FAMED RACE ON
BEGAN 62 YRS. AGO THURSDAY
AGO THURSDAY THE Mississippi river packet Robert E. Lee backed away from the
canal street wharf at
and began an upstream race with the
which had gone down in steamboating history as the greatest race ever run on
any river in the world.
“When Rafters Ruled”
Fred A. Bill
In the spring of 1867 my brother Lyman and myself took the
big sidewheel steamer
. As we were short of money we did
what now would be called “hitch-hiking” and took deck passage hoping to get
on the good side of the second clerk. It
was slow traveling in those days as the packet stopped at every landing where
there was a warehouse to take on and out off freight and passengers.
We were in
for quite a while and passengers went ashore and some of them got left.
, another fine sidewheel packet, was at the landing when we left and soon after
Lyman said he thought we were in for a race.
I asked why he thought so and he called my attention to the speed we were
going, the racket the hog chains and guy rods were making and the smoke that was
rolling out of the chimneys. We
looked behind but could only see another bunch of smoke, evidently from the
. It was nearly dark when we backed
out from the landing at McGregor to go around he island and up the west, or
Prairie du Chien channel and the Key City was in sight about at Pictured Rocks.
She made the most beautiful sight I ever saw of a steamboat under
headway. It was a perfectly calm
evening. We could see the spray
running up the stem and gently curling over the falling back into the water; the
white top of the side swells looked as though they would make mammoth soap
bubbles; the smoke from her stacks, black as tar, gently rolling out and behind
her in a straight line for at least a quarter of a mile; the steam from her
exhaust pipes forming two lines of pure white that declined to mix with the two
lines of black above them; the green foliage from the waters edge to the peak of
the bluff; all combined to make one of the most beautiful sights I ever looked
upon and a picture worthy the brush of the most talented painter.
kept on going, made the Prairie du Chien landing and as she was going out into
the main river above the island, the
came up the
side and we thought then and there would be a race for blood!
Just then the
blew a hailing signal; the Hawkeye answered it’ the
landed along side of the Hawkeye and let off the passengers who had been left
. The boats separated, the
went down the east channel to Prairie du Chien and we continued up the river
and the supposed race-which was only in our minds was off.
April 12, 1964
And there they go…chugging,
snorting, puffing, steaming.
This extremely old photo
shows yesteryear phase of racing., taken by H. M. Rehder,
429 20th St.
The Excursion steamers
Majestic and J. S. race to
. The picture was taken just below
, opposite the Servus Rubber Co. plant.
Jerome E. Short
The Crescent and the Flying Eagle
One little race in which perhaps I was not exactly
square had a somewhat disastrous ending.
The stern wheel Flying Eagle was owned by Thomas
and when not running excursions was engaged in any old job that came handy and
just at that time was towing wood from
slough. It seems they had been
wanting a race with us, so one day when we left
on our regular time they pulled out right after us.
Soon after we went through the bridge I could see that she would soon
pass us if we kept on the regular course, so I kept well over to the right hand
side of the channel in the hope that the Eagle would drop in behind us before we
got to hog island to the right of which she should go and we would go to the
left. In event she did not do so we
would have a good chance to crowd her past the channel she should take.
But she kept on coming on the port side of us and pretty soon we were
locked together and both boats doing their best to get up the river, the
Crescent being just far enough ahead that the Eagle could not crowd us out of
our course. I called to the pilot of
the Eagle that I would stop and let him go ahead but he made no reply.
He was “on” to my scheme to force him past the place he should turn
to the right and was going to work a similar scheme on us as soon as we had to
cross to the
side to make our
landing. I was determined not to g
out of our way nor to be beaten out of our course, so when nearing the place
where we should cross the river told the engineer what I was going to do and
asked him to make the shift as quickly as possible when we gave the signal to
stop and back for I was fearful we might do some damage to the Eagle in breaking
loose. Soon as we stopped our
engines, the Eagle shot ahead and in backing away we broke nearly every one of
her stanchions from the front end of the boiler to the engines and barely missed
taking a portion of the fan tail. While
the race might be said to have been a draw, I figured we were ahead as we had
not lost any time nor gone out of our way, whereas the Eagle had to turn around
and go back a mile or so to get into her proper channel.
I expected we would get a bill for damages on account of the wrecked
stanchions but doubtless the Eagle people thought it a case of “pot and kettle”
as no bill ever came. It was a fool
stunt for both of us and I never ‘locked horns” with another boat.