ROLLING ON THE RIVER
Sternwheel Paddle Boat Festival Wheeling, WV
by Richard Frye
The waterfront bustled with activity as the Stern
Wheel Paddle Boat Festival kicked off Friday the 12th of September
in Wheeling, WV. The weather conditions were absolutely beautiful!
Couldn't have asked for a better day.
Ya'll all know that River Boats have played a
great part in our history, and even today there is something
special about these magnificent water craft! Some original river
boats still survive and take people on cruises down the Ohio
and Mississippi Rivers.
Rather than just walk around admiring these boats
and munching on something from one of the many food stands,
I decided I'd just git out there with'em! I had to go across
the river looking for Wheeling Island Marina that I never found,
so I just found a place at the river and parked. I had the trusty
ole Stealth with me, and there were some men unloading a truck
with funny looking pieces of pipe in wooden crates! I had accidentally
stumbled upon some folks setting up for a large fireworks display
that was to take place Saturday night! Never seen'em set up
before and it proved to be very interesting!
(click to enlarge)
Now..this wasn't the best place to put in anykind
of boat, but it would have to do. That's why I like these boats
so much! George, the security guard for the fireworks said he'd
be there till midnight and offered to help me carry my Stealth
down the steep rocky incline to the waters edge where there
were more rocks!.....and a bit of sticky mud too! George marveled
at my little boat and shook his head thinking I might have been
a little "touched" you know!
Little did he know he would have been right! I
put on my water shoes, rolled up my pants legs, got in and took
off down river from Wheeling Island...almost on the official
Ohio side and paddled down toward Wheeling's waterfront where
the boat thing was 'posed to be in full swing. Not to mention
the fact I was more at ease when I got away from all those boxes
labeled HIGH EXPLOSIVE!
I could see that a lot was going on, and before
I got half way across the mighty Ohio River to the West Virginia
side I spotted a big ass monster barge coming toward me about
a mile away! I told myself ...and out loud too..."OK fool?
Don't do anything stupid!......That is a lot of tonnage coming
directly at you!....and it's time to get scientific!"
Big ass monster barge
(click to enalrge)
I pondered the thought and rationalized that I
only had about 1/4hp at the most if I exerted maximum effort
and that this barge probably had at least 2000hp diesel engines
maybe 2 or more of them, and outweighed me by several billion
pounds! The barge steadily got closer at what I estimated to
be 5 times the speed I could paddle even if I was in good shape
.....which I ain't!... so I braced myself in the cockpit and
threw in some power strokes to accelerate my tiny craft to a
comfortable cruising speed. I didn't want to get too technical
here but I felt the need to explain the fact that it was time
I got my ass out of the way real damn quick!
Now out of the way of the heavily loaded coal
barge by several hundred yards as she moved north behind me,
I closed in on the waterfront that resembled a carnival of boats
and everything else related!
As the barge continued north under the I-70 bridge,
linking Ohio and West Virginia, the Stealth eagerly rode out
the gentle 2 foot high rolling swells passing under my stern.
I enjoyed this for several minutes and then removed the camera
from a zip-lock bag and began taking pictures. Getting a ducks
view was so much better than what folks on land were doing.
They were limited to side shots and front views along the waterfront
dock. I was in the river and able to get up close and personal
with the business end of the paddle wheelers as well as the
The Michael J.
(click to enlarge)
One particular Paddlewheel boat caught my eye!
The MICHAEL J! ...Well I'll be suwaneed up a damned gump stump!
It couldn't be!..?? Naw.........but it wouldn't surprise me!
You can see it in the picture on the left.
After taking many pictures, I paddled in, out,
around, and amongst this magnificent flotilla, just making myself
at home. I did get a few stares from folks strolling along the
boardwalk..more or less shocked...and a few hand waves from
folks that thought I was cool! It seemed that every time I thought
I was at the end of the boats, I would
paddle around only to find several more of different sizes moored
in odd locations.
