Famed Boat Whistle is Tuneful Memory

Memphis Commercial Appeal article Feb. 4, 1943.  In the Pilothouse byline by Joe Curtis.  Every now and then two or three old steamboat men congregate to discuss their years on the Mississippi, and they generally go back to the days of the packets.  Yesterday, when Marine Inspectors Capt. J. Benton Wyckoff and Clinton Critchfield were resting up a bit before trackling some reports received who walked into their office but Capt. Charlie Greenwood, onetime inspector of hulls at Memphis when their office was known as United States Steamboat Inspectors.

Although Capt. Greenwood walks slightly bent, he gets around lively with the help of a cane.  He still resides on Young Ave.  He had just sat down when he started talking about old steamboat whistles.  Of course Capt. Wyckoff held out that the CHAS. ORGAN, a famous Memphis steam ferry had one of the best on the Mississippi.  After Capt. Greewood scratched his head a few times he disagreed about that.

I have always contended that the last JAMES LEE had the finest whistle on the Lower Mississippi.  It was a chime, about 10 inches in diameter, and was first bought for the RUTH, which boat was built by Capt. W.P. Hall in 1888, for the Memphis and New Madrid trade.  The RUTH first had a course whistle and Tom Skipper, one of her pilots, started a subscription amoung the crew to buy a better one.  The money was sent to Philadelphia and there is where it was built at a cost of $100.  It went on the RUTH, but when the Lee Line bought the RUTH from Capt. Hall she was kept in the same run until the Lee Line sold her to the Greenville and Vicksburg Packet Co.

When she was about to be delivered to the new owners , the late Capt. Robert E. Lee went down to the boat and told the engineer he would like to reserve the whistle, so it was removed and another whistle took its place.  The RUTH whistle then went to the ROWENA LEE and remained on her until she sank in the Mississippi River at Friars Point.  Again the whistle was saved and put on the JAMES LEE.  When she was withdrawn from the packet trade it was put on the HARRY LEE.

                                                  Probably Lost in the River

It never was on the COAHOMA Capt. Greenwood continued.  It was never on the GENERAL ANDERSON because during the years of the steamer ANDERSON chime whistles had not been perfected.  The COAHOMA had the whistle off the A.J. WHITE made by engineer Lou Botto.  It was 12 inches in diameter with a 30 inch bell made of sheet irom.  After it wore the COAHOMA out it went on the LADY LEE which sank and then the whistle went on the CITY OF OSCEOLA which formerly was the CITY OF OWENSBORO.  From that steamer it went on the ROBERT E LEE owned by the Lee Line.  Now, she wasn’t the ROBERT E LEE of fame , but a very nice boat at that.  After the ROBERT E LEE sank, it was put on the first HARRY LEE which formerly was the CITY OF WHEELING.  When she was dismantled, it went on the BOB LEE JR and it probably was lost when this boat turned over in the Mississippi after being converted into a towboat and owned by the Standard Oil Co.

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