Steamboat People: Captain Fred Way
Fredrick Way Jr. (February 17, 1901 - October 3, 1992) was the youngest steamboat captain on the Ohio River and Mississippi River. He was the author of books on the boats that ply the inland waterways. He captained the flat-bottom, stern paddlewheeler, the Delta Queen, from San Francisco, down the Pacific coast, through the Panama Canal, across the Gulf of Mexico and up the Mississippi and Ohio rivers to Pittsburgh in 1946
He was born on February 17, 1901. Little is known of his youth. He apparently gravitated to a life on the river early, as he obtained his pilot's license in 1923 at the age of 22 and purchased his first steamboat, the Betsy Ann, in 1925, at the age of 24. He married Grace Morrison and they resided in Sewickley, Pennsylvania.
Using the iron-hulled Betsy Ann, Way ran a packet boat between Cincinnati and Pittsburgh for a number of years. Prior to Way's purchase of the Betsy Ann, she had held the packet boat speed record on the Mississippi River since the 1900s, winning and retaining a set of gold-tipped elk horns. In August 1928, Way and the Betsy Ann lost the elk horns to Captain Christopher Becker Greene of the steamboat Chris Greene, in a race from Cincinnati to New Richmond.
In 1933 Way wrote a book of his experiences as a river packet boat captain called The Log of the Betsy Ann. The book was moderately successful, allowing Way to form the Steamboat Photo Company (SPC) in 1939. SPC gathered the largest collection of steamboat photos then known, and became the impetus for the publication of Way's Steamboat Directory in 1944 and the formation of the Sons and Daughters of Pioneer Rivermen (SDPR), of which Way was a founding member and later a president. SDPR became the driving force behind the formation of the Ohio River Museum in Marietta, Ohio.
In 1948, at the request of his friend Tom Greene, Way captained the 21-year-old Delta Queen from San Francisco to Pittsburgh. He wrote about the adventure of piloting the paddle wheeler down the west coast, through the Panama Canal, across the Gulf of Mexico and up the Mississippi River to Pittsburgh in The Saga of the Delta Queen.
Way continued to be an active writer, collector of steamboat and packet ship photographs, and preserver of the history of boats on inland waterways. He started publishing the quarterly journal The S&D Reflector for the SDPR organization in March 1964.
He died on October 3, 1992 in Marietta, Ohio. His cremains were taken to Sewickley for burial next to his beloved Grace by the Str. Delta Queen.
· The Log of the Betsy Ann; Robert McBride Co, New York, 1933
· Pilotin' Comes Natural; Robert McBride Co, New York, 1943
· The Allegheny; Farrar & Rinehart, New York, 1942 (Rivers of America Series)
· The Ships & Sailing Albums Number 1, Mississippi Stern-Wheelers, Kalmbach Publishing, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 1947
· The Saga of the Delta Queen; Young and Klein, Inc, Cincinnati, Ohio 1951
· She Takes the Horns: Steamboat Racing on the Western Waters; The Picture Marine Publishing Company, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1953
· Way's Packet Directory, 1848-1983: Passenger Steamboats of the Mississippi River System since the Advent of Photography in Mid-Continent America; Ohio University Press, 1983
Packet GENERAL WOOD on left, BETSY ANN on right; at Davis Island Lock, Bellevue, Ohio, August 20, 1921.
BETSY ANN (1899-1940)
Sternwheel Packet/Towboat/Excursion boat
Ran on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers
Built by Iowa Iron Works, and the engines by Clinton Novelty Iron Works; whistle from the STELLA WILDS.
The BETSY ANN was first owned by R. F. Learnerd, Natchez, Mississippi, and named for his wife Elizabeth.
She ran principally in the Natchez-Bayou Sara trade and carried the U.S. mail. She was sold in fall of 1921 to D. Grover Gill, Gallipolis, Ohio, and others who ran her Pittsburgh-Portsmouth, then Pittsburgh-Cincinnati, incorporated as Independent Packet Company. Frederick Way and Frederick Way, Jr. bought stock late 1925 and continued running her Pittsburgh-Cincinnati into 1929. She ran Pittsburgh-Louisville summer 1930, then Pittsburgh-Charleston, and finally returned to the Pittsburgh-Cincinnati trade November 3, 1930 through April 25, 1931. She left Pittsburgh November 2, 1931 and went to Memphis under charter to tow cotton. She made one trip to Caruthersville and another to Vicksburg, returning to Memphis December 6, 1931. She was sold to John I. Hay Company, spring 1932, and was put to towing barges. She was dismantled at the St. Louis wharf in fall 1940.
The boat is best remembered for having run three staged races at Cincinnati, on July 24, 1928 with the packet CHRIS GREENE, on July 16, 1929 with the packet TOM GREENE, and again in 1930 with the TOM GREENE. These events led to the "rebirth" of steamboat racing as a popular sport.
