It was a brisk morning in early 1974. A man by the name of Clarence Baker started the engine of his beloved houseboat, Li’l Hobo, which had been commissioned for an epic journey from Pennsylvania to Florida.
He pulled in the lines.
He went cautiously to the fuel dock, then crashed into it—likely out of sheer nervousness for the impending journey he was about to take with his spouse and friends.
“We filled our tanks and then crashed into the dock again while maneuvering to leave it,” Clarence noted in the first installment of this story, which debuted in our July issue. “We waved goodbye to Newt and Lynn, who ran the marina. I’ll never forget the worried looks on their faces as we left them behind to start our great adventure. We were finally on our way…”
When we last heard from Mr. Baker, the crew’s collective patience had begun to wear thin as the trip progressed along the Ohio River and into the main vein of the Mississippi.
“Mary Diane thought that Eddie was bossy and pushy on his line handling,” Baker writes. “It was amazing to Rose and I that we got through some of these locks at all, with the two of them being responsible for the lines. After each ‘lock through’, they would come inside complaining about the crummy job the other one did.” This was really the only time they seemed to get on each other nerves, however and even that got much better the further down the river they went.
“This was a period of adjustments for all of us,” Baker continues. “At our family conferences, when deciding on such a drastic change of life style, Rose and I stressed the amount of sacrifice involved for each of us. Such as the loss of privacy and comfort the kids had with their own room. We realized the possibilities of unknown, unplanned hazards, risks and dangers…”
No other river has played a greater part in the development and expansion of America than the Mississippi River. Since the first white man viewed this mighty stream it has been a vital factor in the physical and economical growth of this country. It has stood in the path of discoverers, challenging their ingenuity to cross it. It has fired the imagination of explores, luring them on to seek out its mysteries. And always, it as stood in the minds of practical men as the key to westward expansion, an economic prize to be sought and held at all costs. As such, it has been fought over on the battlefield and used as a pawn in diplomatic exchanges.
Winding down in a sometimes button hook pattern out of tiny Lake Itasca, in northern Minnesota, it twists and turns through the land of Chippewa, 2,340 miles south through the heart of USA. It sweeps past Minneapolis and St. Paul growing larger as tributaries add their flows past St. Louis where the Missouri River joins it, past Cairo, IL to receive the waters of the Ohio River. At Cairo, it becomes the lower Mississippi, a river giant, unequaled among American waters. Flowing south, it touches Memphis, Greenville, Vicksburg, Natchez, Baton Rouge, and New Orleans over the thousand miles it flows, from Cairo, IL.
Since leaving Pittsburgh, PA, we have dropped about 400 feet of elevation, navigating thirty-five dams and pools. Now we drop about 300 more feet over the same distance without the assistance of any dams or pools. We were aware that from now on, we must pay very close attention to the buoys and charts, knowing exactly where we were at all times. We would find stretches of river 180 miles long between refueling places, both for the boat and ourselves.
We stopped to refuel ourselves from our storage barrels while tied up to a barge at Cairo (named after Cairo,