Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Craig E. Philip at Ashland

The sun over his right shoulder, the pilot of the Ingram towboat Craig E. Philip passes Ashland KY (left) and Coal Grove OH (right) on a trip  upriver.

He passes under the Ben Williamson Memorial Bridge, the first of two side-by-side over the Ohio at Ashland.

And he passes under the Simeon Willis Bridge, background. The green bridge in the foreground is the Ben Williamson Memorial Bridge.

The sidewalk on the Williamson bridge is on the outside of the bridge structure on the downriver side, so on the last shot I had to hold my camera above my head and shoot through the green bridge and under the blue one. The sidewalk on the outside of the bridge structure takes some getting used to. You feel like you're hanging out there 70 feet above the water with little below you. The structure is sound, but it still feels eerie.

Marian Hagestad

Lit up by the late afternoon/early evening sun, the Marian Hagestad of Canal Barge Co. passes under the Ironton-Russell Bridge and past Ironton OH (background), heading down the Ohio River. Photos taken from Russell KY.

Monday, June 29, 2009


Coal is important to the Ohio River Valley. Just count the number of coal-fired power plants along the river or see how many coal barges you see moving on the river or (lately) tied up along its banks.

Thus, two items regarding FutureGen -- the clean coal demonstration plant planned for Illinois -- have caught my eye.

Today on the New York Times Web site is an opinion piece on FutureGen, and it's not favorable. Here are the first two paragraphs:

WHILE President Obama’s cap-and-trade proposal to reduce greenhouse gases has been the big topic of recent environmental debate, the White House has also been pushing a futuristic federal project to build a power plant that burns coal without any greenhouse gases. Sounds great, right? Except the idea is a rehash of a proposal that went bust the first time around.

More important, the technology already exists to make huge reductions in greenhouse emissions from coal, allowing power companies to begin cutting the carbon footprint of coal today. Instead, advanced-technology coal power sits on the shelf while regulators wait to see what happens with a project that may be just an expensive boondoggle.

The other news item came last week, when AEP and Suthern Co. said they were pulling out of FutureGen. It should be noted that AEP wants to build two or three low-emission coal plants that would do much the same as FutureGen, but it can build and bring them on line must faster than FutureGen can do.

This is from the Reuters story:

"AEP and Southern were both told that to continue participation in FutureGen, each company would have to fund the project by $5 million for the next four to six years," AEP spokesman Pat Hemlepp told Reuters.

"That's up to $30 million we think we can spend better elsewhere," said Hemlepp. "We have so many other climate change programs we can spend the money on that would have gone to FutureGen, like the Mountaineer plant in West Virginia."

But there were already questions about FutureGen's goals. Two weeks ago, environmental groups were questioning whether FutureGen's revised goal of 60 percent carbon capture versus the original goal of 90 percent had damaged the value of the project, according to the NYT.

FutureGen has promise, but it has all the possibility of being an expensive, forgotten experiment such as the H-Coal plant at Catlettsburg KY during the Carter administration. The question is whether private utilities will move faster on building cleaner coal-fired power plants than those that are in use now.

NS bridge at Kenova

The Norfolk Southern bridge at Kenova WV. When you count the trestle leading up to the bridge, this is one loooong bridge.

Photo taken on a bright, sunny summer morning.

Thanks, dsmcg

Yesterday evening I went down to Ironton, Ohio, to pay my respects to the first editor who took me under his wing to make me a better newspaperman. David Stephen Francis Joseph McGuire -- Dave -- passed away last week afer several years of kidney and heart problems.

Dave was the most focused newspaperman I encountered in my thirty-year career at The Herald-Dispatch in Huntington, W.Va. And he was the best teacher of newspapering that I ever had.

The one thing I really appreciated about Dave was that he trusted us to do our jobs. He was as far removed from being a micromanager as you can expect while still making sure you did what you were supposed to. Dave figured that we reporters were hired to do a job because we were able and willing, so he trusted us to do it. He didn’t like seeing to many reporters in the newsroom. As he told me once, there’s no news happening in here. On a particularly slow summer day, he told me to spend a few hours driving around Lawrence County, Ohio, to look for something interesting. Even if I didn’t find anything, I would know more about the county I was assigned to cover.

