At River Junction, Mississippi, Mr. J.J. King launches his new
passenger steamboat the "King," to compete with the
"Stonewall Jackson" paddleboat, an old tub, owned by
Steamboat Bill Canfield. When challenged by Mr. King, Steamboat
Bill vows never to give up his ship, even if he is the only passenger
sailing on it. Meanwhile, a telegram arrives from Steamboat Bill's
son Willie. Willie, who hasn't seen Bill in a very long time,
is coming from a Boston college, and he'll be wearing a white
carnation, so he'll be recognized immediately.
At the train station, Bill and his first mate Tom await Willie's
arrival. It just happens to be Mother's Day, and the passengers
disembarking from the train are wearing white carnations in their
lapels. Willie is nowhere to be found. As the train pulls away
from the station, a small, young man sporting a pencil-thin mustache,
a beret, plus fours, an argyle sweater and a white carnation,
stands on the opposite side of the tracks. Doubting that this
could be his son, Bill doesn't even ask him his name. Willie,
on the other hand, goes from man to man seeking his father. When
he accidentally bumps into a baby carriage, Willie entertains
the crying infant by playing his ukulele and prancing wildly.
Watching this comical scene, Bill glances at the young man's luggage
tag and learns the truth about his identity. An awkward reunion
between both the disbelieving father and son takes place, with
Willie sensing Bill's disappointment in him.
Bill decides to change Willie's image a bit before returning to
the boat. At the barber's for a shave and a trim, Willie meets
up with Kitty, his college sweetheart, and daughter of Mr. King.
A new hat, and some work clothes chosen by Kitty, complete Willie's
new look, much to the chagrin of his father. Once on the boat,
Bill tries to instruct Willie in the task of sailing the vessel,
but Willie causes a number of mishaps that almost wreck the ship
and make a wreck of Bill at the same time. Seeing Willie's interest
in his competitor's daughter, Bill forbids Willie to see the girl.
Late that night, Willie sneaks out to meet Kitty against Bill's
wishes. When Bill finds out, he decides to send him back to Boston.
Next morning, Mr. King has the Stonewall Jackson condemned claiming
that it would sink. Bill gets into a tussle with him, and is arrested.
Just as Willie is leaving for Boston, he spots Bill being hauled
off to jail. Despite their differences, Willie decides to stay
and help his father.
The day proves to be wet, windy, and stormy, so Willie, equipped
with an umbrella and loaf of bread, tells the jail keeper that
his father needs bread to eat. Bill doesn't quite catch on to
Willie's clever escape plan until it's too late, and the soggy
loaf releases all its hidden tools onto the floor. Willie, now
on the verge of being locked up too, knocks out the jailer and
springs his father. Bill escapes, but Willie gets in trouble,
when he returns for his umbrella. Watching in horror as Willie
is knocked unconscious and taken to the hospital, Bill turns himself
in to the jailer.
As the fierce storm rages on, the hospital is blown away. Willie's
bed becomes mobile sending him on a wild ride through the town.
As it comes to rest in front of a house, Willie hides beneath
it for safety. A man in the house jumps from a second story window
and lands on the bed, crushing Willie underneath. Dazed, Willie
stands up just as the entire front of the house falls, but he
escapes harm through the open, top floor window. While the town
is ripped apart by the ferocious winds, Willie desperately looks
for a safe haven. He ends up in a demolished theater, is hit on
the head by a falling sand bag, and gets tangled in the magic
tricks and stage props. Frightened, he flees as doors fall over
him and houses crumble about him.
The force of the storm causes the jail to slide into the river,
trapping Bill inside his cell. Willie notices that Kitty is clinging
to the roof of another floating building, so he races to save
her. Once she is safely on land, Willie uses the Stonewall Jackson
to break through the sinking jail, releasing Bill and keeping
him from drowning. Mr. King also is rescued by Willie, and because
of the circumstances, a truce between the rivals takes place.
Willie quickly jumps back in the water again, to the surprise
of the others, but this time he returns with the minister.