Jim and Dave's Excellent Mississippi River Adventure

July 9 - 14th, 2005


Jim isn't sure when he first became enamored with the Mississippi river.  It was probably from reading the books "Tom Sawyer" and "Huckleberry Finn" by Mark Twain, (Samuel Clemens).  

(On the Mississippi River during the time of Samuel Clemens, A rope or rod with fathom markings was used to gauge the depth of the river. A depth of less than two fathoms was considered risky for boats to navigate across. Who ever was doing the depth measure would call out the markings by terms such as twain for two, trey for three, quad for four........ and so forth. Samuel Clemens worked on a river boat before he became a writer. when he decided to write under a pen name, he choose Mark Twain (safe passage).

Jim's first love was Becky Thatcher, Tom Sawyer's girlfriend.  Aside from that, he loved the stories of Tom and Huck on the Mississippi.

Also, Jim's hero was Abraham Lincoln who worked on the Mississippi river for a while.

Jim's dream for many years was to put his boat into the Mississippi at Minneapolis and St. Paul and head down the river.  His good buddy, Dave Barrett went along with his dream this year instead of a fishing trip up north.

While you were reading all this, the pictures on this page should have had a chance to load.  Sneaky, huh?

On Saturday, July 9th around noon, Jim and Dave pushed Jim's boat, Old Yeller, into the Mississippi at Hidden Falls Park between Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota.  This was a spot just below lock and dam #1.  

Dave Barrett and Jim Latham

The trip was made possible by our friends Hans and Ilse Bruntjen, and Virgil Knorr who rode up with us to take Jim's van and boat trailer home so we could be picked up wherever we decided to end our trip.


Left to right, Virgil, Dave, Jim and Hans.

Here's the route


After getting the boat going down the river, Dave noticed a mile marker sign that said 844.  That meant it was 844 miles to the end of the Mississippi near New Orleans.  There were mile markers about every five miles down the river.


The first thrill after seeing a tourist riverboat on the water was cruising right by the southern edge of downtown St. Paul and looking at the skyscrapers from our little boat.

St Paul from Old Yeller.  No this isn't a postcard, it's from our boat.

Meandering down the river we had to remember our navigation.  Going up stream or to the source of any water, it is always "red right, green left".  Red buoys on the right, green to the left.  Since we were going down stream, we had to change the way our brains worked and remember red left and green right.  Stay to the left of the green buoys and to the right of the red ones.  In the bright sun from the south, with hard shadows on our side of the buoys, it was hard to see what color the buoys were until we got about a block away.  Dave figured out towards the end of the first day that green ones had a flat top , and the red ones had a cone top.  All of a sudden we could tell what color they would be blocks away.  

"Red on the left, Jim", reminds Dave.  This is a channel marker, not a buoy.


It's great to be on the river

Later in the afternoon on the first day, we took a break for ice cream and water.  Poor Dave had the camera and Jim should have taken more pictures of him.


On arriving at Red Wing, Minnesota the first night, we docked the boat at the Ole Miss marina near our motel.  We were charged $1 per foot or $16.  Old Yeller should have had a complex but she held her head high.  



On our 2nd day we boated across Lake Pepin, near Lake City, MN which the Mississippi runs through and feeds.  It is famous for it's sailboats.  Quick test here, is that a red or green buoy?  Anyway, the motor starting acting up.  It would go strong, then go weak like it was choking on something.  The captain was getting a little nervous.  More to the story later.  It's a red buoy.  Remember the cone shape on top.

Also, the motor didn't idle well.  The next day in Winona, MN we found a hardware store next to the motel and decided to get some carburetor cleaner for the motor.  The salesman there asked how old the gas hose and rubber bulb was.  Jim thought it was about 15 to 20 years old.  He suggested that the old hose was probably disintegrating and sending rubber bits into the carburetor.  Dave had made up a new rubber hose for the little 7 1/2 hp motor that we had borrowed from a friend for a second engine for safety.  We changed the fitting to fit the big motor and wow what a difference it made.  No more motor problems.  It went like a bat when we goosed it going down the river and it idled and purred like a kitten when we went slow going through the locks and dams.


Goodbye old fuel hose and bulb!



On Monday we dropped by the Lakeview Drive Inn in Winona, Minnesota for hamburgers and great chocolate malts and to see Jim's friend, Tim Glowczewski.  Jim has had vending machines there for years.

