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On the River


Steamboat Races

Collected and transcribed by Georgeann McClure

 July 1930

Unknown paper


 Cincinnati the stern wheeler “TomGreen” Cincinnati owned packet, late Saturday won the twenty-one mile Ohio river packet race from the “Betsy Ann”  of Pittsburg by at least three quarters of a mile.

  The Betsy Ann was not in sight of Coney Island, the finishing point, at the time the Tom Green crossed the finish Line.

  The Tom Green’s whistles blew continuously during the last quarter of a mile celebrating its victory.



From the Burlington Saturday Evening Post,

                                                                                               C. M. Berkley


April 19, 1924

 Transcribed by Georgeann McClure

   In the year 1888, when there was much rivalry between the Anchor Line boats as to which was the faster, the City of Monroe (on which boat the writer was chief purser) and the City of Cairo had been testing their speed between Natchez and ‘Vicksburg.  The City of Monroe beat the City of Cairo’s time and the rustabouts immediately improvised a characteristic song, the first verse of which was:



The City of Cairo is a pretty big gun,

But lemme tell you what the Monroe done,

She left Natchez at half past one,

And rolled into Vicksburg at the setting sun.


The Davenport Gazette

April 17, 1884


River News

 An exciting Race Between the Moline and the Eclipse

    When the steamer Moline a few evenings ago, passed the steamer eclipse which was slowly laboring up the river with a heavy tow, the crew little thought that before the rising of the morning’s sun they could not be sighted from the latter’s deck; but such is the instability of all things earthly.  The various claims of the officers of each craft had made this race a necessity, by the bright fires on many a cold winter’s evening in that snug haven of the little republic, the assembled captains, pilots and engineers had told what each had done and what each could do, and now the time had come in which one must suffer an inglorious defeat.  At 10:30 p. m. when the Moline was a mile in advance, the Moline was a mile in advance, the Eclipse landed her tow rounded to, and started in hot pursuit of her rival and began one of those closely contested races so exciting to all good river men.  The Moline ran along the shore to take advantage of the eddies and slack water, but the eclipse held in the channel, and at the end of four hours and thirty minutes was closely under the stern of the Moline.  The later send back a fire raft to the Eclipse, which among steamboat men, is a taunt that more of that article is needed on board the purposing craft, but their folly was soon made manifest by the fact that in less than a half an hour the Eclipse stood off abeam for five miles.

  Amidst the yells of the crew, the “whistling of the black birds in the chimneys “ and the weird war hoop of an Indian on board the Moline, the two boats ran abreast.  Each resorted to every artifice, took advantage of every stratagem by which she could gain a foot, until on straightening up for a crossing the Eclipse dexterously gained the lead and her opponent never again recovered the lost ground.

  The much needed fire rafts were then returned to the distressed vessel but without avail.  The Moline fell a stern at 2:30 p. m. and at 3 o’clock she was a dozen boat’s lengths behind and at day light could not be sighted.  From 2:30 a. m. until the watches changed at 6:30 the Eclipse made fifty miles and she made the run from Dubuque to La Crosse, a distance of one hundred and forty miles in thirteen hours and fifteen minutes.  Upon the whole a better contested and fairer race could not be expected.  Each was heavily loaded with fuel for the trip, well trimmed and in good running order having left the boat yards a week before, having been thoroughly overhauled during the winter.  It was in good river during a good stage of water, and neither can claim any unfairness on the part of the other, and each genial skipper should submit to the result.                                                             


Collected and Transcribed by

Georgeann McClure


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