A Lot Of History Rusting Away
Stories Previously Posted On RiverBills.com
Look for a special article on Ma Belle in
RiverBill's soon. I have received some copies of some
old photographs of Ma Belle in her prime from Joe Stork's
daughter. Joe was the original owner. The boat
was featured in National Geographic, The Post Dispatch and
a local magazine, The River Current.
11 January 2005.......
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Our River Picture of the Day ------ is of the old houseboat
11 January 2006.......
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Our River Picture of the Day ------ are
of the rusting houseboat Ma
Belle setting in a harbor off of Dardenne Slough near South Shore
Harbor....Just rusting away near Dardenne Slough..
Thursday.... February 02, 2006
Our River Picture of the Day ..... is an artist rendition of Ma Belle all restored to her former glory. You remember how she looked in the picture we posted on 11 Jan 2006, rusting away in that old harbor off of Dardenne Slough. Pat Reid of Crystal Photography repainted the old scow for us to give everyone an idea of how she used to look. I would have to say she was a fine looking boat in her day.
There was some interest expressed in the old boat on the message board and I noticed one guy, Richard Sievers, seemed to know a lot about her. I contacted him and ask if he had some additional information or a story about Ma Belle. He submitted the following account about Ma Belle, the little old man that used to own her and one adventurous day at the harbor...... Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
knew Morris because he was on the same dock as us out at South Shore. He was a
neat old guy. He was a very proud Merchant Marine in W.W.II and kept a lot of
his citations on Ma Belle and had lots of stories of "those days".
He was very proud of the Ma Belle and actually wanted, when he died, to be
buried on it, having it sunk in some deep hole on the river. ..The authorities
didn't think much of his idea.
were asking for a story. I don't know if this is what you're looking for, or
if this is funny or not or just one of those " You just had to be
there" things, but I'll send it along and you can edit it, delete it, or
what ever you want with it.
The Ma Belle is a custom made boat built in the 1940's in St. Louis for some
guy whose last name was Stork. It is all steel and of course heavy.
heavy, 26 tons worth. It was also powered by a single diesel engine, that
sounded like an old ringer washing machine when it ran, to one single screw.
It has one, and only one rudder, Therefore, at slow speeds making steerage was
nearly impossible. Now South Shore is a fairly small marina, and when Morris
first came there he was already in his 80's and a bent over little old man,
and not completely familiar with the boat. One day, shortly after he had come
there, he decided that he wanted to take the "old girl" out for a
spin. It was a nice day and a lot of fellow boaters were out there as
well. He backed out of his slip just fine, but it became quickly obvious that
getting it turned and headed in the right direction was going to be daunting
to say the least. We were over on the other side of the harbor and watched in
horror as Morris came within spitting distance of a boat. Everybody quickly
got up and started helping him try to fend off, but fending off 26 tons of
ship steel is like trying to fend a Burlington Northern locomotive onto a
rail siding with your bare hands. So everyone starts yelling at the poor old
geezer with their ideas of what he needs to do to rectify the situation. As
you can imagine, the Ma Belle was all over the place and every time it would
head for someone's boat, the entire cast and crew of the docks would run full
tilt down the dock in a scene reminiscent of the movie Airplane when the
plane was landing and everybody ran from gate to gate to where he was headed
with arms out and voices raised in a cacophony of " Morris port!
starboard! Morris back, throttle Morris,
Forward Morris, No Morris!, the other
way Morris!" One time as it swung around, I could see Morris at the
controls and his eyes were the size of dinner plates, and he was working the
controls like Dr. Frankenstein's Igor and was spinning the wheel so fast it
looked like the wheel was going one way and the hand pegs the other!
Amazingly, he never hit a boat, but did put a few kisses on the dock fingers
like a big pinball, which always brought out a recitation of the vowels of the
alphabet, (AAY, EEEee, aye,aye,aye, OH, OH, Yeww!). We finally got
him pointed in the right direction and chugging toward the mouth of the
harbor. In a last insult, a large tree had floated down river and lodged
itself across the left side of the harbor mouth. Everyone watched with an
aghast blank look on their face as Ma Belle sailed right into it and broke a 10-12
inch around piece of the tree off without missing a beat in a monstrous
crrraakk, and out into the river he went. At least he cleared a hole for
everyone else. The rest of us finally inhaled and decided it would be a very
good time to change underwear and go for a boat ride before he got back and
our insurance premiums went up. Most everybody went out and eventually found
him chugging back towards the harbor. It looked like he had a V.I.P. escort.
Of course, no one was going in before him, so everyone else went their way
again for a while. Later on we found the remaining people in the harbor had to
help him get back in the slip in a similar, but not quite as bad scene. After
that, he brought out some friend who was pretty good at skippering the Ma
Belle, much to our relief.
-And that is how boaters learn to drink.
River Bill says.......What a well written story ! I can close my eyes and almost see the whole thing taking place. Thanks so much for sharing your memories with us Rick.
