River boat pilot
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Captain Jack Libbey has been a master pilot on the Mississippi River for over 30 years. He worked on tow boats for 20 years and has been captain of several casino boats along the Mississippi and outside of Chicago. Born and reared in Waterloo, Libbey has a vast store of knowledge about river occupations, including piloting, fishing and boat maintenance. Libbey was a featured tradition bearer at the Smithsonian’s 1996 Festival of American Folklife and the Sesquicentennial Festival of Iowa Folklife. He also served as a community scholar for the project and did research to find and document a variety of cultural traditions found along the upper Mississippi.
Piloting the Mississippi involves knowing the channels as well as the locks and dams along the river. In 1824 the Army Corps of Engineers was put in charge of managing water resources. Army engineers surveyed rivers and worked to remove obstructions for steamboats and later for barges of various sizes and types. They also built levees for flood control. In 1930, Congress authorized the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to make the Upper Mississippi a commercial waterway. By 1940, twenty-four low-level dams were built and a nine-foot channel was completed, opening a new era for the Upper Mississippi.
Jack has been active environmental heritage educator in his community of Lansing, Iowa and has piloted the entire length of the Mississippi River onboard towboats/barges (larger than aircraft carriers), passenger, research and eco-tour vessels. Today, he today provides eco-tours of the upper Mississippi River via his Mississippi Explorer Cruises. Small pontoon boats take folks out on the most beautiful section of the Upper Mississippi River in northeastern Iowa and southwestern Wisconsin. Libbey’s personalized tours provide a fantastic insight of the Mississippi River’s transportation system, locks, wildlife, vegetation, birds and scenic beauty to visitors of all ages. Tours also visit nesting Bald Eagle nests on the US Fish and Wildlife Upper Mississippi Wildlife Refuge. For those interested in more than just another river boat cruise, Jack also teaches his passengers river piloting skills, deckhand skills how to read the river how to lock through a lock and dam, how to identify river birds and vegetation, and more. Some of Jack’s experiences on the Mississippi can be found in “The Midnight Watch Change,” in An American Mosaic: Prose and Poetry by Everyday Folk. Edited by Robert Wolf, NY: Oxford University Press, 1999.