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The River: Aboard the CLYDE and on the Ohio, traveling from Alma to Aurora; home 150 miles away

The riverboat captain is a storyteller, and Captain Don Sanders will be sharing the stories of his long association with the river — from discovery to a way of love and life. This a part of a long and continuing story.

By Capt. Don Sanders
Special to NKyTribune

In the wake of an eventful week battling the Mississippi River from Quincy, Illinois with a harrowing experience in the Chain of Rocks Canal as the CLYDE and crew waited for passage through horrid Lock 27, a layover at a safe haven in the bustling St. Louis harbor, and an especially terrifying breakdown in the current between stone dikes above Cape Girardeau, Missouri, the CLYDE finally found the serenity of the Ohio River. Ahead lay a nearly five-hundred-mile trip home the hard way – all upstream. Saturday morning, the first day of July 2012, found the paddlewheeler anchored below Joppa, IL at Mile 953.5.

Up at 0600- Prepared CLYDE for departure, Mile 953.5.
At 0710- Anchor raised – Underway!

At Anchor Below Joplin, IL.
Sat., 01 July 2012

* Sun – HOT!
* Wind to our back.
* Up at 0600- Prepared CLYDE. for departure, Mile 953.5.
* 0710- Anchor raised – Underway!
* Metropolis, IL and Harrah’s casino boat… no response to our radio calls.

Metropolis, the official “Home of Superman,” boats a 15-foot bronze statue of America’s superhero on Superman Square in front of the Massac County Courthouse. My family and I lived in Clark Kent’s hometown for several years when I was the First Mate of the Player’s Riverboat Casino, later renamed Harrah’s Casino.

Headed To Lock 52.
01 July 2012

CLYDE in the Lock of Dam 52, one of two remaining “old-style” navigation facilities remaining on the Ohio River.

* Called L&D 52 – told us to “come up under lock and hold-up.”
* Ev steered like a pro… think he’s much improved.
* Passed abreast of Okie Moore Diving & Salvage Co.’s barge.

Okie Moore was known as one of the best “salvors” in the business. Among other nearly-impossible feats Mr. Moore accomplished during his long and illustrious salvage career on the river was the raising the steamboat BELLE OF LOUISVILLE when she sank at her moorings on the Louisville waterfront in August 1997. If it weren’t for the skills of Oakie Moore, the BELLE would have been broken-up and dug out with a clamshell bucket.

* 1110- Entered Lock 52.
* 1141 Departed.
* HOTTER’N the Hinges of Hell!

Lock and Dam 52, one of two remaining “old-style” navigation facilities remaining on the Ohio River, is used to maintain at least nine-feet of water in the channel for commercial traffic. Since the 1960s, colossal concrete, so-called, “high-lift” structures have replaced all but Numbers 52 and 53. However, after the eventual completion of Olmsted Lock and Dam, explosives will remove Locks 52 and 53, and all remaining will be merely the memories of the sites and their once-busy operations.

Paducah, KY- AMERICAN QUEEN landed- talked to Captain Joe Jamison via radio.

Paducah, Kentucky and Smithland Lock.
Sunday, 01 July 2012

* Paducah, KY- AMERICAN QUEEN landed- talked to Captain Joe Jamison via radio.
* Called Capt. Greg Menke – told him we weren’t stopping as my brother Bob Sanders may catch us in Owensboro, instead of Paducah.
* 1500- Stb, chain “bumping”- as it has been since Andalusia, or above. Bearings feel cool, but still added a few shots of grease.

Smithland Lock and Pool.

* 1636- Entered Smithland Lock.
* 1715. My first trip in Smithland pool – it’s as beautiful as I imagined.
* T-storms in the area – thunder and west wind. Aiming to land at Golconda Marina. Will we beat the storm? Already rain on my arm.
* CLYDE’s running fast in this pool – clear, deep water.

Landed Golconda Marina. Been here many times by land, but the first time by river.

