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 December 15, 1971.
The story I’m about to relate happened 45 years ago almost to the day. The incident dates back to Dec. 4, 1926 - which would make yesterday its anniversary for those who might remember.
In any event, when steamboating was at its peak on the Hudson River, every city and almost every village along the majestic river had a steamboat landing and was served by one or more steamboats.
The bigger cities and villages had direct service to New York, while the smaller villages were served by smaller connecting steamboats.
Newburgh Albany Line
And the Central Hudson Line, which operated primarily between Rondout, Poughkeepsie and Newburgh - with way landings - to New York, also operated a line between Newburgh and Albany.
Originally, there were two steamboats in this service, one each day in each direction, carrying freight and passengers between some 20 different landings. In its latter and declining days, the service was down to one lone steamboat - the “Jacob H. Tremper” - carrying freight only.
This, then, was the background for the following incident which was told to me by Jack Dearstyne Sr., the “Tremper’s” last captain.
It was Dec. 4, 1926 and a heavy snow storm had already set in when Capt. Dearstyne got orders at Albany to start for Newburgh where he was to lay up for the winter. As the “Tremper” made its way down the river, thick snow pelted its deck, hitting harder and harder with each mile navigated.
Two Passed By
Off Coxsackie, the crew of the “Tremper” could barely discern the outlines of the “Osceola” and the “G.C. Adams” of the Cornell Steamboat Company. But the men of the “Tremper” knew they were indeed passing both boats as they headed slowly up river with a large tow.
As the “Tremper” passed Four Mile Point, four miles above Athens, the chief Engineer and the captain stood together in the pilot house…and both strained to see through the snow just as everybody else aboard was attempting to do. They all figured that if they could make Rondout, they would tie up for the night.
Suddenly the chief observed, “That looked like the junction buoy.” And they all agreed that it was. Said Captain Dearstyne to the pilot, “Better pull to the west,” and the maneuver was promptly executed by the pilot.
But it had not been the buoy that had been spotted. Instead, the “buoy” turned out to be a large log floating in the river. And before they could back down, the “Tremper” slid up on west flat, just north of the light. Unfortunately for the boat, the time of the accident was near the end of the flood tide.
None Heard Whistle
They backed and backed and backed again - blowing the whistle - thinking and hoping that one of the tug boats they had recently passed might hear them. But neither did. From Captain Jack came this lament; “I guess this is the end of the old ‘Tremper’.”
But, then, just as they were about to give up all hope, they heard the muffled sound of another steamboat whistle through the swirling snow. And out of the whiteness of the storm came William H. Burlingham with the steamer “Catskill,” the freight boat of the old Catskill Evening Line.
It seemed that Captain Burlingham had been tied up at Stockport because of the storm. Coming to the rescue, the “Catskill” came up astern, put a hawser on the “Tremper” and pulled again and again.
With each pull by the “Catskill,” the “Tremper” also helped by working her engine back hard and, in the process, the “Catskill” parted several hawsers.
No amount of pulling seemed to help and, finally, Captain Jack yelled over to Captain Will on the “Catskill,” “I guess it’s no use. The tide is falling and her old deck planks and butts are opening up. It’s the last of the ‘Tremper.’”
A Final Try
But Captain Will came right back with a “Let’s try once more.” Not willing to admit defeat, he had a further philosophic thought. “Both of us are getting old and so is the ‘Tremper.’ We can’t let her go without one more try.”
So try they did - and off she came!
The “Tremper” then continued on to Rondout and lay in for the night. The next day she followed the Rondout-New York boat, the “Poughkeepsie,” down the river as far as Milton, where the new ice was not so thick as it had been above. She then continued on to Newburgh where she layed up for the winter of 1926-27, and lived on to run for two more years.
Captain Dearstyne was captain of the tugboat “Lion” in 1931 and I was his deckhand. And I remember him telling me then: “Always treat Will Burlingham as a gentleman as that is what he always was and always will be.”
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.
If you enjoyed this post and would like to support more history blog content, please make a donation to the Hudson River Maritime Museum or become a member today!
This blog is written by Hudson River Maritime Museum staff, volunteers and guest contributors.
Hudson River Maritime Museum
50 Rondout Landing
Kingston, NY 12401
The Hudson River Maritime Museum is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of the maritime history of the Hudson River, its tributaries, and related industries.
Become a member and receive benefits like unlimited free museum admission, discounts on classes, programs, and in the museum store, plus invitations to members-only events.
The Hudson River Maritime Museum receives no federal, state, or municipal funding except through competitive, project-based grants. Your donation helps support our mission of education and preservation.