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The River: Agreeable October prompts memories of ‘Licking River Ramble’ and Fredericks Landing


By Capt. Don Sanders
Special to NKyTribune

(The riverboat captain is a storyteller, and Captain Don Sanders is sharing the stories of his long association with the river — from discovery to a way of love and life.)

October’s always been my favorite month since I came into the world on an October Saturday eight decades ago. So far, this autumn month has exceeded expectations for agreeable weather with temperatures above average for this time of the season.

What I miss since the Rafter CLYDE left for places afar is the “Licking River Ramble,” to Fredericks Landing on the Licking, near Wilder, Kentucky. (P. Richardson Photo)

What I miss since the Rafter CLYDE left for places afar is the probability for a fall cruise, also remembered as the “Licking River Ramble,” to Fredericks Landing on the Licking, near Wilder, in company with Cap’n Aaron Richardson and his restored tug, the ELIZABETH LEA. The “L’il Liz,” formerly the JOSEPH THROCKMORTON, belonged to the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers on the Upper Mississippi near where the CLYDE was built. After purchasing the sternwheel-propelled, raft boat replica from her builder, Ed Newcomb in the Spring of 2012, Cappy Everett Dameron and I “steamed” the CLYDE some 1,300 miles under its own paddlewheel power to the Middle Ohio River near Aurora, Indiana.

The CLYDE was a perfect fit for the much smaller Licking than she was on the mighty Mississippi or the broad Ohio rivers. Although the plucky sternwheeler could handle most every challenge of the larger streams, she felt more at home “on the Lick.” Or perhaps it was me, who spent many of my happiest youthful days swimming and frolicking on those beloved fluvial shores of the ancient waterway who thought so, anyway.

The Rafter CLYDE and the ELIZABETH LEA on the Licking River. (P. Richardson Photo)

Phillip Johnson was always the CLYDE’s capable “Chief Engineer,” and I, the Captain, was happiest when my youngest son Jonathan Hartford Sanders was “cub-piloting.” Phillip, a natural mechanic, often assisted in the engine room of the Steamer BELLE OF LOUISVILLE while he may be best known on the inland waterways as one of the owners of the palatial Steamboat DELTA QUEEN. Jonathan immediately displayed a natural instinct for piloting a paddlewheeler once he was behind the antique, wooden steering wheel.

Thomas Durant “Captain Walnut” Schiffer and his brother, the late John Schiffer, brought along Walnut’s steam launch, the MISS BLUE, but with no room aboard their small boat for an overnight stay, the Schiffer brothers usually bunked aboard the CLYDE with us.

The Licking River was some 27 miles upstream from the CLYDE’s permanent berth, and with an average speed against a light current on the Ohio River of just 4 to 6 miles per hour, the average time underway to merely reach the mouth of the smaller stream was from 4 ½ to nearly 7 hours cruising time. Frederick’s Landing lies at the mouth of Three Mile Creek, three miles further up the Licking. Paddlewheeling on the CLYDE was never a pastime for anyone impatient to arrive swiftly to their destination.

Onshore awaited special guests and riverboat pals anticipating our arrival.

Only the most curious, inquisitive students of fluvial morphology may understand that the Licking River was the main drainage stream for what would later be Northern Kentucky before the great sheets of ice made their way south into the area during the Pleistocene Epoch, or Ice Age, which began about 2.6 million years ago. The much broader, deeper, and longer Ohio River is a mere youngster born after the frozen stuff last retreated northward a mere 12 to 15-thousand years ago. Of all the many rivers and streams I’ve traveled, worked, and played upon, the primeval Licking remains my all-time favorite waterway.

Our destination, Frederick’s Landing Park, bordering Three Mile Creek, was a wilderness above the L&N Railroad and the Kenton County Water Pipeline Bridges when my brothers Dick and Bob, and I “claimed” the land as our “New Camp.” Although we lads were accomplished river mermen, our regular swimming hole was further downstream, for, in those halcyon days, a roaring rapids tumbled over a rocky riffle at the mouth of the creek. Only once did my brothers and our cousin Ray Cooper swim through the churning whitewater, when I, as the oldest, had to stand lifeguard duty over my kin while they “shot the rapids” as I enviously watched while they navigated the roaring falls clad only in their skivvy drawers, and of course, no life preservers.

