Raymond Richardson had a camp across the river from Hannibal for 50 years. Even after it was lost to flooding a number of years ago, the greatest of all North American rivers continues to draw him to its shoreline.
"Usually, every day I come down here to look," he said at noon Friday, standing at the riverfront.
The river was calm and quiet when he first arrived there in the morning.
After the sun had reflected upon on the ice for awhile, he heard a curious noise.
About the same time, inside the barge that serves as a ticket office for the Mark Twain Riverboat , Capt. Steve Terry and two others were watching and listening to the river as only rivermen can, observing signs that an ice break might be at hand.
"You hear a lot of popping," Capt. Terry said.
"It's the cracks in the ice going across the river.
Like a big ginga game, and you pulled the wrong stick out."
"That first big crack, three guys came running out," Richardson said, pointing to the riverboat's wharf boat.
Capt. Terry confirmed that scenario.
"The guys were watching it. First, there was excessive pressure on the wharf, then (the ice ) started to run. We cleared the crew off the boat to keep everybody safe. The whole idea right now is safety," he said.
Within an hour of the first cracks in the ice , piles of ice chunks were rushing downstream.
"Look at the thickness of this ice . This is what we've been dealing because of this cold winter that we've had," Capt.
River flow Capt. Terry explained how the idiosyncrasies of the river aff ect ice flow.
"As it comes down the river, it hits that corner," he said, pointing northward, "and ice piles up there at Scipio Marina.
Then (the river current) brings the piles down to us. Our bridges are all designed to break the sheets up as (the ice ) starts to run.
"The next issue that we're going to have to contend with is the ice jam at the dam, which will cause the river to jump up here pretty quick.
"Hopefully they have the gates opened up at the dam so it will flow through the dam and it won't jam up too bad," Capt. Terry said.
While he's seen ice move multiple times during his 33 years on the river, "I really didn't want to see it this year," he said. "I was hoping for a melt in place."
Historic perspective While ice flows bounced off the side of his warf boat Friday morning, Capt. Terry reminisced about his first year on the river.
Capt. Robert Lumpp brought the warf boat to Hannibal in the fall of 1981, in preparation for the 1982 riverboat season.
Steve Terry was a young man just starting his first job on the river.
"We left (the warf boat in the river) through the winter, just like we always do." Capt. Terry said.
"That was our first year. I remember when (the ice broke open). Capt. Lumpp and I were standing here.
It was the quitest I had ever heard him. There was nothing we could do. It was a feeling of helplessness.
We don't see this very often. But I don't believe in 1982 it was as bad as what we're seeing today.
Of course we haven't seen it all yet. There's a lot of ice coming down from upriver yet, and it's flowing at a pretty good rate."
River closed The river has been closed to barge traffic since the first of the year, a situation which has contributed to the thick layer of ice that started "moving" around 11 a.m. Friday.
While the river has been closed, work has been underway at the railroad bridge. Capt. Terry said they have been working on pullies and wheels on the lift system.
The crane operator, working from a tug boat, was caught in Friday morning's ice flow," Terry said.
"He's holding on to the bridge pier; we're hoping he'll be able to ride this out," Capt. Terry said.
(By 2:15 p.m., the tug was cleared from the bridge pier.)