The Motor Vessel: Bill Black

Article By Mary Dell Black

To honor these two initial Lockmasters on the Arkansas River, the Little Rock District, Corps of Engineers has named two work boats after them, the Bill Black and the Al Workman. The christening of these boats will take place on Wednesday, March 27th near Tichnor, Arkansas.

Bill Black awardIn 1967, Bill Black (better known in Pike Co. as Daddy Bill) left Clarksville’s Lock & Dam 24 to head south to the Arkansas River. After living in Pike Co. since 1918 except for time in WWII, it was to be a new adventure.

He left to become the Lockmaster for Lock # 2 on the newly navigable Arkansas River Project (McClellan – Kerr Water Navigation System). He and a colleague, Al Workman, from the Ohio River would become the first 2 Lockmasters on this newly developed river and together would eventually be in charge of Lock Operations for the 13 locks & dams of the Arkansas River in the state of Arkansas. Daddy Bill became the Chief of Lock Operations for the Dardanelle Resident Office, supervising and training the lock operators on the lock & dam system from Little Rock to Fort Smith. Al supervised the locks on the lower section of the river.

Daddy BillIn Arkansas, Daddy Bill moved as the river moved, and his life followed the openings of the newly constructed locks & dams on the river. In his 7 years there, Daddy Bill lived in DeWitt, AR; Fort Smith, AR; and then Russellville, AR. Throughout his career Bill earned special recognition including a specific Superior Job Performance award for quick and decisive action to avert flooding disasters following heavy rainfalls over the Arkansas River Valley.

In 1974, After 7 years of service to the crews and people of the Arkansas River, Daddy Bill retired and returned to Pike Co. He eventually lived on the hill with a view of the Mississippi where he was able to continue watching the river flow and the towboats run!

Here’s a map of the Lock & Dams of the Arkansas River where Daddy Bill worked:

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