I always appreciate hearing from readers regarding these columns. These “old boats” continue to stir memories that some may have not considered for years or make them think of items or events that they are willing to share. Many of the column subjects are boats that I worked on or witnessed working in the past, or maybe just heard others talking about. All are vessels that have made a lasting impression on me.
Soon after the June 19, 2023, issue was published with this column featuring the Str. Sam Craig, I heard from Ed Shearer. Ed is the marine architect that I had mentioned in the column. His family had owned O.F. Shearer & Sons River Transportation, the last company to operate the steam sternwheel towboat. Ed’s father, Capt. Bert Shearer, had often served as master of the Craig under Shearer ownership and regarded it as one of his favorite boats among the many that he had worked on.
Ed related that he had spent a few summers aboard the boat, riding with his dad. When the Craig was dismantled in 1957, the Shearer family saved some items from it. One of the items that had been removed from the Craig had been the table from the crew dining room. Photos show it to be a massive piece with large turned legs that have elaborate carvings. The intricate beauty of the table demonstrates the pride shown by the original owner, Union Barge Line, when the boat was built in 1929.
Ed sent a photo of the dining room on the Sam Craig as it appeared when new, and the big table is prominent. The photo had been given to him by Phil Payton, along with several others of the boat when still new. Payton’s father, Capt. Homer Payton, had been a mate, pilot and master of the boat under UBL ownership. This table today serves as a desk in Ed Shearer’s Houston, Texas, office. Another item from the Craig is the big brass three chime steam whistle, which now “graces the entrance” to the Shearer offices.
Ed went on to mention that in his time on the Sam Craig as a boy he had even “learned how to handle her engines,” a story we would like to hear more of.
Following the column regarding the Helen Z that appeared in the June 26, 2023, issue of the WJ, I heard from Tom Cook of Charleston, W.Va. Tom owns the Juanita, which is a sternwheel towboat that was built by O.F. Shearer & Sons at Cedar Grove, W.Va., in 1954. Tom shared photos of the engineroom telegraph or indicator from the Sam Craig that he has in his personal collection.
These indicators had been on a small sternwheel pleasure boat named Lucy Coles that he had acquired in 1982 and renamed Henny Cook. The Lucy Coles had been built by brothers Charles and Roland Montague at Ashland, Ky., in 1959 as a steamboat, and it was later repowered with a gasoline engine. The Montagues must have secured the Craig indicators at the time they built the little Coles. The Lucy Coles had been named after a steam prop tug that had been based at Ashland in the late 19th and early 20th century.
Tom’s main point in contacting me was that he also has a set of four brass caps from heads and/or sides of “H’ bitts. They are cast with the inscription “DUBUQUE BOAT AND BOILER WORKS 1911” around the outside with “AUGUSTIN” in the middle. These clearly came from the steam sternwheel towboat Lieut. Augustin, built for the U.S. Engineer Department by Dubuque in 1911. It was rebuilt into the diesel sternwheel Helen Z by Charles Zubik after purchasing it from the government in 1939, and it was owned for some time by Capt. Bob Bosworth. These brass bitt caps are quite pristine, with very few scars and marks from being aboard a working boat for many years. Tom purchased them at a Bosworth estate sale.
Again, I very much appreciate people taking the time to share memories and treasures like these with us as we continue to explore the history of these old boats. Anyone wishing to contact me may do so through the following email address: email@example.com.
Caption for top photo: Crew dining area aboard the Str. Sam Craig when new in 1929. (Courtesy of Ed Shearer)