Letters To The Editor

Letter: The Missouri: Why Not?

Having recently attended the Missouri Navigators Meeting at Jefferson City, Mo., I heard much about recent improvements that have been made to that waterway by the Corps of Engineers. While researching for the Old Boat column, I came across a letter to the editor that appeared in the October 1, 1938, issue of The Waterways Journal that had parallels to the present-day situation regarding the Missouri.

The letter was written by Capt. Thomas P. Craig of Boonville, Mo. Craig had been the master of the 1,180 hp. diesel towboat Franklin D. Roosevelt for the Inland Waterways Corporation (Federal) when that boat and tow made what was considered the initial regular commercial trip between St. Louis and Kansas City in June of 1935. Federal then made scheduled runs in that trade as improvements were made that extended service all the way into Sioux City, Iowa.

Capt. Craig began his letter of 1938 by asking “Will the Missouri River ever lose its reputation as a wild, treacherous, dangerous and unnavigable river for commercial purposes? I am beginning to doubt it.” Craig goes on to say that he had approached owners of towboats and barges suggesting that they utilize the Missouri, only to be scoffed at.

Capt. Craig noted the many improvements that had been made to the navigable channel of the Missouri River and stated, “The Missouri of today is as tame as a lamb compared to 20 years ago.” He concluded his letter by saying, “I repeat the remark of Maj. Gen. J.L. Schley, chief, Army Engineers, after he completed a trip down the river recently. ‘The Missouri River has a permanent, navigable and usable channel, so why not use it?’”

Now, 86 years later, the Missouri River still seems to have a reputation as an unreliable stream. This is due primarily to circumstances that came about over a decade ago when a prolonged drought and attacks by environmental activists caused issues that almost ceased navigation on the waterway. Now, however, vast improvements have been made to training structures by the Corps, more improvements are planned, and traffic is returning to that river. The Missouri of today is certainly not the unreliable stream that it was 15 years ago, and I have worked it semi-regularly as a pilot over that time.

While some challenges remain, primarily due to present-day drought conditions, those won’t last forever. The Corps continues its work, and the Coast Guard has pledged to have the cutter Gasconade devote 100 percent of its time to the stream this season. To those who remain skeptical, I echo Capt. Thomas P. Craig of long ago by saying the Missouri is there. “Why not use it?”

Capt. David K. Smith

Flatwoods, Ky.