The Iron Duke No. 3, new in 1935. (Photo courtesy of Tom O’Dell)
Old Boat Column

The Iron Dukes

There have been four towboats operating on the Great Kanawha River bearing the name Iron Duke. The first of these was built in 1875, and it was a wood-hull, steam-prop tug that was 88 by 13 feet and had twin screws. While Way’s Steam Towboat Directory lists it as number T1201 and states that it was built at Portsmouth, Ohio, the 1895 List of US Merchant Vessels (LIST) shows that it was built at Charleston, W.Va. Way’s says that it is not known who owned it originally, but, at some point, it was sold to the Campbells Creek Coal Company.

Way’s quotes Capt. E.A. Burnside, long the superintendent of the Campbells Creek fleet, as having said that this Iron Duke was first used on the canal between Portsmouth and Cleveland, Ohio, as well as on the Ohio River. The machinery on the boat was supposedly built in Chillicothe, Ohio, about the time of the Civil War. Under Campbells Creek ownership, it was used as a harbor boat at Dana, W.Va., on the Kanawha, the present-day Port Amherst.

This first Iron Duke was converted into a combination pump-and-tug at Point Pleasant, W.Va., in 1912, but it was then dismantled there in 1913, the same year that a second Iron Duke (T1203) was built at the Campbells Creek company shipyard facilities at Dana. This boat was also twin-prop and had a wood hull that was 83 by 13 feet. The engines, which were 12’s, -10-inch stroke, were new, and the single boiler was only 1 year old. The props were 58 inches in diameter. According to Way’s, Capt. Jerome “Rome” Childers was master of this boat for some time. Childers was an accomplished artist of river vessels and would retire in the 1950s as master of the mv. James D. Francis of Island Creek Coal.

This second Iron Duke was dismantled in 1935 when yet another boat of that name was built by the Marietta Manufacturing Company, Point Pleasant. While it was also steam and twin-prop, this Iron Duke (T1204) had a steel hull that measured 80.3 by 18 feet. I have never seen a machinery description for this vessel, but the horsepower is always listed as 300. This was a handsome boat with a single cabin and a large pilothouse situated above that. A single smokestack was midway on the roof.

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The cabin of this boat had a very clean appearance due to being fitted with transom windows and had the name painted in large letters on each side near the after end. It was placed under the ownership of the Ohio and Kanawha Transportation Company, a subsidiary of the main owners, which had become the Hatfield-Campbells Creek Coal Company. Across the front of the pilothouse could be seen “O and K Transportation Co.”

As built, it had a model bow with no towknees, but at some point, they were added. As had its predecessors, it operated at Dana, which had now been renamed Reed, W.Va. In 1948, the 13-year-old Iron Duke was modernized and converted from steam to diesel. The steam machinery was removed, and a pair of Cummins diesels totaling 300 hp. were installed. The tall single stack was replaced with a shorter, more streamlined one.

In 1951, the Hatfield-Campbells Creek assets were acquired by Amherst Coal Company, which placed the fleet of boats and barges in Amherst Barge Company. In 1955, the Iron Duke was again repowered, this time with GM 6-71 diesels, and then had 270 hp. In 1964, Amherst took delivery of a brand-new Iron Duke, and rather than dismantling, sold the older one to William Stinson, McKeesport, Pa. It was listed in the Inland River Record through 1972 and then disappeared.

The new Iron Duke as shown in the Annual Review issue of the WJ on December 18, 1965. (Author’s collection)
The new Iron Duke as shown in the Annual Review issue of the WJ on December 18, 1965. (Author’s collection)

The new Iron Duke of 1964 was built by Hillman Barge & Construction Company at Brownsville, Pa. It was of all-steel construction with a hull 65 by 21.3 feet. It was powered by a pair of Cat D-353 diesels and Cat 4.09:1 reduction gears providing 760 hp. This boat, with the radio call sign WX 8983, was similar to a very popular series of small towboats built by Hillman but had only a single cabin with a slightly raised pilothouse rather than two levels of cabin as the others of the series had.

In 1977, the Iron Duke was placed under the Amherst subsidiary Madison Coal & Supply Company. In the mid-1980s, it was rebuilt, adding a second cabin under the pilothouse. The boat was used throughout the Kanawha and nearby Ohio River area and then spent several years as a harbor boat at Point Pleasant, usually the pet command of Capt. Bill Simpkins, and later Capt. Bobby McCoy and others. In 2007, it was repowered with a pair of Cummins KTA 19-M3 diesels and Twin Disc 5.95:1 gears, making it 1,000 hp.

For the past several years it has been stationed at the Kirby Kanawha Valley Fleet at Institute, W.Va., on the Kanawha. In 2010, the name of the owning company became Amherst Madison. Amherst has been in existence since 1893, and for nearly 150 years there has been a boat named Iron Duke, all operating on the Kanawha River.

Caption for top photo: The Iron Duke No. 3, new in 1935. (Photo courtesy of Tom O’Dell)

Capt. David Smith can be contacted at