Approaching the site of old Lock & Dam 51, I recalled visiting the former dam site when Peggy, our sons Jesse and Jonathan, and I often visited there during drives from Metropolis to Golconda to “look around.” Several years before we first popped in, the government engineers had already blasted away the concrete structures in the river and the functional brick buildings donated to the City of Golconda, Illinois that had, yet, to find a use for the empty structures.

* 1915 – Landed at Golconda Marina, Mile 902.2. Been here many times by land – but the first time by way of the river.

Irish Jimmy’s Bar, Rosiclare, Elizabethtown, Cave-in-Rock & Old Shawneetown.
Monday, 02 July 2012.

* Up by 0600 – getting ready to move to the fuel dock, Golconda Marina, “Oasis on the Ohio.”
* 0800-0830- Fueled. Both tanks combined: 31.7 gal plus fuel cans = 79.02 gals. Total bill, including stores: $531.32.
* 0910- Departed upbound. Great, but pricey stop!
* 1050-55- Irish Jimmy’s Bar and Carrsville, Ky where Captain Howard “Old Doc” Carr, the celebrated Mate during the early DELTA QUEEN days, called home. “Irish Jimmy’s Bar” is a sandbar in the river and not a saloon in Carrsville.
* 1110- Rosiclare, IL. Hot and sleepy town. Two women came out on their deck to watch but never waved even after I blew CLYDE’s melodic whistle.
* 1155- Elizabethtown, IL (Mi. 869.0).
* The old Grand Rose Hotel B & B at “E-town” seems to be restored like they were planning to do when I lived in Metropolis.
* A couple under the gazebo watching – blew them a toot which attracted another spectator wearing a bright red shirt who watched without waving while our busy sternwheeler paddled out of sight.

 “Beware of Pirates at Cave-in-Rock,” warned an entry written in a journal in the early 1800s.

The Pirate’s Cave.
Monday, 02 July 2012.

With an abundance of limestone along the Illinois side, quarries and mines dot the riverbank. Just a few miles above Elizabethtown, the CLYDE approached a most famous cavern within the limestone walls, Cave-in-Rock, an impressive 55-foot-wide riverside cave formed by wind, water erosion, and specific cataclysmic effects of the 1811-1812 New Madrid Earthquake. Supposedly, the first European to come across it was M. de Lery of France, who found it in 1739 and called it “Caverne dans Le Roc.”

But the cave is best remembered as a den for cutthroat river pirates of old who lured thirsty and weary flatboatmen and their charges to certain death with the promise of free-flowing liquor and bawdy entertainment. A crudely-painted banner displayed above the entrance announced the death trap as “Wilson’s Liquor Vault & House of Entertainment.”

“Beware of Pirates at Cave-in-Rock,” warned an entry written in a journal in the early 1800s which Captain Doc Hawley remembered reading as transcribed by an ancestor of an old steamboat pilot, Captain Sylvester “Wess” Doss, whom we both worked with on the Steamer AVALON.

Upstream from the cave, gigantic broken limestone rocks lay where they had for countless centuries, and beyond them, the lonely river seemed to stretch endlessly to the horizon.

* 1505 – 1520. Transferred fuel to Day Tank. No topping off.
* 1558. Gusty winds started but blew themselves out by 1615.
* 1800. Upbound at the foot of Cincinnati Island. Mile 861.3.

Old Shawneetown.

* Old Shawneetown. Once a thriving river town with high hopes for the future, but now a tattered remnant ravaged by the 1937 Flood. New Shawneetown sits high above on dryer ground overlooking its former self. The top of historic Bank of Illinois poked its head above the levee. The bank once denied an obscure northern hamlet on the shore of Lake Michigan a loan because the lending officers decided tiny Chicago “would never amount to much,” or so the story goes.

