Sunday, December 14, 2014

Waterways fuel tax increase advances

One house of congress has approved a bill that includes a 9-cent increase in the tax charged to boat operators on the inland waterways -- one that boat operators asked for so they could get improvements to locks and dams that have been stalled by increasing construction costs.

The bill that was approved by the House of Representatives and is awaiting action by the Senate increases the user fee on diesel fuel from the present 20 cents per gallon to 29 cents.

News reports say the increase could help finish repairs to the Chickamauga lock on the Tennessee River, some on the Mississippi and possibly speed construction of the Olmstead Locks and Dam on the Ohio.


When I was down by the river a week ago getting pictures of the Enid Dibert, I also saw a lot of gulls hanging around. Several of them stood on a log out in the river, as this one did.

Before I left, I found this gull nest with the unusual green eggs with very hard shells.

It's amazing what you can see just by looking.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Catching up, 12/13/14

Crounse Week is over. It was a success, given that the daily page views were five times what they normally are. I guess that means we will have more theme weeks as soon as I can select and plan one.

Meanwhile, let's catch up on some stuff that caught my eye this week.
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The Kentucky Transportation Center at the University of Kentucky has issued a report with the title, "Inland Waterway Operational Model & Simulation Along the Ohio River". I downloaded it and looked through the executive summary. Toward the end I found this description of its contents:

Users have the capability of adjusting the effects of different variables to anticipate how the system may react, and what changes in vessel traffic patterns emerge. This information will be of great use for stakeholders wanting to gain a better understanding of what conditions lockage times will increase or decrease, why delays emerge, and consequently how these impact traffic flows on the river.

The entire PDF is more than 200 pages long. I have not yet read it. I might this weekend, or it may be something I forget about for a while until something jars my memory. Or until my computer says it's running low on memory. If anyone out there reads it and has thoughts on it, please let me know.

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The Ohio River flows over top of the Utica shale, a deep formation that is rich in natural gas and various liquids. Most of the Utica drilling so far has been in Ohio, although I believe at least one company plans to drill a test well in the Utica in West Virginia soon. West Virginia and Pennsylvania are better known for their gas and gas liquids production from the Marcellus shale, which lies over the Utica in those states.

Here is one article that talks about trends in Utica drilling in Ohio. Don't expect to see a lot of natural gas being transported on the river, but there is activity in recovering the liquids. I have not heard how that might affect opportunities for river transport, whether in the raw liquids or the processed products, but surely there must be some.

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Meanwhile, some groups are opposing plans to drill and frack for natural gas and gas liquids in the Marcellus shale under the Ohio River, and some groups want to prevent the river from being used to transport waste frackwater from drilled wells to injection wells for disposal. Here is one report from the Ohio side of the river, and here is a report from the West Virginia side.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Two boats

This afternoon I had to go into town, and while I was there I saw two boats passing Huntington.

First was the Paul G. Blazer upbound. I rarely see this boat around here.

Second was the Mae Etta Hines.

As I looked at the nameboard, I had the terrible idea that maybe someone whose daughter was born in the town at the mouth of the Muskingum River in Ohio might name here after the city of her birth: Mary Etta. Okay, bad pun. But it's the kind of thing that goes through my head.

Crounse Week, Day 7: Favorite photos

Seven is a good number. So let's end Crounse Week with seven of my favorite photos of Crounse boats, barges and employees.

First, here's one from earlier in the year. The time of day gives the best light for shooting, and a boat was coming my way. The guy on the barge casting his shadow made it that much better.

This next one is taken at a favorite spot, but not at a particularly good time of year for getting boat pictures.

The problem here is the background. I like hills that are covered in green leaves. The brown, lifeless look here does nothing to excite me. If there were snow on the hills, the picture would look better, except that I lost my love of snow a long time ago, when I started driving.

Here's another one from that cold day in December we talked about two days ago.

I like the stillness of the water, the reflection, the light and something else that I can't describe.

Even in winter, somebody's got to mop the boat or souge the boat or whatever they call it, as this guy is doing on the Jackie Englert.

As mentioned yesterday, taking pictures of towboats in the middle of the day usually involves dealing with a lot of light bouncing of large expanses of white metal, but not in this case. Here's the Donna York exiting the Kanawha River and heading down the Ohio.

I like this one because of the colors.

I was crossing a bridge at Huntington in the rain when I saw the Jean Akin upbound pushing 15 loads of coal. The rain enhanced the color of the barges, so I knew I had to make it up to the next bridge and wait in the rain if necessary to get the overhead shot. Lucky for me the rain stopped so I didn't have to hold the camera with one hand and an umbrella in the other.