Dave had a lot of faith in me early on. He allowed me to explore my interest in the Ohio River and the people, places and things on it, in it, along it, under it and over it. With his help, I wrote some pretty good stuff. When I got off track, he wasn’t afraid to use some four-letter words to straighten me out. But when he got on you, you knew he was right and that you needed it.

Dave rose up the hierarchy at The Herald-Dispatch, but eventually he ran into editors sent here by corporate who didn’t appreciate his plain-spoken dedication to old-style newspapering. They moved him over to the copydesk, where he spent five nights a week writing headlines and placing stories on pages. From what I hear, he helped a few young copyeditors get their heads on straight, too.

One thing I liked about Dave was how he could let you know you had made a mistake, but he used it as a moment for teaching, not berating or humiliation. Once he was reading one of my stories and decided he needed to remove a word. “We can let everyone know he’s a liar without using ‘however,’ ” Dave told me.

And he protected the people he supervised. Back in the early 1980s, I noticed a lot of the Ford dealerships in smaller towns in our area had closed, and I did a story that led the Sunday Business page. The dealer in Huntington complained about how he was left out. Dave refused to have me do another story, saying the piece was about small-town dealers, not urban ones. Another reporter was assigned to do a puff piece on that particular advertiser to keep him happy.

When The Herald-Dispatch eliminated my job on May 22, a lot of my younger colleagues told me how much they appreciated the help I had given them over the years. I had guided them in finding sources, in writing articles on complex topics in simple language, and in the peculiar history of our region. I realized last night that I had been doing for these younguns what Dave had done for me.

Many of us who respected Dave and were found of him have swapped stories these past few days. He was a blue-collar Irish Catholic boy who studied for the priesthood for a year, then decided “the Lord’s boot camp” wasn’t for him. He loved the University of Kentucky Wildcats, although I can’t recall him ever telling of ever setting foot on the campus or in Rupp Arena. But he grew up in Ashland, Ky., where rooting for UK is genetic.

And Dave was never fond of computers. The HD got its first computer system in or around 1974. It wasn’t long after that that Dave decided “technology sucks.” He said those words so often that many of us can’t talk of Dave without using those words.

So thanks, Dave, for teaching so many of us and allowing us to develop our talents and interests under your firm and fair hand. Thanks for being a newspaperman whose dedication was to the product, not your personal ambition.

If the newspaper industry today is in trouble, it’s because it has forced out people like Dave McGuire.

RIP, Dave. You’ll never know how much you’re missed.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Ironton-Russell Bridge

The Ohio Department of Transportation is working on another design for a new  bridge to replace the Ironton-Russell Bridge, which opened to traffic in 1922. It was the first highway bridge over the Ohio River between Wheeling and Cincinnati. It's not in the best of shape. But it has survived many other bridges that were built and demolished since 1922.

Needing a mental health day, I headed down the river 20 miles from Huntington to get a few pics of the Ironton-Russell Bridge. The sidewalk is closed, so I couldn't walk up on the old bridge, but I got a few shots anyway.

First, one taken from Russell Ky side:

Approaching the bridge from the Ohio side:
On the bridge heading toward Kentucky from Ohio:
And under the bridge on the Russell side:

Finally, have you ever looked at one of these old steel truss bridges and wondered exactly how many pieces of metal are in it?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Bridge, meet chair

My favorite bridge and a ratty old chair at a popular fishing spot.

Nothing profound. Nothing particularly artsy. Just two things that are there and that caught my eye.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Burning tobacco beds

One disadvantage of living in a rural area on the edge of a hardwood forest is that you’re always cutting back trees and branches that grow in and over your lawn. They're looking for sunlight, and they'll take over your property if you don't constantly trim them back. So the past couple of days my sons and I have burned branches and other brush in that big brush pile beside our driveway.

And it got me thinking about an old family ritual that has disappeared in the past generation.

Where I grew up along the Ohio River in Gallia County, Ohio, nearly ever family grew burley tobacco. It was our chief cash crop, and it bought a lot of groceries, Christmas gifts and school clothes. My father owned a country store, and he carried more than one family through the summer until they could sell their tobacco in the fall.

