'Big bannana boat' Dredge Thompson takes final voyage on Mississippi River
By Shannon Bauer
St. Paul District
ST. PAUL, Minn. — U.S. Army Corps of Engineers employees and retirees, river residents and those affectionately known as river rats lined the banks of the Upper Mississippi River to see the Dredge William A. Thompson make its final voyage, June 12-13.
The Thompson left the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers service base in Fountain City, Wis., around 11:30 a.m., June 12, 2012 and is expected to arrive at its final destination in Prairie du Chien, Wis., around 6 p.m. June 13, 2012.
There, a nonprofit group, Community Development Alternatives, Inc., will accept the dredge from the Corps and make it a permanent static display.
The Corps' St. Paul District used the Thompson to maintain 850 miles of the Upper Mississippi River, 335 miles of the Illinois River and other inland rivers from May 1937 until May 2005, well after its projected life of 50 years. While in use, it was the largest of its type and meticulously maintained throughout its working life.
"There's a lot of Fountain City history going down the river right now," said John Sagan, Fountain City resident and Fountain City Historical Society member, as he watched the MV General Warren tow the Thompson away from the Corps' dock.
"It was a big piece of this town," he explained. "A lot of people here worked on this boat. It helped keep this community going."
Mark Krumholz, Corps navigation program specialist, worked for several years to find the Thompson a new home, not wanting to see the vessel scrapped.
"The Dredge Thompson is an icon on the river. It's known to all as the big banana boat," he said. "It saw the transitioning of the Upper Mississippi River from steamboats, Mark Twain and lead lines to state-of-art diesel-electric power and a new era of channel maintenance by the Corps of Engineers.
"I started my career with the Corps on the Dredge Thompson as a deckhand on the midnight shift in August of 1974, so to see it sold to someone who is going to take care of it is extremely rewarding," he added.
The dredge was named after William A. Thompson, a Corps employee from 1878 through 1925. In 1896, he was appointed to the position of assistant engineer, responsible for improvements on the Mississippi River between Winona, Minn., and the mouth of the Wisconsin River at Prairie du Chien, Wis. He held this post until his death.
The Dravo Corporation of Pittsburgh built the Dredge Thompson for the St. Paul District in 1936 for nearly $900,000, or $1.3 million with contract modifications. It was christened in Pittsburgh in March 1937 by William Thompson's granddaughter, Louise, and first sent to New York, where its galley, mess and quarters were fitted. It was then returned to Pittsburgh, where crews completed its construction.
In May 1937, it made a 1,700-mile trip down the Ohio and up the Mississippi rivers, arriving at its permanent station in Fountain City, May 22, 1937. Through nearly seven decades of service, the Thompson's original design was only slightly modified. In 2005, it was replaced by the Dredge Goetz.
"The city is sad to see it leave, but we're glad to have it go to a good home in Prairie du Chien," said Fountain City Mayor Peter Schaffner.