Finally, I'm not the best nighttime photographer by any means. Add to that the fact my camera is not the best in low light. But I like shooting boats as day turns to dusk and dark. Here's the Yvonne Conway heading up the Ohio at the right time of day.

I like how the angle makes the lights on the stern look like they're casting little hearts. Aww.

And that's about it for Crounse Week. It's been fun. Thanks for reading.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Crounse Week, Day 6: Infrequent visitors

Because of the way Crounse Corp. organizes its business and dispatches its towboats, we see the Linda Reed and the Paula Ruble up here in the Greenup pool fairly often, but the other three new boats far less frequently.

One warm morning in the fall of 2010, I got a call from Adam's school saying he was sick and needed to come home. I went and picked him up, but I had to stop along the way so he could open the car door and throw up. When we got home, he went to bed. He got up a little while later, and I told him the Janis R. Brewer had passed through the Greenup Locks and Dam a few hours earlier, and we might be able to see it at Catlettsburg. If he wasn't feeling better before, he was then. We were able to leave before the school bus traffic began, and we got to Catlettsburg in time to see the Brewer at a spot where Crounse parks empty barges and at Boggs Landing.

As you can see, the afternoon sun was bouncing off that white boat pretty good. The company's new boats appear to be painted white with gray trim, while the older ones are an off white, almost a light gray, with green trim. They photograph better in bright light.

A year later, Adam and I got to see the Jackie Englert. You can read some details here, but I went back into my archives and found some additional photos from that day.

That's two of the Reed and one of the Englert, but at the time seeing the Reed and the Nancy Sturgis traveling together was more interesting.

So far we've not seen the Leslie M. Neal. Perhaps you could say that if you've seen one of these boats you've seen them all, but that's not our goal. We want to see them all, but we can be patient.

Next: Some of my favorite photos of Crounse boats.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Crounse Week, Day 5: A cold day at Catlettsburg

On Dec. 11, 2011, Adam and I went down to Catlettsburg, Ky., to see what we could see. If you like watching river traffic, Catlettsburg is one of the best places in our area to do that because of all the activity there. Coal docks and an oil refinery on the Big Sandy River feed a lot of long-distance Ohio River traffic, and there are some boat repair places in the area.

This particular evening was cold. We got there after the sun had set behind the hill in Catlettsburg, but across the river, South Point, Ohio, was still bathed in evening light. As we were there, the Sandy Drake came by to pick up some empty barges. We used the occasion to get some pictures of boat workers doing what they're paid to do.

Here are some photos from that evening, offered without comment except to say they give an idea of the scale of things on the river.

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After I put this post together, I thought about one other picture that I got this summer. I don't remember which boat was pushing these barges through the Robert C. Byrd locks on Aug. 31, but those are Crounse barges.

In keeping with this past Sunday's entry, you might be able to make out the markings on the barge closest to the camera. It looks like the barge was drawing 11'2" or 11'3".

UPDATE: One reader has noted these are Crounse barges, but there may be a different boat pushing them, based on the flag there on the middle barge. I can't say one way or the other because I photographed the barges and not the boat. Here is a closeup of the flag, which appears to say "National Marine:.

My bad, and my apologies. And my thanks to the reader for pointing this else. Maybe I can save face by saying not only are Crounse boats everywhere, but their barges are, too.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Crounse Week, Day 4: Getting pictures

Sometimes getting a good photo of a boat is luck. More often, though, it's a matter of planning and experience. A good football photographer knows the game and has figured out where to place his camera so he's ready as the play unfolds. Likewise, if you want to get better-than-average pictures of towboats, you need to know about them.

That means knowing where they are, where they will be, where the sun will be, what the background will be and where you will be. Often when I'm near the mouth of the Big Sandy River or the Kanawha River, I can guess whether a boat is going into the tributary or passing it just by watching how the pilot steers it before he gets there. I'm not always right. That's what makes it fun.

So here are some photos I have accumulated in the digital era of photography. I had fun getting them. These aren't my favorite photos. Those are coming Friday. These are a sample of what I've gotten in the past few  years.

First, the Yvonne Conway as it passed Huntington one evening.

When I showed this picture to some friends, one person said it reminded him or her of an old Batman logo. I took this from a distance and had to crop it down.

Next, a couple of years ago I had my son and one of his friends at Point Pleasant, W.Va., on the last Friday of summer vacation. We saw the Paula Ruble come down the Ohio, but it acted odd as it passed the mouth of the Kanawha. I speculated that it was about to back into the Kanawha, and it did.

