Pilot Houses, Page 1




These photos tell the story of how I came to get the pilot wheel from the little 1929 sternwheel towboat BLUE WING, which pushed sand and gravel barges at Keokuk, Iowa through the 1930's and 1940's.

Attached photos taken by Bob Miller (who was one of the GEO. M VERITY's caretakers for years) of the circa 1929 gas boat BLUE WING that pushed sand and gravel barges at Keokuk.

There the BLUE WING sits, an abandoned derelict along river's edge near the RR tracks.

Somewhere I also have a photo by Bob of the BLUE WING in the Keokuk lock and dam that I'll have to find and scan.

Some RR men who stopped along here one day sawed off the pilot wheel and delivered it to their friends Ike and Dorothy Eichenberger who lived not many yards from the Mississippi and RR tracks at Saverton (where there's a lock and dam and not much else) south of Hannibal 6.44 miles, see photo I took of the riverfront that runs in front of the Eichenberger property where their son Dean (who has been lock master there) built a huge state of the art luxury log "cabin" near where his folks' cottage stood.

Steve Huffman sent me the following information today:

"The Inland River Record books state that the Blue Wing burned in 1953 while still owned by Keokuk Sand Co. Bob's photos of the Blue Wing derelict must have been taken before it burned. (also your pilotwheel must have been liberated before '53)."

Ike was a trusted senior clerk in a Hannibal bank who saw the less qualified young sons of bank presidents get promoted over him to executive positions, but he was loved and trusted with the estates of rural and city folks of varying degrees of prosperity.

Ike was also a distinguished anthropologist who had hunted arrowheads and other Indian artifacts near Hannibal since he was a boy and made remarkable replicas of arrowheads that are in the Smithsonian and other collections.

When my dear friend Hurley Hagood (1912-2002) was a boy he was traipsing around north of Hannibal along the Bay de Charles when he saw Ike chasing butterflies with a big net "I thought he was crazy!" Hurley said, having never seen anyone doing this before.

Hurley and Ike became bosom buddies and some years later when Hurley was courting Roberta Roland at Hannibal La Grange College, Ike met Roberta's older sister Dorothy. The latter upstaged the Hurley and Roberta by persuading Ike to marry her the week before her sister and Hurley got married. Hurley and Ike founded "Camp Oko-Tipi" just northwest of the Eichenberger property at Saverton. The two men built the first rustic structures which are still in use at the camp for boys and girls.

The youngest Roland sister Goldena married Oliver Howard and they lived at New London. Goldena produced an entertaining HISTORY OF RALLS COUNTY and Roberta and Hurley wrote a bunch of books about Hannibal. I designed the dust jackets for all the but very first book on Hannibal that they wrote and they insisted I write a couple of chapters in their last book and asked me to put my name after theirs. This was the best of all the jackets I made and the back had more illustrations on it and I also came up with the title for this book, another book called HANNIBAL YESTERDAYS and a book called HANNIBAL BRIDGES THE MISSISSIPPI.

Hurley and Roberta took me down to visit Ike and Dorothy at Saverton and I was shown the pilot wheel from the BLUE WING on the landing half way downstairs to the basement which was the only part of the house that got flooded in high water since they were on a gentle rise above the river in a little cottage. Ike was an invalid by then after a stroke and Dorothy was his caregiver. After Ike passed away in 1988 Dorothy called me and asked me how much I'd give her for the pilot wheel and I said $250.00 off the top of my head. That was fine with her and Hurley, who built furniture as a hobby, built a sturdy crate for the wheel with the help of his younger brother Don. A freighting company called me at work one day and said they had a crate to deliver from "A Hurley HOG-GOOD" so I drove home and met them there. The walnut and oak had turned gray from the time it was exposed to the elements when the boat was a derelict but I applied Tung Oil with brushes and rags and the brown color returned to the wheel. I have it hanging on the wall behind a big case holding Jim Hale's 5 foot model of the generic cotton packet he named the CITY OF MONROE, basically a shortened version of Captain Cooley's beloved AMERICA.

Roberta at Willow Care nursing home in Hannibal will be 103 on December 7th.

