The Wheeler Crowd

J.S. Dodds tells how Minne Wheeler symbolized the ”hometown” atmosphere and service that Wheeler offered his clients along the Tuckahoe:

“After Easton’s debut, Minnie Wheeler was relegated to the role of freight carrying. Although regular Minnie Wheeler passengers admired the grand features of Easton, they seemed ill at ease, not quite sure of their “table manners” among such elaborate surroundings. They pined for the democratic comforts of Minnie Wheeler. …

“That the passenger clientele of the Wheeler Line was perhaps more democratic than those found in its competitors was humorously described in the Preston News. A well-known police officer, Mike Hughes, patrolled the Light Street Wharf. As related to George Ross, the crowds that milled from Choptank River steamers in the early morning depended on Hughes for advice.

“If they inquired about Pimlico, he knew they were the sporting crowds that patronized the Choptank Line. If they had asthma from holding their heads so high it rained up their noses, and inquired for a hack to take them to Hamilton Easter’s or J. Edward Bird’s store, he knew they came via the Maryland Line. If they had their shoes polished across the toes and the heel part was rusty looking, and were wearing bone collar buttons upside down for cufflinks, he knew they came by the Wheeler Line and proceeded to tell them how they could walk to Bernheimer’s. If they asked where they could get a good second-hand cookstove, he directed them to Harrison Street, feeling doubly assured they were Wheeler’s crowd.”  (J.S. Dodds, Eastern Shore’s Own Steamboat Line, pp. 13, 16)

Read more about Captain C.C. Wheeler.

Captain Wheeler’s Creed

How could C.C. Wheeler, who could not read or write, lead Wheeler Transportation Lines to flourish in the late 1800s against stiff competition from larger, corporate steamboat lines headquartered in Baltimore?

Wheeler was committed to serving the people of the Choptank and Tuckahoe Rivers.

Wheeler Lines was a small, locally-owned company that focused its services on the Choptank and Tuckahoe. Captain Wheeler knew most of his customers personally. This relationship led him to take a personal interest in the civic and economic affairs of the towns and farms of the Choptank and Tuckahoe. Wheeler vessels and services made Eastern Shore passengers feel at home and Tuckahoe farmers feel like they were dealing with one of their own.

This cultural connection was symbolized by the beloved Minnie Wheeler and her crew. Minnie Wheeler’s Quartermaster, George Ross, quoted Captain Wheeler to say, “We are just common people serving common people like ourselves. We must please them to keep their trade so we can eat. As long as we can keep them we will all fare well. If we let the other fellows get them all of us will suffer.”