If you wish, you can read more about that day here. As with the cold-weather picture of the Paula Ruble yesterday, the originals of these two are lost on my hard drive somewhere, or they may be lost for good. I'm working with copies of low-res copies here.

Speaking of the Kanawha, here's the Donna York coming out of the Kanawha in 2013.

And here are two of the Paula Ruble on the Kanawha. Thanks to the way lenses work, there was a lot more clearance between the boat and the bridge than how it appears in the second picture.

And finally, here are a couple of Crounse boats leaving the locks at R.C. Byrd.

Next: Deckhands at work on a cold December day.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Crounse Week, Day 3: Three generations of boats

Back in May of 2009, the job I had done for more than thirty years was eliminated in a corporate downsizing. That give me the opportunity to spend more time down by the Ohio River as I figured out what my next step in life would be. Little did I know that few people wanted me, at least wanted me and my experience and everything else at more than what amounted to a starting wage.

That meant I spent a lot more time by the river than I thought I would. Lucky for me, I had a new camera to go with that time, and it was a time when companies were having new boats built. AEP and Marathon were ordering or taking delivery of their next generation of boats to push coal and petroleum products. And so was Crounse Corp.

Crounse’s fleet, at least the part that I saw in the Meldahl, Greenup, Robert C.Byrd and Racine pools and beyond, was mostly of two designs in keeping with the company’s overall strategy of standardization. The first generation of Crounse boats that I was familiar with began with the Sara Page, which was built in 1966; the Barbara, Donna York, Eva Kelley, Hazel and Sue Chappell, which were built in 1975; the Edith Tripp, Nancy Sturgis and Sandy Drake, built in 1976; and the Chris, the Eleanor and the Jincy, all built in 1979. Not all of these made it up to the Greenup pool while I was around, by the way.
M/V Barbara upbound on the Ohio River north of Huntington, W.Va.

All those boats were built by St. Louis Ship, which stopped building boats around 1984.

While other companies were buying 5,600-horsepower Dravo Vikings and boats from Jeffboat and St. Louis Ship, Crounse was sticking with its older design of boats with engines generating about one-third the horsepower of the bigger boats.

In 1993 and 1996, five boats in the Crounse fleet were built at Jeffboat: the Yvonne Conway, Ginger Moller, Debi Sharp, Mary Artie Brannon and Enid Dibert. They were larger than the previous generation.

(All dates listed above are from All names are the ones on the boats now as best as I can find. As I am not familiar with all Crounse boats, there may be one or two that I have wrong, have omitted or that may have been sold. If so, please let me know, and please be kind.).

In 2009, one of my river contacts told me Crounse had a new boat headed in my direction – the Linda Reed. It would be the first of five boats to be built for Crounse by Eastern Shipbuilding Group at Panama City, Florida. These boats would have engines generating 4,000 horsepower, as compared with 1,800 horsepower of the first generation and 3,600 of the second.

My younger son Adam, who had become an enthusiastic towboat chaser, accompanied me as we went looking for the Reed when she was in our area. The first weekend of January 2010 we heard about the Paula Ruble. It was headed down the river toward us, and we followed it several miles on its slow journey. The weather was bitterly cold that day. The wind chill must have been around zero. But we saw the boat and got our pictures, even if we had to sit up on a bridge for a while so we could get the overhead view.
M/V Paula Ruble passing under the East End bridge at Huntington.

As you can see here …

Deadheading below Gallipolis, Ohio.

… there is a size difference between the first and third generation of Crounse boats. But the new boats, we learned, might not be as big as they looked. From this overhead view …


… you can see the Linda Reed is not quite as wide as a barge. Coal barges are 35 feet wide. The Linda Reed is 34 feet wide.

Next: Photographing Crounse boats.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Crounse Week, Day 2 EXTRA: the M/V Enid Dibert

The day was too beautiful to stay inside despite the cold, so I went down to the river and what did I see but a Crounse boat headed my way. It was the Enid Dibert moving ever so slowly against a swift current and high water.

First, going under the 6th Street bridge, a.k.a. the Robert C. Byrd Bridge.

Coming closer.

Her two propellers were kicking up a lot of wake despite her speed.

Moving away.

And seen moving away farther as veterans' group gathered at Harris Riverfront Park for the annual ceremony of throwing wreaths in the river in memory of military personnel killed at Pearl Harbor.

And so she headed up the Ohio with what looked like 15 loads of limestone, which I assume are going to a power plant scrubber somewhere.