Monday, January 21, 2002

Flatboat life becomes real for students

By Sarah Buehrle
Enquirer Contributor

        NEW RICHMOND — A riverboat tin horn blast brought nearly 50 New Richmond Elementary School students to attention for a social studies class last week.

        Bela Berty, who traveled the Ohio River in a replica flatboat from Big Bone Landing in southern Boone County to New Richmond in 1993, used it to begin a lecture Thursday to third- and fourth-graders about the 1800s flatboat way of life.

  For his 2003 voyage on the Ohio River, Bela Berty seeks volunteer crews, especially families, on his boat. Readers can contact Mr. Berty by e-mail,
        Mr. Berty plans to dock in New Richmond again in 2003.

        Through Mr. Berty's river maps, flatboat equipment and period costume, students learned why families traveled by riverboat, about livestock and other possessions aboard, and about Ohio River commerce.

        They were invited to touch a bearskin and inspect a flatboat model.

        “He put it in good words,” said Tessa Nagy, 10. “It's easy to understand.”

        “I'll probably remember mostly about what kids did on the boats, which was cleaning up animal ma nure,” said Meagan Hicks, 9.

        Mr. Berty, 53, has worked on rivers since 1978 and has been a flatboat captain since 1988.

        He teaches through presentations and tours of his flatboat, built by John Cooper, when he docks in towns during river trips.

        Mr. Berty, who has logged 50,000 miles on U.S. rivers, will travel the Ohio River 1800s-style with livestock and volunteers, starting in March 2003 at the Ohio-Pennsylvania border and ending at Cincinnati's October Tall Stacks for Ohio's bicentennial.

        The trip is financed through donations.

        “Bela only does it one way and that's the way it was,” said Bill Judd, riverboat captain of 45 years and coordinator for Cincinnati's Tall Stacks. “There's no cheating.”


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