From pulling trap at an affluent gun club when he was a kid in Helena, Ark., to bringing a newly built towboat out of a shipyard located in Greenville, Miss., years later, Capt. Marshall Ramey has been through a lot.
The oldest of five brothers, whose father was a supervisor at a large rubber plant in West Helena, Ark., Ramey quit high school when he was 17 and joined the Army. After 3-1/2 years in the Army and a tour in Vietnam, he enrolled in college to be an automotive engineer, “but I met a girl and ended up getting married,” he said, and he left college.
Then, in need of a job, he asked a gentleman named Jim Walden, for whom he had been the trap boy at a skeet and trap club where Walden belonged, for a job. “Mr. Walden owned Helena Marine Service and offered to take me on as a deckhand making $16 a day, and that’s how I got started on the river. One of my other brothers worked at Helena Port Terminal loading barges, but he never got out on the boats.”
Now 71 years old, Ramey is the master of the mv. Amy T, a 92-foot, 2,000 hp. towboat owned by Terral RiverService Inc., a barge and towing company with 40 towboats located in Lake Providence, La. But it was a circuitous route getting there. After a year or so at Helena Marine Service, he went to work as a tankerman for Economy Boat Store in Memphis. “After three or four months, they put me in the wheelhouse. I got my pilot’s license in 1973.”
License in hand, he next piloted a dredge tender and worked as a leverman for Ike Carter’s Arkansas Valley Dredging out of Little Rock, Ark. He paused his river career long enough to be a police officer in West Helena, but in 1980, he hired on as head of deckhand training at the National River Academy. “I worked there for several years before joining Pine Bluff Sand & Gravel Company, where I worked until 1994. Then, wanting to spend more time with my family, I got off the river again and started my own construction company, Delta Contractors, which lasted about two years.” Soon after, he went back to police work, running the criminal investigation department for the Helena Police Department until 2003.
He hadn’t lost his love of the river, though, he said, and now more inclined than ever to make a career of it, Ramey signed on with Western Rivers Boat Management, Paducah, Ky., and worked for them until late 2009, which was when he started tripping for Terral RiverService. “They wanted me to come full-time and be the captain of a new boat that was coming out of the shipyard in June 2010, so I did, and I have been with them ever since as captain of the Amy T. When I started working for them, I think they had 11 boats; now they have 40. Terrell has a lot of good people working for them, and they are super to work for,” Ramey said.
Returning the compliment, Johnny Martin, the company’s corporate operations officer, said, “I have a great deal of trust in and respect for Capt. Ramey. He takes good care of his boats and his crews. He’s just a good, all-around guy, someone I consider a friend.”
As for hobbies, Ramey likes to make knives, among other things. “I’ve been making knives most all my life. I’ve made thousands, mostly sheath knives with a 3-4-inch blade, and at one point I made them to supplement my income. I also like to hunt and fish. The largest fish I ever caught was a 9-1/2-pound bass out of the White River. I like to shoot, too, particularly shooting long distance. And I also have a second-degree black belt in jujitsu.”
Asked about his most memorable experience on the river, Ramey said, “I’d have to say when I train a steersman that works out and becomes a pilot, a good pilot. I guess that’s the best memory I can have.” He is currently on the 10th issue of his license and has no plans to retire.