Huffman Towing’s mv. R.H. Huffman in 1980. (Jeff Yates photo)
Old Boat Column

A True Missouri River Towboat Returns Home

Those who peruse the Missouri River Daily Boat Report put out Monday through Friday by the Corps of Engineers noticed something curious in mid-May. A little digging, research of the government sites and a few phone calls confirmed that a “child” of the Missouri River had returned home after an absence of nearly 30 years. So, while not as “old” as many of the boats we usually detail, this one should be interesting nonetheless.

The issue of The Waterways Journal published on December 22, 1962, carried the Annual Review of Waterways Events compiled by J. Mack Gamble (who had authored the Upper Ohio News column since 1918). Early in this review, Gamble detailed some of the new boats that had been built for the rivers in 1962. Under the heading “For Missouri River” was found the following description:

“A most interesting vessel is the new triple-screw towboat R.H. Huffman, built for the Huffman Towing Company by the Missouri Valley Steel Inc., Leavenworth, Kas. It was appropriate for this boat to be built on the Missouri River for it was specifically designed for successful operation on that stream, between Kansas City and Omaha. The boat is 125 by 35 feet by 9 feet, but with an indicated draft of five feet. A new and unusual feature of the Huffman is pilothouse control for the W.W. Patterson electric winches, this to cope with possible groundings and break-up of tow. The three 800 hp. Superior Diesels are equipped with Elliott turbochargers and operate through Wichita clutches and Lufkin gears to turn the Coolidge four-blade propellers.”

After describing searchlights, radios, generators, pumps and other gear aboard the new vessel, the piece concluded with “The 2,400 hp. vessel was designed for towing cement.” And tow cement it did for many, many years between Sugar Creek, Mo., at Mile 355, just below Kansas City, to just above Omaha, Neb., near Mile 624. Issues of the Inland River Record from 1962 and shortly afterward indicate that the R.H. Huffman was named for the founder of Huffman Towing Company, Clayton, Mo., and that the engines were White Superior 40-S-2X-8 diesels.

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Our previous column mentioned the Leavenworth shipyard that built this boat, noting that it was set up by the Missouri Valley Bridge & Iron Company to build vessels for the war effort during World War II. The shipyard, which continued building craft even after the war as Missouri Valley Steel Inc., had a reputation for turning out craft that were heavily constructed. The towboats built there were said to handle well.

The R.H. Huffman, with the radio call sign of WS 8116 (according to Capt. Dave Dewey) would leave the Missouri River after the season ended about December 1 each year and then could been seen on many areas of the Mississippi River until the season began again the first of April. In September 1995, the boat was sold to Choctaw Transportation Company, Dyersburg, Tenn. After a lengthy layup under that ownership, it was sold in 2006 to Yazoo River Towing Inc., Vicksburg, Miss.

It lay at Vicksburg for several years and by 2013 was observed sitting on the bank and presenting a very rusty appearance. Many had feared that it was scheduled for the gas axe, but soon an abundance of hull work was done, and the cabin bulkheads were conditioned and primed. The interior of the boat was completely gutted, a third cabin added under the pilothouse, and the original Superior engines were replaced by three Cat 3512 diesels with Twin Disc 5.17:1 reduction gears providing a total of 3,400 hp. Following this complete rebuild, the boat came out as virtually a new vessel, named Jackson Platte, in 2017.

As the Jackson Platte on the Tenn-Tom in 2021. (Author’s photo)
As the Jackson Platte on the Tenn-Tom in 2021. (Author’s photo)

The Jackson Platte was widely traveled on the river system. In mid-May, the Missouri Boat Report began showing a vessel under those of the Capital Sand Company that was described as “Jamie Leigh (Jackson Platte).” Since 1994 the company has had a boat named Jamie Leigh, owned under a subsidiary company called Jefferson City River Terminal Inc. (JCRT). This boat, built as the Dominique You in 1975 was shown in the same reports as “Off MOR.” It was ultimately confirmed that the Jackson Platte has been acquired by Capital/JCRT and renamed Jamie Leigh. The other Jamie Leigh is being offered for sale.

So, welcome home R.H. Huffman, and best wishes on the Missouri!

Capt. David Smith can be contacted at

Caption for top photo: Huffman Towing’s mv. R.H. Huffman in 1980. (Jeff Yates photo)