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"Pilotin' Comes Natural" inscription

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    "Pilotin' Comes Natural" inscription

    Hello all,

    I am new to the forum, but growing up in Jeffersonville, IN, I've always had an interest in the river and I have recently begun acquiring steamboat and other river related books. In December, I purchased Capt. Way's "Log of the Betsy Ann" and enjoyed it so much that I immediately searched on-line for other works by him. I came across "Pilotin' Comes Natural" for sale at a book shop in New York state. The description said something along the lines of "Good condition-inscription in front cover". I didn't give it much thought until I received the book and found the following writing inside:

    To the "Winnah" of
    First Prize
    Quiz Program aboard
    Str. Gordon C. Greene
    (signed) Tom R. Greene, Master
    Presented to
    Mrs. Emelie J. Babcock
    by Capt. Tom R. Greene
    (signed) Mary B. Greene
    Str. Gordon C. Greene
    Robt. H Mc(?), Purser

    Thanks to the timely article this month in the S&D Reflector, I think I can narrow down the time frame for the writing to somewhere between 1943, when the book was published, and 1952, when the Gordon C. Greene changed names and careers.

    Can anyone tell me what the full name of the Purser might be, and would this narrow the time frame for the writing at all? Does anyone have recollections of "quiz programs" on the boat?

    Anyway, it was one of those rare unexpected little extras that you come across every now and again that really make the history "come alive".

    Rob Minton


    Books were handed out as prizes quite often. As an example there were poem contests and the winner got a book. We have one of those "prize" books too. It´s Virgina Eifert´s "Delta Queen - The Story of a Steamboat". Here´s a link to the inscription

    The Purser´s name must be Robert McCann.

    But I´m sure other´s do know much more than I do.



      Hi, Bob:
      Lucky you finding that copy of 'PILOTIN' COMES NATURAL' at a book store way up there in New York. Such books surface frequently and are real treasures to steamboat scholars and collectors. Indeed, the Purser on the GORDON C. GREENE was none other than Robert H. [Bob] McCann. Bob served many years on the GORDON until the then new DELTA QUEEN was added to the GREENE LINE fleet here in 1948. A number of Fred Way's books were sold aboard both the GORDON and then the DQ and the custom was for passengers to have as many of the officers/crew autograph their copies as possible. I wonder if that tradition continues? 'Farrar & Rinehart, Inc.,' New York and Toronto was Fred's publisher and as World War II continued smaller print versions were done for the troops to read and stow in their sea bags, chests and lockers. If your book still has the 'dust cover' be sure to keep it as that adds value to first or later editions.

      Yes, "quiz games," contests etc. were much in vogue then as evening entertainment on the GREEN LINE boats for years usually with Capt. Mary B. Greene officiating. Period brochures/travel folders of the day mention the various activities and entertainments on the boat. This a tradition that went way back to the earliest GL steamers. The Greene family were 'hands on managers' of their boats 24/7/52 similar to General Motors in MBWA ['Mangement by walking around'...and working hard with keen eyes on the books in the Purser's office.] There have been numerous 'threads' and follow postings about life on the GORDON on this web.

      R. Dale Flick


        Welcome Rob: I think your time line as to the book signing can be narrowed down, assuming Capt. Mary B. Greene signed it. She died in 1949 and both her and Capt. Tom Greene were over on the Delta Queen for the 1948 and 1949 tourist season. Time frame seems to be 1943 to 1947. That's quite a find you have. Hope you enjoy this board.


          Steamboating colleagues:
          River pilots always intrigued/impressed me observing them in operation. Their mystique and personalities are something I know nothing about let alone the poetry, songs or need for a job that summoned them. When Capt. Fred Way finished his galley for 'PILOTIN' COMES NATURAL,' Feb. 17, 1942, he ruminated over his experiences and in the final pages wrote on pilots as he saw them at the time. No doubt some of his impressions have changed with both men and women pilots and officers now holding much higher levels of education in varying fields. Fred says:

          "The pilot in this new age [1942] is a well-mannered, neatly dressed, quiet-spoken individual with a high school education and frequently a year or so of college training. Usually he is married, has a family, an automobile, and likes to get home frequently. He makes more money in one week than Dayton Randolph earned in a month. He belongs to a church, is respected as an honest citizen at home, and can make 60% on a 'TIME MAGAZINE' test.' ...Old style steamboats still operate and there is a feeling of 'at homeness' aboard them for rivermen who have grey hair showing behind their ears. As long as these old craft remain I hope to have some part in their operation." He added, 'You can't make a pilot out of anybody,' Dayton Randolph told me. 'A man has to have it born in him; pilotin' comes natural.' "

          A blue water sailor [Man or woman] upon final retirement is said to "Have swallowed the anchor." Don't know what the term would be for a muddy water pilot, deckhand, officer, engineer etc. Anybody know?

          R. Dale Flick


            Thanks for the info and warm welcome

            Thank you Carmen, Bill, and Dale for the background info and warm welcome to the group!

            The book was a great read, and the only thing that could have made it better would have been for Capt. Way himself to have signed it.

