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 June 15, 1975.
“Naw, we just didn’t want the people on shore to think we were showing you the way to Poughkeepsie.”
One day back in 1927, the Poughkeepsie and Highland ferryboat “Brinckerhoff” has been up at the Hiltebrant shipyard at Connelly for minor repairs. When she was ready to go back down river it was about 3 p.m. At the same time, the "Jacob H. Tremper” of the Central Hudson Steamboat Company’s Albany to Newburgh service was unloading freight at her Rondout Creek dock on Ferry Street.
The “Brinckerhoff" came down just as the "Tremper" finished unloading her freight and was getting ready to wind around. The ferryboat passed by and fell in behind the Rhinecliff ferry "Transport" on her way out to the river.
After the "Tremper" completed her turn around and was ready to go, the “Brinckerhoff” was down off the Cornell coal pocket. Captain Baker of the ferryboat, looking back, thought it would be a good day to have some fun with the old "Tremper” and her captain Jack Dearstyne. Captains Baker and Dearstyne had known each other for years and were good friends of long standing.
When the “Brinckerhoff” was clear of the mouth of the creek, Captain Baker said to his engineer, “I’m going to give the “Tremper" a good run and give her our black smoke." He even laid to out in the river for a few minutes to let the "Tremper" get a little ahead. The "Brinckerhoff" always had the reputation of being a fast sidewheel ferryboat and Captain Baker figured it would be a pushover to get by the "Tremper," then in her final years on the river.
Dearstyne on the "Tremper," however, when he was coming out of the creek could see what was afoot on the "Brinckerhoff." He called to his engineer, Fred Van Loan, and told him what he thought Captain Baker was scheming. Chief Van Loan said, “Cap, we are in luck because I’ve got two good firemen on watch. I haven't opened up this old engine in 20 years, but I'll do it now and see what the old girl can take." He then told his firemen to shovel in the soft coal and "keep her hot.”
By the time the "Tremper" cut the south dike of the creek and entered the river, Chief Van Loan had her throttle wide open. Her ancient engine was making 22 revolutions a minute and black smoke was belching out of her tall smoke stack. An ebb tide was running against a strong south wind, making the river very choppy with white caps.
The “Brinckerhoff” had purposely let the "Tremper” get ahead, Captain Baker thinking it would be more fun to overtake and pass her. But as hard as the "Brinckerhoff" tried she could not shorten the distance.
When the two were passing Esopus Island, the distance between them was still the same. Every once in a while Chief Van Loan would run out in the "Tremper’s" after gangway to take a look and see if the ferry was gaining. Then back to oil and grease the engine and see that nothing was running hot. Turning up as fast as she was, the water in the "Tremper’s" wheel houses was leaking out all over, even on the top where they had opened the top hatch to let some splash out.
Down off "Riverby," John Burroughs’ home at West Park, Captain Dearstyne said to his chief, "Let’s let Baker get abreast of us and we'll go through the Elbow neck and neck.” As the ‘'Tremper" slowed down, Captain Baker on the "Brinckerhoff" thought maybe she had to slow for some reason, came very close aboard, and hollered over, “Is something wrong Jack?”
Captain Dearstyne took the megaphone and hollered back, "Naw, we just didn’t want the people on shore to think we were showing you the way to Poughkeepsie." Both laughed. Boatmen were like that.
As soon as the “Brinckerhoff” was abreast, the "Tremper" was opened up again and down through the Elbow past President Roosevelt’s mansion they sped. The "Tremper" couldn’t gain either and neck and neck they went from the Elbow to the Columbia boathouse.
The "Tremper" was on the west side of the river and since both were to land at Highland, the ferryboat had to slow down and let the "Tremper" make her landing first. On the "Brinkerhoff" they called it respect for old age.
The "Tremper” only lasted for one season more. In 1929 she was sold for scrap and broken up at Newburgh. Reclaimed land was placed over her old bones and not a trace of her is left.
At first, it was thought the “Brinckerhoff" would have a better fate. After the Poughkeepsie-Highland ferry gave up in late 1941, the “Brinckerhoff” went to Bridgeport where she ran to a pleasure park for nine years more. Then she came back to Hiltebrants at Connelly for awhile before being towed to Mystic Seaport. Her upkeep, however, was too much and the Seaport finally turned their backs on her. She was acquired by someone who had plans for a restaurant and she was beached at Pawcatuck, opposite Westerly, R.I. The town fathers didn’t look kindly upon her and finally, in the early 1960's, she was purposely burned and her remaining metal scrapped.
So from the Hudson River they both knew so well, a fine steamboat and ferryboat have both gone, never to return.
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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