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-   -   *Was it 'really' all that wonderful?* (http://www.steamboats.org/forum/steamboats-history/5662-really-all-wonderful.html)

R. Dale Flick 01-30-2017 10:58 AM

*Was it 'really' all that wonderful?*
 
Morning, Steamboating colleagues:
Capt. Bob Reynolds recently commented or pointed to one of my historical research postings added to Steamboats.org. This also ties in with a very pointed 'private off-line' message I received from a 'lurker' mostly unknown or out of our circle several years ago. Her bombastic dressing down to me was, "You, Mr. Flick, are destroying the history of a beautiful, wonderful, romantic period." DUH! Since I didn't know the name of the person I had apparently burst the bubble of their perceived romance, I politely, courteously, politically, legally replied in kind. Yet more historical research in the steamboat not only here but on our East and West coasts revealing. She thought that bad then she should have talked privately one-on-one with Capt. Fred Way or read his private letters.

Case in point from an old letter 1850s: "They [steamboat builders here] give a preference to white and gold paneling, covered with florid carving. From each beam, fretwork and open lattice work hangs down, and the constant repetition of this carving, illuminated by coloured [s.i.c.] light thrown from the painted glass skylights on each side, in a saloon over 200 feet long, produces one of the most beautiful effects of light and shade I have ever witnessed." Yet others noting the more than "flimsy" construction of river steamboats here had different views. Primary were engineers and architects American or from Great Britain. British naval and marine experts horrified that our inland river steamboats not then equipped with "iron rods or chains to the rudder." Use of hemp for steering vulnerable to fire. British engineers and naval officers shocked at the flimsy, dangerous construction of early American railroads. Others decryed construction of our inland river steamboats noting "some better assembled than others." "Food aboard steamboats often loaded with grease, not well attended to good health...served indifferently." Reminds me of Capt. Alan Bates' comments/writing on steamboat food. Yet, other letters also with praise and wonder. European travelers [primarily British] cringed at the "custom of all dining together elbow to elbow at the main table with no regard to class, manners or deportment...wolfing food."

Case in point: "An indefinable sham splendor all around, half disgusting and wholly comical. The paint and gilding, the velvet and Brussels, the plate and the attendants [period term for other fixtures, items and not people] show bravely by lamp light, but the honest, indignant sun puts all the dirty magnificence to shame." And, "...Hard use reduced the original elegance of the saloon to a sorry shabbiness long before the vessel had served out its brief span." Another: "The assumed glory of the main cabin above a sham for the misery of common deck passengers, crew of colour laboring just feet below." Commerce records then reveal that the vast majority of steamboat passengers were those on the lower decks. 'Cabin' passengers totals far less in percentages. The often perceived romance and glory of a past era usually only in the eye and mind of later generations. Again, what do I know?

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

Bob Reynolds 01-30-2017 01:05 PM

So very true, Dale. You mention Cpat. Fred Way -- I met but cannot say I knew Capt. Way. But in his own book about his own boat, "The Log of the BETSY ANN", he goes on to describe how he, too, was enthralled with the old boats and thought that if he had one [the BETSY ANN] and had it in passenger service he could make a good living. He also talks about a passenger finding a rat in her stateroom (!), a crew member admitting, "Yes'm, they'd been known to be rats on here", etc. He didn't sugar-coat anything, and neither should we. As has been pointed out here, the passenger steamboats for the most part were the only reliable transportation available for either shipping goods or people. Once railroads, then modern motor roads took hold, the steamboat all but vanished as a way to ship goods or for people to travel. I love these old boats as much as anybody, but what has been sold since the 1920's has been the vacation cruise, a relaxing way to "get away from it all". Since that time, the boats and the service have steadily improved from the conditions you mention in your last post. History cannot be destroyed, only studied. Romantic, yes, but not what folks find or expect today.

R. Dale Flick 01-30-2017 01:44 PM

*Fred Way's 'insights' in confidence.*
Steamboating, colleagues:
Right you are, Bob, about Capt. Fred Way's writings, talks and his confidential letters. He said plenty in his LOG OF THE BETSY ANN but later commented he had to be careful and guard what he wrote. Don't let Fred's 'twinkle eye' and smile smoking his pipe' fool you. In his day Fred could be tough--had too. He mentioned, but never wrote, about the time he had mounting labor conflict here at the Cincinnait Public Landing on the BETSY ANN. Things got ugly with the boat steaming up to Pittsburgh. They got up about Coney Island here when he pulled the boat over, ordered a fair number of roustabouts off, blew the whistle, backed out, churned on up. How in those days they got back down to town never mentioned--and Fred didn't care. Today that would be untenable not to mention the labor issues, bad PR, news coverage and 'politically correct' repercussions. Boat crews also had 'terms' for some passengers. "Boat lice. Wharf rats." Even Letha Greene chuckled to me, "In the steamboat business we never knew what we were getting in the package when we hired a new officer or crew member." OUCH!

Another 'toughie' was Cheif Engineer Charlie Dietz. He went way, way back and in his prime one bull of a man. He never tolerated fools lightly. Charlie had a direct confrontation once in the engine room of a boat that ended up with him punching the guy out and down to the deck. I have a couple of his letters here along with notes I jotted down after talking with him personally and by phone. Charlie, dating back to the L&C LINE here and the big CINCINNATI, one who told me about what was going on with the company in the front office and on the boats contributing to the financial collapse--among other issues. "They all getting a 'cut out of the coal pile...supplies, lubricating oil...shoving money in their pockets." Charlie attended a funeral once for a captain he'd worked with and for. At the end of the glowing eulogy in the funeral home there was a moment of dead silence. Charlie, who was more than a little hard of hearing, rumbled in his voice and that certain drawl he had, "They must a be talkin' about somebody else up in that coffin cause that's not how I remembered him."

