History ripples through boat names

MARIETTA – Two dozen boats are docked in town for the Ohio River Sternwheel Festival.

Each one is a story.

Of the vessels docked by the levee, Rufus B II is one of the older ones to attend the Ohio River Sternwheel Festival. Owned by Lou Wendell, 76, of St. Albans, W.Va. and his wife, Linda, the boat has an interesting history with a certain infamous mobster.

“The boat was built in 1926 by an attorney in Chicago by the name of Lambauck,” said Wendell. “It turns out the attorney represented Al Capone.”

He said the boat was originally named Freddie Boy.

“I read a couple books (that mention) Al Capone being (entertained) out on ‘Freddie Boy,'” Wendell said. “This is that boat.”

In 1955, the boat was purchased by Bill Molo and renamed Bart L. The wooden hull was replaced with steel. Wendell bought the boat in 1991 from the Bettler family, who had named the boat the Rufus B II.

Wendell said the Bettlers remodeled the boat in 1965, and after he bought it everything has mostly stayed the same.

“The pilot house is higher,” he said. “There’s a back bedroom. They extended the boat (and widened it). The boat is like it was (when we bought it); we made very few changes.”

The sternwheeler has made the trek to the festival 22 times, said Wendell.

“The little town of Marietta is a unique town,” he said. “It’s peaceful and quiet here…Everybody here is so friendly. We really enjoy coming here.”

Sternwheeler Betty Lou is one of the largest to dock by the levee. She was built over eight years by Capt. Bub Crain, 80, of Pittsburgh.

“We put it in (the water) in 1998,” said Crain. “I built it for Betty Lou.”

Betty Lou is Crain’s wife, and the two enjoy frequent river cruises.

“I’ve been a captain all my life, well, 65 years,” said Crain.

Betty Lou will sleep six people, is 100 feet long, 20 feet wide and has three decks. The table in the dining area was constructed from some of the planks of wood used to launch the boat in ’98. The boat has two paddle wheels on the stern, and for good reason, said Crain.

“I didn’t want chains or big noisy gears,” he said, adding that the two paddle system makes the boat relatively silent.

For Capt. “Heck” Heckert owning two boats that are at the festival is just a part of being a river man.

The Dixie is under construction, even as it sits along the Ohio’s banks for the festival this weekend.

“It’s a working boat,” said Heckert, 66, of Parkersburg. “It’s a 1937 model boat and is completely functional; it can push a barge.”

Heckert said Dixie’s service started in 1937 in Wheeling for the Standard Sand and Gravel Co.

“She worked until the 1970s when she was modified into a mini Delta Queen,” he said. “I bought her and took her back to the original style. I built her from the deck up.”

Likewise, the P.A. Denny, also owned by Heckert, is a working boat built in the 1930s.

“(The P.A. Denny) was built in 1930 by Ward Engineering in Charleston, W.Va.,” he said. “It was built for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It served in government service until the 1970s.”

From there the boat served as an excursion boat, as part of Pratt Mining Co. of Hansford, W.Va., and even as a floating marine biology school for Orsanco Group of Cincinnati before being sold to Heckert, who said it will be on the market again in October.

Heckert has owned more than 10 sternwheel boats over the years and said boating is close to his heart.

“I’ve always dealt in buying and selling boats,” he said. “It seems that I’ve gotten more specialized with sternwheels or towboats on the river. It’s a niche I fell into and it’s a niche I’m comfortable in. I feel that our family and friends have the responsibility to preserve these for the heritage of the river and sternwheelers. That’s part of what we’re doing.”