Chapter 12 - shenanigans

 We had a cook and maid on the boat. The maid helped the cook, cleaned the Captain’s and pilot’s room plus the engineer and did the boat laundry. She had one of those rolling irons she used on the sheets. She would fold the sheet, put the sheet in the iron, and pull the arm down on the sheet so it would pull the sheet through ironed.

I spent two months trying figure out how to make the iron run backwards. I knew how I could do it, but would require some fast changing. I finally had it down and I had practiced a number of times before trying it.

It was her day to iron the sheets, which she did after supper. I changed the iron so when she put a sheet in, it would kick it out instead of pulling it through. I raised a window a little so I could hear what she was saying. She called the cook to show her what was happening. The cook said maybe it needed turning around. That put the control next to the wall.

“I am going to get that little fat slob because I know he has done something to my iron!” she shouted.

I ran upstairs jumped in bed with clothes and shoes on. She knocked on my door and I made out like I was a sleep.

“I am going up and make the other beds. Then you are going down stairs to show me what you did to my iron!” she yelled through my door.

I jumped out of bed, ran downstairs and changed the iron around like it was supposed to be and went back to my room and pulled off my shoes. She came by and I told her to wait, I would have to put my shoes on. I got my shoes on and went downstairs to the laundry room. She got a sheet and put it in the iron and it pulled it right on through ironed and all. She called the cook in there to witness what the iron had been doing.

I put my arm on her shoulders and then called her name. “You have been on the boat about forty days. I know a doctor in St. Louis that we can…” That was as far as I got.

She jumped out of chair. “I’m not the one that needs a doctor! You do, for doing things like this to me.”

She was a great lady; we were always pulling things on each other. One time she brought her grandchildren down to the boat. There were two girls and a younger boy. We were sitting in the galley and I was teasing the kids. The boy was about five. I got him down to one end of the table talking to him.

I said, “You mean to tell me that old gray-headed woman is your grandma.”

I said few other things before he got down off the stool, walked around to the other side of the table, crawled up in a chair where he was looking me eye ball to eye ball. He took his finger and put it in my face and said, “No one talks about my Grandma like that and lives to tell about it.”

 His sisters and his grandma had to to get him settled down. Before he got off the boat he and I were big buddies.




 I rode this boat with the same maid and cook for about a year and half off.

I was riding pilot and I got off watch at six in the morning. I passed my room on my way to the galley and I noticed a little water right by my door. I ate and set around talked a little. At the top of the stairs, I could go outside and come in my room from the outside. I went in my room from the outside. There was a bucket of water tied over my door, so if I had opened that door out of the hall it would have dumped two gallons of water on my head. I took the bucket down, poured some water under door out into the hall and some on my floor, and then went to bed. I got up about nine and went to the galley.

 I said, “Good morning, ladies. How are you all doing?”

“Fine,” they said, but the maid wouldn’t look me in the eye. Usually when we talked, she never took her eyes off mine. She said that was the only way she could tell if I was lying or not.

I just let the bucket and water pass until I got off and went back to the boat. I went in her room and tied the bucket of water over her door. She got the whole two gallons on her head. She came to the pilot-house and looked like a drowned rat. They wore white uniforms then and usually she was as neat as she could be. I called her by her name said, “What on earth happen to you?”

“Don’t you give me that innocent look and try to sweet talk me.”

 I said, “No, I want to know what happened to you.”

“Well, there’s a certain fat pilot who tied a bucket water over my door and when I open the door it poured on me.”

 “That’s such a shame for somebody to do you that way,” I said.

I was well on my way making her think it was someone else, when a deckhand was coming up the stairs and said the wrong thing, him not knowing the maid was standing right there. There was no doubt in her mind then.




