Little River Books




Backing Hard Into River History - by James V. Swift
Chapter 13 - Federal

The reader will understand from previous chapters that the principal event that led to the revitalization of the rivers was World War I; the railroads could not handle the traffic alone.

However, the move to bring the rivers back had begun before this.

President Theodore Roosevelt appointed an Inland Waterways Commission (IWC) in March 1907, and its report of January 3, 1908, was sent to Congress on February 26 with the President’s endorsement. He said in part: “The development of our waterways and the conservation of our forests are the two most pressing physical needs of our country...and they should be vigorously met together and at once.”

However, the report called for only a four- to six-foot channel on the Upper Mississippi.

Roosevelt was to have some first-hand exposure to the river during a trip he made from Keokuk, Iowa, to Memphis in October 1907 as a guest of the Lakes to the Gulf Deep Waterways Association. He rode the Corps of Engineers’ vessel Mississippi, which was joined in the trip by a number of boats in the “Roosevelt Parade.” (The vessel Mississippi at that time was actually used by the Mississippi River Commission.)

Two years later Pres. William Howard Taft was on the river on the lighthouse boat Oleander from St. Louis to New Orleans.

Back to World War I. The Federal Control Act of 1916 was passed, giving control of the railroads to the federal government. W. G. McAdoo, Director General of the Railroad, also commandeered all privately owned floating equipment on the Mississippi and Warrior rivers in 1918. He also purchased new equipment and started a weekly service between St. Louis and New Orleans.

Coal movements were begun from Birmingham, Alabama, and New Orleans; they started in 1919.

Federal control of the railroads ended in 1920, but the Secretary of War kept an interest in the waterways, established the Inland and Coastwise Water Service to operate the barge lines. In 1924 Congress established the Inland Waterways Corporation, which was more commonly known as the Federal Barge Lines.

The goal was to show once again the value of water transportation, via experiments in equipment.

Since access to the rivers had become a problem in a railroad-dominated world. Federal was aided by river terminals built by cities located along the rivers; these cities saw the need for river transportation. There were such facilities at St. Paul; Minneapolis; Dubuque; Rock Island (Three City Terminal, also serving Davenport and Moline, Burlington, Iowa (a floating dock); St. Louis (North Market Street); East St. Louis, Illinois; Cairo, Illinois (an incline); Memphis (an incline); Helena, Arkansas; Greenville, Mississippi; Vicksburg, Mississippi; Baton Rouge; New Orleans; Houston; Mobile; Birmingham, Alabama (Port Birmingham); Omaha, Nebraska; Kansas City, Missouri; Peoria, Illinois; Chicago (Western Avenue); and Stillwater, Minnesota.

At the start, because of government status, Federal had to accept for shipment anything offered it, and this included less than barge loads, just as the packet boats had done. This was not the modern barge line concept, and it was not a profitable operation by any means.

Federal started with many traditional sternwheel, steam-powered boats. Even the big state boats came out with sternwheels. Those acquired from the Upper Mississippi River Barge Line were of that type.

There was at the time a controversy about using screw propellers on the rivers; Federal was using propeller-power on the “City boats” and self-propelled barges on the Warrior River system.

The fleet at the start included the following:

The Choctaw came from the Memphis District of the U.S. Engineers, the Nokomis from the St. Louis District, and the Wynoka from the Memphis District. All had been built originally for the Mississippi River Commission and were stern-wheel boats. Federal also had the Advance on the Mississippi, and the Clio (185 hp.) and Darling (350 hp.) on the Warrior.

Also used was the New Orleans (formerly the Louis Houck and Barrett), Advance, and Slack Barrett. On the Warrior River they had the Volcano, which was to handle the first Federal tow on that river in January 1919. The Altair was also used.

The IWC took over the Kansas City and Missouri River Navigation Company and its boats, the A. M. Scott and Chester (which had been converted to propeller).

