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*Commodore Laidley's Christmas, 1895*

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    *Commodore Laidley's Christmas, 1895*

    Steamboating colleagues:
    December, 1895 and Christmas found Commodore Fred Laidley in a quandry facing the great steamboat 'rate war' that year in addition to his vowed intent to gain full control of all outstanding stock in the old U.S. MAIL LINE as it was known then here in Cincinnati. This 'steamboat war' had started in early November that year with the jitters over a possible national bank panic. Capt. Ellis Mace and me gasped each day noting the receipts on the bottom of our ledger books falling, falling on the Big Sandy Wharfboat. "Pssst, Dale, Laidley can't keep this up or he'll be losing his shirt--and all of us our jobs," he whispered.

    Freight rates cut so low that hogheads of tobacco shipped at twenty-five cents each. The HENRY M. STANLEY and the LIZZIE BAY lay just down from the wharfboat. At noon Laidley called a meeting over lunch in the cabin of the CITY OF LOUISVILLE with little Mrs. Laidley attending sitting quietly watching, listening intently. For the Commodore to offer any lunch on the boats at noon to his office hirelings something to be remembered. And here I was just a lowly stripling new in the company invited. "Play your cards right, keep your mouth shut and you just may go far in this company. Watch carefully, listen and make notes in your desk ledger," Ellis Mace whispered on my right kicking my ankle under the table.

    Outside freight was being trundled aboard the CITY OF LOUISVILLE for the run to Louisville at 5:00 PM that Christmas Eve along with grocery and ice wagons from up town to stock the cook house. Chief Steward Mose Washington had one of his fine cheese cakes ready for the Commodore when he went home that evening. "Big boss in a fuss and this may help him." Mose said softly. "Mose, it'll take more than a cheese cake at this point," I retorted.

    "Dale!," run over to the Bay boats and tell Capt. Bill Bay I'll offer $50,000 for the HENRY M. STANLEY and the LIZZIE BAY and no less!" he barked with red face, biting his cigar in half. "Frederick! That will be quite enough! Why do you continually treat your enemies better than your friends and colleagues?" Mrs. Laidley said seated next to me knitting furiously.

    "You tell Laidley I have nothing to see him about and he can come to me personally," Capt. Bay smugly informed me. Returning with the news, I said, "Commodore, the Bays are independent and you will have to go to him." "Easy, Dale, easy--he's in a black mood again for sure," Ellis again whispered kicking me under the big cabin table. In a virtual lather, Laidley dictated a letter to me asking Capt. Wash Honshall and J.M. Bates to transfer their stock in the BAY LINE and the WHITE COLLAR LINE to Laidley. Capt. Bay accepted the offer of $50,000 with a monthly $1,800 to brother George Bay agreeing not to run their boats below Portsmouth, Ohio. Or so we thought.

    Laidley was in a pinch borrowing $10,000 with another $30,000 in company stock as collateral. At that point the former U.S. MAIL LINE dating back to 1819 was rechristened the LOUISVILLE & CINCINNATI PACKET CO. The Commodore barked at me, "DALE! you run back over there and tell Capt. Bay I'll pay him in gold coin and gold certificates--and no more!" Capt. Bay looked at me with a wry smile of victory puffing his own stogie, tapping his ink pen on his desk when I placed the formal agreement in front of him. Slowly Capt. Bay looked over three times each letter and word as if reading the Magna Carta. "Dale, I accept his offer but he'll find out this steamboat war isn't over by a long shot." "Capt. Bay, I can't tell the Commodre that or he'll really have a fit," I replied.

    At the close of this momentous meeting, Mrs. Laidley whispered to me, "You and Ellis come over to the house in Covington tonight for a big dinner with us. I have some little Christmas presents for you two." Laidley returned to the wharfboat office stomping up the steps in a foul mood opening the big iron pot belly stove making sure I was burning kindling wood and not expensive coal barking, "People think I'm made of money!" when I asked him for petty cash to purchase postage stamps up in town. "Ummm...errr...see heah' now, did our December S&D REFLECTORS arrive yet on the VIRGINIA just in from Marietta?" he asked furtively looking in our desk waste baskets for any sign of the opened REFLECTOR envelopes. "Ah, yes...yes indeed they did and here's your copy. Ellis and I again paid for your yearly subscription," I replied pulling his copy out of my top desk slot. In to his office he stormed slamming the door. We never saw or heard from him until 4:30 PM. "Ah, see heah,' I'm a walkin' the bridge home tonight. See you and Ellis for dinner later--after you take care of my books, my money and close up," he said with his billy goat whiskers flapping in our faces.

    That evening the Commodore again walked the Suspension Bridge back to Covington standing out of sight with his gold watch in his hand, wool top coat, old beat up felt hat on his head checking on when his boat pulled back from the wharfboat to check the time. But that wasn't the end of the full story by a long shot.

    People ask me 'what do I really know?' and I just said, "I was there and saw it all." Cheers for a very MERRY CHRISTMAS and a HAPPY NEW YEAR!"

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