Embrace America's Rivers

Beyond the Bridges chapters.....

Chapter 1..Boy in a Johnboat            
          This chapter includes two stories about the author's early river journeys. The first story tells about the boy wanting to take a 200-mile trip down the river. His parents would never agree to allow him to go alone, so he let them think he was traveling with a local canoe club. The trip is difficult and dangerous, but several humorous adventures happened along the way. The second story has the young man taking another long river trip to see the legendary Delta Queen steamboat, since it was going to be taken out of service. The great journey was successful and he spent the day with the steamboat. Little did he know that the Delta Queen would continue to operate and that some thirty years later, he would be a crew member of that boat.  

Chapter 2..Wabash 500                   The author and three friends decide to do something that had never been done before. They would navigate the  entire 500 miles of the non-navigable Wabash River in a power boat. The journey had many challenges, not only with the river, but also with weather and equipment. The story follows the expedition from planning stages to a successful end. They found that their planning did not include getting stuck in shallows, sinking the boat in rapids, having their tent blown down in a storm, and many other lessons learned. Along the way the men have humorous adventures and meet interesting people. The trip made news all along the way and by journey's end the men had become celebrities to the people along the river.  

Chapter 3..Wabash Queen           This is the story about the trials and tribulations of building a sternwheeler. The author bought an old houseboat and decided to rebuild and convert it to a paddlewheel drive. That may sound like an interesting but not necessarily entertaining story, but the reader will laugh at some of the outrageous methods of construction, trial runs, and adventures with the Wabash Queen. One will also learn about the differences between operating a paddlewheeler and other watercraft. Several mistakes are made by the author and those are featured in a paragraph called "lessons learned". The Wabash Queen has become a well known boat on the rivers and featured in several boating magazines. The story of building and piloting her are of high interest to boaters and river enthusiasts. 

Chapter 4..Reading the River           This chapter provides valuable information for those interested in traveling or learning about the natural signs that the river provides. Focus is on natural rivers that do not have navigational aides and defined channels. The reader will learn what signs to look for and what they mean. Indicators may be in the water, along the shore, and even the surrounding sound. This chapter is written as a result of the author having given many talks on the subject with audiences being those interested in traveling on non-navigable rivers. Others are interested that want to learn about the dynamics of the rivers. The author includes personal accounts to demonstrate his points.

 Chapter 5..River Guide Books           The author has written guide books for two major rivers. People are often curious about what is involved in producing them. Those steps include canoeing the entire river, map-making, driving all the adjacent roads, traveling as much as possible by power boat, locating fuel and supplies, plus much more. The process of gathering the information imparts adventure and interesting stories. Some of those stories include discovering local legends, being chased by hornets, and locating a missing dam. The reader will find that creating a river guide book is much more than sitting at a computer. Producing a book to help people have a safe river adventure is an adventure itself, as this chapter will demonstrate. 

Chapter 6..Gilligan the Goose

            This is the story about a loveable goose that has become an icon on the river. The story begins with the author rescuing the goose, who then follows him to his home on the river. The goose makes many friends and has several adventures that are told in this chapter. They include the rescue, the goose attending a wedding, taking a canoe trip with the author, doing a television interview, and more. The popular goose even has his own children's book published, A Goose Named Gilligan. Readers will laugh at his comical adventures and have their heart warmed by this true story about the bond between a riverman and a goose named Gilligan.

Chapter 7..Rescue from a dock

            Most people might think that a river rescue would be helping someone from the water. This hilarious true story is how the author rescued a hap-hazard fishing party from a dock. He was on a canoe trip when he camped near what could best be described as hillbillies, and ends up rescuing them. The events of that evening include a scary first encounter with them, people getting stuck in the mud, the dock splitting in two, a baby in the river, and how the author saved them. The author provides funny profiles of the group and tells an exciting story about a possible disaster that turned into a very humorous series of events. Excerpt: "The barrel went into a forward roll (barrel roll), and Dolly went off the dock, rolled over the barrel and made a not-so-graceful nose-dive into the muddy bank."

Chapter 8..Great Duck Race

             A subtitle could be "Best laid plans gone wrong." The local YWCA asked the author to help plan a river event. They would launch rubber ducks into the river with people adopting ducks as a fund-raiser. He made a plan to launch the ducks that would then float to a finish line, with winning duck adopters being given prizes. After a great amount of planning and effort, the day of the great duck race finally arrived. The ducks were launched, the finish line established, and a catch system to retrieve the rented ducks was in place. All seemed well until the ducks approached the finish of the race. The rest of the story tells of how they handled the challenge of 10,000 runaway rubber ducks. The story will bring smiles to the reader's faces as they read about another lesson learned by the author.  

