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  1. #1

    Default Alan Bates and Me 7

    If Alan stood for his mates license today, he wouldn't have gotten it. Under today's Coast Guard licensing procedures, they wouldn't let him even take the test because he didn't have nearly enough "sea" time. A little backgroumd is necessary, back in 1963 licensed mates were as scarce as hens teeth, except for the few steam vessels that were still operating, there was no need for a mates license. When the BELLE first came out in April of 63, Paul Underwood had his friend Capt. George Washington Mac Clellan Stephens (Mac Stephens) come on as mate. Mac was an old man, he spent most of his life on Green River, he worked on the CHAPERON with Courtney Ellis and he was on the BOWLING GREEN and later the SOUTHLAND, Mac just wasn't up to the job, but he did fulfill the requirement. Mac knew he wasn't able to do what was necessary. so he left in the early summer. They found a man named Plumley (I forget his first name) to replace Mac Stephens. Plumley was just about as old as Mac, but not nearly as classy. Plumley refused to wear his false teeth and he was afraid to go out on deck so he would stand inside the doorway and shout orders to the deck crew; only trouble was no one could understand him. "Pull in that spring line" came out "Whom, whom, whom"; the landings were fun to watch. Alan, when he was on the boat, would take over for poor old Plumley and bring order to the caous. Needless to say, Plumley didn't last long; the BELLE was desperate for a licensed mate. Underwood pushed Alan to stand for his mates license.

    Back then, the local Coast Guard inspectors gave all the tests and issued all the licenses. It was a good system because, more than likely, the inspector knew the person who was standing for a license; if not, the inspector knew the person who recommended the candidate. A Captain could tell the inspector something like; "this kid can't read and write real good, but he's a good boat handler and he knows the river". The was a human side to getting a license. Today a candidate has to go to a testing center, take the test, and then all the paper work is sent off to a Coast Guard center in W. Virginia, there is no human interaction.

    The inspector who issued all the deck licenses in the Louisville district was Commander Jacobs, a fine man. He knew the BELLE's plight and he knew Alan. I don't think Alan ever took a test he didn't ace. The problem wasn't the test, but Alan's "sea" time. Alan's only experience on an operating steamboat was a month trip when George McBride's dad bought the Edenborn boats and brought them from Louisiana to Louisville. And that was in the early 40's. Alan would sometime's ride George McBrides boat as a guest but that was about it for Alan's boat experience. I think Jacobs let Alan count every time he rode up River Road and looked at the river. Alan got his First Mates License and his life changed.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2006
    Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S.A.


    *Alan's license/Mates on boats*
    Steamboating colleagues,
    Jim, the more I read the more you have me hooked. Interesting about licenses then with or without Coast Guard "human interaction." A different world then. I later heard the preceeding old 'Steamboat Inspection Service' also stiff, rigorous--as they should be then and now. EVen old Jim Burns, during building of the DQ/DK wrote to contractors etc. mentioning, "We have to be careful as I have the Steamboat Inspection Service breathing down my neck." What does that tell us? This you write the stuff of which steamboat history is made. I also clicked my teeth reading about Alan and the Coast Guard as, for one or more reasons, he would rave, rant, turn red in the face about the 'Coasties.' Bottom line, as I saw it, Alan didn't like hearing the word "No" either from them or anybody else for that matter. Keep it up!

    R. Dale Flick
    old Coal Haven Landing, Ohio River, Cincinnati.

  3. #3


    Without a person like Commander Jacobs, I doubt the BELLE would have ever run. The last season of the AVALON, Betty Blake, against the advise of people who knew, scheduled the boat up the Missouri River. The Missouri is death to excursion boats; the river is dangerous and the towns are too far apart. While in the muddy waters of the Missouri, the boat bagged one of its boilers. She had to return to Cincinnati under a restricted COI. Rumor had it that this boiler trouble, and the financial disaster of the Missouri River trip, plus a lot of outstanding lawsuits from hitting the gate at Emsworth Lock contributed to Ernie Myers declaring bankruptcy.
    The boat arrived in Louisville with the boiler still bagged. Commander Jacobs allowed a simple and cheap repair. Falls City Boiler simply heated the bagged area and pounded it back into shape. He could have made them x-ray the affected area and made a big deal out of it, but he didn't. Being a steamboat man he knew it was a safe repair.
    Jacobs inspected the hull before issuing the COI. He noted quite a few repairs that were needed, but no "show stoppers". He got with the county and they agreed that, if the county promised to drydock the boat each year for the next several years, he would let the boat operate and he would only require repairs on the most immediate needs each year; thereby not costing the boat a catastrophric one time bill.
    He did not scrimp on safety but at the same time he was reasonable.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    Paragould, AR or on m/v MAGNOLIA


    Fascinating reading, Jim, and thanks once again. Personnel in the Coast Guard, as in any other large organization, vary from ridiculous pompous asses to salt-of-the-earth types who look at things in a very practical, pragmatic way. Yes, in the old days it was easier because of the officer(s) being local, but even pretty recently Iíve encountered CG officers with plenty of common sense. At my age, itís been a while since I had to approach the CG for anything other than a renewal, but the last time I had any dealings with them license-wise (other than renewal), two different guys were as nice and reasonable as could be. Yes, they had some latitude and if you could convince them of your case, they would allow certain things or maybe not require something else if it was irrelevant. This is not to say they were giving anything away (though Iíve heard stories of THAT, too), but were just practical and reasonable.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    Columbus, IN


    Jim - this is some of the best stuff I've read on ol'! Be advised I'm going to print it and keep it as a "companion volume" to Captain Bates' book.

    Did Fred McCandless play some part in the '63 season mate saga?

  6. #6


    No Keith he didn't as far as I can remember. I've checked with Kenny Howe to make sure my memories of the events are accurate...we seem to agree. Looking back, how lucky we were to have been part of it all. I was eaten up with the boat but my parents insisted I stay in school and get my degree because "that boat will never last". Well, Kenny went into the engineroom on day one and now 56 yrs. later. after a long career at Jeffboat, he's back where he started only now he's part time chief engineer. I would say my parents underestimated the old girl.

  7. #7


    And we're all deuced glad that these 56 years later she's still around. In spite of politicians she is still here and a goodwill ambassador, but today I read that the politicians are at it again. Budget cuts in Louisville/Jefferson County might bring the ax down on the BELLE's passenger season this year. Say it ain't so, Joe!

  8. #8


    I have no way of knowing for sure, but perhaps Jeffboat closing will have something to do with their decision. For its 5 yr mandatory drydocking, they will now have to take the boat to Paducah or Pt. Pleasant; just getting the boat to the drydock will be considerable expense whether by its own power or towing it. To say that Jeffboat, particularly when Kenny Howe was in charge of the marine repair dept., was extremely kind to the old girl would not be an understatement.

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