The Destrehan in Pan American Petroleum Company service. (David Smith collection)
Old Boat Column

The Dignified Destrehan

Like my friend Capt. Don Sanders, I also have those boats from the past that I consider favorites, even though I never had the opportunity to tread their decks. The steam sternwheel towboat Destrehan is one of those vessels.

Built by the Charles Ward Engineering Works, Charleston, W.Va., in 1922 for the Pan American Petroleum Company of New Orleans, the Destrehan had a steel hull 133.9 by 32 and was outfitted with four boilers and high-pressure engines, 18’s – 7-foot stroke rated at 800 hp. A tall pilothouse situated mid-way back on the roof and two smokestacks well forward made for an imposing presence.

The Destrehan was often in long runs delivering petroleum products. These runs were usually from New Orleans to Pittsburgh, and from Wood River, Ill., to New Orleans. Way’s Steam Towboat Directory notes many masters that served aboard the Destrehan, among them Capts. Bob Roff, Bernard Chotin, C.F. Reid, W.P. McNair, Robert Haynes and Sid Chambers.

The American Rolling Mill Company, founded in 1899 and known as Armco, decided it needed a fleet of boats and barges to tow coal from Huntington, W.Va., to Cincinnati in order to feed one of their main steel mills at Middletown, Ohio. Armco hired Capt. Phil Elsey away from the Socony Oil Company and placed him in charge of securing the necessary vessels. The Str. S.S. Thorpe was the first vessel acquired by Armco, purchased from the Inland Waterways Corporation in 1940. The second was the Destrehan, bought in May 1941. Others would follow.

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The two boats were renamed and christened in a double ceremony held at Cincinnati. Miss Jean Verity did the honors of swinging the champagne bottle as the Thorpe became the Geo. M. Verity, and Miss Jeanne Hook did the same as the Destrehan was renamed Charles R. Hook.

The Hook settled in to the relatively short Huntington to Cincinnati run, quite a change from the early days of the long hauls to and from New Orleans. Way’s lists the masters as including Capts. Henry Miller, Otto Aiker, R.F. Rogers and Everett Frost. (Capt. Otto Aiker is one who is mentioned often on several different boats in the news columns of old issues of The Waterways Journal.) Dana Wright was long the chief engineer aboard the Charles R. Hook.

In 1947 Armco purchased the Str. Atlas from Island Creek Coal Company. The Atlas made a few trips under Armco ownership, and in late 1947 it was taken to the Marietta Manufacturing Company, Point Pleasant, W.Va., where it was dismantled. The stated intention was for the Atlas engines, which were condensing with compound cylinders 15’s, 28’s – 8-foot stroke rated at 1,400 hp., to be placed on the Charles R. Hook. The Hook did receive new Babcock & Wilcox water tube boilers in 1947, but a change of engines was never stated in either Way’s or the Inland River Record through 1957, which is the last listing for this Charles R. Hook.

As the Charles R. Hook for Armco Steel. (David Smith collection)
As the Charles R. Hook for Armco Steel. (David Smith collection)

It is apparent from some photos that the herringbone type sternwheel that was on other Armco boats was also placed on the Hook. In the 1950s it ran a staged race at Huntington with the E.D. Kenna. Both boats had been built by Ward.

The Hook was dismantled in 1957, and Armco purchased the Str. J.T. Hatfield from Amherst Barge Company, renaming it Charles R. Hook. This second Hook would only run until 1959 when it, too, was dismantled.

News stories in some issues of the WJ in the 1950s indicated that Armco was looking to build a large diesel boat, and a drawing was once published. This advancement never came about, and in 1960 they discontinued their fleet of steamboats. In 1989 the company entered a partnership with Kawasaki Steel and was then known as AK Steel. AK was sold to Cleveland-Cliffs in 2020.

The Middletown works are still in operation, but the large Armco mill at Ashland, Ky., is now just a memory. Dismantled within the past two years, the site is now a large vacant lot with a few buildings standing. The cells along the river where raw products were once received and finished steel loaded for shipment are still in place at Ohio River Mile 325.

At some point after dismantling in 1957, the original Charles R. Hook was sold to Capt. John Beatty of Cincinnati. He remodeled it into a floating restaurant, which he called “Captain Hook’s.” It opened at Cincinnati in 1964 and became very popular. By 1968 he had purchased the former steam sternwheel towboat Charles Dorrance, originally the John W. Hubbard built by Dravo in 1936, and rebuilt it into an even larger restaurant called the Mike Fink, which replaced the Hook.

After a long battle with the city of Cincinnati over the mooring spot, Capt. Beatty relocated the Mike Fink across the river to Covington, Ky., where it continued to do a great business. The Hook was moored some distance below on the Kentucky shore, along with some other equipment. It was here that it eventually burned, and the remains were scrapped.

Caption for top photo: The Destrehan in Pan American Petroleum Company service. (David Smith collection)