Chapter 9..Anatomy of a River

            This chapter focuses on the Mississippi River basin, which includes many rivers. To understand how that river system works is to understand the make-up of all river basins. Early exploration and how rivers got their names is featured. Finding the beginning (headwaters) is discussed, along with "where all that water comes from." How rivers change their courses is explained. Man's attempt to control the river has had major impacts, including the environmental issues. The author also adds his own perspective of the river issues. Excerpt: "Those of us who know the rivers have no problem understanding the concept that the river is a living thing. It creates energy, provides food and water, and it even carries us on it's back. It is a restless body, seeking new territory. It can be unpredictable and angry. It has great power that man has a delusion of controlling. It is a builder and destroyer of land. Yes, the river is a living thing!"

Chapter 10..Language of the river

            This is an entertaining look at the origins of words and phrases we use that originated from rivers and riverboats. Explained in detail are: high falutin, well stacked, blow your stack, rock bottom, hogwash, hillbilly, outlandish, letting off steam, fiddlin around, bitter end, dead head, stateroom, hay burner, bushwhacking, stick in the mud, cotton to you, decked out, sold down the river, come hell or high water, hot toddy, towhead, run off at the mouth, and hit a snag. Readers will enjoy this enlightening chapter and be surprised at how these words and terms began.

Chapter 11..Nine Days on a Towboat

            To discover what life and work is like on a towboat, the author rode as a guest on one from Louisville, Kentucky to near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and back. His journal of the trip is interesting and quite funny at times. He gives the reader a real sense of what the work is like and the challenges they face. He discusses the crew members and what led them to life on the river. The trip also provided some adventure, including the author's account of the crew chasing down a rat on the barges. They also had a near disaster at a lock wall but were saved by skilled piloting. He tells of the day that they pass though the gauntlet (Cincinnati on a Sunday afternoon). One of the most amusing challenges for the author was finding a peaceful place to read during a lock wait. Working towboats is a unique and sometimes dangerous life. The reader will learn about this life while enjoying some of the stories of the journey. 

Chapter 12..Navigable River Know-How

            In chapter 4 the discussion was focused on non-navigable rivers. It is also important to understand navigable rivers. These are rivers that have charts, defined channels, signal lights, and other aids to navigation. To know them, it is enlightening to discover the history of navigation aids. This chapter begins with explaining the conditions on the rivers in the early 1800s and how improvements evolved, both in the rivers and on vessels. The author then goes on to explain how present-day navigation is safely accomplished. This includes charts reading, understanding light signals, mile markers, buoys and much more. It also explains locking procedures. Anyone reading this chapter can travel rivers with more confidence or travel along rivers and have a better understanding of what they are seeing.

Chapter 13..Bizarre River Experiences

            Things are not always as they seem. The author shares three short stories of things that happened to him while traveling rivers. The first one titled "Airplane in the River", tells about the strangest river sight he ever witnessed. It was a large passenger plane in the Ohio River. He got closer to investigate and was disturbed by what appeared to be a crash, but later discovered it was a movie set. "The Arrowhead" is a story that took place while he was canoeing and looking for arrowheads. He had found none but that night, while camping, he dreamed of Indians who once canoed the river. The next morning it appeared that he had been left a gift. Under his sleeping bag he found a beautiful arrowhead. The third story took place when the author and some buddies went on an evening cruise. They had no idea of the adventure they were about to have "Up the Creek."  Four experienced rivermen got lost that night, while cruising up a tributary and into flooded cornfields.

Chapter 14..The Evolution of Riverboats

            From flatboats of the 1700s to modern towboats, the reader will learn how they evolved. The history of riverboats is made interesting by including some of the legendary characters and some stories. The account of the very first steamboat is an amazing journey that took place in 1811. The steamboat Virginia story is a saga about the steamboat that landed in a cornfield. The early days of steamboats were hazardous and this chapter explores those hazards and the famous disaster of the steamboat Sultana. The river was a water highway that carried nearly every type of craft and goods. Those included grist mills, lumber, hardware stores, showboats, and much more. The reader will not only be entertained by river stories but learn a great deal about our riverboat history. 

Chapter 15..The Restless River

            Beginning in 1831, some man-made changes were made on the lower Mississippi River. In 1950 the Army Corp of Engineers discovered something frightening. The changes made 119 years before started a series of events that would lead to a serious threat. The river is trying to make a major course change that would leave New Orleans and Baton Rouge without the river. Action has been taken to stop this disaster from happening, but they nearly lost the battle against the river in 1973. This chapter tells the story from 1831 to present day. Have they succeeded in controlling the river course change? The author has visited the site and met with engineers. He shares his opinion in The Restless River. Excerpt: "It is not human nature to comprehend a power greater than oneself. We arrogantly believe that we can control nature."


