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Early view of Str. IDLEWILD

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  • David Tschiggfrie
    replied
    Final Chapter (for now) in IDLEWILD/AVALON History

    Yesterday morning a mailing tube arrived from Annie Blum in St. Louis with the results of her search in St. Louis for details of the boat's AVALON days there. Included were a wonderful newspaper photo of the steamer landed at the St. Louis levee and one of her taken from a bridge in Kansas City during her 1958 excursions up the Missouri. Accompanying those photos were scores of newspaper and WJ clippings about the boat. The final slides for the September program will now be photographed, and coordinated with the audio sound track that Jonathan put together for me when he was home last week. Getting this all gathered and assembled really brings home the fact that this project was a community effort from all my good friends in the river and steamboat family. A long and appreciative whistle salute to you all for your tremendous help and support in telling the story of the oldest operating sternwheel excursion steamboat in America!

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  • David Tschiggfrie
    replied
    PPS to AVALON's Omaha Excursions

    This old man's memory must really be failing, for I completely forgot to mention one other significant thing in connection with that historic Missouri river trip in 1959. Occasionally the AVALON is mentioned as having made excursions all the way to Sioux City, IA, on the Missouri, another 115 miles upstream from Omaha. In fact, the Waterways Journal of August 15th that year reported that Steamer Avalon Inc. had indeed received temporary permission from the ICC to operate excursions above St. Joseph (the farthest point on the Missouri she reached in 1958), all the way up to Sioux City. But a thorough page-by-page check of the Sioux City newspapers for September 1959 by yours truly (at the State Historical Society of Iowa archives in Iowa City three years ago) shows not one word about any AVALON trips there. Independent verification that Omaha was as high as the boat got, appears in a WJ report that the AVALON had trips out of Nebraska City (50 miles downstream from Omaha), the day AFTER her trips at Omaha. And a story by Capt. Tom Craig appearing in a 1966 WJ article also refers to the fact that after reaching Omaha, none of the PH crew had any desire for any further "adventures" up the Missouri. They were more than happy to be headed back to St. Louis!

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  • David Tschiggfrie
    replied
    AVALON at Omaha

    Judy,

    Some of your questions about the boat's excursions at Omaha have partial answers that can be determined. When I made my original contact with the research librarian at the Nebraska State Historical Society, I asked her to look first for AVALON newspaper advertisements over the Sept. 11-14 period in the Omaha newspaper. These, along with advertising posters or cards placed in the windows of retail establishments in town, were the standard means for publicizing "public" trips on the boat, i.e., trips in which the boat was not entirely chartered or trips for which there was no chartering organization at all. Betty would certainly book trips for which the entire boat was sold out, in which case no other tickets than those sold in advance by the charterer were available. However, trips which were "sponsored" by local groups did not necessarily ensure a sell-out excursion, and I would assume in these cases those trips were advertised in newspapers and tickets sold at non-discounted prices at the ticket booth on the boat the day of the trip. That was in fact the case for my last excursion on the AVALON in July 1961, a trip sponsored by the DAV Post in Dubuque, yet tickets were available at the boat that day, albeit at full price.

    There were no AVALON advertisements in the Omaha paper during any of the days the boat was in town; the only item related to the boat's presence in Omaha being a newspaper photo and accompanying caption. Her first trip on Friday night, Sept. 11, was a Mutual of Omaha charter carrying 1200 passengers. The article goes on to state that "other special groups have scheduled tours for tonight [Saturday], Sunday afternoon, and Monday and Tuesday nights." The Sunday Moonlite was a chartered benefit trip for the Multiple Sclerosis Society. Since school was in session at the time the AVALON was in town, it appears that only the one Sunday afternoon excursion was scheduled, all the others being Moonlites.

    In reference to your questions about the procedures for booking the boat, I do know that the IDLEWILD employed the services of at least one booking agent, named Frank Buening. I don't envision him taking anywhere near as active a role in promoting and selling the boat as Betty did for the AVALON, however. He may have been more of a contact person in his role as booking agent. And perhaps he was based in Louisville, and didn't "cover the waterfront" like Betty later would. Prior to Ernie Meyer's hiring of Betty, the AVALON also employed at least one booking agent that I am aware of. His name was E. J. Floyd, and he worked out of Des Moines, of all places! And here's where the story gets a little spooky. In the fall of 1964, I performed a comedy monologue in my high school's talent show about the commander of a submarine, based on a routine by Bob Newhart. Later that fall, I received a letter asking me if I would perform that comedy routine in Rock Island at the Armory during a Christmas show for a group of veterans in early December. I was paid $25, and my parents drove me down to RI in a snowstorm and back to Dubuque that same night. The person who "booked" my performance was the same one who introduced me on stage that night (I was introduced as "Dave Siegfried" by this guy, who later told me that I needed to get a stage name if I were going to continue in show biz!) My "booking agent" was none other than E. J. Floyd!! I didn't find out until several years later that he had previously been a booking agent for the AVALON in her early days, according to an article in the Waterways Journal. How's that for a coincidence? At any rate, by the time Meyer hired Betty in the early 50s, I suspect that Floyd's services were no longer required.

