge or ability. Some pilots made a practice of telling each other what had happened during the watch; how they found the water at certain places, if there had been a little change in a certain bar and especially if any obstructions had been seen, the boats and rafts that had been met and really have a little visit at the time of changing watches. Sometimes there would be a pilot who would resent any suggestion offered in a helpful manner as a criticism on his ability as a pilot. Doubtless, Capt. Short had a partner of this kind. It was not often that his happened for no boat could be successfully run unless there was teamwork from stem to stern and from pilot house to keelson.-F. A. B.)
Transcribed by Georgeann McClure