Portrait of the James P. Pearson

by Jerry Canavit, ASN
Steamboat Writings & Research, San Antonio,Texas

The JAMES P. PEARSON was built at Moline, Illinois in 1898 as the H.A. BARNARD. She was a sternwheeler with hull measurements of 83′ x 19′ x 3.’ Way’s has her originally as a steamboat, however, she may have spent her very early years as a gasboat. Nothing verifiable on this, just rumor and hearsay. She was purchased in 1907 by the Moline Consumers Co. and was rebuilt shortly thereafter. I think Way states that she was renamed after the rebuild, however, the photo (1905-07) seems to show her in her original appearance and bearing the name JAMES P. PEARSON – so she must have been renamed before the rebuilding. She was used as a sand dredge between 1907-1916 and probably used as a part-time excursion boat (there seems to be some kind of canopy behind the pilot house and benches for passengers on the boiler deck). She was taken to Chicago in 1916 and was listed as a “miscellaneous” vessel – again, probably doing excursion work. In 1925, she was purchased by the Missouri Gravel Co. operating out of St.Louis and used as a towboat. Around 1936, she was purchased by Moline Consumers Co. (her former owner) and was taken to the Kahlke Boat Yard (at Rock Island) and was completely rebuilt as a combination sand-sucker/towboat. Her new measurements were 96′ x 23.5′ x 4.’ She operated in and around the Quad-Cities area in that capacity until she was retired in 1953. When I was about 5 years old, my dad and I would walk down to Moline Consumers (about 6 blocks from our house) and watch the PEARSON shuttle sand barges back and forth. She was the first steamboat I ever saw. She was soon transferred to the Winona County Historical Society who altered her upper works and put her on exhibition as the JULIUS C. WILKIE. She burned on March 12, 1981, and was later rebuilt. The rest of the story unfolds as we speak.