There's also an ancient saying that, "There are no secrets on a ship [or boat]." Mark Twain himself a 'scrapper' when he was learning the river under Horace Bixby. A certain officer gave Twain a hard way to go unjustly. Twain put up with it enough and popped him a good one. The entire crew, officers never lamented the chastised officer getting what he did and leaving the boat. Well, what do I know?

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

Judy Patsch 01-30-2017 05:31 PM

Bad sequencing
 
Unfortunately the sequencing of these threads on the title page make it look like you are referring to .org as not being all that wonderful. I was glad to read that you were referring to something else.

R. Dale Flick 01-31-2017 06:19 AM

*Wrong interpretation*
Hi, Judy,
Nothing could be further from the truth here. I'm back on board with you all for sure and .org indeed "wonderful." The posting categories great as at first it appeared just all DELTA QUEEN needing diversity. Again, if it hadn't been for you at S&D years ago with your lap computer, I wouldn't have known beans about Steamboats. org. You set your computer up with me walking over. "What is this?" And you explained.

I agree with you all above. I've been receiving increasing number of invitations for other FACEBOOK sites. Great stuff but no way I could devote time to all of them. Winter a good time for this before spring, chores, outside work. Cheers!

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

Jim Reising 01-31-2017 08:05 AM

I must take exception
 
Dale, I must take exception to some of the points you brought out in your posting. You're right packets were not "romantic", they were a tool. A uniquely American invention without which the American heartland would not have been settled as quickly as it was. You site flimsy construction, they had to be built lightly in order to both handle tons of materials and still navigate on the shallow, twisting rivers of the West. Remember until the late 1870's, packets were pretty much built and operated by the individual captains, ie..the Cannons, Leathers who individually financed their boats without a lot of capital to spend.
Deck passage seems almost cruel today, but without it the swarms of immigrants that flooded into the heartland could not have done so without cheap passage. I would think my ancestors and perhaps yours came up the Mississippi "on deck". Remember until the Civil War more people came into this country through New Orleans than through New York because it offered cheap and easy transportation to the heartland because of deck passage on steamboats.
You mention the food served on steamboats. First let me say this Alan Bates never rode on a packet so he got his information from what he read. I think that the captain/owner of the old packet boats tried to provide the best food they could. All food back then was greasy, heavy on pork and light on beef. Without the best food they could provide a captain/owner wouldn't be able to attract passengers or keep a crew. By today's "refrigerated" standards or a gentrified European of the day, the food probably was very bad.
Romantic...no they weren't. I draw parallels to something we know about...trains. If you read the ads for the crack trains of our youth, they look very "romantic" but how many people today would ride in a pullman berth? Like steamboats as soon as something better came along, people abandoned trains, only to be looked back upon with fond nostalgia.

R. Dale Flick 01-31-2017 09:21 AM

*More of the 'story' to come*
Morning, steamboating colleagues:
Jim, your points excellent in your follow posting but at this point I've not told the whole story. "Flimsy construction" will be explained along with period accounts, records of cabin service, food. Read my two lower postings and you all will see either disclaimers or a statement leading to more information. The story is fascinating and you, Jim, know more than most with your close association for years with Mrs. Loretta Howard and the Howard Steamboat Museum. My reference to Alan Bates' comments and his opinion on steamboat food more tongue in cheek with more to follow. Alan's comment always was, "They could make anything taste good with lots of lard, sugar, flour." Then again, Alan bristled at a lot of things when he heard the word "No."

The "immigrant on lower decks" true as you say but I've not finished yet. Even then the U.S. Government began investigations on conditions, safety, food and even warm, dry shelter. Also laws forbidding immigrant womem working as cargo handlers, wood for fuel. Naturally the steamboat owners and captains did all the could to avoid the new regulations. These regs and statistics already compiled by the 1830s. The 1850s statistics showed that decade the biggest in the history of steamboating. I want to make sure I post right with clarity to avoid 'corrections' or 'knock offs.' Stay tuned as it may get better or worse. I thought I was doing right stepping up with history. Again, what do I know? Cheers!


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

Judy Patsch 01-31-2017 10:08 AM

Immigration through New Orleans
 
Jim, great point about the numbers of people who entered the U.S. through New Orleans and then headed up the Mississippi. Our German American Heritage Center in Davenport has done a lot of research on that, particular to our area which was populated by Schleswig-Holstein/Hamburg immigrants. One notable river family comes to mind without delving deeply: the Kahlkes. They arrived in New Orleans and actually set up shop there for a while before a couple brothers came upriver and established the Kahlke Boatyard here in Rock Island. I don't know the path of the Streckfus family to the Midwest, but I suspect it was via this same route.

Russ Ryle 01-31-2017 10:09 AM

I've been receiving increasing number of invitations for other FACEBOOK sites.
 
Morning all,

Yep, data mining. Your personal info is now available "pay-for-play" to others.

Steamboats.org is reasonably secure from unwanted electronic intrusions into our lives.

Keep your steam up!

Russ Ryle

Jim Reising 01-31-2017 12:21 PM

Judy....did the Streckfus start in the river business in St. Louis or were their roots in Nola?


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