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 November 21, 1971..
Way back in the 1890’s, the Cornell Steamboat Company had a big tugboat by the name of “John H. Cordts.” And at that time, the steamboats, “New York” and “Albany” were the regular steamers of the Hudson River Day Line.
One summer afternoon, the “Cordts” came out of Rondout Creek to run light to Hudson and to relieve the “Norwich” of a large tow of canal boats. At the same time, the “New York” was leaving Rhinecliff on her way up river, crowded with passengers. The “Cordts” pulled slightly ahead of the “New York” and as the “New York” got up her speed, the “Cordts” dropped back and then hooked up so she lay off the port side aft of the “New York.” The suction from the “New York” dragged the “Cordts” right along with her all the way to Catskill, where the “New York” made a landing.
The “New York” and “Albany” were in that day and age very fast wide wheelers and ordinarily could outrun the “Cordts” like a rabbit would a turtle. However, when those side wheelers were in shallow water they would drag their stern down deep in the water and a bid suction wave would follow right along with them. Whatever lay off the after quarters on the Day Liners would go right along with them.
Disbelief from Distaffers
The “New York” and the “Albany” were advertised in the newspapers of the day as very speedy. Some ladies who were passengers on the “New York” that day wrote a letter to the Day Line saying they did not think the “New York” was so fast when a tugboat could stay right alongside her for so long a distance.
A. Van Santvoord, a president of the Day Line, wrote a letter to S.D. Coykendall, president of the Cornell Steamboat Company, requesting him to please ask his captains to stop trying to race with the Day Line steamers. Of course, Van Santvoord and Coykendall knew what the score was, but passengers on the “New York” wouldn’t understand about shoal water, suction, etc.
Coykendall called captain of the “Cordts”, Jim Monahan, on the carpet about the incident and told him not to do it again or he would be discharged. But the way it has been told to me, Jim Monahan was a very stubborn man. Sure enough, he tried it again and that was the last of Captain Monahan on the “John H. Cordts.”
After leaving Cornell, Captain Monahan was captain of the steam lighter “Uriah F. Washburn,” carrying cement and lime all along the Hudson River and Long Island Sound. After that, until his death, he was captain of the steamer “Newburgh” of the Central Hudson Line. All river men agreed he was always a very good captain or pilot tugboats, steamboats or whatever he happened to be on, the sleigh rides and dismissal notwithstanding.
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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