Federal also bought the fleet that had been built by Upper Mississippi River interests (as described in a previous chapter) and this included the C. C. Webber, General Ashburn, S. S. Thorpe and John W. Weeks. These were stern-wheel boats 130 by 35.1 by 5.1. Also coming from the Upper Mississippi were the James W. Good and Patrick J. Hurley, larger sternwheelers, 158.1 by 42 by 6.1 feet.

The IWC (or General Ashburn) commandeered four boats of the Goltra Barge Line: the “state” boats Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Missouri. (The Goltras sued the government, and the litigation went on for years.) These were stern-wheel boats to start with, 230 by 58 by 8. (They were converted to propellers around 1937.)

Rivermen were still arguing about whether sternwheels or propellers were better at the time, but Federal took the deep plunge and built a fleet of what were to be called the “City” or “black boats” that included the Baton Rouge, Cairo, Memphis, Natchez, St. Louis and Vicksburg, with propellers. They were 200 by 40 by 10.

General Ashburn also had a business boat, like a yacht, the North Star.

For the Warrior River service Federal tried a different type of vessel, a self-propelled barge. These included the Birmingham, Gulfport, Mobile, and Tuscaloosa. Ordinary Federal towboats on the Warrior system included the Cordova, Demopolis, and Dwight F. Davis. The Montgomery was also first used on the Warrior but later came over to the Mississippi system and was an Illinois River boat.

Federal also built the Mark Twain, a steam-powered stern-wheeler; she was 157 by 42 by 6. This was to be their last stern-wheel boat. Also steam power was giving way to diesel, although the Helena, Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn and Kansas City were steam and propeller driven; they were dieselized in 1947 and 1948.

When Federal went to diesel power, it was done in a big way. The towboat Herbert Hoover was built in 1931 at the Dubuque Boat and Boiler Works in Dubuque, Iowa, to be the largest and most powerful diesel towboat of her time. She was 215 by 43.6 by 10.1 and had 2,200 hp. She was a talking point for river people at the time of her building. (She was later the New Orleans of the Mississippi Valley Barge Line.)

Federal’s most unusual creation was the Harry Truman. She was really a powered unit, pushing a set of integrated barges designed to be dropped off at river terminals along the way. To prove how fast she was, Federal planned a time race for her against that of the steamer Robt. E. Lee, which had set the record in 1870. The Lee made the run from New Orleans to St. Louis in three days, 18 hours and 14 minutes. The Truman only missed this record by an hour and 16 minutes.

The power unit of the Truman was 135 by 54 feet, with 3,200 hp. She had a bow piece, and nine barges-five large ones, a medium-sized one, and three small units.

Federal built two other notable boats known for their size and power. The twins, America and United States, came out of St. Louis Ship in 1960; they were 184 by 58 by 10.3 and had four diesel engines each, with a horsepower of 9,000. With four stacks and a yellow paint job, they were a prominent sight along the Mississippi.

While experimenting with equipment, Federal tried some things that were to be helpful to future towing operations, and some that weren’t. On the Illinois, for instance, while still using a sternwheel, they tried a new paddle design patented by Tom Dunbar. The vessel was also given equipment to burn pulverized coal, but it did not work out.

The most important thing that Federal did was to prove that a four- or six-foot channel was not enough for economic and efficient barge line use; there had to be at least nine feet of stable water to run on.

Some of the highlights of Federal’s early movements included the trip of the S. S. Thorpe, when she left St. Louis for St. Paul with three loaded barges drawing 4 feet. Aboard were General Ashburn and the designer of the Upper Mississippi River sternwheelers, T. R. Tarn. The trip began on August 15, 1927.

A year earlier, the Wynoka had made a trial run with five barges loaded with water ballast; she grounded at Island 17, and the General Ashburn had to finish the trip. General Ashburn himself had come on the Wynoka.

These two boats teamed up again for the opening of the Peoria, Illinois, Federal Terminal in June 1931; General Ashburn and his wife rode the Ashburn.

The General Ashburn was along when the Mark Twain took the first Federal tow into Kansas City June 27, 1932. The Secretary of War Patrick J. Hurley was on the Mark Twain.

