For the last Old Boat column of 2023, I wanted to feature a boat that truly deserves recognition. Seldom does a vessel last for 100 years. The beautiful and celebrated steamer Belle of Louisville immediately comes to mind, as it has now been with us for 109 years. The boat highlighted in this column has undoubtedly exchanged passing signals with the Belle at some point when it was still known as the Idlewild or Avalon. Even though it has not traversed the abundance of waterways that the venerable excursion boat did, it remains a notable craft nonetheless.
Standard Oil was founded in 1870, and by the turn of the 20th century had become a giant entity, so much so that it drew the attention of the anti-trust interests, who considered it so large as to have a monopoly. In 1911, the U.S. Supreme Court found Standard to be in violation of the Sherman Anti-trust Act and ordered it split into 34 different companies. One of these was the Standard Oil Company of Ohio (commonly known as Sohio). In 1923, this company would take delivery of a gas-powered sternwheel towboat and a tank barge from the Marietta Manufacturing Company of Point Pleasant, W.Va.
Though delivery of the towboat took place in 1923, Steve Huffman, who is a historian of note regarding gas and diesel sternwheel boats, uncovered a newspaper clipping that indicates the boat was initially finished in 1922. The short one-paragraph news note was in the September 29, 1922, edition of the Hamilton Daily News, Hamilton, Ohio. It was headlined Gallipolis, Ohio, and stated “Four men were injured today when a new steel gasoline tow boat, built at Point Pleasant for the Standard Oil Company’s use at Marietta, exploded and sunk. The fachinery (sic) was being tested prior to delivery to the purchaser.”
Either the damaged boat was raised and repaired or a completely new one was constructed, but according to Shipbuilding History, Sohio finally took delivery of the new towboat named Standard in July of 1923 (Huffman’s records show a June delivery). A new tank barge with the designation “Barge No. 1” was delivered at the same time.
The Standard had a steel hull that was 80 by 18 by 3.6 feet and was sternwheel, with a 60 hp. gasoline engine. The single cabin was of wood construction with an ample pilothouse situated forward on the roof. A large cylindrical tank was situated behind the pilothouse, with a single smokestack located aft of that. Photos of the boat new at Point Pleasant show a single searchlight in front of the pilothouse and a set of davits on the starboard side of the roof. A very small pilotwheel could be seen through the front of the pilothouse.
The Standard was busy after this delivering Sohio products. In 1925, the gasoline engine was replaced by a 100 hp. diesel engine. It was mentioned often by J. Mack Gamble in the Upper Ohio News columns of The Waterways Journal of that time. In 1937, the boat was active performing relief work and moving supplies and personnel for the U.S. Engineers during the disastrous flood that year.
In 1939, Sohio acquired the 400 hp. Hugh C. Blaske that had been under construction by the Henry C. Grebe Company at Chicago. Upon completion, it was named Sohio and the Standard was sold in 1940 to Capt. Ray Brookbank of Higginsport, Ohio, who renamed it Donald B after his son.
Brookbank River Transportation had inclines in locations along the Ohio River above and below Cincinnati where loaded coal barges would be dropped and then unloaded by a floating derrick. The Donald B was used to move the derrick between the locations and shift barges. Brookbank purchased a used 160 hp. Fairbanks-Morse 35E diesel engine and repowered the boat. At some point, the pilothouse was raised slightly and a cabin placed behind it and the small pilotwheel was replaced with a larger one. Otherwise, the boat remained virtually unchanged from when it entered service in 1923. The vessel was so original that it was designated a National Historic Landmark (NHL) in 1989.
In 2000, the Donald B, then owned and operated by Capt. Donald Brookbank, was sold to Capt. Steve Huffman, Vevay, Ind., who renamed the boat Barbara H, refurbished it to NHL standards and operated it as a non-profit floating museum. In 2012 it was sold to Capt. Bob Harrison of Bellaire, Ohio, who restored the original name of Standard. Harrison currently has the boat on the marine ways of his Bellaire Harbor Service for hull and cabin refurbishment. Hopefully it will remain a familiar sight well into a second century of existence.
Many thanks to both Steve Huffman and Bob Harrison for their help and information used in this piece.
Capt. David Smith can be contacted at email@example.com.
Caption for top photo: The Standard new at Marietta Manufacturing in 1923. (David Smith collection)