A rare copy of the 1945 edition of the Inland River Record sold on eBay March 21 for an astounding $569. The inaugural edition has been an elusive catch for many serious river historians and memorabilia collectors for many years. Finding one listed on eBay stirred interest among many river observers and historians, although there were only four active bidders after the initial $45 bid was quickly topped. Bidding jumped to more than $200 within a couple of days and then steadily climbed past $400 with only two bidders remaining for the last two days.
Finding a copy in very good condition has become more improbable over the years, but snagging one with an inscription and dedication to the original owner is even more exciting, according to the winning bidder, who wishes to remain anonymous.
The inscription reads, “To Bill and Bettie, with the best of everything from your partner in crime, the author, Fred.” Of course, “Fred” is the original editor and publisher, Capt. Fred Way Jr., who by this time was already an established river historian and author.
However, according to the late Dan Owen, who assumed editorship following many years working with Way before the annual publication was acquired by The Waterways Journal in 1968, the first edition did not sell as well as Way had hoped, and in frustration and disappointment, he is said to have buried the unsold copies in his back yard in Sewickley, Pa.
This story has been repeated several times by frequent Waterways Journal contributor and river historian Capt. David Smith, who opined that the inscription in this high-dollar book was written to Capt. William S. Pollock, a childhood friend who became a partner in the ownership of the packet General Wood and a partner/pilot on the excursion steamer Washington in the mid 1930s.
Smith went on to say that Pollock married a woman named Elizabeth, who was sometimes referred to as “Bettie,” thus his strong speculation this is the couple to whom the book is inscribed. Pollock eventually transitioned to towboats and was working for the Valley Line (Mississippi Valley Barge Line) until he retired, according to Smith.
The 1945 edition was much smaller at 147 pages total, compared to the 2021 edition with 588 pages. The inaugural edition was also divided into two sections, one with 55 pages listing steam-powered towboats and another with 48 pages of diesel-powered towboats. A section at the back of the book listed owners and vessels that had been removed from service or otherwise deleted during the previous year, a format still utilized today.
Whereas the books now include several pages with company stack logos, the earlier versions contained two pages in the front depicting the various landing (whistle) signals used by the various companies prior to the arrival of commonplace radio telephones to inform their shoreside facilities of their arrival to pick up and drop barges or load supplies or make crew transfers.
The book, which originally sold new for $1, including postage and handling, was offered for sale on eBay by the Beaver (Pa.) Area Memorial Library, indicating it may have never left the immediate Sewickley-Beaver area. According to information available on eBay, this was also the first item the library has ever offered through the online auction site. The librarian has not responded to a request asking if more books might be forthcoming.
The winning bidder, well known within the river industry, said the 76-year-old book will be added to his personal river library and memorabilia collection and will not be offered for resale, as had been speculated by some observers.
Caption for photo (click on image for full picture): Screenshot of eBay sale page for signed 1945 Inland River Record.