Mentoring is one of the oldest traditions on the river that still shapes the culture of today—when a more experienced crewmember guides a less experienced crewmember in a meaningful way, it both preserves needed knowledge and also forges a better future.
This month’s story comes to us from comes from Chief Engineer Ricky Lee Boswell of Amherst Madison's M/V ALAN P. HALL. His mentor Tommy Spencer, Chief Engineer on Amherst Madison’s M/V CHARLES T. JONES.
Ricky Lee was hired in as a “green” or inexperienced deckhand with no experience. He forged a work relationship with Tommy Spencer when Tommy was Chief on the HALL and Ricky Lee was a deckhand. Ricky showed interest in the engine room and Tommy was all in to help him.
With Tommy, showing drive and interest was all it took. He schooled Ricky in the Engine Room and all it encompassed.
When Amherst acquired the CHARLES T. JONES Tommy was called on to be the Chief. He told management that Ricky was ready and could be Chief on the HALL.
With cell phones Tommy still coaches Ricky when asked. Mentoring is a natural thing for him but only if you show you want it, have the right attitude, and will work your tail off!
"I started on the river in 2016. I took the deckhand class and got job offers from other companies, but I wanted to wait to take a job at Amherst. So I did. I started my first trip on the M/V Alan P. Hall, then bounced to the Kanawha River for a few trips, then back out to the M/V Alan P. Hall to work with my uncle Tom Christner. This is where I met Tommy Spencer. We seemed to become pretty good friends from working together. Then after being on that vessel around a year, I decided I did want to follow in his footsteps and become an engineer. So then it began. Anytime I wasn't on tow I would be helping him in the engine room if he was back there! If not, I'm sure we were getting into something else, from cooking to playing games or just messing with the other crew members. He taught me everything I know in the engine room. I put in the work and he guided me along the way, and I'm now the engineer on that boat!
We seemed to do all the cooking on the vessel. It took me the longest time to figure out how he was eating so much food. We would both get a bowl of food and I would see him fill his all the way up. So I would always think, “Well heck. I can eat as much as him.” The bowls looked pretty much the same. At Least that's what it seemed. It was a long time before I realized we got a bowl just like the rest that's actually smaller. He would always beat me to the cabinet and get it first, and I had no clue why I couldn't eat as much as him.
Tommy has been a huge encouragement to what I do now. Without him, I probably wouldn't be where I am. I think I recall one time he told me he heard the captain's nephew (me) was coming to the boat, and he had figured I was just gonna ride and not do much because I was related to the captain. Then he came down from upstairs and saw me wiping down the cabinets after the first day, and he knew then I was gonna be a good worker. He is one of the people you work with and become friends for life even though we are now on opposite rotations and not on the same vessels anymore."