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 October 14, 1972.
For a period of over 70 years prior to 1928, there was a steamboat service between Newburgh and Albany. At its peak there was a steamboat in each direction, carrying freight and passengers on a daily basis. The steamers would make landings at almost every city, village and hamlet along the banks of the upper river.
During the latter part of the 19th century and the first part of the 20th century, the steamboats “Jacob H. Tremper” and “M. Martin” were the two steamboats providing the service. At the end of the 1918 season, the “Martin” had outlived her usefulness and for the next ten years the “Tremper’” carried on alone, going up one day and returning the next.
As the 1920’s wore on, business on the line continued to dwindle. The “Tremper” stopped carrying passengers and in her final years was used to carry freight only. After over 40 years of service, the “Tremper" really showed her age. Her guards hung low above the water and eel grass would hang from her paddle boxes.
One morning in the late summer of her final season, the steamer “Trojan” of the Hudson River Night Line was landing at Albany just as the “Jacob H. Tremper” paddled by one her down river trip. Three lady passengers were out on the upper deck watching her go by.
As Captain George Warner of the “Trojan” came down from the bridge, one of the lady passengers said to him, “My goodness Captain, what old boat is that?”
The Captain replied, “Why my good ladies, did you ever hear of the ‘Half Moon’?”
"Yes,” said the lady, “Henry Hudson discovered this river with the ‘Half Moon’.”
“Well,” the Captain said, “That is the other half of the ‘Half Moon’.”
During the mid-1920’s when I was a teenage boy growing up in Sleightsburgh, it used to be quite a sight to see the old “Jacob H. Tremper” coming in Rondout Creek about 10:30 a.m. on her up trip and then about 3 or 4 p.m. the next day on her down trip. Her guards would nearly be dragging in the water, her forward deck would be loaded with freight, and water would be pouring out of the lattice work on her wheel houses.
When it would be flood tide, she would come very close to Sleight’s dock at Sleightsburgh so as to turn and put her port bow to the dock, under the stern of the “Benjamin B. Odell” or “Homer Ramsdell,” at Rondout. At that time, Sleight’s store was still in operation adjacent to the old chain ferry slip. When the “Tremper” would pass close to the dock, some of the Sleightsburgh boys would get overripe tomatoes or rotten eggs from Sleight’s store and see how many letters in the name on her paddle box they could hit. Although I am somewhat reluctant to admit it now, I was one of them.
How the mate would shake his fist and swear at us! Since the “Tremper” no longer carried passengers, her deck crew no longer bothered to scrub the white work. The splotches from the eggs and tomatoes would be on all summer and fall. She sure did look like a “Half Moon.”
As a boy, it never occurred to me the “Tremper” was nearing the end of her career. In the eyes of a barefoot youth, time stood still and somehow it seemed summer would last forever. Then, it seemed impossible that in but a few short years the “Jacob H. Tremper” would no longer be coming in Rondout Creek, black soft coal smoke trailing from her tall, black smokestack, a white plume of steam rising skyward from her whistle as she blew off the Cornell coal pocket for the deckhands to get ready to handle her lines.
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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