The Franklin D. Roosevelt took the first Federal tow into Omaha, Nebraska, on October 23, 1946.

Federal suffered its greatest loss on March 4, 1948, when the Natchez hit the Greenville, Mississippi, bridge, rolled over and sank. Fourteen people were lost, including Capt. James F. Browinski; chief engineer Keith A. Montgomery; and second engineer Charles Jarvis. Capt. Walter I. Hass, pilot off watch, saved himself by clambering up the hull as the boat turned over. The fuel tanks ruptured on impact; the oil stains are still visible on the bridge pier.

Federal boats began life (at first) in a coat of dark green paint with black trim, but later this olive drab appearance changed to a more colorful yellow. They ended up white with black trim.

With the rise of private carriers that could do the job efficiently on the inland waterways, there was a constant effort underway to get the government out of the river business.

Finally, in 1953, Federal was sold to Herman T. Pott, and it became a subsidiary of St. Louis Shipbuilding and Steel Company. In 1959 Federal acquired the Gulf Canal Lines, Inc., of Houston, and in 1968 the United Barge Company, of Minneapolis, Minnesota.

In 1977, Pott Industries merged with the Houston Natural Gas Corporation of Texas. Eight years later Houston sold Federal to The Ohio River Company, of Cincinnati. Rivermen appreciated the fact that the boats kept their old names.

Federal trained many men who went on to be leaders in the private sector. Some that come to mind are Glen Taylor, Fred F. Pearson, Capt. C. E. Patton, John Patrick Higgins, R. R. Odell, Harry E. Rudiman, L. E. Barry, D. C. Newlon, J. S. Brodie, Elmer H. Cordes, and John Clark Berry.

The presidents who guided Federal were Maj. Gen. Thomas Q. Ashburn, Chester C. Thompson, John S. Powell, Capt. A. C. Ingersoll, Jr. (with the government and later with St. Louis Ship), William Oliphant (interim), Noble Parsonage, Peter Fanchi, Jr., Robert Kyle, and Jack Lynch.

Many of Federal Barge Lines’ papers are in the Herman T. Pott National Inland Waterways Library at the St. Louis Mercantile Library. There are so many, in fact, that there is a special inventory of them in book form.

Included in this collection are the files of Robert A. Labdon, FBL’s marine superintendent, with many blueprints, including many of the DPC towboats of World War II. One could almost build a boat from them.

Other papers deal with traffic, operations, finances, machinery history, engineering and maintenance.

Business papers of the barge line are not included in the collection; many are in the National Archives in Washington, D. C. Others are in The Waterways Journal collection of the Pott Library under separate files.

I had a certain affinity with Federal Barge Lines. It probably started when I first went with the Journal, and one of my weekly tasks was to go down to the Federal offices in the Boatmen’s Bank Building at Broadway and Olive in downtown St. Louis, and pick up the FBL boat movements for the week. The Journal carried them for a long time.

I was indebted to them, too, for two of my best river trips. My wife and I rode the steamer Coral Sea from St. Louis to New Orleans one year. Leonard McArthur was master, and Fred Sheldon was pilot. Capt. Sheldon did not like the coffee from the galley (he was from New Orleans or somewhere in the South), and he had his own coffee machine in the pilothouse to make the stronger chicory variety. He also had a rack of bananas hanging in the back of the pilothouse, and he would reach back every so often and pull one off. It was a very enjoyable trip.

The other major voyage with Federal, with my wife along, was on the Missouri River on the big Minnesota. Capt. Leonard Thompson was master. When we got to Kansas City to catch the boat she wasn’t ready, so we were told to go to a hotel, and they could call us when to come. John Welch, Federal’s agent at Kansas City, took good care of us and got us down to the Minnesota and safely aboard.

But the Minnesota’s barges were still not ready, so we had many hours to wait before the trip could begin. However, it was by no means dull, because with us in the pilothouse was a noted Missouri River story-teller, Cecil E. Griffith, contact pilot for the Kansas City District of the U.S. Engineers. He had some great tales (including some about “floaters”), which I could see were making my wife a little queasy.