I used Listerine as a mouthwash. I had used all the Listerine and just let the bottle set there. When the maid came to clean my bedroom, she broke the top out of her Pine Sol bottle. She saw the Listerine bottle so she poured the pine sol in the Listerine bottle, but forgot and left it in my bath. I got ready to get my afternoon nap I noticed the bottle. I knew I had emptied it so I opened to smell. It was Pine Sol.

I sat by the stairs until I heard somebody coming. I called them in my room and told them what had happened. I put some toothpaste in my mouth to make a foam and then I put some Pine Sol on the outside of my mouth. The deckhands went down and told the maid and cook, “Something’s wrong with Henry. He’s laying up there on the floor just kicking and foaming at the mouth.”

Here they came. “Captain Henry, don’t die!”

Somebody said, “He will be dead before we can get him to a doctor.”

 I got tickled and those two women like to have beat me to death.




If we were stopped somewhere, I would look at how the maid set up the table for this one Captain. I noticed she got two half-gallons of milk out of the refrigerator and set them down.

One morning before they got down to fix breakfast, I got a half-gallon carton with just little milk and filled it up with water and put it in the refrigerator. This Captain never smiled or had a kind word for anybody. The maid sat that half-gallon with water by the Captain’s plate. I watched through the window. I had no idea what he would say or do, but I knew I would cut in on him if he got on the maid or cook. He poured the milky water and looked at it.

He called the maid and she came in. He said, “What happened to this old cow?”

She looked at it and said, “Well, Captain, I would say Henry milked that one.”

 He said, “That figures. I want you to get a half-gallon and let it sour good then put it by Henry’s plate.”

I never took the bait.




We had plastic glasses to drink from. They would stack them in a cabinet. One day I started to get a glass of milk and the two glasses stuck together. We were at a dock and right before the cook and maid came down to fix breakfast an idea came to me. I went down and taped them together. You should have seen them trying to get the glasses apart. I was outside watching and I got so tickled I had to move away from the window. I didn’t know a person could get in so many positions trying to get two glasses apart.

The same maid smoked Camel cigarettes. There was another person on the boat that smoked Camels. I said to him, “Let me borrow a cartoon and then tell people you got a carton of cigarettes missing.” 

I got the cartoon of cigarettes and hid them in the maid’s room. After the news a carton of cigarettes were missing, I said, “I guess we are going to need to search the rooms.”

The maid said, “You can search mine first.” The maid’s room was last. Everybody saw us search the room.

I found the cartoon of cigarettes over behind her bed. She looked me dead in the eye. “I did not steal any cigarettes.”

Everybody on the boat took her side. I was out in the cold. The man I got the cigarettes from told everybody what happened.

I was on watch and when I went down to my room, every stitch of my clothes was in a big garbage can full of water. I went down to the maid and told her I was sorry for what I did; I also said I needed to borrow the washing machine. When I got off watch the next time, she had washed and ironed all my clothes. All too soon, she had to get off the boats to go home and take care of her mother. She was a mother to the whole crew.




While on the same boat with a different maid, I got to noticing how the captain and new maid looked at one another; she would go to the pilot-house when he was on watch—every watch. I could tell if the Captain used the outside door when he left his room. With the door open there was a change in the sound of the engines in the pilot-house.

I couldn’t see the maid’s outside door from the pilot-house. I got me two ropes long enough where I could steer and see the maid’s outside door. Sure enough he would go out his outside door and ease down and go in the maid’s room.

I figured out how to block the outside door and the one in the hall. I always did things like this by myself because I didn’t want it to be known. He usually stayed in her room about an hour. When I heard his door open I got the mate up there to steer for me. I went down and blocked both doors and turned the fire alarm on. You should have seen both the captain and maid trying to come out the window at the same time. After this happened, the Captain was a nice fellow to work with.




The Captain usually had his own bathroom or shared with the pilot. I went to make a trip on a boat where the bath was shared by four or five people. I started to take a shower, but before I did, I went to the galley and got me a handful of peanut butter. When I pulled off my shorts, I smeared the peanut butter in the seat. After I got my shower, I just left the shorts laying there.

