Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Boat pilot sets sale for retirement after 57 year career

J-E News Editor
Most people aren’t aware that any commercial shipping is done by water Webster County, but coal barges have been moving in and out of the Sebree area for years. For more than forty years one man has been at the center of that little known industry, but Friday, October 3, 2014 is expected to be his last day in the pilot house as he begins his well deserved retirement.
John ‘Johnny’ Fulkerson has worked almost continuously as a boat pilot in Webster County for more than four decades. For the last eleven years he has served as pilot of the Eva Sue at Steamport Dock, the facility that loads coal barges for Sebree Mine (formerly Advent Mine) near Onton.

“Johnny is one of the most reliable employees we’ve ever had,” said Paul Moore, Surface Manager of Sebree Mining. “He never missed a day of work. He will be greatly missed but we wish him well.”
Fulkerson has a reputation among co-workers and other mine officials as being a man who takes care of the boat as if it were his own. He also kept watch over the dock and the loaded barges that were waiting to be picked up by the barge line.
“On the Green River you really have to watch out for logs and drift,” Fulkerson explained. “It can get in between the barges. If a line boat has to spend hours messing around in the fleet they lose time. If they lose time we lose time waiting for them to bring barges back to us. But really, it’s just the right thing to do.”
Fulkerson grew up near Elby, Kentucky in McClean County, on part of the 5,000 acre homestead his family first settled on generations ago. For the last forty Fulkerson has made the fifteen or so minute drive from there to Sebree, but that hasn’t always been the case. By the time he began piloting a dock boat in Webster County he was already a seasoned boat pilot.
“I’ve been around for a long time,” he said. “I started decking around 1957 and worked my way up to the pilot house.”
Fulkerson began his career with boat pilot Jimmy Jarvis, who he credits for teaching what he knows about boats.
“He was a hard working guy,” Fulkerson said. “He taught me everything I know about boats. What he didn’t know about them isn’t worth saying.”
The Steamport Dock Crew - from left Chris Green,
Charles Hall, Johnny Fulkerson and William Taylor
Perhaps Jarvis taught him a little more than just how to pilot and take care of a boat. Fulkerson says that, although he is now in his eighties, Jarvis is still working, albeit in an office. He does, however, continue to keep his pilots license valid.
“There wasn’t anything he couldn’t do with a boat,” Fulkerson recalls. “He’s the best I’ve ever seen.”
Fulkerson married Wanda, his wife of 51 years, in 1963, but continued to work as a line boat pilot for the next decade. In the early seventies he decided that he was done being gone all the time and left the river to spend more time with wife and their three children, John, Steve and Annie.
“I went to work at Sebree Dock in either 1973 or 1974,” Fulkerson recalls. “I worked there until I started here in 2003, when I came to work for Chester Thomas.”
In 1976, Hopkins County native Charles Hall went to work at Sebree Dock and the two men have been friends and co-workers ever since. When Thomas opened Steamport Dock in 2003, the two moved upstream from Sebree Dock as a pair, Fulkerson as pilot and Hall as load out operator. Some people at Fulkerson’s retirement party even joked that the two had worked together for longer than most marriages lasted.
“Working with Johnny has been great,” Hall said. “He’s taught me a whole lot.”
“Johnny and Charlie are a pretty good team,” said Chester Thomas, former owner of Steamport Dock and Sebree Mine. “Those two didn’t need any supervision to get the job done. I recruited them pretty hard when we opened the dock.”
Thomas said that he was always proud to have Fulkerson as an employee.
“John was an icon on the river,” he said. “We were lucky to have him come to work for us. He was everything you could want in an employee. He was dedicated, dependable and took pride in the job. He was proud of whatever he had to work with no matter how old it was. I wish him the best of luck and happiness in his retirement.”
Following his retirement, Fulkerson plans to spend more time with his wife, three children, seven grand children and two great grandsons, as well as a great granddaughter that will arrive after the first of the year.

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