110648- 5 x 7 Press Release Photo
Captain Tom Greene of the Steamer Tom Greene who hopes to defeat the Steamer Betsy Ann in a race on the Ohio River from the Cincinnati, Ohio wharfboat to the new Richmond dam which is 25 miles away on July 16th, 1929.
Rubber stamped July 20, 1929 Credit ACME
Tom was photographed in front of a distracting brick wall which I replaced with a detail from a riverscape I took north of Hannibal, MO in 2005 of Ziegler Chute, a backwater of the Mississippi River which flows between the Missouri shore and Ziegler Island.
Attached my favorite photo of the pilot wheel from Fred Way's beloved BETSY ANN displayed in an alcove made of windows through which the Mississippi River can be seen.
Golden Eagle River Museum
Bee Tree County Park
2701 Finestown Road
Saint Louis, MO 63129
Some of the Golden Eagle River museum's collection of log books are now in the St. Louis Mercantile library. Among them are the logs of the steamers BETSY ANN, DUBUQUE, GOLDEN EAGLE. They also have the ledger from Cap'n Buck Leyhe's Eagle Boat Store.
Detail from the Betsy Ann pilot house.
May 9, 1959.
On June 20, 1963 the new U.S. Mail Packet boat Lady Grace will leave Wheeling that evening to re-enact a historic but commonplace event which occurred 100 years ago when West Virginia became the 35th state.
A formal contract has been entered into between the U.S. Post Office Dept. and Walter McCoy, President of the newly organized Wheeling, Sistersville & Charleston Packetboat Co., of Sistersville, W. Va. to carry U.S. Mail between Wheeling and Charleston by way of the various cities along the West Virginia shore of the Ohio River.
The Lady Grace is owned and operated by Capt. F. Way, Jr. who is well known in Marietta and who is the famous river pilot, author, historian as well as "Mr. Ohio River".
The Lady Grace is an authentic miniature replica of the old-time 1863 sternwheel packet boat which operated on the inland rivers a century ago.
Capt. Way will be assisted by Capt. Walter McCoy of Sistersville and President of the newly organized Packet boat company.
Bob Henderson, Postmaster of Sistersville will act as "Route Agent" for the U.S. Post Office Dept.
The new packet boat company has prepared an attractive cover to be used on this trip and the cachet will combine the West Virginia statehood theme with the river packetboat motif.
In addition to the printed cachet each cover carried will be endorsed with a rubber stamp indicating it was carried by riverboat.
The postage on all covers will be paid by using the West Virginia Statehood U.S. Postage stamp and the mail taken on at Wheeling will bear the "First Day" of issue cancellation.
The Lady Grace will stay at Wheeling all day to receive mail and will leave late evening on Thursday, June 20, 1963 and will make stops at Moundsville, New Martinsville, Paden City and Sistersville on Thursday, June 21st.
On Friday, June 22nd stops will be made at St. Marys, Williamstown and Parkersburg.
On June 23rd stops will be made at Ravenswood and Pt. Pleasant and the final destination of Charleston up the Kanawha River will be reached June 24th.
All mail picked up at the ten post offices on this route will be "back stamped" at Charleston upon arrival and will then be forwarded to the proper destination.
For "First Day Cover" collectors and philatelists this event should be unique and of unusual interest.
The last "packet boat" mail issue was provided in October 1929 during the celebration of the complete canalization of the Ohio River.
People interested can purchase First Day Covers at .50 and the complete set of ten Covers including Wheeling at $3.50.
This is what is known as a Full Service package offer.
Photo taken by "Round and Round's" sharp-eyed camera on special invitation at the opening of the river celebration of the Pittsburgh Bicentennial, Saturday, May 9, 1959.
Capt. John W. Zenn is casting a wreath in the Allegheny River from the Lady Grace; Sea Scout David Woodford is watching.
Capt. Frederick Way, Jr. is in the pilothouse and the Sprague, the largest towboat ever built on the Inland Rivers, is in the background.
The Sprague was on a temporary loan for the Bicentennial from the city of Vicksburg, Miss.
The Sprague's steam whistles are housed in Campus Martius Museum here in Marietta.
Cornwell's "Kentucky Riverboat" painting of Fred Way's BETSY ANN and a greeting card take-off signed with the initials F.S.
Dean Cornwell's painting/illustration of Fred Way's BETSY ANN which appeared on the cover of TRUE magazine FEB 1953. Cornwell's painting/illustration for Ben Lucian Burman's story LOW WATER ON THE MISSISSIPPI covers pages 52 and 53 in the same issue of TRUE. Both of these paintings belong to the Sons & Daughters of Pioneer Rivermen and are on display in the Ohio River Museum at Marietta, Ohio.