Growing tobacco back then was a labor-intensive process. Profitable, but laborious. Every spring families would burn their tobacco beds. Each bed was bordered by small logs with nails sticking out. Inside the bed was piled lumber, wood and similar combustible material. The entire family would gather around as the bed was burned at sundown. The glowing embers provided the light for people to talk, eat and do whatever their individual family bonding ritual required.

The ashes from the wood provided nutrients for tobacco seeds. After the ashes cooled, the farmer would sprinkle tobacco seeds in the bed and cover the bed with white canvas held in place by those nails in the sides of the bed. When the tobacco plants got to a good size, they were pulled from the bed and transplanted into fields.

Sometime in the 1980s, the practice of burning tobacco beds declined. Farmers were encouraged to use other methods of fertilizing seed beds, and fewer people were raising tobacco. Today when I drive along the Ohio River in Gallia County, I see far less tobacco than I did 20 or 30 years ago.

Even the tobacco market in Huntington WV closed several years ago. The relatively few tobacco growers in the area now must take their crop 40 miles or more into Kentucky to sell it.

Burning the brush in our driveway the past two nights was one of those bonding rituals with my sons as I taught them how to build, sustain and extinguish a large fire safely. The down side was that the family’s financial future was not at stake.

Still, I constantly thought of those tobacco beds and other rituals of country life that have disappeared. 

Three at Kenova

I saw these three boats, among others, while I was at Virginia Point Park at Kenova WV this a.m.

The Map Runner taking a barge from the Ohio River up the Big Sandy to the Marathon refinery at  Catlettsburg KY.

The Senator Stennis passing through.

And a Marathon dinner bucket boat moving an empty petroleum products barge to the Kenova WV terminal.


About a year ago (July 10, 2008, to be exact), my family and I went on a day trip to Augusta KY so we could ride the ferry across the Ohio River and so I could see the old suspension bridge at Maysville KY again. Maysville was okay, but every stop on down was marred by all the mayflies that swarmed along the river bank.

Today, after checking in at the unemployment office to take care of something, I went to Virginia Point Park at Kenova WV, where the Big Sandy River flows into the Ohio and the three states come together. The mayflies were swarming there.

At times I had difficulty walking near the top of the river bank because the air was so thick with these long little critters. They didn't bite or anything like that. They just flew around all over the place and into you.

I tried with varying success to get a decent picture of them until I came across a spider web. On it I counted at least 33 mayflies. Most were dead, but a few were still  moving their wings, trying without success to break free.

Yeah, some spider is gonna eat good tonight.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Bridge over Proctorville

Maybe one reason I like cable stay bridges is that they are so tall -- taller than steel truss bridges and with a lot fewer lines that look really cool from different angles. Here the East End bridge towers over Proctorville OH.

Another take on trash and litter

A guy who writes for the Evansville Courier & Press has a good piece on boaters and anglers who litter the Ohio River.

I've noticed a lot of litter left behind at popular fishing spots around here. Often, it's near the ashes of a fire. It's not that hard to carry your trash out in the same bag you used to bring it in, but some people just don't care.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Greenup Locks and Dam

On my "someday" list is writing a long piece about the Greenup Locks and Dam.

I have a lot of prints and slides of the dam, but very few digital photos. I took this one Friday evening about 90 minutes before sunset. Because the dam faces west, I wanted to shoot it when the sun was most likely to be shining on it directly.

It had been a while since I had been there, and I had forgotten how loud the water can be coming through the gates and through the hydropower plant (more on that below).

For the record, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was designing the dam in the 1940s and 1950s, the Commonwealth of Kentucky paid the federal government money ($200,000, I think, but I'm not sure) to build  the dam piers strong enough to support a two-lane bridge someday.

The bridge was built in the 1980s and opened in 1985, maybe a month after Huntington's East End bridge opened. I wrote a story about the bridge, but the city editor said he was going to hold on to it because of all the East End bridge coverage. He was sort of bridged out.

Anyway, of all the dams on the Ohio, only Greenup and Markland (between Cincinnati and Louisville) were built to be able to support a bridge. Markland's bridge opened several years before Greenup's.