            Just as many people have collected souvenirs from wrecked boats over the years, I feel fortunate to have the book in my collection, with the link to the past it represents. My oldest son (8 years old) is already showing an interest in history, and I hope one day to be able to share it with him and help him appreciate it's historical significance.

            Rob Minton



              Fred Ways´s books are all a great read. Check out our book review site


              If you can get a hold on his other books grab them! "She takes the Horns" is about steamboat racing. "Mississippi Stern-Wheelers" is a collection of steamboat pictures. And of course "The Saga of the Delta Queen" is an absolute must. There´s one more about the Allegheny River which isn´t mentioned on our book site. Check ebay frequently. Most of the books are popping up there...

              Over the years we also collected some kids´ stuff but we never found the time to make a kids´ website. "Captain" Leonie just turned 8 a couple of weeks ago. So I know what you´re talking about.



                Welcome Rob! Do you ever return to your "home port" of Jeffersonville? If you do, please come by the Howard Steamboat Museum and make yourself known. We'll be celebrating the museum's 50th anniversary this year with various events -- announced on the website at -- and you're always welcome! The theme of the annual spring festival (May 17 & 18) will be Celebrating 50 Golden Years. Mrs. Loretta Howard opened the doors of the mansion, as a museum, to the public for the first time on May 18, 1958.

                Meanwhile, read EVERYTHING you can that Capt. Fred Way wrote! He was an amazing man and a good friend to multitudes up and down the river. Many of us revered him as "The Pope of Steamboat History" -- and his home at 121 River Avenue in Sewickley, Pennsylvania was often refered to as "The River Vatican"!
                Last edited by Keith Norrington; 01-29-2008, 02:23 PM.


                  No It don't

                  Under the heading, Pilot'in comes natural. I'm here to tell you, IT Don't. At least not to some of us. There are only 2 things I have ever really wanted to do in my life. The first one I have know since I could remember. This dream is to be a Race Car Driver, and get paid for it. Until my mid 20's I never found anything else that had interested me or held my attention except that one thing.
                  Whlie working as an Assist. Electrican on the M. Q., I got to spending evenings in the wheel house. There was a control box for the elevator out behind the wheel house. On hot evenings the elevator would trip on overload, often. I found it easier to just sit in the wheel house and take calls instead of running upstairs every time the elevator tripped. Besides, the company was of a type to be found no where else on earth.
                  One night the Pilot, who I'd known since my first day steamboat'n, Capt. Ted Davission, asked if I'd ever steered the boat and did I want too? My life has never been the same since I was infected with "Pilot Fever". I left the known and comfortable world of steam, grease, noise, and heat to start my trip to the wheel house.
                  I have never liked to paint, clean only when needed, could bearly tie my shoes, let alone tie off a boat and would later on learn that "ratchets", wires and slings, and I were not going to have a cooperative relationship.
                  I got a 'pass" and was able to count some of my engine room time towards a mates license. I know some still "brissel" about that turn of events. I left the steamboats when they cancelled a planned Steersmans program. Went to work on tow boats and finally made it into a steering program. When I got my licenses, someone forgot to fill in the "skill" section on mine. Most others got it.
                  I did the majority of my steering under Capt. Phillip Box at Scott Chotin, Inc. Please give the man his due respect for this feat. Capt. Box had been steering since he was 14 and standing his own watch at 16. An impossiblity today. Capt. Box told me once, "Fred, you want this bad enough, if you don't tear up too much equipment before you get good, you should be o. k. But you just don't have the "Ass" for this". He then explained to me that there were "natural pilots' who could become one with the boat and had a feel for it. There were others who had to rely on any and all support, swing meters, radar, swing lights, spot lights, etc. and with time became respectible pilots.
                  Needless to say the,"if you don't tear up too much equipment" part of Capt. Box's statement got me before I got "good". The failure to be considered or consider myself a good river pilot has, and most likely will always be a sense of failure to me. Anyone who thinks there reallys nothing to being a pilot, hell just point the damn thing in the right direction, I suggest you take it from one who tried to be there, it's an art form. Natural to some, years of school'en for others, not for everyone.


                    Hi Keith,

                    I do get back to Jeffersonville at least once a month, as my parents still live there, and there's nothing better to the little ones than a trip to Grandma and Grandpa's house. I joined the Howard Museum last year and while the grandparents are out being overindulgent with my kids, I often swing by the Museum to patronize the gift shop for books. I haven't walked through the museum in a couple of years, and probably need to do that again.

                    I also plan to take my two younger kids for a ride on the Belle of Louisville sometime this summer, as they've never been on it. I am an active member of the Kentucky Railway Museum and I know all too well that what keeps museums and operating steam equipment going is dollar bills, so we try to do our part to patronize as many as possible.

                    Take care,


                      Rob: Thanks for becoming a member of the Howard Steamboat Museum and for patronizing the gift shop. Membership dues and gift shop purchases go a LONG way in helping keep the lights on and the doors open!

                      Hope to meet you at the museum sometime in the near future!



                        Rob, keep an eye on Ebay for books too, as well as Most of us who have old artifacts also have extensive libraries too...its a totally encompassing disease, river fever. If there's ever a particular book you're looking for, post it here. One of us just might have a spare copy or know where to find one. Glad you've found this steamboating society online.