Friday.... February 10, 2006
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Our River Picture of the Day ------ are from Rick Sievers. It's another story about the rusting old houseboat named Ma Belle when she still had some color to her. The artist rendition of Ma Belle in her prime is at the top and then a couple of real pictures of the old houseboat follow.
Rick wrote in his e-mail:
Here is a couple of pictures we dug up of Ma Belle. I can't find any of Morris. There is another funny story about these two pictures. The gentleman you see is a long time, very close friend and his girlfriend. They live in Atlanta, GA., and every so often we get together and it was his turn to be here. We had recently bought our 39' Sea Ray at the time these were taken, and Dave hadn't seen the boat yet. Our Sea Ray is pristine, and Ma Belle isn't! In fact, at this time Morris was already gone for some time and Ma Belle was getting in bad shape inside. Nasty bilge water had been laying in it for some time and stunk. The furniture was broken down and dirty. Clutter was everywhere, and things were rusting and decaying and broken all over. So when they came up to see us, we were naturally very "anxious" to show our new boat! With the cooperation of everyone else on the dock, we marched them straight into Ma Belle and proudly began showing off our new "palace on the river", describing how we were "going to paint this and that" and "do some decorating" and "get the furniture recovered" and so on... My wife even picked up a broom and did a little sweeping, which at that point was like trying to kill a bull elephant with a flyswatter. Meanwhile, we were amusedly watching their faces through all this farce and they looked like they'd been told the IRS made a mistake on their taxes and wanted their first born male child as payment. They were absolutely blank and had the color of a linen tablecloth. Dave finally rasped out a weak: "Well, maybe we could help you clean it up a bit while we're here...hrmpff" To which I replied: GREAT! lets get a few things and we'll spend the night!! and we left the Ma Belle. They looked like Marie Antoinette on the way to the guillotine as we walked down the dock. Of course as we passed our real boat we explained our accidental misrepresentation and that this was the real one. And of course their response was, ...well I've never been called things like that before or since. In fact, I'm not sure what some of those words meant, but they sounded kinda bad. And all we could do is laugh our nautical butts off. We went back to Ma Belle and got their "real" opinions of what needed to be done and I won't say what they were here. The pictures are of them getting back off Ma Belle after that. We're still friends to this day, but I suspect I've got a payback coming!
Monday .... April 17, 2006
Ma Belle ------Received an e-mail from Hal Leventhal of the boat "Cash Flow" about the houseboat Ma Belle. Hal wrote in his e-mail:
Went out Saturday night for the first boat ride of hopefully many this year and as we were going up the Dardenne Slough, noticed that the Ma Belle appears to be about a third or half under water... doesn’t look pretty, thought about saying a prayer, but it may be too late...
RiverBill says....As most of you remember, we did a story about the aging houseboat, Ma Belle, earlier this year. We even came up with an artist's conception of what it might have looked like in its prime. Thanks for the update Hal.
Fri, Sat Sun.. 09, 10, 11 February 2007....
2005 File Photo
FOR SALE.... Ma-Belle and the Channel Where Ma-Belle is Located
Lot is 91 feet wide and 500 plus long from road into the river.
Wednesday .....18 April 2007 ..........
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Our River Picture of the Day........ is a picture (re-published with permission) of Ma Belle from Robert Cope's blog The RiverRat'sNest.
"This should confirm that the Ma bell Needs some hull repair. Normally, she's laying on dry ground."
RiverBill says....Thanks for the picture Robert. It's to bad to see this piece of history rusting away like it is.
Look for a special article on Ma Belle in RiverBill's soon. I have received some copies of some old photographs of Ma Belle in her prime from Joe Stork's daughter. Joe was the original owner. The boat was featured in National Geographic, The Post Dispatch and a local magazine, The River Current.
Thursday......03 May 2007 .....
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Our River Pictures of the Day........Ma Belle......Then and Now !
The top 2 pictures are from Sandy (Stork) Goeken, the original owner's daughter. The top one was taken at the boat's launching in 1951. The second picture is of Captain Joe Stork, Sandy's father and original owner of the houseboat. The bottom picture of Ma Belle engulfed by this year's flood water was taken this April by Capt'n Robert Cope.
Ma Belle was a one of a kind boat in her day! Designed by Capt'n Joe Stork and the East Grand Boat Yard. It had all of the latest features of it's time... everything from a CO2 system to a 110 volt hot water heater and 3kw generator.
40 feet in length, weighing in at 20 tons with a 86 horsepower diesel engine. Her 300 gallon fuel tank would enable the houseboat to travel 1200 miles.
The boat has been featured in the Globe Democrat, National Geographic and in the magazine "River Currents".
Now it sits in this harbor off of Dardenne Slough rusting away in the mud !
Keep your anchor right where it's at for more pictures and info about Ma Belle.
Source: Summer of 1995 River Currents Magazine with a special thanks to Sandy (Stork) Goeken and Max Wawrzyniak.