* Anchored near an island for the night.
* Large T-storm activity – lightning, wind, and rain seen on the edge of the line failed to reach us.
* CLYDE anchored on the upwind side of the island. Not many visitors know the backside of this island, I imagined, as a look from BUSTER-the-Skiff revealed an enchanted, unknown place often passed, but rarely visited.
* Around Midnight – Thundershowers continued to around midnight; then the sky cleared and a bright, nearly full moon lit the dark river and showed the CLYDE facing downstream – the wind had reversed.
* I stayed in the pilothouse, half-awake and dozing until 4 am – until feeling confident the anchor would hold, went below to sleep.

CLYDE anchored on the upwind side of the island, an unknown place often passed, but rarely visited.

“No Name Island” and John T. Meyers L&D.
Tuesday, 3 July 2012

* 0600- Up & at ’em. A beautiful day awaits!
* 0700- Prepared to depart: Oil needed, coolant Ok.
* 0725- Departed upbound behind AEP MARINER.
* Called John T. Meyers (Lock & Dam) – told to “shove up to AP (Arrival Point) and call them” and they’ll prepare the lock for us.

Two buzzards (Turkey Vultures) on the rip-rap watching the CLYDE ease up to the lock chamber greeted us as we passed by. Not necessarily a good sign.

* John T. Meyer L&D – Entered 0945.
* Caught the sternline first- worked exceptionally well this time with no wind.
* CLYDE shared the lock with the US Army Corps of Engineers workboat AUSTIN.
* Departed the lock at 1000 hrs. The broad pool of J. T. Myers dam stretches far to the horizon… and beyond.
* Noon- Entered the foot of Slim Island Chute, Mile 835.6. The inside or backside of an island opposite the main channel is called the “chute.” The chute-way is usually shorter than going the bend-way. Tall cottonwood trees along the Kentucky shore are growing on a cutting bank. Within a few years, floodwaters will have undercut them and they and will fall into the river and drown.
* 1300- Mt. Vernon, IN. Once a favorite place for the DELTA QUEEN to fuel.
* 1645- Mile 810. Suddenly, a terrific wind from the south arose and drove the CLYDE toward the Indiana shore – I took the wheel and recovered. Considered tying up for the day, but found winds calming, so continued paddling.
* 1730- Went behind Henderson Island. Once in the middle of the channel, found 15-feet of water.
* 1808- Henderson KY RR Bridge. Originally built for the L&N Railroad, but now owned by CSX.
* 1930- Landed at NuPlaza Yacht Club, below Evansville, IN – Reminded me of “615 Landing” on the Upper Mississippi at Guttenberg, Iowa.
* Purchased 27.365 gal # 2 diesel @ $4.659 / gal. Water on, too.
* Very nice people – Owner, Jim Hall, did not charge the CLYDE for an overnight stay. Many curious and friendly visitors came by to gawk at our sternwheeler.

Landed at NuPlaza Yacht Club, below Evansville, IN – Reminded me of “615 Landing” on the Upper Mississippi at Guttenberg, Iowa

NuPlaza Yacht Club, Evansville, Newburgh Lock, & Henderson, KY
4 July 2012

* Departed NuPlaza YC @ 0710.
* Evansville City Front @ 0800 – Gambling boat Aztar. A riverman in the inflatable boat came out to greet us and rode alongside chatting for a time. He disclosed he lived on a houseboat nearby.
* Evansville Bend Lies in CLYDE.’s Wake.
* Called brother Bob Sanders – he’s planning to meet us in Owensboro this late afternoon.
* 1000- Mouth of the Green River. Watched as a coal loading operation poured coal into a barge in a steady stream without making dust. While watching, the flow of coal quit and a stream of water was coming out of the loading spout explaining why no dust. As soon as the barge was full of coal, a towboat arrived to remove it, and soon another empty took its place under the spigot.

Gambling Boat Aztar. A riverman who lived on a nearby houseboat, came out in an inflatable boat to greet us and rode alongside chatting for a time.

