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A Christian Captain

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

If you have ever been inclined to doubt the power of prayer, listen to this story of the steamboat, the "Jim Crank," and her Captain, Jerry Flumkins. One day in the 1850s, the Jim Crank went hard aground on a Mississippi riverbank, with her bow about twenty feet out of the water. It would take more than a gentle pull to get her afloat again.

Fortunately, Captain Flumkins had pull of a different kind. He was one of very few Christian steamboat captains on the river. Back then, being a Christian had consequences. There could be no swearing, no whiskey as cargo, and no gambling aboard the boat.

Without these, a captain had problems. As if this weren't bad enough, Jerry insisted on giving passage to preachers—considered bad luck by most steamboat men.

Other steamboats steered clear of the captain and his boat. They had a hard time understanding how he was able always to eke out a small profit on his trips. But he had the respect of church people on shore.

The good captain also believed in the power of prayer. So, when his steamboat went aground, he walked upstream to a nearby Methodist camp meeting. Flumkins requested the congregation to adjourn to his stuck boat and test out the power of prayer. They were glad to respond.

Captain Jerry sent the entire camp meeting to the stern of the boat, asked his engineer to fire the boilers to the maximum, and his men to get prepared to push.

With everything ready, he asked one of the deacons to lead in prayer. The praying took off, as it will at Methodist camp meetings, and soon the steamboat was shifting back and forth in fervent prayer. "Back her hard, he cried to the engineer. "Push," he cried to the deck hands. Those present reported that the "Jim Crank" slid back into the water like she was greased.

This incident made Captain Flumkins a legend on the river, as a man who stood a better chance of getting an answer to prayer than any man alive. The captain's own explanation was that he was a "practical Christian." As he explained it, your chance of getting prayer answered is better if you "fix things so as to make it as easy on providence as possible."

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by the Scott County Regional Authority, with additional funding from the Illinois Arts Council and Augustana College, Rock Island.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.