Interview with a Long-Haul Pilot


Author’s note:  I met Captain Lawrence while he was piloting the Mississippi Queen; for most of his career he has been a towboat pilot. He shared with me some of his thoughts about the river and those of us who use and enjoy it.  © Pat Middleton, “Discover! America’s Great River Road, Vol 2.”

“There are no two rivers that are alike. The piloting is unique to each, as is the scenery and the history. This is purely the Mississippi River. It doesn’t compare in any way to any other river.

The people living ashore are so interesting. They love their river, their boats, the fish, the recreation. They feel so much ownership of the river and its valleys. Those of us who work on the river feel this appreciation, too; a strong sense that this river belongs to all of us. We have to make room for one another and all our varied interests. It’s vital to protect this river, its wildlife.


I think it’s hard for people to even imagine the vast importance of the river in the lives of millions of people in this great nation, and all those foreign countries that depend on our foreign trade. Electric plants, drinking water, fuel, and grain are supplied by or moved upon this river.


Mark Twain would be astonished at the power, the scope of river traffic today when compared to the paddlewheelers that ran the river in his day; the sheer power of the diesel towboats, the steel hulls that have replaced the wooden hulls. The steamboat pilots really were the pioneers of river transportation as we know it today.


I’ve seen the Locks on the upper river put in place. I’ve seen the corn business explode because of the navigational technology that allows us to move the corn. Improvements in agriculture and shipping have developed hand-in-hand.


One barge with a nine-foot draft can move 1500 tons of corn. The freight pushed by a single towboat and its crew of
eleven men is worth many millions of dollars and moves as much grain as a twenty train engineers, twenty firemen and twenty brakemen, etc. If something should happen to the lock system, it would cripple the american econonmy. Trucks and trains or airplanes could not possibly make up the difference.


The main thing a Midwestern farmer thinks about is getting his harvest of grain to the elevator. But that’s just the beginning. There is more corn produced in the upper Midwest than anywhere else in the world. More grain is moved on the Mississippi River than on any other river system in the world. The sight of ocean-going barges from around the world picking up Midwestern grain in New Orleans is sobering. Few farmers begin to realize the number of people around the world that are fed by Midwestern corn.


The Indians called this the “Father of Waters” and that’s exactly what it is today. I’m a long run pilot. I just know what I see on the river. ” 


Map shows historic channels of the Mississippi River

    © Great River Publishing
Stoddard, WI 54658-9801
All Text and Images are copyrighted by the authors and photographers. All Rights Reserved. To request permission to reproduce content in any format, please phone 608-457-2734 .




Ohio River, Custom Ribbon Map by Lisa Middleton

c Pat Middleton,

Numerous overnight cruising paddleboats are once more cruising the Ohio River! Our single most popular map of the Mississippi is a Ribbon from 1887 designating all the towns along the river… and map artist, Lisa Middleton, now makes her hand-painted RIBBON MAP of the OHIO RIVER available to all!
Click map image below to visit>Shop>Ohio River

Ohio River Ribbon Map

Ohio River provided by

The Ohio River begins in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania at the confluence of the Allegheny River and the Monongahela River, extending roughly 900 miles downstream and ending in Cairo, Illinois. Throughout time, the Ohio River has been called many names by different civilizations. The Shawnees called it Spaylaywitheepi, the Miami tribes, the Causisseppione, the Delawares, Kitonosipi, and the French, La Belle Riviére, meaning “the beautiful river.” It was called the “River Jordan” by slaves escaping to freedom in the North using the Underground Railroad in early 1800s. The name Ohio comes from the Iroquois word, “O-Y-O,” meaning “the great river”.

As early as 700 B.C., the first humans on the river were the Adena culture, followed by the Hopewell culture around 400 B.C. The Adena culture made their mark on the land erecting unique conical burial mounds along the river’s course and its tributaries. The Hopewells had larger earthen mounds in the same area as the Adenas. Later, the Shawnees, Cherokees, Iroquois, and Miamis, used the Ohio River at different periods as a site to launch violent raids, dubbing the river the “River of Blood” by the tribes.

In the 1670s, the French established trading posts along the Ohio River tributaries, including the Beaver, Wabash, and the Scioto Rivers — but the Ohio River remained unexplored. The first European to see the Ohio River was Frenchman Rene Robert Cavelier Sieur de La Salle in 1669. By the 1880s, the Ohio River became an important commercial route, and also a transportation route for families who migrated to establish settlement in the West.

Today, the Ohio River continues to serve as a major artery for transporting coal, grain, steel, and manufactured articles. The Ohio River is still important to communities, providing drinking water and as well as boating, fishing, swimming, and other water sports.

Other available fine art Ribbon Maps include The Mississippi River and the Missouri River. Please click links to view maps and Tributary information!

We also have two FRENCH maps available with details of the OHIO RIVER. Both Maps are also Rich in Mississippi River info. (To study maps at use the Hi Rez magnifying glass that pops up when you hold your cursor over an image.)

Les Etats Unis late 16th Century

Les Etats Unis 1781

Carte de La Louisiane.  Early 16th CenturyCarte De La Louisiane, French United States c.1731


Historic River Maps make Great Gifts!

Historic River Maps Make Great Gifts!

Lisa's maps at village frameI walked into Village Custom Frame in La Crosse, WI, the other day and found Sue busy at work filling orders for Lisa Middleton’s historic map prints ordered for Christmas giving. The framed maps 1887 Ribbon Maps are a GREAT idea for a corner nitch, or between two windows, or as a cabin feature!

If you don’t live in La Crosse, Stockholm, Alma, Winona, or Wabasha … where many of the frame shops sell Lisa’s maps already framed… you can now order FRAMED 1887 Mississippi River Ribbon maps at the Great River Publishing gift shop on

frame samples

$145 includes choice of mat color (choose from those samples show) with a dark wooden frame in black or brown. Maps can be shipped directly to the recipient!

Questions? Ready to order? Have another of Lisa’s historic map paintings you’d like framed and shipped? Want to frame the original painting?

Please call!



The Joys of Being A Map Collector!

Oh the joys of being a map collector!

Maps illustrate both history and curiosity. Created over the centuries by people just like you and me, maps describe the world as they understood it, doing the best with the light they had to see by. When I see dear old maps-misconstrued proportions and sea monsters-I want to pinch the cheeks of our early relatives and say “you are so darn cute!”

If there is one thing I’ve learned from these dear old maps is that future generations will benefit from our explorations.

Each of us have a unique way of traveling into the unknown…where “there be dragons” of our own.

This holiday season I hope you are able to cherish every moment with your loved ones. It’s a gift in itself to be able to take moment for those in our lives that help us on our sojourn.

Best wishes!