What's in a Nickname 10/14-10/20

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Re: What's in a Nickname 10/14-10/20

Postby Trissa » Mon Feb 28, 2011 4:10 pm

This may come as a surprise, but "Tow" is actually short for "Towboat".

I come from a small Iowa town on the Mississippi River. My family home was just two blocks from the river bluff. The first warm day of spring found me sitting on a concrete wall overlooking the bluff off of River Street. I could sit for hours just gazing across the "Mighty Mississippi" to the shore of Illinois. There were mulberry trees nearby and I would sit beneath them, plucking the berries when they were ripe. If I was lucky, I would catch a glimpse of one of the stately old steamboats as it glided by. If I was really lucky, they would play the calliope. They did that as a "signal" to the town that they were coming close to the old Port. I got to ride the Steamer Avalon when I was eight. It was doing tours from Burlington to Keokuk and back.

The usual boat traffic, though, was the barges. The low "thrum" of the towboat engines could be heard all the way to our house on a summer's night. The towboats pushing those huge containers had names much like the big lobster and shrimp boats plying the ocean. There was the 'Triumph', the 'Duncan Bruce', and the 'Creole Bayou'. They were called the workhorses of the waterway.

As you can tell, I have a fondness for the old boats, now long gone. But I learned quite a bit about these boats from an old gentleman and published scholar. In later years, I worked for a specialty advertising company housed in an old warehouse-style building. William "Steamboat Bill" Petersen was a friend of the family owning that business and they allowed him a spacious corner office to "putz" in. When he found out where I came from and my fondness for riverboats, he would stop by my work space to talk. He knew many turn-of-the-century songs which he would sing to me, as well as forgotten poems and stories. It was "Steamboat Bill" who started calling me "Towboat Patty".

Bill signed one of his books, "Towboating on the Mississippi" for me to give my dad for his birthday (Christmas Eve). I now have the book since dad passed several years ago. I like to imagine that he and "Steamboat Bill" are gliding on "that great steamer in the sky".

That's how I got the name "Towboat".


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