Chapter 16..Steamboat Passengers

            While serving as Riverlorian on steamboats, the author has encountered many interesting people. The crew members of the boats are primarily there to entertain the passengers but sometimes the roles are reversed. Even though the author clearly pokes fun at passengers, he often shares these stories with them and has them laughing at themselves. Included is the great butterfly disaster, questions he has been asked, and outrageous suggestions he has heard. Passenger profiles are included that explain various personality types and their predictable behavior. This is a fun chapter that will have the reader laughing out loud.

Chapter 17..The Ghost of Mary Greene

            Mary Greene was a legend on the rivers, having been one of the first women to earn a steamboat pilot license in 1896. She was part owner of the Delta Queen, along with her sons Tom and Chris. Mary loved the Delta Queen. She lived on the boat and died on the boat in 1949.  There are those who claim that Mary Greene is still aboard the Delta Queen. Sightings of her spirit have often been reported by crew and passengers. The author shares some of his interesting incidents that could be attributed to Mary Greene's presence, and tells of others who have some very compelling stories about the benevolent spirit. Is the ghost of Mary Greene real? One can read this chapter and decide for him or herself. It is a fascinating story of a great woman whose influence continues to prevail on the famous steamboat, whether her ghost is real or not.

Chapter 18..River Royalty

            Many great men have contributed to the rivers and river transportation over the past 200 years. In this chapter, the author pays tribute to some of them. They include Lewis and Clark, James Buchanan Eads, Henry Miller Shreve, Samuel Clemens, Capt. Isaiah Sellers, Manuel Lisa, and Solomon Smith. An interesting discovery the author made was that most of these men are buried at the same cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri. Excerpt: "As I walked through Bellefontaine Cemetery, with its view of the Mississippi River, I sensed that this was an appropriate gathering place for these men who contributed so much and left their mark on American rivers."

Chapter 19..Top 10 River Towns

            This chapter lists the author's favorite American river towns, along with a list of honorable mention towns. His criteria for selecting the communities are:

1. A pleasant riverfront, which shows pride in their river heritage.

2. Friendly people.

3. Convenient access for boater's supplies and fuel.

4. Historic towns that have maintained their identity.

5. Memorable personal experiences in a town

            Excerpt: "Each of us have our own reasons why we prefer one town over another. There are many great places along America's rivers, and it would require an entire book to discuss them all. I have chosen my ten favorite river towns, based on my experiences and preferences."

Chapter 20..Canoeing Misadventures

            This chapter features three difficult canoe trips by the author. The first story takes place on the Hiawassee River in Tennessee. The water rose quickly during the night, nearly washing the camp away. Then after getting into the canoe he is swept into a logjam and nearly drowns. The second story begins with the author attempting a journey that had never been done before, but flash flooding ended the trip. In the third story, the author decides to take a kayak trip below a dam, without properly scouting the river. Mistakes were made and lessons were learned. He points out that he has made many successful canoe trips but chose to share these so that others may learn from his mistakes. The stories are spell-binding and, of course, contain the author's propensity for humor.  


Chapter 21..Grand Excursion 2004

            The Grand Excursion was the greatest gathering of boats on the Mississippi River in 150 years, and the author was part of it. The flotilla from Davenport, Iowa to St. Paul Minnesota was an event involving 60 cities, many boats, and attended by hundreds of thousands of people. The author was asked to join the flotilla aboard the steamboat Julia Belle Swain. The story is a journal of the trip and all the things that went right and wrong. It was a wonderful event but many things (often very funny) did go wrong, that the author tells in his own humorous style. Excerpt: "We discovered two things upon arriving at the riverfront. First, there were indeed activities and other riverboats at Wabasha, and that the Julia Belle Swain was nowhere to be found. Once again, we had lost our boat."


Chapter 22..Potpourri

            Included in this chapter are six interesting short river stories: "Dover Fisherman", is about a man who hooked and tried to land a steamboat. "John Deere in the River", took place on the Mississippi River as the Riverlorian announced this very unusual sighting. "Tator Gun", tells about an interesting device that the author and fellow river rats use. "Missed the Boat", is a story about the day the author went looking for alligators and didn't make it back to the steamboat in time for departure. "Cruisin' the Bayous", was another mission to look for alligators. "Scooter", was a very unusual pet that traveled rivers with the author.  All are true stories about some of the funny incidents the author has encountered beyond the bridges.

Chapter 23..Wit, Wisdom and Prose

            This final chapter is a collection of the author's favorite quotes, including some of his own. All the quotes relate to the river or river travel. Also included is a special poem written by poet Ann Wake specifically for the author. At this point in the book, readers will have gained such an understanding and appreciation of the rivers that the quotes will have meaning to them.