Greenup's hydroelectric power plant was built in France and floated across the ocean and up the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. But that's a story I'm saving for my Ohio River picture book, if I ever get around to writing it.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Saw the Speedway today...

I saw the Speedway again today, so I took a few pictures. This one was the best.

Scootin' through the rakes

Back in the 1980s, I think it was, I was listening to a couple of towboat pilots talk about an accident near Cincinnati. It seems a couple of guys were out in their motorboat and they saw a towboat come by pushing some barges that had the rake (slanted) ends facing each other. The guys in the boat thought it would be cool to go in between the rakes on one side and come out on the other.

They didn't notice, though, that the rake ends faced each other on one side of the tow only. They found  the other side had the box (square, or upright) ends facing each other. Until it was too late.

Needless to say, this did not go well for the boaters.

Reality or urban legend? I have no idea, but I have no doubt that sometime in the past 50 years, someone has tried it.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Flying pieces of bridge pier

From the Point Pleasant Register:

MASON — Yesterday afternoon the last major remnant of the Pomeroy Mason Bridge was blown into history as the top half of the West Virginia pier was imploded, however, a stray piece of the pier ended up in a nearby family’s bedroom as a souvenir.

Read the whole story while it's online.

This brought back a couple of memories. In 1995, when the old 6th Street Bridge in Huntington was being demolished, someone from the Coast Guard called me and asked if I would like to witness the demolition of the piers that day. They were keeping it secret from the public for a reason that I have since forgotten in the 14 years since. The boss approved it, so I said sure.

We stayed behind the land pier of the new bridge on the West Virginia side. First they blew the old pier closest to the Ohio shore. A little later, they blew the other pier, the one closest to West Virginia. It made a different sound than the first blast did. The Coast Guard guy said something like, "That wasn't supposed to happen," as he stared back toward the floodwall between us and the downtown. He saw what looked like debris from the pier sail over the floodwall.

Naturally, I figured I needed to do a story. As I was leaving the area between the river and the floodwall, I saw a guy driving fast down a dirt road toward us. He didn't look happy. When I got to the other side of the floodwall, I saw debris on the four-lane street and damage to cars and buildings from the flying chunks of concrete.

For nearly 14 years, I kept one piece of bridge pier in my desk at work. When I was downsized (terminated; dismissed; fired) on May 22, I left that piece of concrete behind. I don't know why.

One more thing: Way back in August 1978, during my first week at The Herald-Dispatch, I was sent to the community of ... I can't remember ... in Wayne County WV to do a story about an old woman whose home was damaged by a large rock flying off the hillside during blasting for an upgraded U.S. 52. The boulder came through her roof and landed in an upstairs bedroom.

OK: I looked on a map. The community was Hubbardstown, along the Big Sandy River. For years after, when I drove U.S. 52 I always looked for that house.

Bridge over the Kanawha

It's not on the Ohio River. It's 53 miles up the Kanawha River, the Ohio's largest tributary in this area. But it can be noted here that the two sides of North America's largest concrete box girder bridge were joined yesterday. When finished, the bridge will be on Interstate 64 just east (correction, west) of Charleston WV.

As my former coworker Cara  Bailey wrote in a story in today's Charleston Daily Mail, the main span of the bridge is 760 feet. The total length will be 2,950 feet.

To read the whole thing, click here.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

New nuke in Ohio

According to published reports, Ohio elected officials and Duke Power will announce tomorrow that a new nuclear power plant will be built at Piketon OH. It would be the third such plant in Ohio.

Now Piketon is several miles from the Ohio River, but the new plant there, if built, could be the beginning of a decline in coal-fired electric power plants, many of which line the river in my neck of the woods.

What is not generally known is that nuclear power in the past has relied on a lot of coal-fired power plants. Really. For nearly 40 years, the uranium enrichment plant at Piketon required the entire output of two coal-fired plants along the Ohio River -- Kyger Creek, near Cheshire OH, and Clifty Creek, near Madison IN. To see a brief history of how these plants supplied Piketon, go here.

To see news reports about tomorrow's announcement, go here and here.

