Copyright © Janice Tracy, Mississippi Memories

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Captain Howard Wager Tate - 1905-1978

Last year, I wrote two posts about the riverboat Kate Adams, The Ever-Lovin' Kate Adams, and the The Ever-Lovin Kate Adams, Part II, that are included in the archives of Mississippi Memories. Thanks to Ron Tate, a reader who lives in Destin, Florida, I guess you can call the post here today, "Part Three."

Several days ago, I received an email from Ron telling me that he had recently read my posts about the riverboat Kate Adams and wanted to let me know he enjoyed them. Once I read the rest of Ron's email, I understand his interest in the Kate Adams, as well as other riverboats of that particular era. As it turned out, Ron's interest is a lifelong one and a very personal one. As he related it to me, his father, Captain Howard Wager Tate, lovingly nicknamed "Taterbug" by those who knew him, was a Master Pilot for more than fifty years on the Mississippi River and every major river east of the Mississippi.

As Ron continued his story, I discovered that for about thirty years of his fifty-year career, Captain Tate had hand carved boat models that depicted in intricate detail the riverboats that were operated by the Adams Line, the Lee Line, and others. The Adams Line models included Kate Adams and Alvin Adams, while the Lee Line included Robert E. Lee I and II, James Lee, Georgia Lee, and Stacker Lee. Captain Tate also built large models of the Sprague, the largest steam stern wheeler towboat ever built for inland river service. Some readers, particularly Mississippians, may recall the Sprague when it was docked on the Mississippi River in Vicksburg, where it was the venue for seasonal stage shows.

One of Captain Tate's larger models, the Delta Queen, was used as an exhibit in Congress when the boat's life was initially extended as an overnight passenger vessel. For a number of years during the 1970's and 1980's, the Delta Queen, with its grand staircase and ornate interior complete with chandeliers, ran regular excursion routes down the Ohio River and Mississippi Rivers. Originating in Cincinnati, the Delta Queen docked in several cities along the way, including Helena, Arkansas, Vicksburg, and Natchez, en route to her final destination in New Orleans. When this majestic vessel arrived in port, her grand calliope could be heard throughout town. Once the vessel reached its final destination of New Orleans, additional passengers boarded for the return trip upriver. After the model's use in Congress, Captain Tate donated the model of the Delta Queen to the National Trust for Historic Preservation in Washington, D.C.

According to Ron Tate, a number of models of the boats carved by Captain Tate are in the hands of those with a great love of the river and its history. Although Ron provided me with electronic photographs of some of these hand carved models, their formats, unfortunately, prevented me from posting the photographs here today.

For those who love the history of this country's rivers, Captain Tate and his hand carved models left quite a legacy, one of which his son is rightfully proud.

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