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The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • Johnston's Jottings: A foggy, scary boat trip up the Missouri River

  • Today's story is written by Julius Cord, a friend of the family.
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  • Today's story is written by Julius Cord, a friend of the family.
    I have spent half of my life on boating both for pleasure and commercial fishing. I have boated from the cloudy Missouri River around Fort Leavenworth to the sea; the "clear to the bottom" waters of Northern Michigan's Lake Superior to the unspoiled wild country surrounding Lake Kabinakagami about 200 miles north of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan- Canadian border.
    I have rarely been concerned with my personal safety mainly because I could see trouble coming and I have taken steps to avoid any confrontation. This includes small boat handling in the ship channel in Galveston, Texas, and the small sailboat I sailed on Lake Michigan. All this was without personal injury to my vessel, to me or to my passengers.
    My most frightened experience on the water occurred when a good friend, Bob Swiderski, and I were building a hunting duck blind on the eastern shore of the Missouri River near the small town of Kickapoo, Kansas.
    The blind required a lot of work and we felt if we had an early start we could finish the construction in one day. We loaded up our tools and left our dock at Leavenworth to go by a duck boat some 12 miles north to our blind location.
    We got started while it was still dark. By the time we had gone a couple of miles we ran into a heavy fog. We motored into an area where we had several cross-overs and we agreed it safe enough to keep going if we could keep the boat moving into the current.
    It was early fall and the U.S. Army Corps Of Engineers had not yet restricted the flow of water from the big dams on the upper Missouri River. This meant there was still some barge and tow boat traffic making their way south through St. Louis and Memphis for the winter.
    We had not gone very far when we heard what we determined to be a large boat coming downstream directly at our small boat. We were waiting for a whistle from the boat telling us that we were seen and what side of us the large boat would pass us according to the "rules of the Road" for river traffic.
    We were entering a place on the river where there were big bends and it made the big boat seem like it was a lot closer than it really was. Still there was no whistle and we stayed in the channel prepared to make rapid adjustments to our direction and hoped the big boat would pass us safely.
    I kept remembering that we were close to an area where my grandfather was moving a large raft of logs during a record-breaking flood when the waves forced him against the Kansas bank where the current undercut the shore and a big section of bank collapsed on the raft, over-turning the raft and, according to an eyewitness, my grandfather and two men working for him were thrown into the river and lost. This was during a record-breaking flood in 1881 and, thankfully, the eyewitness was in error and all three men were somehow saved.
    Page 2 of 2 - We were somewhat relieved when the big boat, much closer now, turned on his gigantic search light and this meant surely he could see us now, but no whistle sounds were forthcoming telling us on which side of us he was going to pass us. So we decided to stick close to the Missouri side of the river.
    We were on the river at a place called Weston Bend and we were still in the edge of the current and very close to the Missouri shore and it seemed like forever for the boat to reach us. Then he was upon us.
    The roar of the diesel engines was deafening and then we heard a big blast from the horn and we knew right then that was not a boat sound, that was a freight train sound, and then the big diesel engines were to pass us not 100 feet away and the horn was "blowing a crossing" notifying anyone within ear shot that the train was about to cross a road at Beverly, Mo., not a half mile away.
    When we took a few minutes to calm down we continued our journey up stream to our duck blind site. Needless to say, that was our last trip on the Missouri River when fog was present
    A few weeks later I was working at Rapid City, S.D., and after an extended weekend in Kansas I took a commercial flight from Kansas City to my new home in Rapid City. I noticed some fog on the water when we crossed the Missouri River.
    The small airplane made seven stops between Kansas City and Rapid City. Consequently, he did not attain too much altitude and I had a good bird's eye view of the fog laden Missouri River all the way to Nebraska City, Neb. our first stop.
    The river had lost its gloomy tan color and with the fog still in place from bank to bank it was, in the brilliant clear sun, a magnificent silver white.
    It looks like Mother Nature was making up to me for frightening me so badly.
    Annie Johnston is a Leavenworth resident and wife of the late J.H. Johnston III, former Times publisher.
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