Old Boat Column

The Towboat Volcano

Volcano after 1927 fire
The Volcano undergoing repair after the 1927 fire. Note the painter lettering the name on the engineroom bulkhead. (Keith Norrington collection)

The Volcano was built at Dravosburg, Pa., in 1916. Constructed on a wooden hull that measured 126.5 in length by 25.8 feet in width, the towboat was owned by the Diamond Coal & Coke Company of Pittsburgh.

The riverboat made its maiden trip in February 1917, and two years later had the distinction of taking the last tow of Pittsburgh coal south in wooden coalboats, departing on May 10, 1919—one day prior to the towboat Midland overturning at Davis Island Dam on the Ohio River—and assisted by the towboat Sam Barnum.

The vessel was later purchased by the Hillman Coal & Coke Company, under whose ownership the boat caught fire at the Lock No. 4 boatyard on the Monongahela River in 1927. At the time of this incident, the boat was under the command of Capt. C.H. Hoge, with Capt. Robert Donaldson serving as pilot.

Volcano sank in 1929
The Volcano rolled over and sank in 1929. (Keith Norrington collection)

The Volcano was rebuilt and returned to service, only to roll over and sink at Dunlevy, Pa., on May 30, 1929. After being righted and raised on June 5, the boat was sold in 1930 to the Mengel Box Company. The towboat Ed J. Howard (formerly the Chickamauga) went to Pittsburgh and towed the damaged vessel to the marine ways at Madison, Ind., for rebuilding.

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The towboat was renamed Mengel. The crew in 1935 was composed of Capt. Wade Mobley, master; Capt. Frank Falkenberg, pilot; T.O. Stone, chief engineer; Frank Stone (son of T.O.), second engineer; and Henry Cain, mate. Capt. Ed Beard assumed command of the boat in 1936, but died the next year at his home in Paducah, Ky. The Mengel continued operating under this moniker until it was sold to the Tresler Oil Company and the name was changed to Bob Tresler in early 1938.

Accidents continued to plague the steamboat under its new name and the sternwheeler sank near La Crosse, Wis., during the summer of 1940. At this time, the Tresler was engaged in towing oil products between Cincinnati and St. Paul. Capt. Owen P. Jones was master with W.A. Gary serving as manager.

Resuming operations in 1941, the Tresler was involved in towing operations between East St. Louis and Cincinnati. The boat also made trips to the Upper Ohio River in the autumn of 1943, with Capt. Tom Posey as master and Capt. Raymond Chambers, pilot. During high water in 1944, the Bob Tresler was beached out at the Madison Marine Ways and dismantled. The pilotwheel was saved and placed in the clubhouse of an Indiana yacht club.

Howard Museum News

The Howard Steamboat Museum, Jeffersonville, Ind., seeks and gratefully welcomes new members from the river fraternity. Various categories of membership are available that support the endeavors of the museum, which will celebrate its 60th anniversary this year.

For further information, visit the website at www.howardsteamboatmuseum.org or call 812-283-3728. Donations can be made by check, credit card and through PayPal. The non-profit status museum receives no regular support from local, state or federal governmental agencies and all donations are tax-deductible.