Obituary: Capt. Robert Earl “Bobby” Powell
Capt. Robert Earl “Bobby” Powell, 95, of Poplar Bluff, Mo., died August 6 of heart failure. He had a long and distinguished river career, starting with working on his grandfather A.B. Powell’s mule-powered sternwheel ferry at Caruthersville, Mo., when he was a young child working with his older siblings.
He landed a job as a galley boy on a steamboat by lying about his age when he was 14 and never looked back. He was the youngest pilot to obtain a first class pilot’s license for the Lower Mississippi River and also the first person to take a 40-barge tow south on the Lower Miss when he was captain on the new mv. W.J. Barta. The W.J. Barta was the first 10,500 hp. towing vessel built by The Valley Line, with whom Powell spent most of his career.
He also worked for the Delta Queen Company for many years on the steamers Delta Queen and Mississippi Queen as trip pilot and as a regular pilot after retiring from Valley Line.
He had numerous relatives who also worked on the river who preceded him in death; the only surviving relative still working on the river is his nephew, Capt. Van Lee Powell, who was trained and mentored by Capt. Bobby on the W.J. Barta.