Sunday, August 28, 2022

Chow Time on the River--A Transcription

Pittsburgh Post Gazette
Thursday, May 22, 1930
Second Section, Front page and page 29

Transcription of the interview article with Jessie VanGilder on board the steamboat Carbon. My apologies for adding some additional history where I thought it appropriate.


Dixie Tighe viewed the Allegheny river and learned about steamboats yesterday during her trip on the Steamer Carbon of the Wheeling Steel Corporation.  Miss Tighe is shown in the above picture talking with Mrs. Jessie Van Gilder, stewardess of the boat.

Life on the Rolling Wave Is One Meal After Another

Roving Reporter Finds Stewardess on River Boat Likes It Despite All the Cooking; Describes Years on Steamboat.

     "Everybody knows about river men--why don't you go see about the river women?" suggested the anti-idle editor.

     So without pausing to take out maritime insurance or change to our yachting costume, we set out for the Carbon, a steamboat of the Wheeling Steel Corporation that does things about pushing coal barges on the Allegheny River.

     Boarding the steamboat at Aspinwall dam, the Carbon, her barges empty, easily and quietly headed for Harmarville for loading.  And while Captain J.S. Faddis got on with his steering, we went below to talk river life with the ladies.

Getting Fifth Meal

     Known as "Mrs. Van" to the men of the Carbon, Mrs. Jessie Van Gilder, stewardess of the steamboat, was busy in the kitchen getting ready for the last and the fifth meal of the day.  Rating seems to be the most frequently recurring duties on shipboard.

(First Meal--breakfast at 5:40 am, Second Meal--light snack at 8 or 9:00 am, Third Meal--lunch at 11:40 am, Fourth Meal--light snack at 3:00 pm, Fifth Meal--dinner)

     Coming out from the haunt of the ample stove, Mrs. Van Gilder sat down and told a thing or two about life on the Allegheny river.  This isn't Mrs. Van Gilder's maiden voyage by many a trip.  It is her seventeenth year on the water--and, she is planning many more.

     The usual impressions of ladies on shipboard are created by the moving pictures, the album from my-trip-abroad and story-books.  The general impression from these sources seems to be that a lovely lady is always to be found languidly posed in a steamer-chair, or the snapshot will reveal a young lady disguised as the most popular girl on board and the moving picture and the novel find every pretty girl who ever boarded a boat either in a state of incipient romance or shipwrecked and successfully washed ashore right into the arms of the nearest South Seas Valentino.

No Time for That

     However Mrs. Van Gilder has little time for languid poses and had never been washed ashore.  If you can find time for any such diverting activities, you might let her know.  Her program you can easily see has no hours  off for a romantic ship-wrecking or steamer-chair flirtations.

     "I always rise at four-thirty slow (That's steamboat for Eastern Standard).  Breakfast is at 5:40 and I can tell you the day is a busy one."

     Curious to know how anyone could have an appetite at twenty minutes of six slow or any other time, we inquired as to the Carbon's breakfast menu.  Yesterday morning the men tackled--bacon, mush, rice crispies, jelly, bread and butter and a few potatoes.  

Then Something Light

     "About eight or nine, the men come in for tea or coffee, bread and cheese or something light like that."  Light like that!  Please Mrs. Van Gilder, our diet!

     "Then there's dinner at 11:40.  Well today, for instance, we had roast beef, potatoes, carrots, creamed lima beans, cucumber salad, bread and butter, tea and coffee and vanilla pudding with vanilla sauce."

     The crew worked off the effects of this snack and came back for another bite at 3 o'clock.  This time it was something light like bread and butter and jelly and more pudding.

     There was supper, but respecting your digestion, we will pass by that for a few minutes.

(Respectfully, I want to add here, that my great grandmother VanGilder was quite a baker and I imagine that the bread served onboard was made by her and not a loaf of Pittsburgh's local bread, Town Talk.)

Likes Life on Boat

     Mrs. Van Gilder was widowed many years ago (twenty-seven years ago in 1904), and left with several children.  The youngest was seven months old.  (Mary Louise VanGilder born 1894, Anna Estelle VanGilder born 1896, Sarah Margaret VanGilder born 1898 [my grandmother] and Jessica Virginia VanGilder born 1903.)

     There came a time when Mrs. Van Gilder found it necessary to go to work and she first became a stewardess on a Government quarter boat.  Later she was with a Vesta boat and this is the second time she has served with Captain Faddis.

