Sepia Saturday – Boating on the Mississippi

Sepia Saturday provides bloggers with an opportunity to share their history through the medium of photographs. Historical photographs of any age or kind become the launchpad for explorations of family history, local history and social history in fact or fiction, poetry or prose, words or further images. If you want to play along, sign up to the link, try to visit as many of the other participants as possible, and have fun.

The transportation prompts have me thinking about some childhood travels, several of them with my dad(Jerry). The one I am reminded of today involved a motorboat with an outboard engine.

I am confused by the photo below. The photo pictures my father, his third wife, and step daughter. They are standing beside a motorboat parked in the driveway of their home. The reason I am confused is that I don’t remember my dad owning a boat. although he may have taken one in on trade for a motorcycle. The other reason it is confusing is that I have only one memory of being in a motorboat with him. I even asked my former step sister if she remembered anything about the boat in the photo. She doesn’t remember the boat or taking the picture, and didn’t remember ever going out in a boat with him. In any case, I have a photo of a boat to match the prompt.

This picture was taken several years after the event I’m writing about. If it is by chance the same boat we had our little adventure in, I am sure that the motor had been upgraded.

I remember few details about our trip, but I do have a few distinct memories. Sometimes traveling with my dad made a lasting impression – probably not the impression intended. I’m considering including a category for Travels with Jerry. I’m not the only person who could contribute to that theme, I’m sure.

After my mom remarried and we moved to another state, I spent a month every summer with my dad. This particular memory must have happened when I was in about 4th or 5th grade. Dad apparently thought I would enjoy an adventure on the Mississippi River in a little motorboat. I don’t enjoy the water much and was not/am not a good swimmer. I’m not very adventurous. The Mississippi River is wide. There are locks. I didn’t even know what a lock is when we set out.

I’m not sure where we put our boat in, but Burlington, Iowa is a possibility – a fairly direct route heading east on Highway 34. Did we put our boat in north of Burlington and go through Lock No.18? Or did we put in south of Lock 18 and go through Lock 19 near Keokuk? I’m going to guess that we made a roundtrip that day rather than having our car waiting at our destination.

Despite all that I don’t remember, I do have some distinct memories, although I am not sure of the sequence of events.

* I started writing a letter to my best friend Cathy as we traveled down the river. I found the unsent letter years ago, but I have no idea where it is now. I would love to read it again. Progress on the letter stopped when the outboard motor stopped. Dad got it restarted – briefly. It stopped again. My letter became a series of “stop” “go” “stop” “go” written over and over and over again to document the experience for my friend. The outboard motor had a pull string like a lawn mower, so I’m sure dad got a workout. Were we low on gas? Was he able to make some kind of adjustment when we pulled over later?

* I remember the day as a pretty summer day, sunshine but not too hot. Lots of green trees and shrubs on the banks. I’m sure I must have thought back to this day when I read Huckleberry Finn in junior high, imagining Huck and Jim rafting along close to the riverbank and hiding in the overgrowth. We shared the river with commercial barges pushed by tugboats – a sight to see those little boats pushing the big barges along! But our idyllic setting changed when a storm came up. We were not near a town and dad looked for a place we could wait out the weather. He finally spotted a grain elevator ahead. I didn’t want to stop there – one more very unfamiliar thing and it didn’t look inviting. But I did want to get out of the rain, so what else was there to do? The men working in the office let us in where I’m sure dad must have been offered a cup of coffee. And me? Maybe a pop. Perhaps dad also took the opportunity to fiddle with the engine before we started off again.

* The locks. As I stated previously, I’m not sure which lock we went through – probably 18 or 19.

Historic American Engineering Record, Creator, et al. Mississippi River 9-Foot Channel, Lock & Dam No. 19, Upper Mississippi River, Keokuk, Lee County, IA
. Documentation Compiled After. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <>.

I mostly remember what seemed like very, very tall walls and feeling like I was in a toy boat by comparison. I think we went through twice that day and so started once at the top and then at the bottom. I watched a government video about how to navigate through locks and started feeling a little nervous. I guess it brought back those old feelings.

I first watched the man in the video below demonstrating how to go through the locks in a kayak. If you are interested in knowing more about how the locks work, he explains the process in the video below, where he emphasizes that, in his opinion, it is not a big waste of resources to operate the locks for a single kayak.

* I ate shrimp for the first time. As our adventure came to a close, Dad took me to a seafood restaurant along the river. Being a good midwestern girl, my only exposure to “seafood” was the fish my grandfather and uncles caught in the river near their home. I wanted to try shrimp and learned that my dad had a shellfish allergy and that his throat would swell closed if he ate shrimp. He made sure that the waitress knew not to allow any shrimp on his plate, but assured me that I was free to order shrimp for myself. I felt like I was very sophisticated to order food unfamiliar to me. That all changed when I ate the first shrimp. Dad forgot to tell me about the shell hiding under the breading of my fried shrimp. Ugh! A big mouthful of shrimp tail, shell and all.

I have another travel adventure with Dad(Jerry) in mind for next time.

This is my very late contribution to Sepia Saturday. I have been away for weeks. It was good to participate again!

Please sail over to other bloggers who participate: Sepia Saturday.