Passing Of A River Legend
When Charlie Jones, president of Amherst Madison, died at the age of 101, he could look back on a river career with few parallels.
During World War II, Jones served with the Navy Seabees in Guadalcanal and on a Navy minesweeper as engineering officer, sweeping magnetic mines around Japan. When he went ashore, he became a federally licensed explosives handler and shot firer.
In 1948, his family’s coal company, founded in 1893, decided to get into the river transportation business and bought 10 barges under they name of Amherst Barge Company. Jones held a Master of Towing Vessels, Western Rivers, license issued by the U.S. Coast Guard. Coal production was plunging and the company saw river transportation as a good way to diversify. It was at the end of the period when diesel engines had displaced steam sternwheelers on the rivers, although Jones himself kept the sternwheeler Laura J as his personal vessel. The company branched out into marine construction as well. By the time Jones was interviewed by The Waterways Journal in 2008, Amherst Madison operated more than 30 towboats between 800 and 5,600 hp.; 10 floating cranes between 90- and 250-ton capacity and a fleet of 50 large deck barges, 10 hopper barges and all sorts of auxiliary barges plus a 250-ton A-frame.
Jones was a staunch advocate for the river industry. He served for three years as chairman of the Inland Waterways Users Board and was given chairman emeritus status. He was active in many industry groups, including The American Waterways Operators, Ohio Valley Improvement Association, DINAMO and Sons & Daughters of Pioneer Rivermen.
He was the recipient of the National Rivers Hall of Fame Achievement Award in 2001, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Seamen’s Church Institute in 2003, and many other industry and philanthropic honors.
Jones was a man of many talents. While running his busy and expanding company and serving with all those river industry groups, he continued to farm and raise cattle on the side—although both of those activities, he noted, are round-the clock operations. His hobbies included baling and hauling hay and splitting firewood for the two wood stoves that heated his house.
He attributed his long life and health to those outdoor activities, as well as to his lifetime support from his wife. He once began to write about book about the importance of women in instilling values in children, to be called The Empty Nest.
In saying farewell to a remarkable river legend, we can’t do better than to use the words Jones said he wanted on his tombstone: Have a lovely day, we’ll see you in the morning.