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 28, 1976.
One night back in the late 1930’s, I was pilot on the tugboat “Cornell No. 41” of the Cornell Steamboat Company. We were the helper tug on a tow in charge of the tug “Lion” headed for Albany. As was the custom in those days, the helper tug would take off and add barges for local delivery as the tow slowly moved up or down the river.
When we were off Athens about 2 a.m., we went along the tow to take off two cement lighters to land them at Hudson. The cement lighters were alongside a big coastwise barge in the tow destined for Albany. My deckhand, the late William “Darby” Corbett of Port Ewen, had to climb up on the coastwise barge to cast off the lines of the cement lighters.
As “Darby” was about to let the lines go, I saw this big dog come sneaking up the deck in the shadow of one of her hatches. He looked as if he was about to pounce, I yelled over, “Watch out ‘Darb’, here comes a dog after you!” With that, “Darby” turned quickly, caught the dog with his foot and raised him over the barge’s low rail almost quicker than the eye could see. Overboard the dog went, between the barges, without a sound. I thought sure the dog was a goner. We saw nothing of him as we pulled away from the tow with the cement lighters.
The next morning as we lay on the other side of the tow, the captain of the coastwise barge came over and asked if we had seen anything of his dog. We didn’t have the heart to tell him what happened.
Later that morning, when we were up off New Baltimore, there, to my incredible surprise, was the dog running along the shore, following the tow. When we landed the coastwise barge in the old D&H slip just below Albany, he was waiting for us.
He sure was a tuckered out dog.
Fortunately, we were bucking an ebb tide during the last part of the tow, which slowed our rate of progress overground.
The dog must have swum to shore at Athens and followed the lights of the tow until daylight.
How he ever lived after going down between the barges, no one but the dog ever knew.
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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