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 Carl and Joan Mayer. See more of Captain Benson’s articles here.
This article was originally published July 23, 1972.
When the steamboat ‘‘Clermont" was running on the Catskill Evening Line around 1914 to Catskill, Hudson and Coxsackie, the steamer had a pilot the quartermaster and lookout didn’t particularly care for. The younger men in the crew could never seem to please him in any way.
In those days, the quartermaster generally was a young fellow starting out on his steamboat career. It was his job to keep the pilot house neat and clean, see that the brass was polished, and to assist the pilots as they directed. The quartermaster would frequently steer the steamer under the pilot's direction and, in this way, he would “learn the river.”
It was also the quartermaster’s duty at about 2 or 3 a.m. to go down to the galley and make a couple of sandwiches and coffee to take up to the pilot house for the pilot on watch.
No More Beer
On the night of this particular incident, the pilot had told the captain he had seen the quartermaster that afternoon up on Reed Street in Coxsackie talking to some girls and having a glass of beer instead of sleeping on the boat to be rested for the night trip to New York. To keep peace with his pilot, the captain admonished the quartermaster and told him not to do it again.
Early the next morning as the “Clermont” was paddling her way down the Hudson to New York, the quartermaster went down to the galley to make the usual sandwiches and coffee for the pilot house.
Still smarting from the rebuke he had received as the result of the pilot's remarks about him to the captain, the quartermaster took a piece of toilet paper and placed it between the slices of ham in the sandwiches he was making. Then he slapped some mustard on the ham and took the sandwiches and coffee up to the pilot house.
At that hour of the morning the pilot house, of course, was completely dark. The pilot took the two sandwiches and ate them with great relish, apparently being more hungry than usual. He never even noticed the toilet paper between the slices of ham.
After finishing the sandwiches, the pilot said, “They were real good. Go down to the galley and make another.”
This time, however, the quartermaster apparently lost his nerve and made the new sandwich in the more conventional way.
After the pilot ate the new sandwich, he turned to the quartermaster and said, “That one wasn't as good as the first two. I guess you must have used a different ham!"
And on the “Clermont” steamed on her way to New York, Reed Street, Coxsackie left far behind, with only the soft breezes of a summer's night to disturb the serenity of the dark pilot house.
Changing Economy ...
Actually, the peaceful scene in the “Clermont’s" pilot house was soon to be disturbed by other factors. Changing economic conditions, due primarily to the growing use of the automobile and motor trucks and the changing vacation habits of former patrons, caused the Catskill Evening Line to go into receivership in January 1918.
Passenger carrying operations were abandoned altogether and during the season of 1918 the “Clermont," and her running mate “Onteora," ran under charter on an opposition night line to Troy.
The “Clermont” and ‘‘Onteora” lay idle during 1919 and in September of that year were purchased by the Palisades Interstate Park Commission. They were converted into excursion steamboats to run from New York to Bear Mountain and entered this service in 1920. The “Clermont" was renamed “Bear Mountain" in 1947, ran for the last time during the season of 1948, and in 1950 was broken up.
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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