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 April 23, 1972.
In the early spring of 1934, I was on the tugboat Lion of the Cornell Steamboat Company. We were going up through Haverstraw Bay with a large up river tow. The tug Edwin Terry was our helper.
It was about 9 a.m. and I was off watch and fast asleep in my bunk, when Dan Reilly, the deckhand, came to my room and called me, saying “Hey, Bill, I thought you would want to get up and see your old pal coming down the river.
I jumped up as quickly as I could and there just below Stony Point, I could see the old Day Liner Albany paddling her way down river for the last time. She had been sold and was leaving the Hudson forever. The Albany was the first steamboat I had ever worked on, beginning as a deckhand during the seasons of 1928 and 1929.
An April Day
It was the kind of spring day that made one glad he was alive. There was a light breeze from the south with the bright April sun shimmering on the water. How wide the Albany looked as she approached us with her broad overhanging guards! I could see her paddle wheels turning under the guards, and the buckets dipping slowly in the water as she reduced speed to pass our tow and reduce the size of the waves.
As she neared us with her large silver walking beam rhythmically going up and down, up and down, up and down as if reaching out ahead all the time, and her big white paddle wheels turning slowly, she was indeed a sight to behold.
But little did the old girl know she was leaving her beloved Hudson River for the last time to sail on another river to the south under another name.
When she was almost next to us, I gave the Albany the one long, one short whistle signal – a pilot’s way of saying hello. She answered with one long and two short blasts on her whistle. Joe Eigo of Port Ewen, the captain of the Terry, did the same – and the Albany also answered him.
The Last Goodbye
I hollered over to Joe Eigo, the Terry being abreast of us on a head line and also pulling on the tow, “Give her the goodbye, will you Joe, because I want to give her the last goodbye.” Joe answered, “Sure, Bill,” and really pulled down hard on the Terry’s steam whistle with three long blasts, which the Albany answered.
By this time, the Albany was down abreast of the tow. Then with the Lion’s heavy bass horn, I blew three very long whistles to say farewell. The Albany answered with three equally long blasts on the whistle. I can still see the white steam from her whistle ascending skyward in the bright sunlight of that April morning. I knew this would be the last time I would ever hear that old familiar whistle.
I watched her as she went further and further down river, around Rockland Lake, and finally out of sight. At the time, I was sure I would never see her again… and I never did.
There is something that reaches far into a man who once worked on a steamboat of the past, particularly when he comes into contact with the first boat on which he worked.
From the Shore
If, for example, he should decide to take a job ashore – and if one of the early boats he worked should happen to go by, he will always watch her with fond nostalgia until she disappears from view. And many memories and thoughts pass through his mind.
That’s the way it was with me that day I saw the Albany go by for the last time. I thought of all the old crew members, all the passengers I had seen on board her – sometimes as many as 3,000, all the landings we had made up and down the river for the last time, leaving behind forever her old winter berth at Sleightsburgh, her recent lay up dock at Athens, and the landings she knew so well for so long.
Henry Briggs of Kingston had been the Albany’s last captain. On her last trip down the Hudson, however, Captain Briggs was in Florida, so Captain Alonzo Sickles of the Hendrick Hudson, also of Kingston, took her to New York. Alexander Hickey was pilot, Charles Maines of Kingston was mate and Charles Requa was chief engineer on her final trip.
The Albany had originally been built in 1880 and, until the coming of the Hendrick Hudson in 1906, ran regularly on the New York to Albany run. From 1907 until the Washington Irving came out in 1913, the Albany was used almost exclusively on the New York to Poughkeepsie route. Then, she replaced the Mary Powell on the Rondout to New York run and covered this service until it was ended in September 1917. During the 1920’s, except on weekends, the Albany was used almost entirely for charters or as an extra boat.
Last Year on Hudson
The season of 1930 was to be the last regular season in service for the Albany on the Hudson River. At that time she had been an active member of the Day Line fleet for 51 seasons, a record that was not to be exceeded by any other Day Line. In September, she went into winter lay up as usual at the Sunflower Dock at Sleightsburgh. However, with the deepening of the Great Depression, it was decided not to put her in operation in 1931, and – in May of that year – the tugboat S. L. Crosby of the Cornell Steamboat Company towed her from Sleightsburgh to Athens to a more permanent lay up berth. I was a deckhand on the Crosby when we towed her on her last up river trip.
In 1933 the Hudson River Day Line went into receivership – and on March 6, 1934 – the Albany was sold at public auction. She was purchased by B. B. Wills of Baltimore for only $25,000 and he planned to place her in service on the Potomac River running out of Washington, D.C. When I saw her on that April day in 1934, the Albany was on her way to her new life in the south. She was renamed Potomac and continued in operation out of Washington until the end of the season of 1948. She was then dismantled and her hull converted into a barge named Ware River.
The old Albany was always a fast steamboat and, even in her last years on the Hudson River, she could still show her speed to much newer steamboats. As the Potomac in her new service in the south, she still took smoke from no other steamboat.
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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