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 October 22, 1972.
Most boatmen are notoriously sentimental. A fine example of their feelings for an old veteran of the river was the last trip of the Cornell tugboat “Osceola."
The "Osceola" finished her travels and work on the Hudson River on a Sunday afternoon during the latter part of October 1929. At the time I happened to be down along the shore at Sleightsburgh.
On that Sunday afternoon of mid-autumn, the "Osceola" came down river with a large tow, the tugboat "George W. Pratt” helping her. When opposite the Rondout Lighthouse, the big tug "Edwin H. Mead” of the Cornell Steamboat Company came up river, running light, and took over the tow from the “Osceola." As soon as the towing cables were shifted to the "Mead, the “Mead” blew three very long whistles of farewell. The “Osceola" then turned and headed for Rondout Creek, answering the "Mead’s" salute with her own whistle.
The steamboat "Poughkeepsie" of the old Central Hudson Line at the time was coming out of the Rondout Creek on her run to New York. The "Poughkeepsie" also blew three long whistles which the "Oscy” answered.
Finally, the "Osceola’s” old running mate and helper for many years, the "George W. Pratt," blew three very long blasts on her whistle saying good-bye, knowing the “Osceola" was to sail the river no more.
As the “Osceola"’ was going between the dikes on either side of the creek, she answered the “Pratt’s" last salute. I can still see in my mind’s eye the white steam from her whistle as it trailed around her big black smokestack in the clear autumn air. It was the last time that old familiar whistle was to echo along the banks of the Hudson.
The "Osceola” tied up at the Cornell shops at Rondout and the fires in her boiler were let die. The "Oscy’s" hull was worn out, but her engine and boiler were still considered to be in good shape. The Cornell Steamboat Company had acquired a sound hull from another company and it was Cornell’s original intention to take the "Osceola’s'’ engine, boiler and deck houses from her original hull and install them in the newer one. During 1930, the work progressed to a point where the transfer of engine, boiler and upper works was almost completed. Then the Great Depression set in and the project was never finished.
Stranded on Beach
The "Osceola’s” original hull, as soon as the engine, boiler and topside gear were removed, was towed to Port Ewen where it was stranded in 1930 on the beach outside of where the Hidden Harbor Yacht Club is now located. The uncompleted newer hull, after work was stopped in the fall of 1930 or early 1931, was shifted to Sleightsburgh where it weathered away for almost 20 years. Finally, in the late 1940’s it, too, was towed to Port Ewen and sunk off the shore, almost right next to the "Oscy’s” first hull.
The "Osceola" was a big tug and very similar to the Cornell tugboat "Pocahontas." Both had been built during the same year, 1884, at the same shipyard at Newburgh.
Both were used in the same type of service and after World War I the two tugboats pretty much handled Cornell's business on the upper river. One would leave Albany one night, and the other the following night with Cornell’s daily tows for down river. The tows would meet the daily up tows from New York in the vicinity of Poughkeepsie where the meeting tugboats would exchange tows. As a result, the "Osceola" and "Pochahontas” [sic] in their latter years were to be seen almost always on the northern half of the Hudson — and their whistles heard on the foggy nights of spring and autumn. In the "Osceola’s” last trip to her home port of Rondout, Howard Palmatier was captain, Dan McDonald her pilot and Victor Matt chief engineer.
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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