Many “old timers” and almost all S & D members remember the late Bert Fenn of Tell City, Indiana. While going through my Jimmy Carter Cruise stuff, I found his Christmas letter from 1980. It was the first Christmas after the death of Capt. Ernie Wagner. I think it is appropriate to submit the letter in it’s entirety since it is a story about the great Capt. Wagner:
MAY NOTHING YOU DISMAY
It seems fitting somehow to spin a tale this year about Capt. Ernie Wagner who passed away in October. This story may be common knowledge on the river but I don’t recall its being bantered about like other of his tales.
Ernie knew everything there was to know about running an excursion boat. He came up from ice cream vender, to deck hand, to mate, to captain, to commodore on the Island Queen, the Avalon, the Delta Queen and the Mississippi Queen. And to the end he wasn’t afraid to don work clothes and join the crew in dirty work.
He was dressed like that one day, in a pair of greasy coveralls, puttering around the wharfboat at Cincinnati, when a newly hired young assistant purser reported for work on the Delta Queen. Mistaking Wagner for a bum, this young pup introduced himself and asked if he could do anything for him.
Always the practical joker, Ernie asked him for a job on the boat. He was directed to the business office.
A couple of hours later Wagner, by then dressed in his impressive Captain’s uniform, ran into the new purser again.
“Son, I’ll never forget what you did for me. I went over to the office and they gave me the job of Captain.”
Like the old steamboats, as Sidney Snooks once wrote, that “have drifted into some cove of green willows around the last bend.” Ernie Wagner is a tradition on the river. he will continue to occupy cherished memories in many of our hearts. Rest easy, Cap.
Merry Christmas ***** Happy New Year 1980
Bert and Capt. Wagner are both river treasures that are missed by all who knew them.