Once the two boats reached the landing, Aaron always nosed-in first and secured the LIZ to a pair of robust trees on the shore perfectly suited to hold the two vessels. Once L’IL LIZ was ready, the CLYDE came alongside and tied off to her deck fittings, and soon the word was passed… “ALL FAST.”

An evening ride on the CLYDE offered everyone a rare opportunity to enjoy the lovely Licking from the deck of an authentic paddlewheeler. Betsy and Jeff Sanders. (Bob Sanders Photo)

Onshore awaited special guests and riverboat pals anticipating our arrival. Among them were Captain Bill Judd and his wife Darlene, my brothers Bob and Jeff and their better-halves Betsy and Shirley Sanders, former riverboat mate Frank Jones, and other fans and friends interested in seeing the CLYDE and the LIZ arrive at the Licking River landing. Perhaps an evening ride on the CLYDE offered everyone a rare opportunity to enjoy the lovely Licking from the deck of an authentic paddlewheeler.

Soon after returning alongside the LIZ, the smoky aroma of freshly-grilled burgers wafted over the still, cool air close to the water and all aboard settled down for a relaxed evening recalling memories of boats and quite often, those, since passed on, who crewed them. As the evening chilled and grew into darkness, our guests bid their farewells. Soon after the taillights of the last car disappeared from the parking lot, each of us readied our sleeping gear, said our goodnights, and fell into a restful sleep listening to the soft sounds stirring along the river beyond the boats.

Onshore awaited special guests and riverboat pals anticipating our arrival. Among them were Captain Bill Judd.

Of course, throughout the night, I was often on my feet to survey both boats making sure they and their inhabitants were safe and secure – obviously an old habit garnered from my passenger boat days on the Steamers AVALON and DELTA QUEEN. By first light, Aaron and his crew were the first ones awake.

My greatest concern after folding the sleeping bag neatly atop the Pilot’s Bunk was to tap into the generator aboard LIZ to get my Mister Coffee coffeemaker running. After a hot mug of “morning joe,” I was ready for whatever else beckoned during the coming day. By then, the aroma of burning wood aroused everyone’s attention toward Captain Walnut’s steamer firing up the boiler for an early morning steamboat cruise aboard the MISS BLUE.

Throughout the day, we enjoyed the best of all the blissful lifestyle the ancient river offered. Another ride, a riverboat race, more friends, good food, and another night spent on the water. By the next morning, Sunday morning, both boat crews dreaded leaving the Licking for the long ride back downstream to Aurora, but Phillip and Aaron had to be at work on Monday bright and early and there was no way around those obligations. If we had had the choice, a few more days, or even a week at Fredericks Landing would have been mighty fine with us all.

My greatest concern after folding the sleeping bag neatly atop the Pilot’s Bunk was to tap into the generator aboard LIZ to get my Mister Coffee coffeemaker running. (P. Richardson Photo)

Both boat crews dreaded leaving the Licking for the long ride back downstream to Aurora. (P. Richardson Photo)

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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5 Comments

  1. Toni Daniels says:

    I really enjoy these articles.

  2. Ronald Sutton says:

    ‘We don’t need No Stinkin’ Life Jackets.’ Remember similar trips with Dad on our 20ft. Sailboat. Around the periphery of Lake St. Clair. Food tended toward canned Chili warmed on a sterno stove NO Coffee. Memories from Long ago.

  3. Cornelia Reade-Hale says:

    Thanks Capt Don. Another fantastic voyage through your great memories. I felt as if I were with you. That looks so fun , I’m glad you shared the memories. I’m curious where does the Miss Blue berth?

  4. Tom Kelley says:

    Don , really enjoyed reading your wonderful stories, thanks for sharing.

  5. Donna Sanders says:

    I love each and every one… keeps me near dear to the true River Man!
    Love Your
    Donna Jean and
    Betty Jean

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