Traveling with Twain

In Search of America's Identity

Captain Steve Terry embodies Twain’s riverboat spirit

Mark Twain Riverboat Captain Steve Terry

Think of Captain Steve Terry, the 52-year-old pilot-owner of the Mark Twain Riverboat, as a 21st-century Twain. Terry, as did Twain, loves life on the Mississippi. He earned his license at age 19, becoming the youngest pilot on the river.

Terry, as did Twain, tells river stories and resorts to river humor. I ask him what fish he sees on the Mississippi. “None,” he says, “They’re all under water.” His later answer: catfish, carp, buffalo and sturgeon.

Terry, as did Twain, pursues other businesses on the side. His Riverboat Excursions’ building also houses Terry’s Tax Service & Payday Loans, Broadway Photo Custom Digital Imaging and Black Tie Formal Wear.

Terry, as did Twain, harrumphs at railroads. In 1882 Twain returned to his boyhood home of Hannibal to discover unhappily that “the romance of boating is gone.” Six railroad lines converged there, and local youth rolled C B & Q and other railroad initials, Twain said, “as a sweet morsel under the tongue.”

As we head north from Hannibal on the Mississippi for a two-hour dinner cruise with Terry, a railroad train comes even with his 120-foot, 400-passenger riverboat. Terry bristles at having to slow and then wait until the train turns east over an upcoming drawbridge.

Despite his modern depth sounder, charts and radar, Terry calls himself “the biggest chicken on the river” and retains a respect for the threat from sudden 75-mph wind storms and “rain so heavy you can’t see the front of the boat.”

He recalls a post-prom trip where partygoers thought the boat, encased in fog, was moving up and down the river for three hours. But actually Terry just sat in one place a quarter-mile from the Hannibal dock.

Still, an evening on Terry’s riverboat, as Dan Tham’s video indicates, mainly brings to mind the river’s beauty—Twain’s words about “the marvels of shifting light & shade & color & dappled reflections.”

Loren Ghiglione

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One thought on “Captain Steve Terry embodies Twain’s riverboat spirit

  1. kevin gmiter on said:

    Steve terry nicest man and boss god bless him and his family