Tennessee Records Repository

Decatur Co. TN

Paul Middleton

From Lillye Younger, People of Action (Brewer Printing Company, Jackson, Tennessee, n.d.).

This People of Action, issued circa 1969, reproduced newspaper clippings about people in Decatur County. Most items probably were written in the mid 1960s. Most, but not all, of the items were written by Lillye Younger herself and most, but not all, appeared in the Jackson Sun. The photographs, which in the book were poorly reproduced from clippings, have not been scanned.

Special thanks to Constance Collett and the estate of Lillye Younger for permission to make these web pages.

Thanks to www.tnyesterday.com for contributing this transcription.

By Lillye Younger

Boat Captain's Dream Comes True

PARSONS. Tenn. — A lad stood on the banks of the Tennessee River with a hand clutched by his grandfather and eyed the big white triple-deck steamboat as it parted the water.

The sound of the whistle died away and the boy tugged at his grandpa's leg and said, "Someday, I'm going to drive one of those big boats up and down the river."

 Paul G. Middleton of Parsons never forgot that dream and when he reached 17, he signed on the Elmo Foster towboat. "It was a real experience for a teen-ager who had stretched his age in order to get on." Middleton recalls amid a smile.

"I made one trip and experienced my first boat accident. I fell back into an open hatch and broke my hand." The injury, plus a certain amount of homesickness, caused him to sign off for six months.

Yet the Dream kept returning and again he hired on a towboat as a deck hand. "The work was hard," Middleton says. "We scrubbed the deck, put the barges together and kept the boat painted."

"It was while I was working as first mate that our boat was grounded for two weeks because of low water. The river was falling rapidly during the summer season and our boat hit a sand bar.

"We worked around the tow trying to get it washed off but to no avail. Finally we had to get an Army dredging machine to dredge us off.

"After working a year and a half as a mate, I was elevated to engineer, who is required to take care of the engine and electrical equipment."

In 1954 Middleton became pilot and three years later was promoted to captain. From 1959 to 1962 Middleton served a stretch in the armed forces. Stationed at Ft. Eustus, Va., he worked on tugboats in the transportation corps.

After his discharged he signed on another towboat and continued his career as a riverrnan.

At present Middleton is employed as captain of the "Kansas City" towboat and makes runs in the summer from St. Louis to Omaha. In the winter the boat plies the Illinois River, the lower Mississippi and intercoastal canals from Houston, Tex., to Florida.

"We haul grain chemicals, molasses, fertilizer and coal," he noted. At full capacity each barge will hold around 1.200 tons, equivalent to 22 boxcars of products.

"On the Missouri River we carry from six to nine barges, but on the Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee and Illinois, we can carry up to 20 barges," he explained. "When traveling up the Missouri River we make four miles an hour, but going down the river, we make 10 miles per hour."

The "Kansas City" crew includes six deck hands, four engine room members, one cook, one maid and two pilot house crewmen.

"Our cooks are women and the food is excellent and must pass U.S. Coast Guard inspection," Middleton commented. "The cooks serve as dieticians and provide well-balanced meals from the choicest foods.

"Meals are served from 5:30 to 6:30 am., 11:30 to 12:30 at noon and 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Supplies are taken aboard from other boats without us tying up. The boats move alongside our boat and store the groceries.

The bottom deck of the boat is for the cooks and deck hands and is called the galley. During the six hours off-duty (six hours are spent on duty) refreshments are always available. "Boatment can raid the refrigerator any time," Middleton says.

The oiler engineers and pilots sleep on the second deck, two to a room. The captain and second enginers have private quarters on the second deck.

For recreation the crew views television, listens to the radio, plays cards and reads. New corners just enjoy sitting on the back of the boat and viewing the scenery along the riverbanks.

"I really enjoy life as a boat captain. It's kinda like getting a vacation every month. I work 30 days and am off 15 days. Some boatmen work 30 days and are off 30 days."

The benefits of working on a towboat are excellent, Middleton says. "The companies carry hospitalization insurance for its workers and their families as well as life insurance for those on duty. The rate of pay starts at $450 a month for a deck hand and about $1,200 a month for a boat captain."

Accidents are handled in an efficient manner, the captain notes. "An ambulance is called immediately and the victim is taken off' by a small boat in a very few minutes after first aid has been administered."

Decatur County alone furnishes more than a hundred persons who work on towboats.

When his off-duty days near an end, the stocky, black-haired towboat captain awaits his time to embark on the towboat.

Middleton is married to the former Miss Ruthie Yarbro and they have a young son and daughter. They reside on the Decaturville Highway.

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