Steamboating colleagues,
A request this week for another fun story with ole Commodore Fred Laidley as in the past. I'll see what I can do here.

November, 1895 freight rates on steamboats had dropped to a disastrous low with tobacco shipped at .25 cents per hogshead offered on the BAT LINE steamers. By Thanksgiving the HENRY M. STANLEY and LIZZIE BAY laid up for low water, foot of Race Street in Cincinnati. For several days old Commodore Fred Laidley stared out of his office window on the Big Sandy Wharfboat rocking on his heels, fingering the gold fobs on his gold watch chain. "Boys, see over there? The Bay boats laid up and I'm thinking of doing something 'bout it. These freight rates killing us and I'm worried," Laidley said to Capt. Ellis Mace and me in the office going over our freight and passenger ledgers, paying bills. "Dale, you march on over there, tell Capt. William Bay that my $50,000 will buy his two boats, and no less, to be done by Thanksgiving." "Ah, Commodore, you sure about this? You know how Bill Bay can be and, well, no real love between the Bays and you," I offered. "Oh, Bays are fine personally; it's our business competition that has plagued me for years," he said as I donned my coat, hat and headed over to the Bay wharfboat. Last thing Ellis Mace whispered was, "Careful...careful...you're new here and don't let Bill Bay corner you." "Sure I was "new" with the company at my age but with Laidley you were run through the mill with his own approach to breaking me in, training me his way. I learned then that if you sat closest to the big pot belly stove in the office it was MY responsibility to tend to it keeping fired up with wood, coal being careful with Laidley nearly watching every scoop of coal, kindling you put in.

After talking with Capt. Bay, he looked me over head to toes as if sniffing a bad stink. "What?! Laidley sent YOU here to deal with me? Why I never," Bay snorted adding, "You tell Laidley tht if he has any business with me and wants to see me, he can find me on board my boat foot of Main Street. And also tell Laidley I have nothing I want to see him about." I wasn't fooled knowing Bill Bay did business like that with no offense taken. Capt. Ellis Mace, who was high up in the company under Laidley, said, "The Bays just that independent and you will have to go to him." Laidley looked grim rocking on his heels again, looking out the window at the Bay boats docked just below us. Laidley pulled on his beat up hat and overcoat, stomped down and over to the Bay's landing with me along with him--and why I didn't know. "Bill, I'll pay you $32,000 for the STANLEY * LIZZIE BAY with $5,000 every month until paid along with $1,800 a month to you and George Bay for fiver years with you not running again any boats below Portsmouth and no more cuts in freight rates." Capt. Bill Bay looked at Laidley and then me never blinking his eyes. "Fred, that amounts to $50,000 and just what I want. You just bought my boats." Both shook hands, smiled slightly with Bill Bay looking at me curiously. "Dale here will do the paperwork and footwork with you and me along with Capt. Ellis Mace giving his opinions. Mrs Laidley and I will talk it over tonight too," Laidley said upon leaving. "The Bay boys tough nuts to crack but I think I had the upper hand, don't you?" Laidley asked. "Well, Commodore, you the only one to know that in your heart and in your office bank account," I answered being as neutral as I could.

Commodore Laidley had to do some quick thinking, rummaging around borrowing $10,000 from Thomas Means in Ashland, KY., plus $30,000 in U.S. MAIL LINE stock with total control taken over on November 25, 1895. From that point on the famed old U.S. MAIL LINE dating to 1819 was reincorporated, renamed the LOUISVILLE & CINCINNATI PACKET COMPANY. Laidley also had control of the upriver WHITE COLLAR LINE. Capt. Ellis Mace took over more responsibility with me being moved up two notches in the office with my desk and Mace's desk adjacent just outside of Laidley's office. But George Bay was bitter in his opposition to the big steamboat deal. "Sure we fought and won but why should we pull out and give up?!" he raved with tears in his eyes.
We put the BAY in the Cincinnati-Madison trade; the STANLEY in upriver service. After this deal by Laidley all freight rates were restored and all the packets made money. The deal got big news in all the Cincinnati and other newspapers up and down the river with much attention. "Well, it cost me money but had to be done. And I know y'all think I'm made of money," Laidley opined looking out at the river.

Thanksgiving and other holidays didn't mean a thing in those old steamboat days now long gone. Thanksgiving day little Mrs. Laidley, the children came down to the wharfboat with all of the office staff, Mrs Mace, myself, big shippers and their families, Commodore Laidley going over on the HENRY M. STANLEY. Her main cabin, beautiful pink, white and crystal chandeliers glowed over the long center tables set up with fine, crisp white linen, china, silver, flowers. Trusted Chief Steward Mose had been quietly instructed by old Laidley to lay on the finest Thanksgiving day dinner he could. There was turkey, ham, beef, oysters, vegetables, salads, breads, desserts, hard and soft liquor for all with Laidley presiding at the head of the table. With his toast he held up his glass, "To a new day with our company. Long may we survive and prosper in a difficult business. We have no idea what the new century 1900 in a few years will bring" with little Mrs. Laidley smiling with pride. "It has been a long, long road for us Frederick, but I think you've said enough now." Laidley even saw to the boys down in the boiler and engine rooms, Mose and his cabin crew, cooks were also included in the feast. Rather than steaming out on the STANLEY at 5:00 PM, Laidley prolonged the afternoon of feasting, celebrating until after 6:30 PM. In the early dark we all stood at the wharfboat door watching the STANLEY steam out on her usual business. HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO YOU ALL! WITH GOOD HEALTH AND HAPPINESS!

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