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Essential River / Steamboat Books

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    Essential River / Steamboat Books


    A few months ago I purchased a copy of Alan Bates's book, "The Belle of Louisville." I expected the book to be purely technical in nature, but for the most part was mistaken! I was pleasantly surprised to find many fantastic tales about the boats early days as the Belle and the people who were involved with her operation and rebuild. I also learned to enjoy the writing style and wit of the author. This prompted me to buy another of Alan's books, "Naval Architect," which is written in largely the same style and offers a vignette of Alan's career designing excursion boats. In addition to those, "The Log of the Betsy Ann" and "Pilotin' Comes Natural" (both by Frederick Way, Jr.) have become two of my favorites. I believe these books are so interesting because they have a human element, and aren't completely technical in nature.

    Some of these books were harder to find than others, and there are still a few on my list that I'm searching for. I think the above listed works should be considered essential reading for anyone interested in the topics of steamboats, life on the western rivers, or anyone who enjoys tales about times-gone-by. So, what other books are out there that should be considered essential reading? And what better place to compile a list of these works than the forums! To begin:

    - "The Belle of Louisville" by Alan Bates.
    - "The Log of the Betsy Ann" by Frederick Way, Jr.
    - "Naval Architect" by Alan Bates.
    - "Pilotin' Comes Natural" by Frederick Way, Jr.
    - "The Western Rivers Steamboat Cyclopedium" by Alan Bates.
    - "Moonlite at 8:30" by Clarke Hawley and Alan Bates.
    - "The Island Queen" by John and Robert White.
    - ???


    I don't think anyone could argue with the books that you give as essential to any river/steamboat library. I would like to add Louis C. Hunter's magnum opus, "Steamboats on the Western Rivers: An Economic and Technological History." This would certainly be the driest of the bunch, but it gives a good historical foundation for understanding the true life stories told by Captains Way and Bates.


      I agree with Frank on all counts! However, I would also add Alan Bates’s “Westrn Rivers Engine Room Cyclopaeduem” to the list. It gives a very good explanation of the engine room and different types of engines, valve gears, etc. and touches on auxiliaries such as generators and so forth. You really can’t go wrong with anything Alan wrote.

      Another book that I like is Letha Greene’s “Long Live the Delta Queen” real technical information, but it is a good story by the owner of the DQ and a very “human” book. One other is Fred Way’s “The Saga of the Delta Queen”. Those last two are strictly about the Delta Queen and not steamboats in general, but are both good reads and shed light on the later days of steamboats in America.


        All are great books to have on your library shelf. May I suggest adding "Life on the Mississippi" by Samuel L. Clements better known as Mark Twain. Great first hand account of the supposedly "good old days". Fun reliving those times as a visitor through Mark's words but I think I prefer living in this era. Keep your steam up! Russ


          *'Essential' Steamboat Books/References.*
          Morning, Steamboating colleagues,
          Good topic here with a nice list above of books on steamboat history, lore. I've a few to add on my end:
          1. "SHE TAKES THE HORNS: Steamboat Racing On The Western Rivers" by Capt. Frederick Way, 1953. More than just steamboat races with other related history.
          2. "STEAMBOATS ON THE WESTERN RIVERS: An Economic and Technological History" by Louis C. Hunter. 684 Pgs. In depth history on all aspects of steamboating that cuts through many prevailing 'legends, myths,' of steamboat life and history. A deep read of academic proportions that 'corrects' many misconceptions, stories, 'romance' of the boats in addition to the human condition of the time.
          3. "FROM PADDLE WHEELS TO PROPELLERS" by Charles Preston Fishbaugh, Indiana Historical Society, 1970. History of the Howard Yards, family, steamboats, Jeffersonville, IN. Academic source but may be in limited copies.
          4. "WAY'S PACKET DIRECTORY - 1848-1983. Capt. Frederick Way. Definitive listing of steamboats with history from 1848 [Beginning of photography]. Essential basic research for research, references. A must. Ohio University Press.
          5. "WAY'S STEAM TOWBOAT DIRECTORY" by Capt. Frederick Way and Joseph W. Rutter. Companion to the above. List of steam towboats also with history/insights. Ohio University Press.
          6. "FASTEST ON THE RIVER" Race of the Strs. ROBT. E. LEE/NATCHEZ by Manly Wade Wellman, 1957. Definitive history well written with technical data. Another 'must' on the topic.
          7. "RIVER STEAMBOATS AND STEAMBOAT MEN: With Articles And Pictures From My Scrap Book." by Capt. Ellis C. Mace, 1944. Very rare to find in print now. 335 Pgs.
          8. "KING & QUEEN of the River: Legendary paddle-wheel steamboats DELTA KING and DELTA QUEEN" by Stan Garvey. River Heritage Press 1995. Definitive history of the two boats, their building, owners. A must for said history that cuts through later legends, myths about the DELTA QUEEN.
          9. Last but not least, the stellar S&D REFLECTOR. Quarterly journal of Sons & Daughters of Pioneer Rivermen founded by Capt. Fred Way in 1964. Currently edited by David Tschiggfrie. Read as many issues you can find.

          There are many other books, monographs too long to mention here possibly found by going on line to GOOGLE. You will be surprised at the number of publications that pop up. I 'think' above was also mentioned "COAL BOAT WATER" & 'DO IT YOURSELF" by Capt. Alan Bates. Dig in old book stores, gift shops at river museums up and down the rivers. Also some listed on ebay.
          Granted, Mark Twain's books good reads but Twain was more concerned with developing plot and characters than accounts of pure steamboat history. Are there more? You bet. Have a good read.

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


            *'Additional Essential History*
            Steamboating colleagues:
            Well, the more I look here the more I find in my library. Two additional books on steamboat history are:
            1. "SCENES FROM MEMORY" By Frances Howard Kohlepp. Memories and history growing up as a member of the Howard family, Jeffersonville, IN. Rich in details. (C) Copyright by Howard Museum, 1991. 'Press of General Printing,' Louisville, KY.
            2. 'THRILLS OF THE HISTORIC OHIO RIVER" by Frank Y. Grayson written for the CINCINNATI TIMES-STAR newspaper. Rich first hand accounts going way, way back of steamboat history, building, operations, human element. Hard to find now in print.

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