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Captain Frank Fugina

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

What's better than having the Mississippi River in your blood? Captain Frank Fugina would say it's having the river in your sight.

Frank was born in 1868 in Fountain City, Wisconsin, literally three hundred feet from the Mississippi. Fountain City is a typical river town two or three streets wide and two miles long nestled under the bluffs.

By the time he was seven, he was already a familiar figure in steamboat pilot houses, and even allowed to steer the boat now and then. He never left the river. When he was 22, he received his pilot's license to run between Keokuk and Minneapolis. His first command was the Corps of Engineers boat the “Elsie,” working on the wing dams by which the engineers were improving the navigation channel.

He eventually branched out from this into the excursion and short line packet business with boats like the "Columbia" and the "Fountain City." Then, he formed his own company, the Ideal Transportation Company, and for forty-five years hauled tons of cargo and thousands of passengers on his own boats: the "Iris," the "Clyde," the "Rutledge," the "Alice F.," and the "Winona."

When Frank officially retired from the river in 1938, he was the oldest pilot on the river, and held the record for the longest length of service: sixty-nine years.

Frank didn't go far in retirement. He moved to a park bench along the levee where he could watch the river traffic and reminisce with other old pilots. Even so, he was not content for long. Even three hundred feet is too far away for a riverman. "I wish," he said one day in 1944, "I could turn back the clock twenty-five years."

Even as he said it, he knew there was a way. He sat down in his room and began to write about the river. Chapter after chapter, there he was, back on the river. In this chapter he was back on the "Iris," in another on the "Winona."

You can read the results, Lore and Lure of the Upper Mississippi, and go back with Frank Fugina to those old days, and meet a man who had the Mississippi in his blood—and in his sight as well.

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.