(Jessie was working before she became a stewardess.  She ran boarding houses in Morgantown and Sabraton, WV, and Woodlawn, PA.  And was the proprietress of a hotel in Morgantown in 1910  before her employment as a stewardess and ran a rooming house in Pittsburgh between stewardess jobs.)

     "Indeed I like this life.  Don't think I work every minute.  I always have a nice nap after luncheon and on days that we only make one trip, I am free early in the afternoon.  Sometimes I go to the movies--and well--I've gained a considerable weight on this boat and at nights I go for a walk."

     Mrs. Van Gilder makes her home aboard the Carbon winter and summer--and it is a very nice home.   Because it pushes coal barges, your impression might be that it's a sooty, grimy place.

No Soot Aboard Ship

     Well it was not!  The cabin was spotlessly white and the staterooms were as fresh and white as they could be.  Flowers were around the cabin, lilies of the valley and bits of orange, trailing honeysuckle.  The kitchen where Mrs. Van Gilder cooks for seven men looked as if it was ready to be photographed for the model kitchen advertisement.  

     On board with Mrs. Van Gilder is her youngest daughter Virginia Barber, whose husband, John Barbor, is a watchman on the Transport.  When Mrs. Barbor was only 10 years old she used to spend her summers on board ship with her mother--now she's married to a riverman--but someday we are going to live ashore, she says.  

(Jessica Virginia VanGilder born in 1903 would have been on board a ship with her mother in 1913 while the family was living in Woodlawn, PA.  Known as Ginger, she would have been out of school for the summer.)

    The Allegheny sparkling so happily in the sunlight can be another story, Mrs. Van Gilder says.

River Frozen Solid

     "I remember one time when we froze in the middle of the river for forty days.  And you never saw such a funny sight as a horse-drawn sleigh hauling coal and food out to the boat.  It was frozen so solid that we could walk across the river to the store ourselves when we wanted to."

    Another time Mrs. Van Gilder remembers that wasn't so quiet as a summer's afternoon canoeing on a mill pond was the time one icy winter when the wheel was worked in the ice so long and hard it broke.  And another time--

     "One night I heard the mate calling to us to get out in a hurry.  I asked him if we had time to dress and he said no.  I ran out on deck in just my nightgown and kimono.  One of the men asked me if I could climb up into the barge all right....I said, No--get a ladder."

     "That was before women women wore their skirts to their knees...and, I was ashamed to death to shinny up to the barge with a man standing around.  When he ran to get the ladder, I was up in that barge in no time."

(This story of Jessie needing to get off a boat is somewhat of a conundrum.  There is a newspaper article of a Vesta boat capsizing due to a violent windstorm on June 13, 1920 in the Monongahela River at Allenport.  The captain and three crew members were killed.  I wonder if Great Grandmother VanGilder was on that boat and the story is her recollection of it?) 

Plans To Be Stowaway

     In the pilot house Captain Faddis was tooting whistles and ringing bells preparatory to releasing the empty barges at Harmarville.  Looking out of the pilot house we saw the sloping shore that was bright with the new-born green of the trees and grass.  Camp sites were showing signs of life--and down near the water's edge trees had bowed their branches  until the river cooled the tipmost leaves.  

     The barges released, the Carbon with none of those salty, ear-splitting epithets often thought necessary in steamboating, backed out of the harbor and cut a foamy path until its bow nudged the loaded barges into action.

     Back down the Allegheny--and a little chat with Captain Faddis at the supper table where the meal was so delicious that we plan to be a stowaway on the Carbon the first chance we have.  

     In the engine room we found Mr. L.D. Cooper and besides a shiny and colorful engine room we discovered a saxophone and an orange upholstered chair and a gilt stool!

     Also--on board we found a perfectly grand expression for dining--it is, "messing with the crew."

     From an old map; however, it gives an idea of the river trip covered in the story.  According to google maps this would be a ten mile plus journey one way.  From the article, it reads to me, that the newspaper writer boarded the Carbon in Aspinwall in early afternoon and was on board ship for afternoon snack and dinner on the return trip.

Also on Flipside

I WOULD LOVE TO HEAR FROM YOU. All comments are welcome; however, if they are inappropriate, they will not be published.    PLEASE post your e-mail in the comment section if you would like to network about a particular surname or topic. I will capture it for my use only and not include it when I publish your comment.
© 2022, copyright Linda Hughes Hiser

1 comment:

  1. What wonderful history, Lin! Thank-you for publishing this, and for your additions to the history. Fascinating! Phyllis