Friday, July 29, 2011

Book Review: “Slow Boat on Rum Row” by Fraser Miles

General Information
This is an autobiography of a Canadian rum runner on the Pacific coast line. The author was 18 years old when he went to sea and spent two years as a short wave wireless operator and 2nd Engineer on the rum runners, Ruth B and Ryou II. His career ended with the abolishment of Prohibition. The book is broken down into two main sections, the story of his life from childhood leading up to becoming a rum runner and his years as a rum runner. There are several appendices that cover other items related to Canadian rum runners, which will be discussed below. The book is 221 pages long, including 40 more pages for the appendices. There are many B&W pictures scattered throughout the book of actual rum running ships, their crews, and a few pictures of Fraser Miles childhood.

The Good

I will admit that I had some reservations about this book after I got it when I saw that 81 of the 221 pages was about his personal life a kid. I am now glad that I read it as the author was very good at keeping the stories interesting. One of the most interesting parts of the book is the author states that he took to rum running for the money, but was only making about sixteen cents per case during his years running rum! That was a very insignificant payment when one considers that the average case probably sold up to $200 depending on the label. But the amount of cases that his ship handled, still gave him roughly $125 a month for his pay. So one can do some quick math to figure out how many cases his ship handled in a month!

The author was a short wave wireless operator for a shipping company that was a front for a rum running operation out of Vancouver, Canada. He landed the job quite by accident, without going into a lot of it, basically he showed up in place of another friend, who was asked to show up because the regular operator did not show up. While serving on the rum runners, he kept a diary of his trips which allowed the author to have a fairly clear memory of what happen when he wrote this book much later. The author’s service was pretty much uneventful, but as with his childhood, the author is very entertaining with his telling.

The Bad

I enjoyed it, but I can see where some will found this very boring. If you think that the life of a rum runner was filled with shoot out with the Coast Guard, pirates, or rival rum runners…then you will be very disappointed in this book.

Stuff of Interest for Gamers

There really is not much for miniature gamers other then the description of the paint jobs of the type of ships. The “fireboats”, which was the high speed boats that took the case of alcohol to the beach, were painted dark grey. The delivery ship, which is what the author served on, would transport the alcohol from the “Mother ships” located on ‘Rum Row’ to the 12-mile limit to meet up with the “fireboats.” The delivery ships were painted light grey.

But for the role-player, there is tons of useful information about the daily life on the rum runners. One of the things that I thought is a great tool is the author gives an example of what a typical rum runner signal code matrix looks like and this could a layer of interesting game resource. Also in the appendices, is a USCG’s report on how they were able to triangulate the Ryou II’s location by listening to the Ryou II’s wireless transmissions.

There is a ton of information in the appendix on the various rum running ships or ships that thought were involved in rum running. This section is 17 pages long and has various information like who owned the ship, the length of the ship, when it was built, and a sentence or two about it history if know.

Next Review

Ozark Gunfights and Other Notorious Events” by Larry Wood, is a collection of chapters about different gunfights, criminals, and lawmen in the post Civil War southwest Missouri, up to the 1930’s, and including on 1950’s event.

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