I have always been fascinated by the Ohio River and the men who have made their way on its passing waters. Samuel Clemens whispered stories of catfish noodlers, steam boats, and ghosts who roam the night river into my imagination. My book told of adventures on the river in the early 1900?s with Captain Jack Dulin. But those were stories of fictional men and their lives on the river. But, last weekend I was privileged to be part of a real life story, the christening of a river boat and a man who has dedicated a great deal of his life to his community and the river.
Six years ago, my friend Earl Yost made a decision to build a boat. Not your ordinary boat that is built in the garage on the weekends. No, this boat when completed, would be 60 feet long and displace 30 tons of water. It was to be powered by a 105 hp Cummings diesel engine. The paddle assembly would be 10 feet of rotating dipping boards that would drive her massive size through the water. From the bottom of the keel to her top deck she would stand 20 feet tall. She would be 60,000 pounds of metal constructed over thousands of hours of work by one man into a sternwheeler. But this story is not about the boat or the man who would build her, although that is story worth telling another time. This story is about the man who shared the early dream with Earl to build a grand old river boat, that man is Bryan Wilson.
Bryan and Earl talked of the boat's design and they had the vision of a sternwheeler and knew how she would look before the first plate of steel was laid for her keel. They shared ideas and plans as carefully as any project ever designed by man. In many ways, the creation of the sternwheeler was not as much about the building of the boat as it was about two men sharing a dream of building her and watching this lady come to life on the river.
Bryan Wilson christens the “Morning Glory” Sunday afternoon. (Photo by Chuck?Clegg)
Bryan Wilson has been a familiar face in our community for many years. He is one of the original charter members of the New Martinsville Rotary Club. Bryan retired from his banking career at Doolin Federal Savings and Loan Company in 1985. Throughout his life he served the banking industry in a variety of positions. But the list of Bryan's many accomplishments would take a book to tell such a story and a simple newspaper article never could tell it all.
He and his wife Eve have been married for 63 years. They raised three children along the way, Judith George Helsel, Leslie Kay Gay, and Joe Bryan Wilson. New Martinsville has been Bryan and Eve's home since 1957.
Bryan's greatest love, after his family and community, has been the Ohio River. He served three terms as the Commodore of the New Martinsville Yacht Club during the days when our community was home to one of the fastest fresh water racing courses in the country. During the 1950s and 60s, thousands of racing fans would flock to New Martinsville each September to watch the high powered boats race for excitement and entertainment. Bryan, along with the many dedicated yacht club members, spent many hours preparing for the racers return each season during those years.
With all these accomplishments, most realize he had great success throughout his life. But, as I talked with Bryan I came to understand he is also very proud of one other accomplishment, The Sea Scouts. He carefully opened a photo album and pointed toward old black and white pictures and began to tell me of the story they told. On the first page was his Coast Guard Pilot License to operate a passenger boat. The pages contained many pictures and he explained in a whispered voice about the story they told of the Sea Scouts. The pictures and stories represent his lifetime dedication to the Sea Scouts' high ideals.
The Sea Scouts he spoke of are part of Boy Scout Troop 3 in Parkersburg. It is the second oldest troop in the state of West Virginia. The Sea Scouts first began in 1909 and was re-organized in the mid 1920's. The Parkersburg troop is older than 99 percent of all other troops in the country. The uniform of a Sea Scout was designed to be in line with a navy uniform at that time. During those years nearly 100 Sea Scout troops were operating across the country. A full 123 ships or boats were registered to the many different scout organizations. During World War 2 nearly 27,000 scouts served the country in a variety of rolls. Many former scouts joined the navy when war came in 1941. Admiral Chester Nimitz believed the Sea Scout organizations prepared young men very well to serve their country. During these important days, Bryan was very much part of the Sea Scout program.
His troop built a sternwheeler as part of their scouting program. It was christened the SSS Blennerhassett. The crew of the boat traveled to Norfolk Naval Yard in 1939 and had the opportunity to go on a cruise aboard the USS Eagle. The Eagle was lost to an enemy torpedo during the war and many of her crew did not survive.
During his career Bryan achieved the rank of Sea Explore Commodore of six eastern states. During his early days as a Sea Scout he obtained the title of Quartermaster Sea Scout. This level of accomplishment is equal to achieving the title of Eagle Scout. Both achievements are only awarded those who dedicate themselves to building skills both personally and in the community. Bryan was serving as president of Wetzel County Savings and Loan when he became Commodore of the Sea Scouts. Since the late 1930s Bryan has played an important part in the Parkersburg Sea Scout program. His involvement has given many young men the opportunity to develop and gain skills for boating and navigating the water ways of our country.
On Sunday afternoon, Bryan had the opportunity to once again play a role in the future of the river, he wanted to be part of christening the newest sternwheeler on the Ohio River, the "Morning Glory"-the boat that he and Earl had talked and dreamed about six years before. The boat that was once only two men's dream now sat at the foot of the old ferry landing under a blue sky filled with white clouds. Dozens of well wishers looked on as Pastor Victor Hunter gave the boat its blessing before its christening. With his son's help, Bryan released the bottle of champagne that christened the boat. The proud legacy of Bryan and Earl's dream had come true.
Bryan is 92 years old. The passing of time has taken a toll on the former Sea Scout Commodore, but his dream of preparing men and boats to sail the rivers of the country is still very much alive. I will remember this day as the birth of the sternwheeler "Morning Glory" and the day when his friends celebrated Bryan Wilson's many accomplishments to his community, his country, his family, and the Sea Scouts. On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country; to help other people at all times. To obey the Scout Law. Bryan Wilson did all these things as we watched Through the Lens.