I went on watch and the deckhand that cleaned the bathroom came to the pilot-house. He said, “Henry, there is a pair of underwear on the bathroom floor and I think they are yours.” I said he should just throw them in my room. He said, “I’m not going to mess with them. They’ve been messed in!”

 I said to the mate for him to steer and let me go check. I went down with the deckhand and I walked around the underwear then picked them up. I ran my finger through the peanut butter and tasted of it.

 I said, “Yep, they are mine.”

 He got sick and wouldn’t go to the galley if I was in there. From then on, if I walked in the galley and he was in there, he’d leave.




One of the cooks would take T-bone steaks out of the freezer for Saturday night. I’d catch her not looking and I’d put them back in the freezer. She did this three or four times. I was in the dining room and she asked, “Henry, I know I’ve taken those steaks out more than twice.”

I said, “Yes, and I was just wondering why you were putting them back.”

 A couple days later a deckhand came to me, said the cook is getting worried about herself. I ask why. “She keeps talking about getting the steaks out and putting them back,” he explained.

I went down to the galley and told her it was me who put the steaks back. She said, ‘Thank God, I’m not losing my mind.”

 I thought that would be the end of it, but it wasn’t. About three days later I had to live on the commode and keep a five-gallon can in the pilot-house. After about four days, she said, “Now, put the steaks back in the freezer on me again.”




We were boat towing lube oil from Houston, Texas, to Gary, Indiana. When we went through Chicago lock and if Lake Michigan was a little rough, we would put the barge on a boat tow cable. One of the men came to me and wanted to know how to keep from getting seasick. The galley was on the back with two portholes to look out the back. I said to stand right there and watch that barge as it swings. In about ten minutes, he threw up everything he had in his stomach. I left the galley and the cook said Henry was just playing a trick on you. When we got to Gary, he was mad. He saw me and called me everything in the book. After that, anything I told him he would go ask somebody else was I telling him the truth.




I was pushing some barges that had boilers on them to keep heavy oil hot by doing this we didn’t have to steam the barge to get the oil hot when we got to the dock. They needed to be checked every hour or so, day and night. We were sitting on the front of the boat just talking.

 I said, “How many believe in ghosts?”

 Three or four said that they sure have seen some strange things in their life. On the barges, we had a PA system with speakers that could be moved around. I went on the barges like I was just looking around and I put a speaker in each boiler house. I would bring up ghosts every now and then. We were at “cave in rock” on the Ohio River waiting on a lock fifty.

The engineer went out to check the boilers and when he would start in one, I would make a strange noise. He would back out and go to the door on the other side and I would do the same thing. He went on out to another boiler house the same thing happen.

I noticed the engineer coming back to the boat. He came to the pilot-house and asked if a deckhand could go with him.

I said, “Sure.”

They started in the first boiler house when I did the same thing. They backed off, got their flashlights and looked all around. They moved on to the other, then they came back.

“Henry, there is all kinds of strange noises out there.”

I said, “Here, I will go with you all. Let me get the mate to watch the boat.” We went out there. I said, “I don’t hear anything.”

They couldn’t hear anything so we went back to the boat.

I had got two long springs and made a sling shot. I put it on the barge next to the boat. I got me a white pillowcase and tied a big nut for a bolt in one corner.

The engineer and deckhand were about fifty feet from where I was. I had the pillowcase rolled up around the big nut. I pulled the sling shot back and let it go. That nut was out front and that pillowcase flopping in the wind. I had a hard time beating them back to the pilot-house. The engineer and the deckhand came to the pilot-house to see if I’d seen that ghost. I said, “I can’t believe two grown men are seeing ghosts.”




