Meet Two Guys Traveling the Kentucky River on a Homemade Houseboat, or Shantyboat
If Mark Twain were alive today, he might just make a pilgrimage to Kentucky and hang out with Art Baltes and Jerry Steimel. They would seem to be right up his alley. Heck, he'd probably even ask if he could join them. And I bet another classic novel would be the result.
TRAVELING THE KENTUCKY RIVER ON A SHANTYBOAT
Alas, Twain is NOT available, but it seems like SOMEONE should document the adventures of Art and Jerry--I'd say a movie would be in order--as they travel Kentucky's rivers on a homemade houseboat, otherwise known as a shantyboat.
Along the way, they were "entertained" by the legendary Singing Bridge, a 129-year-old single span truss bridge with a metal grate deck. That's why it "sings."
On Sunday, they encountered what all river travelers must--a lock & dam in Monterey, Kentucky. But the operators, who Art and Jerry say were a lot of fun, are just another rich piece of the story.
The locks intimidated us a bit at firstThe lockmaster at each lock was very clear with instructions and fun to talk to.These workers ensure our safety and add so much to our journey.
ART & JERRY'S BOAT -- THE STORY BEHIND THE NAME
The two close friends' shantyboat is named the "H.A. Hubbard." I mean, ALL boats have to have names. And like they all do, this one has a special history. Jerry explains:
Before Art and I head out on this journey I wanted to share some background on the name of our boat, the H.A. Hubbard. The boat is christened after two Kentucky shantyboaters, Harlan & Anna Hubbard, who, in the late 1940's, built a shantyboat on the banks of the Ohio River in Brent, Kentucky and from 1946 to 1950 drifted down the Ohio, onto the Mississippi, and then on to New Orleans. They espoused a life of simplicity and self-sufficiency inspired by the writings of Henry David Thoreau. Harlan was an artist and writer, and Anna was a musician. After living in the bayous of Louisiana for one year they returned to Kentucky where they lived simply and happily at a place called Payne Hollow. Harlan and Anna saw industrial development in America as a threat to the natural world and they rejected consumer culture. Payne Hollow is as sacred to Kentuckians as Walden Pond is to New Englanders. Art and I hope to honor their memory in some small way by naming our shantyboat after them, and hope that they are smiling on our journey.
Oh well, I guess I got it wrong. Here I was thinking Twain, and the original inspiration was Thoreau. Yeah, he wasn't bad, either.
THE HISTORY OF SHANTYBOATS
So what's the history behind shantyboats? Well, it goes back to the late 19th century and into the early 20th century and has everything to do with finances. As in, shantyboats were very inexpensive places to live. We're all very familiar with the Great Depression, but less well-known might be the economic collapse in the 1890s. Folks used these homemade boats as living quarters and transportation up and down the river looking for work. Here's more from PeoplesRiverHistory.us:
During the 19th century into the 1930s, itinerant workers lived in shantyboats along the canals and rivers of industrial American towns. Now, not only the shantyboats are gone, but the wild river banks, the river-based industry, and even the towns and neighborhoods adjacent to the river.
In the fallout from the U.S. economic collapse in 1893, thousands of families left their homes in the upper Mississippi Valley in home-built shantyboats to look for work along the more industrialized lower Mississippi River and Ohio River Valleys. In the 1930s, displaced and jobless people took to the waters, to live or to travel to look for work. Dozens of published chronicles of these family sojourns are still available.
And today, two buddies in Kentucky have taken that part of American history and turned it into a dream fulfilled.
THE SHANTYBOAT ARRIVAL PARTY
Art and Jerry plan to arrive at Louisville's Towhead Island on September 20th.
In fact, they've even created a Facebook event page for the occasion, inviting folks to come celebrate with them as they cap off their journey.
When I was tipped off about this story, I had no idea what I was getting into, and NOW I'd like to hop aboard the "H.A. Hubbard" and join them.
I guess sometimes when you're looking for adventure, you might LITERALLY have to create your own.