Photo of the new Alice appearing in the September 17, 1949, Waterways Journal. (David Smith collection)
Old Boat Column

The Alice Was The First Boat For Crounse

In the story highlighting Crounse Corporation’s 75 years in the June 23, 2023, issue of The Waterways Journal, Crounse board chairman Steve Little gave a biography of company founder George Crounse, as well as a brief history of the early years of the firm. The then-35-year-old Mr. Crounse established the company in 1948, and utilized a leased towboat while one of his own design was built. Since a loan from his Aunt Alice helped finance this construction, it was no surprise that the trim little craft was christened Alice.

The Paducah Marine Ways yard of the St. Louis Shipbuilding & Steel Company would build the Alice at Paducah, Ky., in 1949. The May 7, 1949, issue of the WJ carried a small item on page eight headlined PADUCAH YARD DELIVERS F-M POWERED ALICE: “After trials on Friday, April 29, at Paducah, the single-screw towboat Alice left Cairo the next day, Saturday, with 3,400 tons of petroleum products, in three barges, for Point Pleasant, W.Va. The Paducah Marine Ways Inc. built the Fairbanks-Morse powered towboat for the Crounse Corporation, Paducah.

“The new boat’s hull is 74 by 18 by 8-1/2 feet. A Fairbanks-Morse Model 31 (8-1/2 by 11 inches) turns a St. Louis Shipbuilding & Steel Company propeller, 66 by 58 inches, at 270 rpm. Drive is through two-to-one Fairbanks-Morse reduction gears, the engine developing 500 hp. at 540 rpm.

“Present at the trials, in addition to Mr. Crounse and officials of the building yard, were Fred G. Wagner, St. Louis, F-M sales representative, and two F-M service men from the Beloit, Wis., factory.”

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Thus was the auspicious start of a most successful river transportation company. While successive towboats built for Crounse would be larger, with the exception of those intended for Green River service they would be of the single-screw design and built by St. Louis Ship for many years to come. The new Alice was featured on the front of the September 17, 1949 WJ, in an ad for St. Louis Ship, and a large photo and detailed description was found on page seven of that issue. The story headline stated “St. Louis-Built Alice Outperforms Expectations.” The article stated that in the first 100 days of operation, the boat had traveled 9,192 miles and called at such ports as “Minneapolis; Chicago; Texas City, Texas; and Charleston, W.Va.” It “was further stated that “Mr. Crounse firmly believes that good equipment is essential for successful river transportation, and is justifiably proud of his Alice.”

As built the boat had a single cabin with a small pilothouse atop that. Aft of the pilothouse was a single smokestack, and on it was an early version of the now familiar entwined double “C” of Crounse Corporation. There was no riser under the pilothouse, but one was added at some later point. Capt. Omer Coleman, later the manager of the Maysville (Ky.) division office of Crounse, has spoken of being aboard the Alice as a young deckhand. One of the things that prominently stood out in his mind was the task of having to “punch carbon” on the F-M diesel during idle times.

In 1957, the Alice was transferred to Green River Towing Corporation, Calhoun, Ky., a Crounse subsidiary. Crounse Corporation would become well-known as a transporter of coal on the Ohio River and tributaries.

In 1964, the Alice was sold to Columbia Marine Service, Ludlow, Ky. In 1966 they renamed the boat Kathleen K and repowered it with a Cat D398B diesel of 850 hp., and a new 2:1 reduction gear. A second cabin was placed, with a very high pilothouse on top of that to facilitate towing tall cement barges. In 1980, it was sold to C&J Towing, Ashland, Ky., owned by Capt. Clarence Boggs. He originally purchased the boat to dismantle for the machinery, but later decided to rebuild it. The high riser was removed from under the pilothouse so that it sat down on top of the second cabin, and the name was changed to Brandon W.

This writer was working for Capt. Boggs at the time and spent quite a bit of time on the boat after it was placed back in service. We were towing “tramp” tows for Tolen Marine out of Paducah and often had full tows of 15 pieces on the boat. In testament to the hull design, it handled and steered very well.

After closing C&J Towing. Capt. Boggs used the Brandon W to shift some coal docks on the Big Sandy River. After his retirement, the boat was sold to J&A Fleeting, which performed the same type of work on the Big Sandy.

In 2007, the boat was laid up and dismantled. The pilothouse, which was the original from 1949, was saved and wound up at Port Amherst on the Kanawha River. It was later acquired by Crounse, which had it at their main office campus at Paducah. Somewhat ironically, this is the site of the former Paducah Marine Ways, the very spot where the boat was originally built.

Caption for photo: Photo of the new Alice appearing in the September 17, 1949, Waterways Journal. (David Smith collection)