The Aquila Pilot House

steamboat pilot houses

Attached is my conventional view of the Aquila pilot house from the opposite angle. I evidently clicked the shutter in the first photo I sent you before I had a chance to flip up the flash unit and a short time exposure ensued while I rotated the camera in my hand. Why the stairs are relatively normal-looking is the strange part. I rotated the "vortex" picture in photo shop so the stairs were plumbed up, cropped the picture down to the proportions I sent it to you at and then cooled off the color from the orange shade that it had to something closer to what the actual colors were. Looks better in cool values like this, more otherworldly.

Glad you enjoyed it. Can think of worse places to spend eternity than behind a pilot wheel in a pilot house steering through infinity with Sam Clemens. It does make a nice Twilight Zone illustration of a parallel universe reached by entering the door of the a steamboat's pilot house. The shard like triangles that emanated from the window sashes on the back of the pilot house reminded me of Lyonel Feininger's cubist/expressionist paintings.

steamboat pilot houses

Here's the pilot wheel in the magical Aquila pilot house. I clone one of the handles and used it to replace one that had been busted off by a souvenir hunter perhaps, you can't even tell which one it was now. The glare and reflection from the flash couldn't be avoided here. The mural "outside" the window leaves a bit to be desired, needed an accomplished landscape painter to pull it off.

steamboat pilot houses

Inside the "haunted (pilot) house" - neat color and atmosphere. The "bisected" giant boat model is outside there, it's only the portside of the boat. I suggested to them that they put a mirror behind it which would visually simulate a complete boat.

steamboat pilot houses

While taking photos of the Aquila's old pilot house in the Dubuque museum I inadvertently took this bizarre photo where the stairs look fairly reasonable but the windows etc. are rotated and a vortex is simulated. Surrealism ahoy!

vor-tex (vôrtks) n. pl. vor·tex·es or vor·ti·ces (-t-sz) 1. A spiral motion of fluid within a limited area, especially a whirling mass of water or air that sucks everything near it toward its center. 2. A place or situation regarded as drawing into its center all that surrounds it.

The Golden Eagle Pilothouse

steamboat pilot houses

steamboat pilot houses

steamboat pilot houses

In 1935 the Eagle Packet Co. remodeled the Wm. GARIG and rechristened her the GOLDEN EAGLE, the last overnight passenger vessel wooden hull on the Mississippi, Ohio Rivers and tributaries. On May 18, 1947 the GOLDEN EAGLE ran aground on Tower Island and sank. Ruth Ferris salvaged the pilot house and moved it to the playground of the school where she taught young John Hartford among others.

Eventually the GOLDEN EAGLE's pilot house was proudly on display at the Missouri Historical Society in the Jefferson Memorial, St. Louis for many years UNTIL a change in administration put it in storage. The excuse given was that the pilot house was NOT AUTHENTIC ENOUGH (?!) and would not be put back on display.

Awhile back a group raised $10,000 or so to donate to the Society with the understanding that the money would go to reassembling the pilot house and putting it back on display. So far that hasn't happened although the pilot wheel from the pilot house is on display. All of us who made pilgrimages to see the pilot house and thrill to the patina of the past and all the history associated with it miss her it dearly.

Attached some photos I took in the early '80's there, all time exposures with a tripod including the one of myself where I set up the tripod below the front window, lined it up through the view finder and asked a visitor to press the cable release while I stood at the pilot wheel.

Golden Eagle pilot house

Detail of GOLDEN EAGLE's pilot house with her 3 chime whistle sounding off courtesy of much steam as it could handle.

steamboat photo

Here's a good photo of the interior of the SPRAGUE's pilot house. She had the biggest pilot wheel of them all (13 1/2 feet!). Wish I could have visited the boat before she was burned in '74. She must have been an awesome sight to behold in person.

Photo Courtesy of Murphy Library at the University of Wisconsin - La Crosse
Steamboat Collection Photographs


This fellow may have been a retired riverman who served as a tour-guide aboard the RIVER QUEEN when she was moored across the river from Hannibal, MO as a tourist attraction in the mid-60's. In the photo of Ben Burman in the same pilot house (when the boat was named the GORDON C. GREENE) the pilot wheel had a light "blond" finish, in the attached photo the wheel was stained a walnut color.
The moisture condensation inside the windows suggests that the photo was probably taken early in the morning after a cold night. The print was made from a negative in the Missouri Room of the Hannibal Public Library.


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everything on this page is from a private collection.
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