Old Times on the Upper Mississippi: Recollections of a Steamboat Pilot from 1854-1863

By George Byron Merrick | Go to book overview

Chapter VI
The “Mud” Clerk2—Comparative Honors

The transition from the “main deck” to the “boiler deck” marked an era in my experience. It opened a new chapter in my river life, and one from which I have greatly profited. When I went upon the river I was about as bashful a boy as could be found; that had been my failing from infancy. As pantry boy I had little intercourse with the passengers, the duties of that department of river industry requiring only the washing, wiping, and general care of dishes and silverware. A “cub” engineer slipped up to his stateroom, and donned presentable clothing in which to eat his meals in the forward cabin, at the officers’ table, where all save the captain and chief clerk took their meals. After that, his principal business was to keep out of sight as much as possible until it was time to “turn in”. He was not an officer, and passengers were not striving for his acquaintance.

As second clerk all these conditions were changed. In the absence of the chief clerk, his assistant took charge of the office, answered all questions of passengers, issued tickets for passage and staterooms, showed people about the boat, and in a hundred ways made himself agreeable, and so far as possible ministered to their comfort and happiness while on board. The reputation of a passenger boat depended greatly upon the esteem in which the captain, clerks, and pilots were held by the travelling public. The fame of such a crew was passed along from one tourist to another, until the gentle accomplishments of a boat’s personnel were as well known as their official qualifications.

2 “Mud” Clerk: Second clerk, whose duty it was to go out in all weathers, upon the unpaved levees and deliver or receive freight As the levees were usually muddy in rainy weather, the name became descriptive of the work and condition of the second clerk.

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