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    Default Alan Bates and Me Comments and Opinion

    For those who met Alan later in his life, he had mellowed a lot as he aged. As I said in an earlier installment Alan did not suffer fools lightly and he could be quite brash with those he thought were wrong or who asked a stupid question; an example, when my friend Keenon Coleman was building his excellent model to the SPRAGUE using Alan's plans, Keenon asked Alan "what part of the boat was steel"? (I thought it was a legitimate question) Alan's reply was "Those parts which weren't wood".
    For years Alan used to get up about 4:30 each morning and take a 2 mile,predawn, walk down Bardstown Rd., an eclectic street of coffee shops, restaurants, tattoo parlors, and antique stores. Alan kind of became one of Bardstown Roads characters, known by all the bus drivers and early morning coffee shop patrons. One morning three black men came up behind Alan, hit him in the head with some blunt instrument and robbed him. Alan had 17 cents in his pocket, When he came to, Alan walked home got his car and drove himself to the hospital; he had no recall of doing any of those things, He was hospitalized for several days. After that incident, it seemed to me, Alan lost a lot of his "spice". His walks ceased.
    Alan was able to capitalize on his 2 1/2 year career as mate on the BELLE to a great degree. We, meaning Alan, Kenny Howe, and myself, all profited from our experience on the BELLE, but not to the extent Alan was able to do. Kenny was able to get his engineers license which led to a long career as head of Jeffboat's marine repair. From my experience and contacts was able have a career in the towing business. I guess you could say that from the foundation laid on the BELLE, there wasn't a dinner my family ate that wasn't ultimately paid for by a towboat. But Alan, by getting his captains license was able to put "Capt." in front of his name, that lent an aire of legitimacy to his writings and his pronouncements. Such as Alan used to say "food on steamboats was slop...nothing but lard and sugar". I always wanted to ask (but never had the courage), "Alan, how do you know? You never ate a meal on a steamboat." From what I know from working with men who actually lived on the old boats, the food was pretty good; it had to be or else they wouldn't have been able to keep a crew.
    Alan never got a pilots license. In my opinion I don't think he would have made a good one. His mind was too analytical. Oh, we would have been precise but probably not very smooth. Perhaps he knew that too and that's why he never went for a pilots license, I don't know.
    His Encyclopedium is a treasure. When it first came out, it seemed to me that he really didn't shed any new light on steamboat construction, but now fifty years later its real value is showing. It's been over 90 years since that last "real" western river steamboat was built; but, thanks to Alan, preserved for future researchers and historians there is a definitive book on their design and workings. Only Alan, with his illustrating ability and technical background, could have written such a book. It's illustrations and words have been plegarized many times by many authors...a source of much consternation to Alan.
    My fondest memory of Alan was when the NATCHEZ came to Louisville. Alan and I were sitting on the wharf as the boat came up out of the Canal. The look on Alan's face, the pride he had in that beautiful vessel he helped create. That was the culmination of everything that was Alan. We would all be so lucky as to have a NATCHEZ.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
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    Paragould, AR or on m/v MAGNOLIA
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    And we are, thanks to Alan and a number of others.
    I’m one of those who met Alan later in his life, though I had read several of his books. I get that he could be brash and brusque, but he was the “real deal”. Thanks again, Jim.

  3. #3
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    May 2006
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    Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S.A.
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    'Life, career of Alan Bates*
    Morning, steamboating colleagues,
    Jim, as I suspected, you had all of us hooked and good with your 'Alan Bates and me' commentary nailing it head on. Depending on our personal experiences with people we have known, we often see individuals through different lenses or points of view. Your concise portrait of Alan matched mine perfectly with your view more direct, personal--warts and all--leaving out the usual cloying romantic 'old time steamboat romance' we far too often are fed. In short I'd say Alan was an enigma driven by experiences, dreams we all share. I looked on my library shelves here seeing Alan's books lined up in a row. His letters over the years fill file cabinet drawer. I do remember clearly when Alan's papers were deposited with the Cincinnati Public Library and the then Inland Rivers Collection how he worried over much of the written content going so far as to carefully read, edit every piece of paper removing, destroying many written statements about events and many of us. Now, Jim. I'd like to read your memories, experiences regarding Mrs. Loretta Howard and what would in time evolve into the famed Howard Steamboat Museum we know today. You and Kenny Howe when young were there then with all of us here now. Again, thanks for your above.

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

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