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 Sept. 17, 1921

  The winter of 1852-3 I spent in Stillwater with my brother. The work the summer of 1853 was a repetition of the work of several pervious seasons.  The last trip I made was with lumber from John McKusick to Alton, Ill., and I remained there until It got all hauled out of the water.  It was about this time the Chicago and Alton Railroad had completed its line to Alton and it had a very large and swift steamer called the Altona making two round trips a day to St. Louis and I was engaged for a time to change off with the regular pilot, taking each alternate trip.  I took the night work and spent the day banking the lumber.  This made me double work with double wages also.

  One day a man engaged in the construction of the railroad heard my name and hunted me up.  He proved to be Alfred Beck, a son of my Uncle John Beck whom I had not seen since twenty years before when we moved with Alfred Slocumb and family from White county to Knox county.  We had a very nice visit and I agreed to go to his home when my work at Alton was completed.  This I did and had a very pleasant time.  I found my Uncle a widower having lost his wife, his mother, (my grandmother Beck) and a daughter the year before of cholera, three from his household; truly a dad bereavement.  While there I made several trips to Springfield in an effort to see my cousin, Abraham Lincoln, who was then becoming prominent in our state’s affairs and already attracting national attention, but he was not in the city so I failed to meet him.

  En route I used the C.&A. to Bloomington; the I. C. to La Salle; the

C.C.R.I.&P. to Geneseo and then stage to Albany, crossing Rock river at Crandall’s ferry, quite an improvement over previous years before the advent of railroads.

  The winter of 1853-4, I spent at Albany and went to Stillwater in the spring.  During the winter Mr. McKusick, contrary to his usual custom, had sawed most of the time through the cold weather and had had a raft to run early and I had also three log rafts, some of the logs being my own.  This made a fleet of four rafts and required care and watchfulness.  The water was unusually high when we started and seemed to get higher the farther down we got.  At Muscatine I laid up one of the rafts in order to strengthen the crews on the others, but his did not save us from disaster.  Floods out of the Iowa river added to the already high Mississippi spread water out over the banks in every direction for miles and it was impossible to keep the rafts in the river.  To make a long story short the two log rafts and one lumber raft were entirely broken in pieces and logs and lumber scattered all over the bottoms.  One crib was found mile from the river and one field of corn nearly entirely covered with logs.  It must be remembered that I was running on contract and was responsible for sale delivery of the goods in my charge.  We commenced at once to gather up the fragments and I never did harder wok in my life.  When we got delivery on what we could find the losses totaled some ten thousand dollars, which put me out of business and I turned over all my money and property to make good the loss.  I was until the next year the liquidating and at the end of it all I had seventy fie dollars.

  Soon after this disaster I made a trip to Stillwater with two rafts leaving one at Clayton and one at Dubuque.  I shipped my rafting its to Albany where they were stored in a warehouse that not long after was destroyed by fire, a fitting climax to my troubles in the year 1854.  That season was the last of my career on the river as a floating raft pilot and I closed the season by making a few trips on the Dr. Franklin No. 2, with my friend Smith Harris, and on the Nominee.

  On our first trip of the Dr. Franklin No. 2, with Captain Smith Harris occurred a somewhat memorable and exciting race with another boat of those days, the Nominee, Capt. Orrin Smith, a brother-in-law of Capt. Smith Harris.  The Dr. Franklin No. 2 was in the St. Louis and St. Paul trade making a round trip every two weeks; the Nominee was making a round trip from Galena to St. Paul each week.  There was some rivalry as the Nominee having been recently put into the trade was making some inroad into what the Dr. Franklin No. 2 interests conceived to be their pasture.  On our way up we had some brushes with her but there was nothing decisive.  On the return tip she left St. Paul first and we left as soon after as we could, it being early in the evening.  We traveled fast keeping a sharp lookout of our rival.  At Read’s Landing we heard she was just ahead of us and when we reached grand encampment some six or seven miles below Read’s , found her lying under a point waiting us.  She swung out right behind us with the evident intention of giving us the led and then running by is in a straight test of speed or strategy, either being a victory for her and a discomfiture for us.  We slacked up and offer her a chance to take the lead but she declined to take it so we settled down to a fair fight and no favors and the race soon became very exciting.  At Crooked slough the Nominee attempted a little strategy by going through Paint Rock slough but she came out further behind us than when starting in.  At Guttenburg we took a wood flat in tow, dumped the wood on board as soon as possible and still held the lead into Dubuque where both boats landed.  We got away first and kept the lead into Galena reaching there early in the evening; twenty two hours from St. Paul, the quickest time I ever made between those point sand the longest drawn out and hottest race I ever under took.  There were times when the oats were not far apart and the cheering and the jeering that passed back and forth with the excitement and nerve strain made some extremely tense moments.

   Our trip to St. Louis and return to Galena was without special incident so far as I now recall but when I got back to Galena I transferred my affections and belongings to our rival, the Nominee.  The river was now falling to normal stage and the owners of the rival vessels were negotiating for a consolidation of interests which was successful and resulted in the formation of the Minnesota Packet company.

   Note:- further in regard to the race between the Dr. Franklin No. 2 and the Nominee.  Mr. M. W. Hanks, of Stillwater Minn., a son of Captain Hanks, give the following:  “I have often heard my father talk about his race as being the most exciting and hardest fought one he had ever experienced in all his career and a steamboat pilot.  In his account of it he does not mention the fact that he never left the pilot house from the time he left St. Paul until they reached Dubuque and that he piloted the boat the whole trip from St. Paul to Galena.

  “He also told me that when they were obliged to land for wood, as they did not always find a wood cargo to take in tow all the passengers, as well as the crew helped to ‘wood Up” in order to get started as son as possible.  It was when either boat stopped for wood that the other would get ahead, so it was a game of see-saw a great part of the distance until the Franklin took the lead at Guttenburg after which she was always ahead.

  “In those days the boats carried the iron torch baskets in which was burned pine wood and pitch, or resin, for light when at landings.  Father said they had a plentiful supply of resin in barrels on board which was freely used in the furnace to keep her boiling and before they reached Dubuque the breechings were practical red hot to the top of their jackets from use of resin and oil in the furnace.

  “All freight was refused except that which would be taken on without loss of time when stopping to deliver or take on mail, which they were obliged to stop for.” Some good old days, eh?” F. A. B.


Collected and Transcribed by

Georgeann McClure


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