We finally got underway, and it was to be a rocky trip; the tow broke up several times on bars and had to be reassembled. When it happened at night it was a colorful affair, with the breaking wires sparking like fireworks.

When we got to Jefferson City, Missouri, the river was so low over a bar that the Minnesota could go no further and had to wait for a dredge to come up from Gasconade to open up a channel. My time had run out, and we had to be taken ashore in the motorboat to catch a train back to St. Louis.

I was invited to ride the new towboat Lachlan Macleay on her maiden voyage in 1955. I was to meet her in St. Charles, Missouri, and I was out on the bridge a long time waiting when I got the word (I don’t recall how) to go to the hotel and wait there. Word came that she was coming in, and I went to the east end where the motorboat came in. Out stepped Capt. A. C. Ingersoll, Jr., President of Federal; and Donald Steele, operating manager. We got as far as South Point, Missouri, where I had to get off.

Even my mother, Anita Bailey Swift, got into the act. A female journalist wanted to do a story on the river and ride a boat from St. Louis to New Orleans. She had to have a chaperone. Donald Wright found out about it and asked me if I thought my mother would like to go. Well, she jumped at the chance. We went down to the North Market Street Terminal to get on the Illinois. The women friends who had taken us down to the terminal almost fainted when my mother, baggage and companion were put on a platform that swung out over the river to lower them down on the boat.

Back on the river after so many years, my mother really had a good time. Her companion, however, threw the crew into a tizzy by sunbathing on the barge covers. The Illinois’ captain-and I am sorry I don’t recall his name- finally asked my mother, “Mrs. Swift, do you think you could persuade your companion to stay off the barges in that bathing suit?”

At New Orleans, my mother had the highest praise for how nice Capt. John Skidmore was to help in getting her off the Illinois and up to the train.

As far as the lady writer was concerned, I don’t believe she was heard from again, nor was there a story. The reader will understand from previous chapters that the principal event that led to the revitalization of the rivers was World War I; the railroads could not handle the traffic alone.

However, the move to bring the rivers back had begun before this.

President Theodore Roosevelt appointed an Inland Waterways Commission (IWC) in March 1907, and its report of January 3, 1908, was sent to Congress on February 26 with the President’s endorsement. He said in part: “The development of our waterways and the conservation of our forests are the two most pressing physical needs of our country...and they should be vigorously met together and at once.”

However, the report called for only a four- to six-foot channel on the Upper Mississippi.

Roosevelt was to have some first-hand exposure to the river during a trip he made from Keokuk, Iowa, to Memphis in October 1907 as a guest of the Lakes to the Gulf Deep Waterways Association. He rode the Corps of Engineers’ vessel Mississippi, which was joined in the trip by a number of boats in the “Roosevelt Parade.” (The vessel Mississippi at that time was actually used by the Mississippi River Commission.)

Two years later Pres. William Howard Taft was on the river on the lighthouse boat Oleander from St. Louis to New Orleans.

Back to World War I. The Federal Control Act of 1916 was passed, giving control of the railroads to the federal government. W. G. McAdoo, Director General of the Railroad, also commandeered all privately owned floating equipment on the Mississippi and Warrior rivers in 1918. He also purchased new equipment and started a weekly service between St. Louis and New Orleans.

Coal movements were begun from Birmingham, Alabama, and New Orleans; they started in 1919.

Federal control of the railroads ended in 1920, but the Secretary of War kept an interest in the waterways, established the Inland and Coastwise Water Service to operate the barge lines. In 1924 Congress established the Inland Waterways Corporation, which was more commonly known as the Federal Barge Lines.

The goal was to show once again the value of water transportation, via experiments in equipment.

