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 February 6, 1972.
When steamboating was in its heyday, anyone living in Rondout, Ponckhockie, Sleightsburgh or Port Ewen never needed a clock or a watch. They could always tell what time it was by the steamboat whistles.
First, there was the huge steam whistle on the Rondout Shops of the Ulster and Delaware Railroad that boatmen always said came from the big sidewheel towboat ‘‘Austin.” There would be one long whistle at 8 a.m., 12 noon, 12:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m., telling the men at both the U. and D. shops and the Cornell Steamboat Company shops to start work, eat their noon meal and to stop for the day.
When the U. and D. shops were torn down in the early thirties, this whistle was then installed on the Cornell shops.
Three Long Blasts
Then, every afternoon at 3:25 p.m. three long blasts of a steam whistle would be heard along Rondout Creek as either the ‘‘Benjamin B. Odell,” “Homer Ramsdell,’’ ‘‘Newburgh” or “Poughkeepsie” of the Central Hudson Line prepared to leave their dock on Ferry Street for the start of the evening trip to New York.
During the summer, on Saturday mornings at 10:55 a.m., one would hear the wonderful whistle of the “Benjamin B. Odell” as she prepared to leave Rondout. Then in the evening could be heard the ‘‘Homer Ramsdell” as she came in the creek. She would blow at about 8 p.m. just as she was passing the gas plant at Ponckhockie.
Every summer Sunday morning, the “Homer Ramsdell” would leave Rondout at 6:30 a.m. on an excursion to New York. The three long blasts on her whistle at 6:25 a.m. sounded twice as loud in the still morning air.
From May until early October one always heard the Day Line boats blowing for the landing at Kingston Point. The one long, one short, one long blast of the down boat’s whistle was always heard just before 1 p.m. Then shortly before 2:30 p.m. would be heard the landing whistle of the north bound steamer. Phil Maines of Rondout, the former mate of the “Mary Powell,” was then the dockmaster at Kingston Point.
From the ‘Tremper’
At about 10:30 a.m. on alternate days, one would hear the “Jacob H. Tremper” coming in Rondout Creek on her way to Albany. Then the next day, she would blow for Rhinecliff at 2 p.m. and by 2:45 p.m. she would be coming in the creek and blow again for Rondout. |
In the evening about 8 p.m. one would hear three long whistles out in the river. One would be the Saugerties Evening Line steamer “Robert A. Snyder” or “Ida’’ blowing for their landing at Rhinecliff on their sail to New York.
Before World War I, the finest sound of all was the mellow whistle of the ‘‘Mary Powell” as she prepared to leave the dock at the foot of Broadway in Rondout at 6 a.m. Then in the evening would be heard her whistle out in the river on her return from New York, just before she entered the creek. Also, all during the day at 10 minute intervals, except when stopped by ice, could be heard one short whistle from the ferry ‘‘Transport.”
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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