The Laura H as built in 1927.  (Photo courtesy Capt. Steve Huffman)
Old Boat Column

A Tale of Two Boats—Or Maybe Just One

In thinking about this special Fleeting & Harbor Services issue, a particular boat came to mind. This boat was the first vessel for a family that initiated a fleeting and harbor service on the upper Ohio River that was in business for some 60 years. As is often the case with some of these old towboats, the research raised some questions and inconsistencies.

In 1927, Charles R. Hutchison had a sternwheel towboat built that had a wood hull that was 65 by 16 feet. It was powered by a 120 hp. Fairbanks-Morse diesel engine and was named Laura H. The Inland River Record would show in later years that the boat was built at Keithsburg, Ill., but the List of Merchant Vessels (List) would give Dubuque, Iowa, as where the vessel was built. In any case, it had a wooden superstructure, and was built pool-style, with an elevated pilothouse that had a cabin behind that. A photo shows that it had a hog-chain system, and at the after end of the second deck, against the splashboard, was what appears to be an outhouse.

The IRR listings stated that in 1935, the wood hull was replaced with a new one of steel “at Keokuk, Iowa, on the riverbank just above the locks.” The List would record no changes for the boat from 1927 through 1945. It gives an Official Number of 227042, the dimensions of 65 by 16 feet, a gross tonnage of 40 and the owner as Hutchison. The IRR said that the Laura H was sold to Central Barge Company, Chicago, in 1943.

Not only does the List not record this sale until 1945, but Capt. Norman Hillman in his book “One Man and the Mighty Mississippi” tells of being sent to the boat for Central Barge Company in early 1940. He spent six weeks aboard as a pilot on the Kanawha River. The boat was in a short coal run and working daylight only. Hillman says, “The quarters on the Laura H were not so good, so I found a room in town not too far from the dock where we tied up at night.”

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Central may have been operating the boat under charter when Hillman was on it, but in 1946 the List gives Central Barge as the owner, and the name had been changed to Resolute. A new build date of 1936 is shown, with a new Official Number of 234692, hull dimensions of 71.8 by 18.4, gross tonnage of 56, and the place built was given as Winfield, Mo. IRR listings for the Resolute show Central Barge purchasing the boat in 1943, but also says it was renamed at the same time. Central Barge was merged into the Mississippi Valley Barge Line Company in 1952. The Resolute was sold in August 1954 to White Bros. Inc., Belle, W.Va.

The Resolute at Catlettsburg, Ky. (Dan Owen photo courtesy of Capt. Steve Huffman)
The Resolute at Catlettsburg, Ky. (Dan Owen photo courtesy of Capt. Steve Huffman)

Capt. Clarence Boggs had been in the Marines during the early 1950s, and being single, sent his pay home for his mother to save for him. When he was discharged, he went to work at the Kenova Terminal (KT) coal dock at Kenova, W.Va., Mile 316.7 Ohio River, just above the mouth of the Big Sandy River. He and his father, Capt. Merdie Boggs, operated the diesel sternwheeler Wild Goose there. They had noticed an increase in the number of line-haul towboats that were having to tie off and spend hours dropping, picking up and doing tow work at the docks in the area.

In February 1955, using the savings Clarence had accumulated while in the service, they purchased the Resolute from White Bros. and formed Merdie Boggs & Sons Towing and Harbor Service (MB&S). For the first time, in 1955 under Boggs ownership, the List shows the boat to have a radio call sign—WG 6603. In the beginning, they kept the Resolute tied behind the cells at KT, but as their business increased, they leased property from the city of Catlettsburg, Ky., and made a landing there. In a short time, they were so busy that both men left their jobs at KT and worked for the new company full time.

As a teenager, this writer grew up hanging out at the Boggs landing in the early 1970s and heard many tales about the Resolute from those who had been there from the beginnings of the company. Capts. Clarence and Merdie both spoke of how well the small 120 hp. boat would back. Clarence felt that this was due to the hull shape and said that the rakes on each end of the hull were identical. In 1956, they added the sternwheel F.L. Bowers (WJ November 21, 2022) to their fleet and included short-haul towing in the services provided.

In 1959, they had a new twin-screw harbor boat built, which was named Mark M. In 1960, the Resolute was sold to Mansbach Metals Company, Ashland, Ky., which briefly used it for shifting. It later sank at their landing and was dismantled. According to Capt. Bob Harrison, the hull of the boat survived and was at Silver Grove, Ky., for a time; the last he knew, it was at New Richmond, Ohio. For many years, Capt. Clarence Boggs had the brass bell from the boat at his house. It was inscribed LAURA H.

MB&S was among the first harbor services to offer midstream fueling for passing line haul towboats, working in conjunction with Ashland Oil & Refining Company.

In 1972, Clarence left MB&S to start C&J Towing. Capt. Merdie passed away in the early 1980s, but the company continued to be operated by the family until the assets were sold to Ingram in 2015. At that time, MB&S had six harbor boats and several fleeting areas in the Catlettsburg harbor.

Now, the question remains—was the Laura H of 1927 just rebuilt in 1935 or 1936, or were parts of it used in the construction of a completely new vessel? The new Official Number would seem to indicate that it was, in fact, a new boat. As the Resolute, the boat had a single wooden cabin with a slightly elevated pilothouse. A single smokestack was located forward of the pilothouse, and there was no upper cabin or hog chains as the Laura S had in the early wood hull days.

Caption for top photo: The Laura H as built in 1927.  (Photo courtesy Capt. Steve Huffman)

Capt. David Smith can be contacted at