Now that I think about it a little more, if AMP-Ohio's proposed coal-fired plant along the Ohio in Meigs County OH drew all sorts of protests, what will the prospect of a new nuclear plant generate?

Oh, how I miss being in the news business when something like this comes along.

Two weekend photos

A couple of photos from this past weekend ....

The mv Milton passes under Huntington's East End bridge heading downriver.

And the Lucedale pushes this unusual cargo past Huntington WV, with Chesapeake OH in the background.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

High-speed and Speedway

I'm having a few problems with my high-speed Internet access (financial, not technical), so posting will be light until I get it all straightened out tomorrow. By Wednesday evening, I hope to have a longer post on a topic that I have observed for more than 20 years.

Until then ...

Here's the mv. Speedway passing Huntington WV (that's Chesapeake OH in the background) last month on what has become an unusual dry and sunny day this spring.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Ohio River Valley Viticultural Area ... We're Number 1

Here's something I didn't know until today:

The Ohio River Valley is the largest officially recognized viticultural (wine-producing) area in the United States.

However, some folks in the Upper Mississippi River Valley plan to form a larger area.

I'm not much of a wine fan (although in high school my buddies and I did try to distill moonshine and vodka with chemistry lab equipment, with little success), but I did find that interesting.

A morning at Harris Riverfront Park

This morning I had to go out on an unexpected errand, so naturally I grabbed my camera and stopped by Huntington's Harris Riverfront Park for a few minutes.

First, I was surprised by the amount of wood drift and human trash in the river. I probably shouldn't have been, considering all the rain we've had this week. A lot of stuff comes out of the tributaries, and the Guyandotte has had a pretty strong current where it meets the Ohio at Huntington.

A couple of swan geese, several Canada geese and a lot of ducks swam among the debris while the mv. Barbara came downbound pushing 15 loads of coal.

The wake washed up on the HRP boat launch ramp.

And the Barbara passed under the 6th Street Bridge.

Meanwhile, setup proceeded for the Huntington Symphony Orchestra's concert by the Ohio River tonight.

And we stopped to enjoy some of the flowers planted and tended to by a volunteer group.

A typical morning at the park, I guess.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Mountain State and others

Late this afternoon I saw the new AEP towboat Mountain State below the Gallipolis locks. Because of its location, and the fact it looked like it was tied to the shore and not going anywhere, there was no good angle to get a shot. This was the best I managed without trespassing on private property.

The other new AEP boats I've photographed in the past year:

The Chuck Zebula, taken at Clipper Mills OH.

The Buckeye State, taken shortly after sundown at the Gallipolis locks.

And the AEP Mariner at Harris Riverfront Park in Huntington WV during the open house at Maritime Days.

Pay no attention to the old guy on the right.

UPDATE: According to the Web site shipbuildinghistory.com, AEP took delivery of the boats on or about the following dates (the Chuck Zebula may be off, as the site lists the builder, Quality Shipyards, as having taken delivery):

AEP Mariner, Feb. 1, 2008
Chuck Zebula, May 29, 2008
Buckeye State, Oct. 29., 2008
Mountain State, May 9, 2009.

All four boats are listed as 6,000 hp.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Return of the passenger boat

My former employer had an article in today's newspaper about passenger boats stopping here in Huntington WV and other cities along the Ohio River this summer. Unlike the Delta Queen and the overnight boats that ran the river until this year, this boat will not house people on board. It will carry them from city to city, and they will stay in a different hotel each night.

This might work. The online article was basically a news release with a little background added. I'm not going to second-guess the reporting or writing. I do hope some more information will come later as the time gets closer to when the boat will be in Huntington.

For one, I would like to know how many people will be on the boat as it goes up and down the river. One reason the Delta Queen and other boats aren't running this year is that people have given up river cruises in favor of ocean cruises. Given a choice of cruising to Pittsburgh or Cincinnati (no offense), Alaska or the Caribbean, few people would choose a river cruise, particularly at the prices that were being charged.

Here's hoping the new venture on the river will be a success. Someday when the kids are grown, maybe I could try it on my own dime. If this venture survives.