Since access to the rivers had become a problem in a railroad-dominated world. Federal was aided by river terminals built by cities located along the rivers; these cities saw the need for river transportation. There were such facilities at St. Paul; Minneapolis; Dubuque; Rock Island (Three City Terminal, also serving Davenport and Moline, Burlington, Iowa (a floating dock); St. Louis (North Market Street); East St. Louis, Illinois; Cairo, Illinois (an incline); Memphis (an incline); Helena, Arkansas; Greenville, Mississippi; Vicksburg, Mississippi; Baton Rouge; New Orleans; Houston; Mobile; Birmingham, Alabama (Port Birmingham); Omaha, Nebraska; Kansas City, Missouri; Peoria, Illinois; Chicago (Western Avenue); and Stillwater, Minnesota.

At the start, because of government status, Federal had to accept for shipment anything offered it, and this included less than barge loads, just as the packet boats had done. This was not the modern barge line concept, and it was not a profitable operation by any means.

Federal started with many traditional sternwheel, steam-powered boats. Even the big state boats came out with sternwheels. Those acquired from the Upper Mississippi River Barge Line were of that type.

There was at the time a controversy about using screw propellers on the rivers; Federal was using propeller-power on the “City boats” and self-propelled barges on the Warrior River system.

The fleet at the start included the following:

The Choctaw came from the Memphis District of the U.S. Engineers, the Nokomis from the St. Louis District, and the Wynoka from the Memphis District. All had been built originally for the Mississippi River Commission and were stern-wheel boats. Federal also had the Advance on the Mississippi, and the Clio (185 hp.) and Darling (350 hp.) on the Warrior.

Also used was the New Orleans (formerly the Louis Houck and Barrett), Advance, and Slack Barrett. On the Warrior River they had the Volcano, which was to handle the first Federal tow on that river in January 1919. The Altair was also used.

The IWC took over the Kansas City and Missouri River Navigation Company and its boats, the A. M. Scott and Chester (which had been converted to propeller).

Federal also bought the fleet that had been built by Upper Mississippi River interests (as described in a previous chapter) and this included the C. C. Webber, General Ashburn, S. S. Thorpe and John W. Weeks. These were stern-wheel boats 130 by 35.1 by 5.1. Also coming from the Upper Mississippi were the James W. Good and Patrick J. Hurley, larger sternwheelers, 158.1 by 42 by 6.1 feet.

The IWC (or General Ashburn) commandeered four boats of the Goltra Barge Line: the “state” boats Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Missouri. (The Goltras sued the government, and the litigation went on for years.) These were stern-wheel boats to start with, 230 by 58 by 8. (They were converted to propellers around 1937.)

Rivermen were still arguing about whether sternwheels or propellers were better at the time, but Federal took the deep plunge and built a fleet of what were to be called the “City” or “black boats” that included the Baton Rouge, Cairo, Memphis, Natchez, St. Louis and Vicksburg, with propellers. They were 200 by 40 by 10.

General Ashburn also had a business boat, like a yacht, the North Star.

For the Warrior River service Federal tried a different type of vessel, a self-propelled barge. These included the Birmingham, Gulfport, Mobile, and Tuscaloosa. Ordinary Federal towboats on the Warrior system included the Cordova, Demopolis, and Dwight F. Davis. The Montgomery was also first used on the Warrior but later came over to the Mississippi system and was an Illinois River boat.

Federal also built the Mark Twain, a steam-powered stern-wheeler; she was 157 by 42 by 6. This was to be their last stern-wheel boat. Also steam power was giving way to diesel, although the Helena, Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn and Kansas City were steam and propeller driven; they were dieselized in 1947 and 1948.

When Federal went to diesel power, it was done in a big way. The towboat Herbert Hoover was built in 1931 at the Dubuque Boat and Boiler Works in Dubuque, Iowa, to be the largest and most powerful diesel towboat of her time. She was 215 by 43.6 by 10.1 and had 2,200 hp. She was a talking point for river people at the time of her building. (She was later the New Orleans of the Mississippi Valley Barge Line.)

Federal’s most unusual creation was the Harry Truman. She was really a powered unit, pushing a set of integrated barges designed to be dropped off at river terminals along the way. To prove how fast she was, Federal planned a time race for her against that of the steamer Robt. E. Lee, which had set the record in 1870. The Lee made the run from New Orleans to St. Louis in three days, 18 hours and 14 minutes. The Truman only missed this record by an hour and 16 minutes.