The engineer and cook were husband and wife. I got to noticing how he watched me and I didn’t know why. There wasn’t anything pretty about his wife and she was old enough to be my mother. When I was in the galley to eat, the engineer would be there. I could go get a cup of coffee and he would be there. I got to where I would just go to the galley to eat only. I was sitting in the pilot-house, when I mentioned this to a deckhand. He said you don’t know why? I said no. One of the deckhands told the engineer he had better watch Henry, or he would steal his wife. I decided I would go along with it.

In the engine room there was a big tank that fuel was pumped into to run the main engines and generators. This tank had an alarm on it so if the fuel got low the alarm would go off. The tank had a big float with a rod sticking out at the top that the engineer could watch just in case the alarm didn’t work. I would see the engineer sitting in his chair down in the engine room. I would pass this tank and push this rod down. When I did the alarm would go off and I would go to the galley and get a cup of coffee.

Here came the engineer. He would sit there until I left. I did this a few times when I got to thinking this could get serious. So I quit and just went to the galley to eat.

Later we were getting off the boat and he had his car there. I needed to go to the airport that he passed by so I asked him would he give me a ride to the airport.

He said, “NO! You have been trying to steal my wife ever since you got on the boat and you expect me to give you a ride? You can walk.”

A couple days later, I needed to call the office about something. The man I was talking to said, “Henry, what are you doing trying to steal my cook?” And he broke out laughing.

The engineer had told him he wouldn’t ever ride a boat with me because I tried to steal his wife. I told him the story of what I had done after I found out what one of the men told the engineer. The owner told me all most every trip pilot that was put on there, it was the same thing.




I had a first mate and his wife was the cook on the boat. Some knew they were married and some didn’t. I had known them for years. When he knew he would be getting up a lot with the double locking boat tow, he would sleep in the mate’s room, if not he would sleep in the cook’s room. I sent a deckhand down to get the mate. He went to the mate’s room and he wasn’t there.

The deckhand came back and said, “He isn’t in his room and I can’t find him.”

I said, “Go down to the cook’s room, he may be in there.”

He was serious when he said, “Captain Henry, I did not figure you for that type of person, letting the mate sleep with the cook.”

I said, “I do things like that now and then.”

When he found out they were married, he came to me and said, “You let me make a jackass of myself.”




I worked for a Captain that was a boxer in his youth. He was called “Punch Happy.” He would not stay in the pilot-house at night by himself because he was scared. One night, I decided to have a little fun. I had got a sheet and put it in an air compartment on the barge. When it got dark, I eased out and got in the air tank. When he started using his spotlights I would stick my head up a little then back down. I stuck my head up with the sheet over it.  BOOM, BOOM.  I didn’t know he had a shotgun in the pilot-house. I happened to be far enough away that two shots stuck in my scalp.




I was working on a boat where the cook and deckhand quarters were in the in the forward hole. There was a hatch cover in the deck above our quarters. There was a fan between our quarters and the engine room. It served two purposes. It sucked air into our quarters to cool them and helped cool the engine-room. The boat was engine-room controlled and the engineer was on the side of the engine where the fan was.

The engineer was leaning back getting a little nap. I got a can of black pepper and put some in the fan. The engineer just wiggled his nose a little. I then gave him a lot. He came up and ran outside to get some air. Nothing was ever said about it. My bunk was right under the hatch cover. The engineer must have dumped a whole box of red pepper in the hatch door. The only way out was up through a door in the floor of the galley. The engineer stood on the door where I couldn’t get out. My nose burned for two days.




A cook I once worked with griped and complained about everything. On this little boat we would put our suitcases in the engine room, unpack, and store them there. I got a piece of stinking cheese and put in his suitcase. It stayed in that hot engine room two weeks. When he opened his suitcase you could smell it for a hundred yards. He didn’t say a thing about it. It aired out a couple hours before he put his clothes in the suitcase. He got off and never said a word. He came back to the boat and I was getting off. I got dressed and started to put my dress shoes on and ran my foot in my shoe into a raw rotten egg. I had to wear my work shoes home.

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