Traditions make up the culture of the river, and one of the most treasured is that of the mentor. While the exact process or definition of a mentorship can be elusive, that time honored tradition of a more experienced crew member helping to guide a less experienced crew member over time lives on today, and is still being passed on to our next generation of river folk!
Today’s Mentor Monday features Jeremy “Shot” Tardy reflecting on lessons learned and experiences earned with his mentor, Captain John Scott!
"Hello, RiverWorks Discovery readers! My name is Jeremy “Shot” Tardy. I currently reside in Paducah, KY, and work within the Vessel Operations shore-side team at American Commercial Barge Line. Like all rivermen, I’ve had a long line of mentors along my journey. I’d like to take this opportunity to share with you my first encounter of a true riverman, and how his personal investment into my future has given me a strong foundation to build a career upon.
I grew up along the Kanawha River in Marmet, WV, but never considered a career on the river. That changed for me one week after high school when I was told that a local fleeting operator was hiring deckhands. Although the title of ‘deckhand’ sounded silly to my adolescent sense of humor, the thought of working on a towboat had an industrious appeal and I eagerly sought the opportunity. The company, ABC Corp, was owned and operated by a husband and wife team named John and Lida Scott. They crewed 10 or so dinner bucket boats, numerous cranes and small equipment for barge cleaning and transloading operations, a small coal dredge, and a shop barge to keep everything running. Capt. John was raised in the river industry during an era of very little regulatory oversight – a time when contracts were scribbled on napkins over drinks, and handshakes between two rivermen were much more cementing than the stroke of a lawyer’s pen.
Capt. John Scott with Nelson Jones at Tall Stacks in Cincinnati (2000)
Capt. John not only owned the company, but he rolled up his sleeves and worked daily. I was assigned to be his deckhand at Crown Hill Dock, Kanawha River mile 79.1. In-between learning hand signals and steamboat hitches, Capt. John also educated me on towboat etiquette - lines, not ropes - wires, not cables - fore-and-afts, not four-and-a-halfs, etc. I learned that the proper salute of a riverman is to stand proudly outside of the Pilot House door and wave with both arms at towboats passing by (whether you know the other Pilot or not). His intimate knowledge of towboat history was amazing and uncanny which made me want to learn more. Capt. John also had an encyclopedia of towboating tales that could only be acquired by living them, and he could recount those memories in a way that made you feel like you were there. I was instantly hooked, and I knew that I had found a career path full of adventure, risk, and reward.
Capt. John Scott's COL. DAVENPORT in a shoving contest with Capt. John Beatty's CLAIRE E. BEATTY at the Charleston, WV Regatta.
However, there was a small problem. I was a teenager who hadn’t yet learned the importance of reporting to work on time. After several bouts of tardiness over the course of a year, the time had come for Capt. John to “learn” me a lesson on accountability. My mentor fired me, and I knew I deserved it. I picked up my pride and found work with a local competitor so I could continue toward my goal of becoming a Pilot.
A year or so later, I submitted my application to work as a deckhand for Madison Coal & Supply (now Amherst Madison). Knowing that Capt. John enjoyed a close friendship with Madison Coal’s president, Nelson Jones, I reluctantly made the call to ask for a referral. Without missing a beat, Capt. John said, “Well, Tardy, I guess that’s probably a good idea because they won’t let you oversleep on a line-haul boat!”
He went on to say that if he gave me a referral then I had to commit to three things which I still remember very vividly... Number one, don’t let anyone tell you what to do. Instead, always find what needs to be done before being told. Number two, don’t let anyone teach you anything. Instead, you should seek to learn things. Number three, if something needs done on a towboat then it’s your job to do it – no matter which watch you’re on. I promised him I’d do the best I could, and later that afternoon I received a call from Madison Coal’s crew dispatcher offering me the job. Years later, I learned that Capt. John was actually in the car with Nelson Jones during my phone call to him. They were traveling to the Tall Stacks Festival in Cincinnati, where I was going to be working on a small sternwheel excursion boat. It’s funny how things work out.
If we’ll fast-forward through a few years, you’ll find me working for American Commercial Barge Line as a Captain. I would frequently visit with Capt. John during my 28 days off to swap stories while enjoying his signature (and heavy-handed) mixture of Early Times and Cola. He would talk over my head with past labor disputes, regulatory issues, permitting requests, or old boat history, and I’d try to impress him with an over-embellished version of making a lock or bridge or whatever. Every discussion with him was an education for me. Despite the gaps in our age and experience levels, Capt. John made me feel like one of his peers. I don’t know whether he realized how much I valued that.
In a profound twist of irony, the most impressionable life lesson that Capt. John taught me has absolutely nothing to do with towboats. When my wife and I set the wedding date ten years ago, I was excited to invite my mentor to watch me tie the knot. It was important for me to invite him because he had played such a large role in my career and early adulthood. Plus, I figured he would enjoy cutting a rug to some tunes at the reception. I dropped the invitation in the mail and didn’t think much else about it. A few days later, I received a phone call. It was Capt. John to let me know that he had received my invitation and thanked me for it, but needed to decline. A bit hurt and surprised, I asked why. He replied that he never attends weddings or funerals because they always leave him with the same feeling of, “there goes my buddy.” I didn’t understand the logic then, but since becoming married my wife and I have been blessed with four children, we’ve moved across the country twice, and I’ve transitioned from working on boats to working in the office. Life is busy, and I’m nearly ashamed to admit that it’s been seven years since I’ve visited with Capt. John. But, in true form, he already knew what was going to happen before I got married… “there goes my buddy.”
Capt. John seemed to be aware of how his emotions, tone of voice, and body language affected the mood and productivity of his team. He could deliver a butt-chewing in a way that made you want to thank him, eventually. His demeanor had a strong impact on how I’ve tried to interact with others in my travels. My career has taken me from the coal fields of West Virginia to the Gulf Coast, and now to the Midwest. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet and work with some of my river heroes, and I’m blessed to have found a group of industry peers that I hold in a high regard. At an early age, I learned that our industry is largely driven by relationships. In my case, luck.
There have been so many good rivermen who have helped me succeed over the years, and I am grateful for them all. But I am especially thankful that Capt. John found it worth his while to help guide me down a good path when I was first getting started. I hope that life is treating you well, Capt. John.
We would like to help YOU tell the story of your mentor to our community! Who helped make you, you? When was the first time they trusted you? What piece of advice do you come back to, over and over? Why did their style of leadership stick with you? Sharing the journey of your experiences can encourage others to follow your lead—to step up, become a mentor themselves, or reflect on the guidance they’re receiving right now! To find out more or to submit your personal experience for Mentor Monday, contact Andra at firstname.lastname@example.org