I worked as mate under the command of Captain Paul H. Underwood. In my estimation he and his brother, Captain Harris D. Underwood were gentlemen in every respect of that word.
Like most individualists, they could be quirky and even obstructive, but the boat was always foremost in their actions and thoughts. They both achieved river fame on the Delta Queen and the Belle of Louisville, but they had many other pages to their books. They learned their profession on packets and towboats that ran on the Tennessee River and its upper tributaries. They had licenses on the Hiwassee, the Clinch, the Holston and the French Broad Rivers as well as the Ohio, Mississippi and in the case of Harris, on the Illinois. As Paul once said, "I've hit every lock wall in the entire valley." Harris was also a double-ender who held an engineer's license.
There was no greater experience than to sit with them in the pilothouse when they shared memories. Those occasions were rare, but very fruitful. Their descriptions of their apprenticeships under their father, Captain Ambrose Underwood, were priceless. His technique, according to both brothers, was to give them a free hand long enough to get into trouble, then teach them how to avoid such things in future. Only after that was completed did they get reprimands to drive the lessons home.
They were small in stature and most rivermen could look over their heads without bending a neck. They were tough as oak and as flexible as willow wands, well able to meet any emergency. Paul loved the job as master, in which he could roam the whole boat and mingle with the clientele. Harris was more of a loner and preferred the quiet of the pilothouse.
After all of these years, I still miss them.