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Alan Bates 04-14-2008 03:30 PM

Bert Fenn
 
Everybody who did not meet Bert Fenn is culturally deprived. Bert was a steamboat historian without a peer. He not only collected steamboat books, he READ them and practically memorized them. He collected artifacts, too, even including the forward model of an unidentified hull. He suspected it was from the Mechanic, the boat that LaFayette rode on the Ohio. That was proved wrong when someone found a log from the boat. It sank at Flint Island, all right, but it was raised and repaired at New Albany. The mystery bow laid in an alley between two Tell City Chair Company buildings for years. He tried to donate it to several museums with no luck. It was finally torn apart and removed.
But that was not the remarkable relic. Everyine who entered his office was obliged to step over a stage boom lying in the hall.
Bert was an ebullient extrovert who shared what he had with all comers. A visit to Tell City could fetch up in a cemetery to see Robert Fulton's brother's grave or it could wind up on a rock to view "dinosewer" (his pronunciation) footprints.
When he heard about the whistle blow on the Nugent derrick boat he determined to have one for the Tell City Schweitzerfest. It attracted world-wide attention.
One year he made a remarkable suggestion for an event for the Schweitzerfest. He proposed that they put a couple of barrels of sauerkraut in a dump truck, lace it with about forty dollars in loose change, dump it in the street at the corner of Main and Tell Streets and let the town kids dive for the money. The committee turned the idea down - not because of costs or kraut-covered clothing. No! They could not stand to waste that good sauerkraut.

Shipyard Sam 04-14-2008 03:52 PM

When Bert Fenn rode the DELTA QUEEN he tipped in Tell City Furniture. Captain Wagner, Henry Mitchell, Ida Mae Ferrell, Mamie and the Davis family, and other Fenn favorites were sure to receive their share of truck loads of TC woodenwares. The furniture was taken aboard at the Cannelton Landing and loaded in the deckroom of the firebox and transported to Cincinnati where most of the recipients resided. The DELTA QUEEN took on the appearance of a packetboat loaded down with the valuable cargo.

R. Dale Flick 04-16-2008 07:59 AM

RE: MEMORIES OF BERT FENN:
Thanks to Alan and Shipyard for two incredibly well written 'memories' of the late Bert Fenn. Bert was one in a million...a grand original...and those unfortunate not to have met him missed a real treat. Bert's deep, rumbling voice could well have carved him a career as a narrator of PBS 'Masterpiece Theater' epics. In his steamboat programs, complete with fine slides, he would coax the audience to stretch their imaginations with his word pictures to experience old time steamboat life---warts and all. Bert's similies in his talks were classic. He once compared the sound of steamboat whistles to, "Warm, melted chocolate." Flashing the color picture of a preserved southern plantation, he contrasted another black/white period photo of the interior of one of the giant cotton packets. "Now," he rumbled, "you have an idea of the fine warm furniture, bright carpeting, white tinted with gold, gleaming oil chandeliers hanging from above, long dining tables set with china, silver and linen." The audience would gasp. He balanced steamboat 'romance' with hard, cold 'reality.'

One year during an S&D meeting in Marietta, Bert piled the late John Bickel in his new car for a spin up river to view the scenery. Just out of town a deer darted in front of Bert's new car. BANG! Oh, dear...poor deer. While standing surveying the damage a route driver in a big FRITO-LAY truck came along, slammed on brakes and jumped out. "Hey, you guys want that deer?" They shuffled in the negative. The guy threw open the back of the truck, tossed in the fresh deer and headed on down the road with visions of venison in the oven or crock-pot on his mind. I never open a bag of FRITO-LAY snacks to this day without remembering that incident.

Shipyard's recollection of Bert 'tipping' DELTA QUEEN crew members with TC furniture is a good one. The late Warren Stichtenoth, Cincinnati artists and illustrator, did a series of paintings and graphics for the GREENE LINE and later DELTA QUEEN STEAMBOAT CO. here for art shows. One of those fine charcoal/ink drawings shows Henry Mitchell seated in one of the TC chairs on the front of the DQ after a long, hard day serving passengers to catch the cool evening breezes. Shipyard recalled a number of those people who worked on the boat. They also ranked as 'grand originals' and I 'think' Mamie Davis dated back in old GREENE LINE service to the days of Capt. Gordon C. Greene. Thanks for the memories Alan and Shipyard. You brightened a day here and gave letity and light to the web.

Cheers,
R. Dale Flick

Jo Ann Schoen 04-16-2008 08:57 AM

I have to boost that it was Bert Fenn that invited me and my son to join S & D. Mr. Fenn attended the auction at Cedar Farm my family held after my grandmother's passing. Of course, he purchased anything and everything that was related to steamboats, much to the dismay of family members that had hoped to hang onto some of it. A few years later I ran into Mr. Fenn at a joint meeting of the Harrison County Historical Society and the Tell City or Cannelton Historical Society. Upon being introduced he immediately said, "you need to join the Sons and Daughters of Pioneer Rivermen". He informed me that the annual meeting had just taken place, but that a local chapter - which happened to be the Middle Ohio River chapter was having a meeting in Louisville within the next few weeks. As they say, the rest is history. And, oh boy, has my life been richer for it. THANKS Mr. Fenn!


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