Jul 052016


The Ruth in Linn Creek Mo
Real photo postcard. J. W. Farmer. Linn Creek. MO.

LOVE this photograph!  You can sense the excitement of a boat’s arrival in river towns:  “Steamboat’s a-comin’! Steamboat’s a-comin’!”  Everyone in Linn Creek headed to the docks to see The Ruth tied up at the landing. They perch on the fence and fill the decks of the steamer to pose for the camera. Look close – a group of girls is gathered on the deck. Perhaps a school excursion?

The Miller County Historical Society reprinted an article from The Waterways Journal (Feb. 25, 1984) titled, “The Osage Is An Important Missouri River,” by James V. Swift. In it, Mr. Swift recounts the histories of a number of steamboats that plied the Osage. This one, The Ruth, built at Tuscumbia in 1908, was 52.5 by 12.2 by three feet and had 25 hp. Her registered tonnage was 13 gross and 8 net, and she had a crew of two. As can be seen in the picture, The Ruth towed a barge just as her sister steamboats had done. The Ruth is shown (in Historical Society records) as being abandoned in 1925.”

Other steamboats on the Osage during this era were the J. R. Wells (of which we’ve posted several pictures), Frederick, Homer C. Wright. Mr. Swift’s article has a great deal more information on the steamboats on the Osage. To read the full article go the Historical Society’s website: http://www.millercountymuseum.org/archives/120109.html )

Note the roof used as advertising canvas. “Feed Stable” on one. And “You can buy as cheap as a (illegible) at The Linn Creek Mercantile Co. Merchandise.” Roadside (or in this case streamside) roofs and barn sides continued as advertising media for generations.

In Damming the Osage, we covered the Corps of Engineers’ efforts to enhance steamboat traffic on the Osage with the construction of Lock and Dam No. 1. We have a whole separate section concerning Lock and Dam No. 1 on our website: http://www.dammingtheosage.com/lock-and-dam-no-1-on-the-osage-river/

Nov 182014

Construction photograph of Lock & Dam No. 1. The pièce de résistance of the futile effort to render the Osage River navigable was Lock & Dam No. 1. In the twentieth century, Army Engineers became renowned for escalating the price of a dam after Congressional authorization and work had started. Underestimating construction costs has long been a skill of the Corps.

After half a century of headaches the Army Corps of Engineers ceased operation of Lock & Dam No. 1 ten miles from the junction of the Osage and Missouri rivers. It saw little traffic and was a maintenance nightmare.

We recently ran across a 1956 newspaper article that mentioned a consternation we had not been aware of. When the Corps couldn’t keep the gates in the open position, they removed the set of gates on the lower lock, thus lowering the water level by five to five and a half feet upstream. Locals complained that they couldn’t get their boats over the riffles.

The article from the Jefferson City Post Tribune, April 26, 1956, hints that there are legitimate parties interested in taking over responsibility for this deteriorating blockage of the Osage River. While waiting for congressional approval to dump Lock & Dam No. 1, Lt. Col. Threadgill was actually trying to interest various Missouri state agencies in acquiring it. They were too smart to accept this colossal chunk of liability:


The Osage River Lock and Dam No. 1 property may be up for lease or sale in the future, but for the time being the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers “is reluctant to consider or recommend further leasing of the property.”

The Army Corps of Engineers position on sale or leasing of the property, which has popped up among organizations here in the past, was voiced by L. T. Col. Walton O. Threadgill acting district engineer in Kansas City.

A Jefferson City resident who owns a cottage on the Osage River revealed Army Engineers personnel were working on the site recently. The Corps of Engineers discontinued operation of the lock and dam in September, 1951. Lt. Col. Threadgill confirmed the report.

Some difficulties

He said that “difficulties were experienced in maintaining the gates in the open position” and on March 28 “the two gates at the downstream end of the lock were removed by field personnel of this office to eliminate further difficulties.”

The lock’s gates had been secured in an open position in September, 1951, to permit a free flow through the lock at all times, the colonel said. The Corps of Engineers did this when it pulled its last employee from the property.

But keeping the locks open is proving a big thorn for property owners above the lock and dam, a local resident said yesterday. He added that when a number of them built cottages there was five to five and a half feet of water so they could easily move their boats.

But with the lock at the open position permanently, there is “only 12 to 14 inches of water in normal stages on several shoals and we have difficulty moving our boats.”

How about leasing or purchase of the property? Some organizations have considered such a step with the view of converting the property into a wildlife haven and/or recreational area.

Office reluctant

Lt. Col. Threadgill, noting that a bill is before Congress to provide for the disposal of federally-owned property “at obsolete, canalized waterways and for other purposes,” said the district office, “is reluctant to consider or recommend further leasing of the property involved until congressional action is consummated.”

The bill was introduced in Congress during last year’s session but no final action was taken.

“It is anticipated that legislation will ultimately be adopted authorizing the disposal of the subject property but the conditions and methods of the disposal cannot be determined prior to such enactment,” the Colonel said.

