steamboat captain Russell
recalls life on Ohio River
(August 2007) The majestic Ohio River stretches
981 miles from Pittsburgh to Cairo, Ill., where it empties into the
mighty Mississippi River. Few people can claim to have navigated the
entire length of the historically important Ohio River, and even fewer
can say theyve done it too many times to count.
than 200 people celebrated
Capt. Russell Bubby Halls 85th
birthday when the Belle of Cincinnati
stopped in Carrollton, Ky., in May.
Hall spent five decades working on
the Ohio River as a riverboat captain.
Retired riverboat Capt. Russell Hall of Warsaw, Ky., can
make that claim. Known as Bubby Hall to most, he spent a
lifetime getting to know every bend and turn on the Ohio. For his last
20 years as a licensed captain, he worked for BB Riverboats, in Cincinnati
giving tours of the river on luxury boats.
On May 1, BB Riverboats grand Belle of Cincinnati paid a visit
to Carrollton, Ky., where more than 200 people boarded her for a lavish
celebration in honor of Halls 85th birthday. I was totally
surprised and thrilled about the party, said Hall.
When Hall retired from the company five years ago, BB Riverboats owner
Al Bernstein sent the boat down to Carrollton, where 400 people came
aboard and celebrated with him. Hall is a good person, said
Bernstein in a May telephone conversation. We really appreciate
Halls river career began in the mid-1950s when he took a job for
the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, which was building the Markland Locks
and Dam. I was in the restaurant business before that, and I needed
some extra work, he said.
He hauled the project workers around on boats and decided to get a captains
license to transport passengers in 1958. By 1961, Hall opened the Warsaw
Ferry, where he hauled people back and forth across the river. He owned
that business until 1977. At that time the Markland Dams bridge
across the river had opened just a few miles down the river and put
him out of business.
Hall then worked a variety of other jobs, piloting boats up and down
the river, including work as a towboat captain hauling barges. His career
also included a 21/2-year stint as a captain at Belterra Casino &
Resort when it first opened in Switzerland County, Ind.
In his career at BB Riverboats, Hall took passengers on cruises up and
down the river and gave speeches about river life and history. He knows
exactly how deep and wide various parts of the river are, the locations
and specifications about the locks and dams on the river and all kinds
of interesting tidbits of information about river development.
Although he was spent much of his time away from home, Hall said he
loved his work.
I raised four children, made lots of friends, and bought a nice
home, he said.
As far as adventures on the river, he said he certainly had his share.
I was just working on a boat during the late 1970s that got stuck
in ice on the river and sank. I tried really hard to be the first person
off, but ended up third instead.
In another incident when he was actually piloting a cruise boat, a woman
choked on a chicken bone and had to be shipped ashore for emergency
help. That was a tough situation trying to keep everyone calm
and get her help, he said.
Unfortunately, too, Hall had one tragic experience while captaining
his ferry. In 1963, exactly one week after President John F. Kennedy
was shot, one of Halls crew members fell off the ferry and drowned.
Oh that was just horrible, he said.
Overall, life as a riverboat captain was good, he said.
It was sometimes dangerous work with a lot of responsibility,
but I would choose to do it all over again if I had to.
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