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 volunteer Carl Mayer. See more of Captain Benson’s articles here. This article was originally published June 10, 1973.
Since I began writing this series of steamboat articles for “Tempo,” I’ve received some 50 letters and more than 100 telephone calls from interested readers. It has been amazing to me, at least, to discover the wide audience reached by the articles. Letters have been received from such diverse points as Alaska, California, and Florida.
One of the more interesting of these came from Mrs. Richard Dawson of Silver Springs, Maryland. Her father, Frank Luedike, was the Barrytown agent of the Saugerties and New York Steamboat Company from 1901 until the company ceased operations at the onset of the Great Depression of the 1930’s. She mentioned an incident that was previously unknown to me and had given me permission to use her letter. It follows:
Dear Captain Benson: I have not been able to resist writing to you about the journey into the past afforded by your most enjoyable articles in The Freeman on the well remembered Hudson River steamboats. Of deepest interest and nostalgia to me was the “No More Night Boats from Saugerties.”
You see, my father (Frank Luedtke) was Agent-in-Charge of the Barrytown dock of the Saugerties and New York Steamboat Company from 1901 until the company went out of business. My parents lived, and I was born, in the house right on the bank of the river - reached by a flight of stairs from the dock. This property was purchased by the company with the express purpose of providing a place for their Barrytown agent to live.
In particular, the account of your visit aboard the “Robert A. Snyder” on that afternoon in New York at Pier 43, North River, foot of Christopher Street (how often I heard that address!) brought back many wonderful memories of my childhood and Captain Richard W. Heffernan. He was so wonderful to a small girl who thought that, next to her father, he was about the greatest thing that had ever happened to her and the resplendent gold braid of the Captain’s uniform really cinched it! I am happy to say I never had occasion to change that opinion in later years when the gold braid was long gone - the wonderful person that he was still continued to shine!
I also remember well the pilot with whom you spoke and who gave you such timely advice. Strangely enough, I’ve always remembered his name as Harry Gough - not grough has the paper had it. However, I could be wrong about that. The helmsman or quartermaster that I remember was a blond haired young man by the name of Johnnie but his last name escapes me at this point.
Incidentally, Captain Heffernan was instrumental in literally saving for us the home I mentioned earlier. Just to the north was a piece of property on which had stood one of the ice houses owned by the Knickerbocker Ice Company. With the advent of electric refrigerators, ice harvesting from the river was no longer profitable and the ice house, badly deteriorated, was pulled down and the materials mostly left where they were. Each summer at least one careless individual walking through would flick a cigarette butt which would ignite the sawdust remaining from the ice house.
This, of course, was the most difficult fire to conquer as, while it would seem to be extinguished, it was smouldering beneath the surface only waiting for a breeze to fan it into flame. On this particular late afternoon, a strong breeze from the north sprang up and a really large fire took hold. The Red Hook Fire Department responded but, at that time, they had no pumper so could only stand by with the chemical engine to use on the house should it catch.
Just as my mother had some treasured items and clothing ready to be moved out, the “Robert A. Snyder” hove into view. Captain Heffernan immediately sized up the situation and as soon as she was made fast at the dock, the captain ordered her hoses broken out and the pumps manned. The fire was shortly under control, the house was saved and the freight loading operation went on! But, it had been an unforgettable experience I assure you.
also enjoyed your article on the “Old Steamboat Whistles at Rondout.” However, since none of these boats put into “our” dock, with the exception of the “Jacob H. Tremper,” I do not particularly remember their various whistles. Aside from the “Robert A. Snyder” and “Ida,” probably my most vivid recollections are of the beautiful picture the Night Line boats presented gliding by on a mirror-like river with each of their lights from seem to stern reflecting a double glitter. As I recall, they would pass Barrytown going downriver at about 11:15 p.m.
I hope you will forgive the presumption on your time of these rambling reminiscences of a total stranger. I can only blame the contagion of your articles which I have just received from relatives in Kingston. Thank you for writing them!
Sincerely yours, Wilhelminia Luedtke Dawson
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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