Jim Bradshaw: Last days of the Teche sternwheelers
Paddle-wheel boats ran on the Louisiana bayous until the 1940s, although by that time most of them had been converted from steam power to diesel engines. Probably the last of them was the V.J. Kurzweg, which plied Bayou Teche at least to New Iberia and sometimes farther up the stream.
In 1940, its agent, identified by The Waterways Journal as Miss A. Sentilles, advertised the Kurzweg as “the largest diesel sternwheel packet ever built for the Western Rivers.” According to the announcement in December 1940, the Kurzweg was “leaving as usual, every Tuesday evening [from New Orleans] for Plaquemine and Bayou Teche, . . . Capt. Walter E. Blakeman in command.”
Two years earlier, in August 1938, the Kurzweg had been laid up for several months for repairs. The Waterways Journal of Aug. 13, 1938, reported, “The V.J. Kurzweg, 150 foot stern- wheel Diesel packet of the Sherburne Company, has been receiving a new shaft and made ready to re-enter her regular trade to Bayou Teche after a lay-up of several months. The Kurzweg has accommodations for a limited number of passengers.
“Stern-wheel steamboats have become rather scarce in the bayou country,” the article continued, “largely being replaced by oil burning tugs.
In the Bayou Teche country three sternwheelers are in operation by lumber interests, the Albert Hanson, 95 feet long; the Amy Hewes, 115 feet; and the steel hull M.E. Norman, 104.5 feet in length. Completion of the Morgan City bridge put the ferryboats John R. Drackett ... and the M.D. Shannon .. out of commission and the Shannon has since been dismantled.
“The bayou boats towing logs formerly were all wood burners. The Amy Hewes and Albert Hanson still burn wood as fuel while the M.E. Norman uses oil.”
The Amy Hewes operated mostly on the Teche for more than 40 years. It was built for the Jeanerette Lumber Co., probably in the late 1920s. The Jeanerette company sold the boat to the Planters Lumber Co. and Planters sold the Hewes to May Brothers of Morgan City in 1942. The boat was decommissioned in 1949.
The Albert Hanson was built for the Hanson Lumber Co. of Franklin in 1896 and apparently operated until the 1940s. I couldn’t find anything more about the M.E. Norman.
The Kleinpeter family operated the H.J., a tiny steamboat leased from the Schwing Lumber Co., as a cypress towboat in the Atchafalaya Basin until the late 1930s, and most of the old paddle wheelers served out their careers towing logs from the Basin to lumber mills on the Teche or hauling cut lumber from the mills.
The Kurzweg operated as a grocery boat, hauling goods up the Teche for the family owned business run by the Kurzwegs out of Metairie. The company became Consolidated Companies and then Conco. V.J. Kurzweg, for whom the boat was named, founded the company in the early 1900s.
A collection of Jim Bradshaw’s columns, "Cajuns and Other Characters," is now available from Pelican Publishing. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.