    Doc or Tommy Dunn could probably give you a much more authoritative answer than I about whether or not Betty's modus operandi was the same as that of other excursion boat promoters, particularly those employed by Streckfus. Since these people were all called "advance men", I suspect they carried on their sales much the same and did much traveling as part and parcel of their work. I'm not certain that "booking agents" like Buening or Floyd would have traveled and promoted all that extensively.

    Sounds like I'm going to have to schedule another long session with Doc about promotions and sales of the AVALON in the near future. Like I said in a previous posting, and as Ed observed, there's always another "trail" to follow once you get on the track of something. Guess I'll have to dust off my magnifying glass and break out my Sherlock Holmes' hat again!

    Oh, and one other post-scrip. The AVALON's first trips up the Missouri as far as St. Joseph were well-patronized in 1958. The IDLEWILD (or any other excursion steamboat) hadn't run there since 1941. However, for some reason, the AVALON's return the next year saw an unexpected low turnout for excursions. That may provide a partial explanation for all the charters and sponsored trips for the boat at Omaha in 1959.

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  • ed frazier
    replied
    Questions

    This is why I love history. Every person and every thing has a story that has so many twists and turns. Like a good book after you read it once and come back to it you discover something new. I also found it doesn't matter which is myth and fact, put together makes for a captive audience.

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  • Judy Patsch
    replied
    IDLEWILD at Omaha

    You mention that Betty had 4 days of charters at Omaha. I suppose charters were necessary to guarantee making that trip worthwhile. But were there any public trips during her Omaha stay? Also, I presume she used the group booking too, not just whole boat charters all the time? OK, as I type this, another question comes up: was she scheduled and promoted similarly as the IDLEWILD and as the AVALON? Or put another way, we know BB's methods - were they similar to her predecessors'? Oops, one more came up: was the IDLEWILD/AVALON operated differently than her contemporaries? This sounds like a separate chapter in your upcoming tome on the old gal!

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  • David Tschiggfrie
    replied
    Latest Update in the continuing IDLEWILD Saga

    Carl, and other IDLEWILD/AVALON devotees:

    This past week brought the most recent updates on the IDLEWILD/AVALON's history from Lincoln, NE and from Kansas City, MO. No surprises here, since those who appreciate the old girl's history know that she went EVERYWHERE! No, she didn't run trips out of Lincoln, but she did from Omaha between Sept. 11-14, 1959, the one and only time the boat got that far up the Missouri River. The Nebraska State Historical Society in Lincoln tracked down a photo and story from the Sept. 12, 1959 Omaha "World Herald" on that historic first trip of the steamer. There was a B&W time exposure of the AVALON aglow from bow to stern just before her departure on her first Moonlite there, with details about the other four days of charters that Betty Blake had booked for the boat.

    Also arriving via e-mail this past week was a note from the reference librarian in the Kansas City Public Library's Missouri Valley Room about the IDLEWILD's final season on the Missouri at Kansas City in 1941 -- a record year, according to owner Henry Meyer, in which she was booked by over 150 organizations for excursions before her Missouri River season ended in early August.

    With these latest pieces of the puzzle in place, all that remains is an anticipated letter from Annie Blum, who is graciously searching microfilm for me at the Mercantile Library in St. Louis for a dandy shot of the AVALON landed at the St. Louis levee right after her famed Girl Scout trip and prior to her departure for her very last UMR excursion season in 1961.

    There comes a point in any research where the researcher has to say "This far and no further." Or else this detective story will go on and on and on . . . Now it's time to edit all these new pieces of the puzzle into the new and improved slide and audio program for the Sept. 17-18 S&D Meeting. My deepest thanks to all of you who, over the past decades, have assisted in any way in telling the story of this matron of Western Rivers steamboating.

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  • David Tschiggfrie
    replied
    Carl,

    Just an update on the continuing saga of tracking down more of the IDLEWILD's Missouri River history. The Nebraska State Historical History could not find any references or photos of the IDLEWILD in their indexes or files. As I mentioned to you already, Mr. Robert Coleman of Omaha passed away last year, and so I was not able to follow up on any information there. However, the librarian at Nebraska Historical Society is checking back issues of the Omaha World-Herald for Sept. 11-14, 1959, for any mention of the AVALON's one-and-only excursions there that year. The next contact I made was the University of Missouri-Kansas City, after noticing a steamboat photo they had provided in a book about the history of St. Louis Jazz on riverboats. Their reference librarian also scoured their files and indexes for word of the IDLEWILD. Again, nothing turned up. However, he suggested that I contact the Kansas City Public Library's Missouri Valley Room, where he thinks there may be some references to the boat in their local history collection. So, I'm still on the trail! Will let you know if anything new turns up in following the leads in this Sherlock Holme's mystery. Thanks again for opening the door on this relatively unknown chapter in her long and varied history with the tantalizing details that you already provided. And stay tuned for the next chapter . . .