1103- Town of Newburgh, IN. Old Lock & Dam 47 was right in town making it a favorite spot for DELTA QUEEN crew members who conveniently “missed” the departure of the steamboat at Evansville and hitched, or hailed a cab to the lock. Newburgh was also a favorite place during the 1970s for some DELTA QUEEN crew to cop a “nickel bag.” The local hippies called the friendly local policeman, “Officer Sunshine,” who had no proven connections to the five-dollar “bags” wrapped in aluminum foil, or so I heard.


Just before shoving into Newburgh Lock at 1130, with Everett steering, I went below for thicker-soled shoes because of the heat of the hot roof beneath my flip flops and found the pulley for the engine cooling water pump lying in the bilge! EV immediately pulled the CLYDE close to the shore, just above the old lockhouse, and I tossed out the trusty anchor. Eve replaced the raw water pump pulley. Thankfully, a thorough investigation revealed nothing broken, so the CLYDE was underway, again, at 1245 hrs.

Ev replaced the raw water pump pulley. Thankfully, a thorough investigation revealed nothing broken.

* Newburg L&D- 1320 to 1325.
* Fuel Transfer- 1334 -1349. In 15 minutes, the CLYDE can transfer five gallons of diesel fuel from one of the two main tanks into the Day Tank which will supply the Kubota engine for another five hours. Talk about fuel economy
* Hundreds of boaters were gathered at the shallow foot of a small island to celebrate the Fourth of July. The CLYDE must have been in “Stealth Mode,” for not one person looked over at the unusual sight of passing sternwheel boat….we were surprised not to receive even one wave. Sure must have been some party!
* Removed the mirror from starboard transom and reattached it on port roof nosing so the pilot can see if the raw water discharge works, or doesn’t.
* Ran behind Little Hurricane Island – half the width of the Licking River at home. Except for at the “head” of the island, water was 18 to 35 feet deep. The CLYDE was right at home in the narrow channel behind Little Hurricane Isle.

We were surprised to receive not even one wave. Sure must have been some party!

Owensboro, KY
04 July- Independence Day, 2012. Fantastic Fireworks!

*1730- Landed at the extreme downstream end of the old lock wall of L&D 46.
* BIG 4th of July celebration tonight – hope we are ignored and can stay- excellent ties. A large crowd gathering on the Owensboro riverbank waiting for darkness and the fireworks extravaganza.
* Brother Bob Sanders arrived – he and Ev went ashore for provisions at Wal-Mart.
* Bringing the plunder back to the boat tied so far from access to the street was another challenge, but now we have three sets of hands and backs.
* Watched the fascinating fireworks extravaganza from the roof.

We watched the fascinating fireworks extravaganza from the roof of the CLYDE.

* Afterward, it took another hour for all the trailered boats to wait for their turns, but soon, we had the river to ourselves.
* Couldn’t sleep for the mosquitoes biting my feet and hands. Eventually, fatigue won, and I slept soundly.

Old Lock 46, Owensboro, KY, Tell City, Cannelton Lock, and Rocky Point Marina.
05 July 2012 – Another HOT and Wonderful Day!
Ran behind Little Hurricane Island – half the width of the Licking River at home. [/caption]

* Shut down the engine for loose air compressor, twice… finally disconnected belt – no air to blow the whistle.
* 0745- Underway up the Ohio River – before Owensboro Hwy. Bridge, Mi. 756.3.
* Bob started steering.
* Passed under the Glover H. Cary and William H. Natcher Bridges.
* Rockport, Indiana, where Abe Lincoln lived after the family moved from Kentucky. It was said he earned his first dollar in 1825 after he rowed some “dandies” out to a passing steamboat and one of them threw a silver dollar into the bottom of his boat, or about 23 dollars today.

Another Mechanical Delay. Cannelton Lock & Black Oil Beneath Engine.

* 1435- Stopped at Tell City City Front – Stb. wheel binding and raw water pump pulley slipping.
* Ev went ashore, and with the help of another of “CLYDE’s Angels,” found, and purchased a new pulley and installed it.

