Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

`Cap'n Bill' Runs Magical History Tour of River Riverboat Pilot Brings Mighty Mississippi to Life

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

`Cap'n Bill' Runs Magical History Tour of River Riverboat Pilot Brings Mighty Mississippi to Life

Article excerpt

When the Postal Service went looking this fall for someone to help introduce a new stamp commemorating America's riverboat history, it didn't have to look past the St. Louis levee.

Capt. William F. "Bill" Carroll, known locally as Cap'n Bill, was a shoo-in for the job.

He has been active on the river here for more than 50 years and is known to several generations of St. Louisans who cruised aboard the old riverboat Admiral, a downtown landmark.

Although the art deco Admiral is now a landlocked casino sitting on concrete piles next to the Eads Bridge, Carroll still plays a role in the management of Gateway Riverboat Cruises, and at age 75 he still works nearly every day in the excursion boat end of the business.

Carroll signed on with Streckfus Steamers as a jack-of-all-trades after being discharged from the Army in 1945. It didn't take him long to fall in love with the river and its history.

"I did all kinds of work, including general labor," he said. "But eventually, and probably inevitably, I began to spend a lot of time in the pilot house of the Admiral, watching Capt. Jim (Brasher) run the boat.

"Once in a while, he let me steer while he sat behind me in a recliner chair and offered advice. He didn't want the boat flopping around out there, so he taught me how to ease into the wheel. `Easy now, easy,' he would say. You stayed in your marks with him. No throwing your rudder down hard. No flopping around."

The experience convinced Carroll he wanted to live his life on the Mississippi. But there was a lot of work involved.

"Finally, I took and passed the examinations for mate and captain," he said. "My first boat was the Huck Finn, a smaller boat that takes passengers out for a one-hour cruise of the St. Louis riverfront."

His fondest memories are linked to his long career as skipper - and on-board historian - of the 374-foot Admiral, which took up to 4,400 passengers on each of two cruises a day during the season. The day cruise gave its passengers a different view of the city and an ongoing patter from Carroll, who called attention to points of interest and had an anecdote for every one.

"I'd tell them about Arsenal Island, which is now a part of the Illinois shoreline," he said. …

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