No formal application

He added that, “several inquiries have been received by the Kansas city office, but no formal application to lease or purchase the property is on file in this office at this time.” While the Army Corps of Engineers has no employees assigned or stationed at the project, Lt. Col. Threadgill said, “periodic inspections are made, however to safeguard the government property.”

The Colonel said that cessation of operations at the lock and dam in 1951 “conforms with a nation-wide policy of discontinuing operations of obsolete waterways in order to achieve economy in costs of maintenance.”

Long history

The lock and dam had a long and undoubtedly colorful history before it was closed down in 1951. Records show it was completed in 1914. It is 42 feet wide and 229 feet long.

The project Lt. Col. Threadgill said, was authorized by the River and Harbor Acts approved on Sept. 19, 1890 and March 3, 1899. The project provided for a lock and dam near the mouth of the Osage River and for open channel work consisting of wing dams, training walls, removal of obstructions and dredgings between the mouth and Warsaw, Mo., a distance of 171 miles, “to obtain a uniform depth of 3 feet.”

Lt. Col. Threadgill said, “The wickets and weirs which formed the moveable crest of the dam were removed many years ago.”

In the heyday of the lock and dam, steamboats and rafts were “all important as a means of moving cargoes, but with the construction of good roads, railroads and highways over which the products of the area are now moved to market, the use of the Osage River Lock and Dam No. 1 dwindled to passage of only on occasion pleasure craft or fishing boat,” the colonel spelled out.

And he wrote: “The Osage River waterway has ceased to be an artery of commerce for the Osage valley. Since the operation of the lock and dam was of no benefit to commercial navigation, and the negligible collateral benefits did not justify the continuing operation of the structure at federal expense, the operation of the project was discontinued during September, 1951.”

In our next post, we’ll relate how a “bachelor and private eye” was suckered in to paying cash for this major liability.

Dec 062013

Recently, Union Pacific Railroad officials with the Federal Railroad Administrator and guests from Amtrak and the Missouri Department of Transportation gathered in Osage City to celebrate the completion of a new bridge over the Osage. According to their press release, the addition of a new 1,200 foot span “will eliminate the rail line’s last chokepoint between Jefferson City and St. Louis.”

RR bridge at Osage CityThe original iron truss railroad bridge over the Osage carried traffic only one direction at a time, making trains wait for others to cross before proceeding.  The center span once could be raised to accommodate steamboat traffic. This image of the original bridge was taken in 2010. (page 73, Damming the Osage).

An aerial photo from the Missouri Department of Transportation shows the new span being built next to it.


Mo-Pac RR bridge-03In the push westward a hundred or more years ago, avenues of transportation for people and products were explored, promoted and built. Jumping off points to the opening West included Osceola and St. Joseph as well as Westport (Kansas City) Missouri. Local promoters sought improvements to the Osage for steamboats like the ill-fated and ill-purposed Lock and Dam No. 1. The rocky hills and narrower alluvial valley of the Osage River precluded railroad construction for the most part.

But railroads overcame steamboats as efficient movers of goods and immigrants. The alluvial plain along the Missouri River was broad enough to allow for building tracks and the link from St. Louis to Kansas City made the straightest route. That same route today carries 60 daily freight trains and Amtrak’s Missouri River Runner between the two metropolises.

Railroad yards-Missouri River-Jeff CityRail yards at Jefferson City, 2010

May 092013

Schematic LnDNo.1

Local plans for improvements to the Osage River to make it a commercially navigable stream projected a series of locks and dams.  Work by the Corps of Engineers on the first one began in September 1895 at Shipley Shoals, then seven miles from the mouth of the Osage. A key feature of the project was the “Chittenden Drum Wicket”  (or the Chanoine wicket), the half-round section shown in this diagram. Designed by Army Corps Captain Hiram Martin Chittenden to regulate the flow of the river, the retractable 375-foot long iron mechanism was installed on top of a 9-foot concrete dam.  It was prone to being jammed by mud and clogged by drift and was eventually scrapped.

Soon after its completion in 1906 a 30-foot section of the dam collapsed.  That was rebuilt and for more than a century the lone lock and dam has served more as an impediment to river travel than as an improvement.

Capt. Chittenden redeemed himself with the Chittenden locks in Seattle, a complex of locks at the west end of Salmon Bay, part of Seattle‘s Lake Washington Ship Canal.  Chittenden became the Seattle District Engineer for the Corps soon after completion of Lock and Dam No. 1. Seattle’s locks include working fish ladders for salmon. They were formally opened in 1917 and are still in operation. Chittenden retired as a general.

Possibly he erred in his calculations for Lock and Dam No.1 because he was absorbed in the writing of multi-volume books on the fur trade in the West and on steamboating on the Missouri River. Remarkably, unlike other histories written in that era, these are still in print, and even available in e-book format. His guidebook to Yellowstone is also still in print.

Today there is growing interest in getting rid of Lock & Dam No.1. The sad, crumbling state of the structure was painfully exposed during the drought of 2012.  We have added a section to the Web site pulling together information on the current controversy surrounding Lock and Dam No. 1


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