The folks at Travelocity.com think it's "one of the most authentic, truly hidden gems in Minnesota."

The Internet travel site with millions of registered users has chosen the Lakeview Drive-Inn at 610 E. Sarnia St. as one of 10 Minnesota "Local Secrets, Big Finds for 2005."

As the oldest restaurant in Winona, the Lakeview Drive-Inn has been around since 1938.

God bless Winona.  It had the only free, yet A1,  public boat dock for docking overnight that we found on our trip.




After Winona, we continued to Lansing, Iowa where we went under an old bridge with a steel grate floor.

We visited Horsfall's Lansing Variety Store, a store that is packed to the gills with everything.  The UPS driver doesn't even bother to try to deliver inside, instead he stacks the boxes on the sidewalk no matter what the weather.

On the Upper Mississippi River, one towboat can push up to 15 barges full of grain, petroleum, gravel, coal, chemicals and many other products. Shipping by river is the most efficient method of transportation available today. Fifteen barges pushed by one towboat and an eleven man crew can carry as much grain as a three-mile long train or a line of semi-trailer trucks 34 miles long!


A good American placed a flag on top of this bluff


The Isle of Capri Riverboat and Casino at Marquette, IA, across the river from Prarie Du Chien, WI.  Dave and Jim became connoisseurs of buffets. 

There are 29 locks & dams located along the Upper Mississippi River between St. Louis, Missouri, and St. Paul, Minnesota. These are maintained by the US Army Corps of Engineers. The DAMS divide the river into 29 flat pools that were designed to hold water BACK to maintain a 9-ft deep shipping channel. 

Tows and recreational boats must use the LOCKS just like elevators to climb the stairway of pools from St. Louis to St. Paul! There is no charge for recreational boaters. Commercial shippers pay a tax on fuel that helps to support the navigation system.

Below St. Louis, the Mississippi River is naturally deep enough so that dams are not needed for navigation. The deep silt of the lower river also precludes the building of locks and dams. There is no commercial navigation above St. Paul.


We, of course, approached a lock and dam from the North, waiting to go in.  As soon as the doors open, we would receive a green light and then proceed slowly in.  The doors were closed behind us and then the water level inside would drop to the level of the next "pool" down below.  Despite temperatures in the low to mid 90s, we were very comfortable riding down the river with a breeze in our faces.  The only uncomfortable time was waiting above the dams with little breeze and baking in the sun.  Most waits were 30 minutes or less.


Once inside, a lock worker would throw two ropes to each boat inside.  The whole purpose of the ropes were to keep our boats up against the walls of the lock and keep them from bumping into each other.  As they lowered the water level, you would let out more rope.  You never tie the rope to your boat.  This is a picture from the weekend when the river had many fishing and recreational boats.  During the week, with the weekenders gone, we practically had the river to ourselves.


On Tuesday morning, we were waiting upstream above lock and dam number 8, just below La Crosse, WI..  I shut off the motor while we waited.  We started drifting a little close to the dam so I went to start the engine only to hear a high pitched whirring that sounded like trouble.  I pulled the cover off the engine to see that a nut on the starter which held a collar which held a spring on the starter had come off.  Dave and I both grabbed the oars and were paddling our way to the safe side of the dam.


Within two minutes or less, seeing we could be in trouble, a crew of two Army Corp of Engineers had lowered a boat around 50 feet, started two 60 hp motors and were by our sides with a tow rope. They towed us to a safe quiet area around the entrance wall where Jim located the missing parts and repaired the starter.  We were amazed by the speed and professionalism of the Corp personnel.  They were very gracious and understanding.  We were very appreciative.


The nut that came off is on the starter to the right.  Under that is a collar washer and under that is a spring.  All fixed and on our way again.

There is nothing that feels better than to have a motor that runs well, giving you a breeze in your face and cutting through a river surface that is like glass.


The working ferry at Cassville, IA



Over 277 miles later, we reached Dubuque, Iowa.

Thanks for riding along.


Background music is

Cruising Down the River

(On A Sunday Afternoon)

Words & Music by Eily Beadell & Nell Tollerton*
two middle-aged women who wrote the song to win a British songwriting contest in 1945
- sung by the crew of H.M.S. Amethyst as it made its historic dash down the
Yangtze River in 1949

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Jim Latham

Dave Barrett