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  • David Tschiggfrie
    replied
    Carl,

    Thank you for the contact information at the Nebraska State Historical Society and for Bob Coleman's address. I will definitely follow up on both these sources. The old boat has one of the most fascinating and far-flung histories of any Western Rivers steamer, and to think that she's still making excursions today at Louisville is nothing short of amazing! Thanks again, Carl, for your tremendous help in telling this part of her story.

    David

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  • Carl Jones
    replied
    I have been gone from the Nebraska State Historical Society too long to know who is in charge of the picture collection. Their address is PO Box 82554, Lincoln Nebraska 68501-2554. or try www.nebraskahistory,org. I think you are right it was as the Avalon that she run up the un paid bills. I believe that my source for that story was R Allen Coleman or Bob or Robert Allen Coleman. of Omaha. The last address I have for him is 6780 Franklin St., Omaha, NE 68104. It has been several years since I talked to him so am not sure he is still around.

    I think it was Capt Raymond Holland who told me of a time he was riding her I think in her towing days and her Captain said that if the river got to shallow or the snags to thick or the channel too narrow he took a good swig of whiskey and the river just seemed to open up and was easier to navigate. Sorry Capt Holland passed away several years ago.

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  • David Tschiggfrie
    replied
    Towboating on the IDLEWILD

    Carl,

    Your posting is a God-send!! Thank you, thank you. I have been fretting for the past several years (and especially the past several weeks) that I have scant information about her towboating career on the Missouri, and BAM!, here comes your message today. If you can provide me with any names, e-mail addresses, etc. for anyone at the Nebraska State Historical Society, I would be forever in your debt. This is one piece of her history that I am eager to learn about, especially before giving my slide and audio program about her days as the IDLEWILD and AVALON for S&D at their annual meeting on September 17-18. Those unpaid bills for coal and other supplies you mention undoubtedly date to the summer or fall of 1959 when she ran there as the AVALON, the one and only time she ran up the Missouri as far as Omaha. Even in her IDLEWILD days, she never ventured that far up the Big Muddy.

    Talk about coincidences, your mention of her towing contractor's equipment may be documented in a photo of her I have taken landed at the St. Louis levee when she was towing a dredging fleet. I'd always assumed this was snapped in 1934-35, possibly to assist in the construction of Lock and Dam 26 at Alton. Now, your information may date that picture even earlier in 1929. I've just this past week been struggling to date another view of the old girl when she sported tow knees. The original photo which I'm desperately trying to date, was snapped by Rudy Gerber of St. Louis, and it is variously dated as 1932 or 1934, according to different persons. However, the information you posted today may back it up to 1929, which I suspected all along was a more accurate date for the picture.

    Anyhow, your message board posting today couldn't have come at a more opportune time. Again, my deepest thanks for posting what you did. Any other information you have would be GREATLY appreciated, along with any contacts you might be able to provide at the Nebraska Historical Society. And I sincerely hope you might be able to attend my S&D program this coming September. It would be my great pleasure to meet you and thank you in person.

    David

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  • Carl Jones
    replied
    Towboat days
    In 1929 she came out of the Alta Slough and pushed some Contractors equipment up the Missouri River. She was a regular on the Missouri in the late 20's early 1930's. The Waterways Journal reported in the 30 March 1929 issue her master was William Mills and she was moving barges for Kansas City Bridge to Dover, Missouri. a River Rat from Omaha told me that on her last tramping on the Missouri she left many an unpaid coal and other bills as she steamed down the River.
    I think the Nebraska State Historical Society has some photos of her.

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  • Mark McCracken
    replied
    An added bit

    Thanks Dave for the that great story. Denny told me that one too, I repeated the story to several members of the Peoria Historical Society years ago and someone added that the black fireman walked up Main Street in Peoria and went to hospital "A" (I won't use the real name, it is still in business) and was told to go away and he walked farther up to St. Francis Hospital where he was immediately treated. Sometimes the history in Peoria can be pretty amazing.

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  • David Tschiggfrie
    replied
    Dan,

    Not only the condition of the boat at that time, but also the conditions under which the crew worked, especially during the time that Gorsage managed her at Peoria. One example. Capt. Denny Trone told me this story as it was related to him by some old rivermen in Peoria when the boat ran out of there. As the boat lay at the city front between trips, some guy walked aboard, headed directly for the firebox, where he pulled out a knife and stabbed the black fireman in the stomach, turned, and walked back off before anyone knew what was happening! Denny said the fireman, doubled over, staggered out of the firebox and walked along the guard, across the stage, and up the hill, dripping blood all the way. Next day he was back at work, with no questions asked by anyone! Now, that's ROUGH!

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  • Dan Lewis
    replied
    I've heard Capt. Hawley mention how rough the IDLEWILD was when the old ISLAND QUEEN crew went to bring her back into service-in much worse shape than when Louisville got her. Capt. Bill Ray once came across some of the IDLEWILD's inspections and found a report where the inspector found the engine room in such a mess as to write it in a report. Of course, who knows what the mood of the inspector was that day! Anyway, nice photo!

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  • David Tschiggfrie
    replied
    That's a roger, good buddy!

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