This is an excerpt from a 1949 letter written by Capt. Tom Greene, owner of Greene Line Steamers, to his friend Dan Heekin, a Cincinnati industrialist and river buff. The letter was discovered tucked in a copy of Steamboats & Steamboatmen by Ellis C. Mace.
“I have about decided to put the CHRIS GREENE’S whistle on the DELTA for the following reasons. First of all I like it as it is of low mellow ‘big boat’ quality. I don’t believe it will annoy the passengers sleep and it comes from the HOMER SMITH which boat was partially owned by one Capt. C.C. Bowyer a great friend of my Dad’s and a banker in Point Pleasant, W.Va.
“Capt. Bowyer was a ‘friend in need’ when the going was rough for my Dad and he went all out financially to help Dad after he had bought the WHITE COLLAR LINE from Commodore Laidley in 1903. Besides a good whistle I feel that it would be sort of a tribute to Capt. Bowyer from a sentimental standpoint to use this HOMER-SMITH-CHRIS GREENE whistle.
“The TOM GREENE’S whistle is the most historic on the river. It was my Dad’s favorite and some of the oldtimers have said that my Dad bought the WHITE COLLAR LINE to get that whistle. It was then on the Str. COURIER. It had been on the sidewheel EXPRESS which I believe ran before the Civil War. It was later on the Str. ST. LAWRENCE and has always been known as the ST. LAWRENCE whistle.
“My Dad certainly loved this whistle and it was on nearly all the G.L. boats at one time or another. My Dad sorta wore this whistle as he did his hat and had it aboard the boat he generally thought he would be on for a long period.
“Just a little more history on the TOM GREENE-ST. LAWRENCE whistle while I’m about it. During the 1917-’18 ice siege, the GREENLAND had the ST. LAWRENCE whistle and at that time the GREENLAND was on the docks at the old Cincinnati Marine Ways here in East End.
“Of course you probably recall the ice knocked the GREENLAND off the cradles at that point and down the river she came in the gorge sideways. As I had been born on the GREENLAND my Dad called my Mother at home in Hyde Park and said, “…get Tom out of school and bring him down here to the wharfboat to see his birthplace go by,” which my Mother did. I was then eleven years old and in the formative age when things impress you.
“When I got down to the boat the gorge was moving fast, the other GREENE LINE boats had steam up and were ‘comin ahead strong.’ There was a ‘wailing and gnashing’ of timberheads, cavels and lines snapping. Pretty soon someone hollered, “here she comes,” meaning the GREENLAND. As the GREENLAND hove in sight on her side everybody stood in silence. There was an old purser on the wharfboat who had been on the GREENLAND a long time and he too was in love with the ST. LAWRENCE whistle and he said he would give a hundred dollars to anyone who could get that whistle off the boat when the gorge stopped moving.
“The next couple of days the GREENLAND was down about Rising Sun, Ind., and in the meantime some thieves went out on the ice and took off the whistle, got some chairs and the boats silverware. They were apprehended and the whistle returned. My Dad dropped the charges against the thieves feeling that getting the whistle back and the risk they had taken in going over on the boat in the gorge should cancel the charges against them.”
The Greenland was Gordon Greene’s finest boat of his Greene Line fleet. He watched helplessly as the ice swept away three of his wharf boats. The Greenland was a total loss. An ice gorge was an ever possible winter danger up & down the Ohio River. It occurs as a result of river ice piling up against an obstruction, such as a wharf, forming a temporary dam. When that ice pack-up finally breaks, the channel formed down the river’s middle is the ice gorge. The river, which flows at the same speed as before, is now forced through a narrower channel, which means the churning waters rolling down an ice gorge are great destroyers of boats and anything else swept into it.
The White Collar Line was one of the early steamboat lines to ply the Ohio River and westward. Its Mississippi River network extended from St. Louis north to St. Paul. Its name comes from the broad painted collars encircling the tops of the ship smoke stacks, which identified the boats at a distance from rival lines.
The White Collar Line competed fiercely with an operator known as the Northern or Red Collar line for passenger and freight traffic. Each strove to profitably carry freight at lower rates than the other, and neither company was above giving passengers free berths and meals, or a money consideration on the side to win their business away from the other steamboat line.