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Christmas on the towboats

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    Christmas on the towboats

    I've never been stuck on the river during Christmas, but I've heard a lot of radio traffic between the people who have. The big, BIG topic is who gets to be off the boat. Much of what is spoken is a in sort of resigned humor, often very funny, but the underlying homesickness is always there.

    Those dot-orgers who are duty-bound to be away from home have my sympathy and good wishes.

    #2
    Thanks for your sympathy, Alan. As one who has spent quite a few Christmases on boats, it is indeed a time for homesickness.

    As you said, there is always some humor in there. Officers especially are very flexible on trading holidays with regular partners. Before we had kids, I actually preferred working Christmas for a couple of reasons -- first, to let my two partners off, both of whom had young grandchildren, and second for the pay; we get a double day on major holidays. While that is not the same as being at home, that adds up to a rather nice rate for that day, and takes some of the sting out for those who must work.

    This is "my" year to be off, having worked last year at Christmas. My partner and I trade off each year.

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      #3
      Back when I worked on the river and still single, I tried to get on a day or two before Thanksgiving and stay until just after New Year' Day, for the double time, but, more importantly, to let somebody with kids spend the holidays with family.

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        #4
        "Christmas on the River"

        When Captain Joy Manthe was with Seamens Church, she introduced me to their 'Christmas on the River' program that reaches boatmen and women working on the river during the holiday season, including youngsters just starting out who may be away from home at Christmas for the first time.

        See:
        "Christmas on the River", Part of Ministry on the River, a network of volunteers collect and distribute gift boxes to towboat crews. Each box contains a handknit scarf, small gifts, a devotional, and handmade Christmas cards from children. Groups pack gift boxes at numerous locations up and down the rivers."
        Services & Ministry

        If you want to find out more about Ministry on the River and how you can help, email riverministry@seamenschurch.org
        Yes, I'll be out here (on the river where I am now) on Christmas... no place I'd rather be. Or as John Hartford sang:
        "Ain't you got no family.. no place to be? Out on the river on Christmas Eve...."

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          #5
          Just another day

          I have spent several Christmas on towboats. The companies I worked for, Scott Chotin and Orgulf, tried to split Xmas and New Year between the crews and rotate every other year.
          As to being on the boat, there was a slightly increase in the lonesome feeling of being away from home. This was before cell phones and computers so shoreside contact was not as great.
          One Xmas eve and day was spend changing out an oil cooler on one of the 20 cly. M/E's while waiting for the ice flows to clear up.
          Another was spent building tow in the St. Louis harbor.
          Everyone tried to put on a brave face and look at it as just another day but each crew member would have rather been some place else.
          T.V. was a reminder that these several days were suppose to be speical but that it did not extend to the boats. This was something that effected all on the boat from Capt. on down.
          The people who had young kids or very strong family ties were the most effected. For some of us being on a boat was O.k. because we had no where else to be anyway.
          There were attempts to create a festive mood but were temporay. I think the square watch actually helped by making the days go quicker.
          After 1 Jan. things were back to a more normal routine and the Holidays forgotten in the daily workings on board.

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            #6
            I spent three Christmases away from home in the army. With 5,000,000 other guys in the same condition, there was no one to gripe to about it. Chaplains and Cooks did their best, but we were still away from home.

            A great many people share that misery. Somebody has to run the power plants, the locomotives, guard the jails, nurse the sick and fill the air with TV and radio.

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              #7
              Speaking of railroads, I was escorting a rebuilt Pullman car on freight trains from Sayre, PA to Laredo, TX for delivery to the Mexican railroad in December, 1981. We departed Sayre with the hope of making the trip in time to fly home for Christmas. Several delays en-route squelched that idea and as we rolled to a stop at the MoPac yard in Texarkana on the afternoon of December 24th I noted a train on the left with an empty caboose and another on the right with another empty caboose. As the crew from my train began to leave I asked the conductor when the next crew would be on duty to take us south and he said, "On December 26th. The railroad's shutting down for Christmas". So, I was stuck in Texarkana for a Christmas by myself. I walked into town and luckily found a cafeteria that was still open as most restaurants had already closed for the holiday. I was lucky enough to find one open on Christmas Day. Funny thing about those trips which I made over a two year span, no matter how I routed the cars, it was always a 10 day trip.

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                #8
                One way to be a riverman and get home for Christmas was (is) to work in a fleet on the Upper Mississippi at Dubuque. I always got laid off the 1st week of December thru 1st week of March. (This could explain 2 of our 3 kids born in September, & 1 in December):))

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                  #9
                  Cap,

                  I remember the same being an excursion boat employee over on the Ohio River...lay off from November till late Feb over here! Many Christmases home....till I went on the overnight boats. And I wouldn't trade one of those Christmases on the DQ or MQ for anything in the world! They were fairytale holidays out there on the river. Nothing like what the towboats must be.

                  One thing I learned in my missed holidays out on the river...when you are home, the holidays mean so much more than they used to!

                  Travis

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                    #10
                    One of my most favorite John Hartford tunes "Christmas On the River". I was luck enough not to catch a xmas on a towboat but I did get A few on the MQ and DQ and I can honestly say they were memorable.

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                      #11
                      When I worked on the boats I found myself on her several times for Christmas. It's always somewhat lonely out there but the holidays just made it worse. Each boat had a shabby little artificial tree that we would put up in the crew lounge. The company tried to set it up so each person had every other Christmas off. It didn't always work out though. I remember one time in the late 70's that I spent 55 days ( instead of the usual 30 ) on one trip due to severe ice on the Ohio river. I was supposed to be off for the holiday that year but no one could be enticed to come out a few days before Christmas, we didn't get home to Pittsburgh until the middle of January ! I was offered relief after the holidays but decided to stay on to see how long I could take it.
                      We often had a guy who got "sick" about four or five days before Christmas in order to get off the boat. We would say he had the " Jingle Bell Flu ".

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