The Jim Johnson

by Bob Dyer

Banjo and vocal-Cathy; guitar and vocal-Dave; bass-Forrest; drum and hands-Rich

Bob found stories of this fictional steamboat in some old Boonville newspapers and put the legend to song. Probably since the steamboat's golden age in the mid- 1800s rousters told tales about the biggest steamboat that had ever been. On the Missouri, she's the Jim Johnson; on the Mississippi, she's the Hurricano. In the Adirondack Mountains, we're told, park rangers keep the tradition alive with stories about the biggest RV they ever saw.

You've heard about the Natchez and the Robert E. Lee,
The famous Grand Republic and the big Belle Key.
But the greatest floating palace that ever has been
Is the side-wheel giant called the Jim Johnson.

Look out, boys, she's coming up the river
And, oh Lordy, she's building up steam.
Good God! She's as big as a mountain.
That's the biggest darn steamboat I ever have seen.

She had forty rubber boilers and a forty-hinged hull,
Forty big smoke stacks a hundred feet tall.
She had four big side wheels, two at the stern.
A paddle took a day just to make a full turn.

She could slide through the bends of the mean Muddy Mo
When the river was flooding or the river was low.
And it took her two weeks just to pass by a town.
The people come to see her from miles around.

The Jim Johnson ate enough wood on a run
To build fifty courthouses and a good-sized town.
With all of her passengers, provisions and freight
She could call herself an independent floating state.

The Jim Johnson pilot was a mighty mean man,
Weighed seven hundred pounds and stood eight feet ten.
He had one good eye in the middle of his head
And a voice that could raise up people from the dead.