Bob started steering.

* Took off starboard chain and sprocket and installed a 1 1/4″ shim behind chain sprocket replacing “donut” and smaller PVC pipe. Used 2″ OD PVC.
* Raised anchor and underway at 1835.
* Cannelton Lock, 1950-2010, where In 1971, the DELTA QUEEN backed into the Indiana bank below the lock and destroyed about a third of its massive wooden paddlewheel. In three epoch days still remembered in Tell City, I worked twelve-hour shifts in the wheel, and with Captain Wagner, supervised the deck crew in rebuilding the forty-ton oak and steel sternwheel. The DELTA QUEEN arrived home in Cincinnati on time!
* Bob was elated during his first lockage. With all his boating experience, I figured locking was a familiar experience with him. In all, Bob is a mighty-fine boatman who has been on the river since he was a towheaded youth.

* Landed Rocky Point Marina @ 2030 in the dark with strong winds on-shore. Set CLYDE down too low on the first pass – flipped boat – landed fine.
* With hungry Bob and Ev off to a restaurant leaving me to shut down everything by myself, I found black oil in the bottom of the engine compartment. But will wait until morning to investigate.

Bob was elated during his first lockage. Bob is a mighty-fine boatman who has been on the river since he was a towheaded youth.

Rocky Pointe Marina.
Friday, 06 July 2012. Sunny and Hot.

* This morning I put in 5 qts. of motor oil that overfilled the engine (after filling the engine deck covered in oil, last night, and no oil showing on the Kubota engine dipstick.)
* Probably not all the engine oil was gone as indicated on the dipstick that does not go all the way to the bottom of the oil pan.
* Ralph, the Rocky Point mechanic, here at 1100 to pump out excess oil. Ralph brought an oil extraction rig and pumped out the overage. He found the leak – a screw-in plug by the air-compressor that dropped about a quart onto the fan belt. Engine oil low, but not dry.
* $60 labor charge plus $50.13 for diesel fuel.
* Waved as we passed Jack Brown, another “CLYDE.’s Angel” and champion water skier, has an unusual lighthouse on the Ohio River above Rocky Pointe Marina. Jack was most helpful and supportive of the CLYDE crew.
* Hydraulic pump control began moving inside the control arm mechanism. A washer soothed the chatter of the controller.

Ralph, the Rocky Point mechanic, here at 1100 to pump out excess oil.

* The rest of the day spent cruising through the beautiful Cannelton Pool as the CLYDE leisurely paddled up the Ohio River.
* Anchored for the night, Mi. 683.6, in 20 feet of water – very deep in the channel – 80 to 90 feet.

Departing Mile 683.6, Oxbow Bends, Brandenburg, Salt River, and Four Mile Creek.
Saturday, 07 July 2012. Sunny, Hot… Lovely

* Prepared for departure: Oil ck’d Okay. Coolant in sight tube, Battery Switch-BOTH. Strainer cleaned.
* One-pint fluid added to the hydraulic tank, and two gals. # 2 diesel added to the Day Tank.
* Departed @ 0812, upbound.
* Long River Reaches with lots of trees, sky, and water.
* Oxbow Bends- Always beautiful and exciting, tight turns.
* Loss of radio, cell phones, and the internet in the desolate landscape, but a treat for the eye of the appreciative traveler.
* Wolf Creek Bend – Mi. 677 to 678 – Blind Curve. Fishermen standing in their boat as the CLYDE popped around Wolf Creek Bend, didn’t even notice us as we paddled nearly close enough to touch.

A swift towboat with fifteen barges suddenly appeared without warning as the DELL BUTCHER, popping around the blind curve, caused me to pull the paddlewheel back into neutral.

A Close Call!

* A swift towboat with fifteen barges suddenly appeared without warning as the DELL BUTCHER, popping around the blind curve, caused me to pull the paddlewheel back into neutral and recall the time the Fish (Deborah Fischbeck) was steering the BEN FRANKLIN, and a similar incident happened. Wolf Creek Bend is a dead air space for radio communications that once caused a terrible, flaming collision; killing at least one riverman.

