Riverboat Ben Hur
- from The Wheeling Intelligencer, August 4, 1960. © Ogden Newspapers; reproduced with permission.
by Ralph Conley
A reader writes and would like the history of the Ben Hur, an old packet which ran on the Ohio River. The Ben Hur was built in 1887 at Marietta as a sternwheel packet with wooden hull and the usual "texas" deck. She was 165 feet long. Although built as a packet, her first job was towing a circus up and down the rivers. It was John Robinson's Circus. The following year she went into the Pittsburgh and Parkersburg trade as a regular packet. She was in this trade from then until 1909. In 1888, her first year, with Capt. Fred Kimpel, Jr., as master, she reportedly made $14,000 in seven months. Owned by the Cramer family of Clarington, the Ben Hur established herself as a good packet in this trade. In 1904 her master was Capt. Edward Sims. In June, 1909, she was sold to interests on the Mississippi River. What trades she was operated in down there is not recorded in our notes but in March 1916, she sank at Duckport, Miss., and was lost. Thus, her span was from 1887 to 1916, or 29 years. A feature of the Ben Hur was her famous whistle. It was originally on the steamer George Strecker, built in 1880 and which burned in 1887 at Beverly, O., on the Muskingum. The whistle was fashioned by a farmer living near Grape Island. This is the same whistle which was later on the Liberty and well known to river fans because the Liberty operated until 1936. After the Liberty quit, the whistle went to the towboat Mildred and where it is today is anybody's guess. The whistle was also on the Bessie Smith before it went on the Liberty. But it was probably one of the nicest sounding whistles ever to echo among the hills of the upper Ohio Valley.