Stealth tied to Dom's boat
(click to enlarge)
One that quickly caught my eye was the smallest
of the sternwheelers on display...the THREE HOUR TOUR! A homebuilt
sternwheeler ingeniously built on a pontoon boat! The power
system rated 11 hp with a marvelous hydraulic system that powered
the 6 or 7 foot diameter paddle wheel at the rear. Don M......he
said to just call him "DOM" cause nobody can pronounce
his last name invited me aboard and I tied up the Stealth to
the THREE HOUR TOUR and stepped on deck.
He and his family were a little amazed at how
easily I got out of the Stealth since I did appear to be quite
confined in the small cockpit. I sat and chatted with them a
while and waited for the feeling to come back in my butt and
legs then set out to see what else they had on dry land!
Jimbo (click to enlarge)
For one thing they had food stands out the ass!
Every kind of food you can imagine! Some I ain't never heard
of and couldn't pronounce most items listed on their signs.
So I ventured further down the boardwalk and discovered Jimbo's
BBQ way down at the end! I know what that is!.. so I ordered
a pork sandwich that was a nice size, but at 5 bucks I could've
got 2 MAC RIBs! Nevertheless it was good and didn't tear my
stomach up like I thought it would! I could just see myself
out in the middle of the Ohio River if the urge hit me and me
looking for a porta-jon!......well they ain't got none!
Anyway, come to find out ole Jimbo is almost a
neighbor and lives about 35 miles from me in Clarksville, PA.
Jim invited me up to his bar...the only one in Clarksville,
to have some good home cooked food. I'll be sure to stop by
there on my next trip to the Monogahela River. Plan to do that
real soon. He built his BBQ house on a car carrier type trailer
for less than a third of what he could buy one for! And it cost
more than my house and two cars put together if I'd have to
buy one! He told me he loved BBQ and does this for fun. He gits
to meet folks and invite them up to his place like he did me
and make a little money on the side too!
Double Paddle Wheels
(click to enlarge)
In the picture at left, ya'll can see a huge set
of double paddle wheels on one boat...the green ones. That was
as pretty good sized boat. The smaller boat with the red paddle
wheel was nice, and all seemed to show pride by their owners
just by the way they were maintained. When you talk to these
river boat folks you'll sense a special breed of people that
are dedicated to preserving parts of history from a by gone
era. And they are very special people.
When you look at some of these amazing river boats.....just
imagine how much it takes to keep one going, and to keep her
looking good! You don't just throw one of these on a set of
sawhorses, slap on a coat of latex paint on then have a beer
and say, "Yep......she's ready for next year!" It
takes a couple or three drums of marine enamel that, as you
all know don't come cheap!..and a lot of physical labor, and
it ain't done over a weekend either!
My little Geo Tracker
(click to enlarge)
After a grand tour, a fine lunch I bid my goodbyes
to Dom and his family and paddled out toward the middle of the
Ohio River! And what to my surprise?....another big ass barge
fully loaded was dead ahead and heading north also like the
other one. In all I passed four other huge barges before I got
to Moundsville, and finally saw my little Geo Tracker waiting
to take me home after a great day on the water. None of the
barges were heading south so something must be going on up that
The trip back was uneventful and relaxing since
I was going with the current that got a might stiff in the main
channel. When I'd spot a barge, I'd give her all the river she
wanted, and along with the barges, as far as I'm concerned the
rivers still belong to the Sternwheelers as well as Side Wheel
Paddle Boats of long ago. These are the boats that once carved
an overwhelming notch in our history, making famous cities on
the Ohio, the Mississippi, the Missouri, reaching long watery
arms from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico! Trade routes expanded
tremendously in America.
Of course gambling played a big part too, and
even that is still done today with cruises available to the
public from short evening dinner cruised to a full blown trip
From Pittsburgh, PA to the sound of jazz in New Orleans, LA.
But that's another story! When you hear a steamboat whistle,
let your imagination take you back a hundred and fifty years!
Better yet, plan a trip for your family, step aboard and relive
a part of history! It will certainly be rewarding for all even
if it is .....and only for.......a three hour tour!...