Editor’s Note: The following text is a verbatim transcription of an article featuring stories by Captain William O. Benson (1911-1986). Beginning in 1971, Benson, a retired tugboat captain, reminisced about his 40 years on the Hudson River in a regular column for the Kingston (NY) Freeman’s Sunday Tempo magazine. Captain Benson's articles were compiled and transcribed by HRMM volunteers. See more of Captain Benson’s articles here.
This article was originally published October 31, 1971.
A Riverman’s Log’ New Tempo Feature
TEMPO begins Sunday publication with several new features. And, proud as we are of all of them, the one that promises to become our own personal favorite is a regular column by Captain William O. Benson.
You’ll find the first offering by Capt. Benson taking up a full page spread in this week's issue, complete with nostalgic photos of the tugboat Lion and the steamboat M. Martin, and appearing under the banner headline “Whistles Salute Two Presidents.”
Captain William Odell Benson is a life-long resident of Sleightsburgh, where he was born on March 17, 1911, the son of the late Albert and Ida Olson Benson. As captain of the tugboat Peter Callanan, he retains memories of incidents and anecdotes along the Hudson River; has long known the waterway’s steamboats and the men who manned them. The perfect choice then to author about steamboating on the Hudson in years past.
40 Years on River
Bill Benson's reminiscences on Hudson River life and lore now join this magazine as a regular feature; will be culled from his 40 years of working, will appear weekly for a long time to come.
A river boatman his entire working life, he was closely associated with the Hudson and its steamboats long before he took to the tides himself. His father was ship's carpenter of the famous in-legend Mary Powell; held the same position for the Central Hudson Steamboat Company and the Cornell Steamboat Company. His older brother, Algot J. Benson, before his death in 1923, served as chief mate and pilot of the steamboat Onteora, had been a deckhand and quartermaster on the Mary Powell, and a quartermaster of the Long Island Sound steamers Plymouth, Concord and Naugatuck.
TEMPO’s new contributor can lay claim, as well, to having been named after a Hudson River steamboat. His middle name, “Odell,” derives from the steamboat Benjamin B. Odell, the largest steamer of the old Central Hudson Line, which entered service on the river the year Capt. Benson was born.
The wealth of anecdotes at your columnist’s recall date back to his school days at the old District No. 13 School, Port Ewen. Education completed, he left school in 1927 to work for the Hudson River Day Line at Kingston Point. The years of 1928 and 1929 saw him serving as a deckhand on the old Day Line steamer Albany. Then came a long period (1930 to 1946) as a deckhand, pilot and captain on the tugboats of the Cornell Steamboat Company.
Served on Many Tugs
Those Depression to post-World War II years saw him serving on the Cornell tugs S. L. Crosby, Lion, Jumbo, Bear, Pocahontas, Perseverance, George W. Washburn, R. G. Townsend, Edwin Terry, J. G. Rose, Cornell, Cornell No. 20, Cornell No. 21, Cornell No. 41, John D. Schoonmaker, Rob, and William S. Earl.
During 1946 he captained the tugboat maintained at Poughkeepsie to assist tows to pass safely through that city’s bridges. Since 1947 he’s been pilot and captain on the Callanan Road Improvement Company's tugboats Callanan No. 1 and Peter Callanan, and other tugs that from time to time have been chartered by the Callanan Company.
The steamboat columns we've received in advance read like a riverman’s log of humor and heritage. Suffice it to say that we're looking forward to each new Benson column with as much enthusiasm as any other TEMPO reader. We welcome the captain aboard with a salute of three whistles; look forward to pleasurable hours of reading about the men and the boats of the Hudson's past in the months ahead.
Tug "Callanan No. 1" a Kingston, N.Y. tug at Troy, N.Y., June 25, 1954, 12:30 p.m. Left to right in Pilot House: W.O. Benson (Sleightsburgh, NY); Peter Tucker, (Kingston, NY); Ed Carpenter, cook (Ulster Park, NY); Bud Atkins, deckhand (Port Ewen, NY); Chris Mancuso, deckhand (Greenpoint, NY); Jim Malene, 1st Assistant Engineer (Kingston, NY);Teddy/Theodore Crowl, 2nd Assistant Engineer, (Farmingdale, NY).
Captain William Odell Benson was a life-long resident of Sleightsburgh, N.Y., where he was born on March 17, 1911, the son of the late Albert and Ida Olson Benson. He served as captain of Callanan Company tugs including Peter Callanan, and Callanan No. 1 and was an early member of the Hudson River Maritime Museum. He retained, and shared, lifelong memories of incidents and anecdotes along the Hudson River.
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This blog is written by Hudson River Maritime Museum staff, volunteers and guest contributors.
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