Diamond Rock.

* My favorite navigation light on the Lower Ohio – Diamond Rock Light, Mile 670.7 at 1044 hrs. The rock, now submerged, was a landmark clear back to flatboat days. It was a beloved landfall during my AVALON and DELTA QUEEN steamboat days.
* 1207- Leavenworth, IN at the upper end of the Oxbow Bends – curves are becoming much broader.
* 1305 – 1320. Fuel Transfer.

Shades of the Civil War.

* 1600- 1700. CLYDE landed at Brandenburg, KY to the thunderous reports of cannon and musket fire!

Civil War reenactors visited the CLYDE while Ev found several bags of ice onshore.

* Ev brought aboard several bags of ice after the shooting stopped.
* Took pictures of Civil War reenactors and recalled seeing, in 1965, the remains of the steamboat ALICE DEAN, the steamer commandeered on July 9th, 1863 by Confederate Raider, Gen. John Hunt Morgan, being “clam-shelled” from the river bottom and piled in a tall heap on a flat-deck barge. What we remember most about the pile of kindling was how brilliantly-white the paint on the wood was after nearly a century in the river.
* 2010- Mouth of the Salt River, a 150-mile-long river in Kentucky, draining some 2,920 square miles. Also, the origin of the term, “Up Salt River,” a 19th Century term alluding to political defeat with roots most- likely linked to the illustrious Senator Henry Clay of “Old Kaintuck.”

Anchored for the Night.
Four Mile Creek, Mile 629.4
07 July 2012

* Bob and Ev posed for my camera while I rowed the BUSTER-the-Skiff as the CLYDE rested at anchor above Four Mile Creek, Mile 629.4, on the Indiana side of the Ohio River.
* Another precious day passed as the CLYDE and crew bedded down for the night, only four days from the end of the long voyage, but every precious day gone is one less day upon this beautiful Earth.

(To be continued.)

Bob and Ev posed for my camera while I rowed the BUSTER-the-Skiff as the CLYDE rested at anchor above Four Mile Creek, Mile 629.4, on the Indiana side of the Ohio River.

Captain Don Sanders is a river man. He has been a riverboat captain with the Delta Queen Steamboat Company and with Rising Star Casino. He learned to fly an airplane before he learned to drive a “machine” and became a captain in the USAF. He is an adventurer, a historian, and a storyteller. Now, he is a columnist for the NKyTribune and will share his stories of growing up in Covington and his stories of the river. Hang on for the ride — the river never looked so good.

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  1. Everett Dameron says:

    Don, you didn’t mention that the guy, (“Angel) that helped us find the replacement pully, in Tell City, was the same guy that helped make the new buckets for the Delta Queen at the same place in 1971! Those river Angels always seam to show up when rivermen need them.

  2. Cornelua Reade-Hale says:

    Wow.such simple soundung yet crucial details. I can feel the heat on the roof n throughout the boat. I can smell the oil n diesel. A modern day Tom n Huck story. So fantastic to hear of the “angels” that came to the rescue,makes one proud of the river network.. Your story makes one wish to have been part of the adventure.though reading your tale I feel as if I am there. I can’t wait for “the rest of the story”.

  3. Cornelia Reade-Hale says:

    Another great tale. Small but crucial details well told. I can feel the heat on the roof and throughout the boat. A modern Tom and Huck tale.makes one wish to have been part of the adventure. Yet as I read.I feel like i am there.. So great to meet her “angels””.makes one proud to be part of the river network.
    I can’t wait to hear “the rest of the story”..

  4. I am so glad that I got to spend a few days with you and Everett on your epic adventure. My memories of it are of the natural beauty of the river and the way the usually hectic world slowed down to match the steady but very slow pace and progress of the Clyde on our upstream journey.

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