The power unit of the Truman was 135 by 54 feet, with 3,200 hp. She had a bow piece, and nine barges-five large ones, a medium-sized one, and three small units.

Federal built two other notable boats known for their size and power. The twins, America and United States, came out of St. Louis Ship in 1960; they were 184 by 58 by 10.3 and had four diesel engines each, with a horsepower of 9,000. With four stacks and a yellow paint job, they were a prominent sight along the Mississippi.

While experimenting with equipment, Federal tried some things that were to be helpful to future towing operations, and some that weren’t. On the Illinois, for instance, while still using a sternwheel, they tried a new paddle design patented by Tom Dunbar. The vessel was also given equipment to burn pulverized coal, but it did not work out.

The most important thing that Federal did was to prove that a four- or six-foot channel was not enough for economic and efficient barge line use; there had to be at least nine feet of stable water to run on.

Some of the highlights of Federal’s early movements included the trip of the S. S. Thorpe, when she left St. Louis for St. Paul with three loaded barges drawing 4 feet. Aboard were General Ashburn and the designer of the Upper Mississippi River sternwheelers, T. R. Tarn. The trip began on August 15, 1927.

A year earlier, the Wynoka had made a trial run with five barges loaded with water ballast; she grounded at Island 17, and the General Ashburn had to finish the trip. General Ashburn himself had come on the Wynoka.

These two boats teamed up again for the opening of the Peoria, Illinois, Federal Terminal in June 1931; General Ashburn and his wife rode the Ashburn.

The General Ashburn was along when the Mark Twain took the first Federal tow into Kansas City June 27, 1932. The Secretary of War Patrick J. Hurley was on the Mark Twain.

The Franklin D. Roosevelt took the first Federal tow into Omaha, Nebraska, on October 23, 1946.

Federal suffered its greatest loss on March 4, 1948, when the Natchez hit the Greenville, Mississippi, bridge, rolled over and sank. Fourteen people were lost, including Capt. James F. Browinski; chief engineer Keith A. Montgomery; and second engineer Charles Jarvis. Capt. Walter I. Hass, pilot off watch, saved himself by clambering up the hull as the boat turned over. The fuel tanks ruptured on impact; the oil stains are still visible on the bridge pier.

Federal boats began life (at first) in a coat of dark green paint with black trim, but later this olive drab appearance changed to a more colorful yellow. They ended up white with black trim.

With the rise of private carriers that could do the job efficiently on the inland waterways, there was a constant effort underway to get the government out of the river business.

Finally, in 1953, Federal was sold to Herman T. Pott, and it became a subsidiary of St. Louis Shipbuilding and Steel Company. In 1959 Federal acquired the Gulf Canal Lines, Inc., of Houston, and in 1968 the United Barge Company, of Minneapolis, Minnesota.

In 1977, Pott Industries merged with the Houston Natural Gas Corporation of Texas. Eight years later Houston sold Federal to The Ohio River Company, of Cincinnati. Rivermen appreciated the fact that the boats kept their old names.

Federal trained many men who went on to be leaders in the private sector. Some that come to mind are Glen Taylor, Fred F. Pearson, Capt. C. E. Patton, John Patrick Higgins, R. R. Odell, Harry E. Rudiman, L. E. Barry, D. C. Newlon, J. S. Brodie, Elmer H. Cordes, and John Clark Berry.

The presidents who guided Federal were Maj. Gen. Thomas Q. Ashburn, Chester C. Thompson, John S. Powell, Capt. A. C. Ingersoll, Jr. (with the government and later with St. Louis Ship), William Oliphant (interim), Noble Parsonage, Peter Fanchi, Jr., Robert Kyle, and Jack Lynch.

Many of Federal Barge Lines’ papers are in the Herman T. Pott National Inland Waterways Library at the St. Louis Mercantile Library. There are so many, in fact, that there is a special inventory of them in book form.

