From the pen of Henry E. Elliott:

After leaving military service, I went to work on the boats. I’d only been working on the boats a few days, when I saw the largest riverboat I’d ever seen. It was coming into Houston, Texas, and the barges trailing behind made the rig look as if it was a mile long.

I told another deckhand, “I’d like to work on a boat like that.” But making up that many barges gave me second thoughts. He only had a regular unit boat oil tow—four or five oil barges. I wanted to get on that barge and look around, but I never got the chance. I’d seen big ships before, but never a boat pushing that many barges.

You don’t travel all that fast on water. One time we went down the river when the water was high—the fastest I’d ever gone south on the Mississippi. We averaged seventeen miles an hour with an empty four-piece unit boat tow from Cairo, Illinois, to the Old River—the Mississippi River—which was about seventy-five miles above Baton Rouge. The slowest had an average of about three miles an hour from Baton Rouge to Cairo.

Of all the many companies I’ve worked for, I’ve only filled out, at most, six applications. I only had to look for a job one time, because the work always came to me. If you were honest, dependable, and did a good job you never had a problem getting, or keeping work. There were always problems that you had no control over and you’d make mistakes that were no one’s fault but your own. You had to take the blame, forget it, and move on.

While lying in bed in 1973, recovering from back surgery, I spent a lot of time going over my life. What a mess.I made notes of my experiences as they came to mind. I tried to document things in order, but to no avail. The experiences merged as one. For instance, I worked on one particular boat three separate times over approximately eleven years. I remembered things that happened on the boat, but I could not recall the correct sequence of events. There have been a number of boats that I’ve worked on more than one once. I’ve worked for a company that operated nine boats and I’ve worked on them all at one time or another. I’ve worked on seven different boats in a thirty-four day period.

In 2002, I was working in an office with a lady and we began talking. She asked me questions about my life and working on boats. She said, “You should write about your life.”

“Who would care to read about my life?” I asked.

“Your children,” she answered.

“I’ve made too many mistakes for me to put them down for my children.”

“Your children may learn from your mistakes.”

She mentioned this to my wife. I gathered all the notes I’d made and began reviewing my life experiences. I’ve gone over my life thousands of times in the last forty years. I’ve written most of what I remembered and continue to remember more and more.

My wife wanted me to write only about my boating experiences. I’m going to try and do this, but some of it still will not be in the order that it happened—dabbed with jokes, pranks, and real-life stories. There are things about working on a boat that the everyday person won’t understand.

I hope to clear the waters with this book.

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