The photo on the left of Fred Way's BETSY ANN from the Murphy Library makes an interesting comparison to Dean Cornwell's painting of the boat that was featured on the cover of TRUE magazine in February, 1953.
The BETSY underwent a number of changes in the design of details during its life span and Cornwell chose to represent her with her most attractive features. It is likely that this was only one of several photos Cornwell used for reference and there are obvious differences between them such as the angle of the boat which in both is very similar in the depiction of the bow but the three quarter angle in the painting is shows more of the port side as can be seen in photo in the Cincinnati library's collection that can be seen here: wiki.cincinnatilibrary.org
The foreshortening and change of scale to the looming swinging stage in the foreground of the photo was expertly handled by Cornwell to make it less obtrusive. The smokestacks are bigger in diameter in the painting, with fancy crowns on top and with the anchor suspended in between.
The treatment of the "fancywork" on the roof of the pilot house dates from 1930 when Fred Way came up with the beautiful design to replace the old railing after it had been raked off by the branches of a low hanging sycamore tree.
The height of the railings on the boiler deck and hurricane roof are opposite in proportion from the photo to the painting. In the photo the railing treatment is narrower above, wider below, in the painting that is reversed to higher on the hurricane roof and narrower on the boiler deck. There is no railing treatment on the roof of the Texas cabin, instead it is constructed of solid lumber.
Print of a painting Cornwell made for an Early Times Whisky Ad '52 of the BETSY ANN which was entitled Kentucky River Boat and measures 11 3/4 X 13 3/4 inches floating inside 16 X 20 (margins on all 4 sides). It appeared in the same TRUE magazine issue that had Cornwell's BETSY ANN steaming towards us on the cover and the Cornwell double page illustration of the TENNESSEE BELLE pilot house done for the Ben Lucien Burman story.
Way's Packet Directory Number 0604
Way's Steam Towboat Directory Number T0245
Built at Dubuque, Iowa in 1899 by Iowa Iron Works, the engines by Clinton Novelty Iron Works; her 3 chime whistle came from the STELLA WILDS.
The BETSY ANN was first owned by R. F. Learnerd of Natchez, Mississippi, and named for his wife Elizabeth; Learnerd ran the BETSY principally in the Natchez-Bayou Sara trade and carried U.S. mail. She was sold in the fall of 1921 to D. Grover Gill of Gallipolis, Ohio, and others who ran her Pittsburgh-Portsmouth, then Pittsburgh-Cincinnati, incorporated as Independent Packet Company.
Frederick Way and Frederick Way, Jr. bought stock in late 1925 and continued running her Pittsburgh-Cincinnati into 1929.
She ran Pittsburgh-Louisville in the summer of 1930, then Pittsburgh-Charleston, and finally returned to the Pittsburgh-Cincinnati trade November 3, 1930 through April 25, 1931.
She left Pittsburgh November 2, 1931 and went to Memphis under charter to tow cotton.
She made one trip to Caruthersville and another to Vicksburg, returning to Memphis December 6, 1931.
She was sold to John I. Hay Company, spring 1932, and was put to towing barges.
She was dismantled at the St. Louis wharf in fall 1940.
The boat is best remembered for having run three staged races at Cincinnati, on July 24, 1928 with the packet CHRIS GREENE, on July 16, 1929 with the packet TOM GREENE, and again in 1930 with the TOM GREENE.
These events led to the "rebirth" of steamboat racing as a popular sport.
Betsy Ann (1899-1940)
Sternwheel Packet/Towboat/Excursion boat
Steamboat Race on the Ohio River, July 1929
Video on YouTube of race 'twixt Way's BETSY ANN and the Green family's TOM GREENE.
The quality of this film could probably be restored considerably if it was entrusted to a film lab that possessed state of the art digital technology.
Steamboat Race on the Ohio River, July 1929
Speed Graphic Film and Video
Published on May 27, 2018
In the 1920's, traffic on the Ohio River looked much as it did in the 19th century--flat-bottomed paddlewheel steamboats, ideal for working a shallow waterway. Frederick Way Jr. loved the river and the boats, and in 1925 persuaded his father to help him get into the steamboat business. He operated the BETSY ANN until 1932, when the Great Depression and competition from trucking forced him to sell it. In 1928 and again in 1929, he raced the BETSY ANN against boats of the rival Greene Line, and in the process, garnered a good deal of publicity for the river trade. The press saw it as a revival of the great steamboat races of the 19th century. In truth, it was a last flourish before the end. According to contemporary accounts, the race started in Cincinnati and went upstream for about 20 miles to New Richmond.
With the exception of images credited to public institutions,
everything on this page is from a private collection.
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All captions provided by Dave Thomson, Steamboats.com primary contributor and historian.