Included in this collection are the files of Robert A. Labdon, FBL’s marine superintendent, with many blueprints, including many of the DPC towboats of World War II. One could almost build a boat from them.

Other papers deal with traffic, operations, finances, machinery history, engineering and maintenance.

Business papers of the barge line are not included in the collection; many are in the National Archives in Washington, D. C. Others are in The Waterways Journal collection of the Pott Library under separate files.

I had a certain affinity with Federal Barge Lines. It probably started when I first went with the Journal, and one of my weekly tasks was to go down to the Federal offices in the Boatmen’s Bank Building at Broadway and Olive in downtown St. Louis, and pick up the FBL boat movements for the week. The Journal carried them for a long time.

I was indebted to them, too, for two of my best river trips. My wife and I rode the steamer Coral Sea from St. Louis to New Orleans one year. Leonard McArthur was master, and Fred Sheldon was pilot. Capt. Sheldon did not like the coffee from the galley (he was from New Orleans or somewhere in the South), and he had his own coffee machine in the pilothouse to make the stronger chicory variety. He also had a rack of bananas hanging in the back of the pilothouse, and he would reach back every so often and pull one off. It was a very enjoyable trip.

The other major voyage with Federal, with my wife along, was on the Missouri River on the big Minnesota. Capt. Leonard Thompson was master. When we got to Kansas City to catch the boat she wasn’t ready, so we were told to go to a hotel, and they could call us when to come. John Welch, Federal’s agent at Kansas City, took good care of us and got us down to the Minnesota and safely aboard.

But the Minnesota’s barges were still not ready, so we had many hours to wait before the trip could begin. However, it was by no means dull, because with us in the pilothouse was a noted Missouri River story-teller, Cecil E. Griffith, contact pilot for the Kansas City District of the U.S. Engineers. He had some great tales (including some about “floaters”), which I could see were making my wife a little queasy.

We finally got underway, and it was to be a rocky trip; the tow broke up several times on bars and had to be reassembled. When it happened at night it was a colorful affair, with the breaking wires sparking like fireworks.

When we got to Jefferson City, Missouri, the river was so low over a bar that the Minnesota could go no further and had to wait for a dredge to come up from Gasconade to open up a channel. My time had run out, and we had to be taken ashore in the motorboat to catch a train back to St. Louis.

I was invited to ride the new towboat Lachlan Macleay on her maiden voyage in 1955. I was to meet her in St. Charles, Missouri, and I was out on the bridge a long time waiting when I got the word (I don’t recall how) to go to the hotel and wait there. Word came that she was coming in, and I went to the east end where the motorboat came in. Out stepped Capt. A. C. Ingersoll, Jr., President of Federal; and Donald Steele, operating manager. We got as far as South Point, Missouri, where I had to get off.

Even my mother, Anita Bailey Swift, got into the act. A female journalist wanted to do a story on the river and ride a boat from St. Louis to New Orleans. She had to have a chaperone. Donald Wright found out about it and asked me if I thought my mother would like to go. Well, she jumped at the chance. We went down to the North Market Street Terminal to get on the Illinois. The women friends who had taken us down to the terminal almost fainted when my mother, baggage and companion were put on a platform that swung out over the river to lower them down on the boat.

Back on the river after so many years, my mother really had a good time. Her companion, however, threw the crew into a tizzy by sunbathing on the barge covers. The Illinois’ captain-and I am sorry I don’t recall his name- finally asked my mother, “Mrs. Swift, do you think you could persuade your companion to stay off the barges in that bathing suit?”

At New Orleans, my mother had the highest praise for how nice Capt. John Skidmore was to help in getting her off the Illinois and up to the train.

As far as the lady writer was concerned, I don’t believe she was heard from again, nor was there a story.
(Note: This excerpt was copyrighted in 2000 by James V. Swift and J. R. Simpson & Associates, Inc., as part of the overall work contained in "Backing Hard Into River History." No part shall be reproduced without permission.)