East End bridge in B&W ... again

My favorite bridge over the Ohio River is Huntington's East End bridge. Until a year or two ago, its proper name was the East Huntington Bridge, although some locals refer to it as the East End bridge or the 31st Street bridge. But someone had to rename it the Frank 'Gunner' Gatski Memorial Bridge for a Hall of Fame football player who played his college ball here but who has been forgotten by most of the community because that was so long ago.

The East End bridge was the first cable stay bridge over the Ohio. It's great to photograph at day or night or in rain or fog. Its color changes as the sun moves across the sky. And it's wonderful in black and white, too. About 10 years ago, I got to climb to the top of the bridge.

This is one of my favorite pictures of the East End Bridge.

Turkey vultures

This photo was not taken along the Ohio River. It was taken on a hillside, a few ridges  back from the river.

However, this photo was taken along the river. At Fortification Hill overlooking Gallipolis OH, in fact.

Turkey vultures are a common sight along the Ohio, so I'll say a few words about them. Most people think they are disgusting creatures, but they merely do what God or nature (depending on your belief system) needs them to do. They're shy around humans, although where I live they're losing some of that shyness.

That could be because black vultures are said to be moving into our part of the Ohio Valley. Black vultures are more aggressive, and I fear they may be pushing turkey vultures out of their natural habitat. If that is the case, it would be a shame. Some people don't understand my fascination with seeing turkey vultures soar overhead, and I don't want to lose that sight.

Demand for inland waterways workers

About a month ago, I was driving past the inland waterways academy at Marshall Community and Technical College and began wondering how enrollment and placement were going considering the slowdown of waterborne freight traffic in this area. There are barges tied up along the river for extended times, and there were places where boats, too, were all tied up with no place to go.

I was going to suggest a news article for my former employer on the topic, but then management downsized me, so I didn't pursue the topic with them, you know? The paper had done several articles in recent years on the academy and how it trains people to work on towboats and such. But it was something most newsroom managers seldom if ever thought about.

According to an article on the Waterways Journal Web site, there's still a demand. The article even mentions the academy here in Huntington WV. To read the part the Waterways Journal put on line, click here.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Wally Roller rudder room

A person who commented on a previous entry -- welcome to the Ohio Rive Blog, Barry Griffith -- noted the presence of the new rudder room on the Wally Roller. Here are a couple of pictures taken from the 6th Street bridge at downtown Huntington WV on June 1 as the Wally Roller passed under. They offer a different view of the rear of the boat.

W.H. Dickhoner and Nell

Another shot of the W.H. Dickhoner passing Gallipolis OH yesterday, this time with the Nell in the background.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

W.H. Dickhoner

On the way home from my mother-in-law's today I saw the W.H. Dickhoner of Ingram Barge downbound past Gallipolis OH. I remember this boat from when it was on the Ohio River all the time -- or at least it seemed that way.

That was back in the 1980s, when the Dickhoner was owned by Ohio River Co. Ohio River Co. had at least two boats like this -- the W.H. Dickhoner and the James C. Justice. It had two others of similar appearance -- the Omar and the Omega -- but they had engines that burned No. 6 diesel fuel and they had controlled-pitch propellers. Those two boats shook the windows every time the went past. Kind of like the way some car stereos are, but more intense. It was great.

I was supposed to ride the Omega from the Gallipolis Locks and Dam to Huntington. I boarded the boat early one morning as it sat above the locks waiting its turn in line. And we waited. And waited. By dark, I got off.

Ingram bought out Ohio River Co. a few years ago. The Omega is now the Erna E. Honeycutt and operates primarily on the Upper Mississippi, from what I can gather. The Omar still bears its original name, I think. Both have been repowered and no longer talk to the windows, I hear. I know Ingram or Ohio River Co. had to do that, but it's a bit of a shame. 

Monday, June 8, 2009


At a popular fishing spot along the Ohio River, particularly for people who don't carry off their trash.

Event moved?

I've been told that the National Maritime Days celebration, where people can tour towboats during an open house, will not be held at Harris Riverfront Park in Huntington WV this year. Instead, the event and the boats will be at Point Pleasant WV on Labor Day weekend.

Tensas, downbound

The Tensas passing Huntington WV downbound as the sun sets behind clouds. Taken from the boat ramp at the mouth of the Guyandotte River.

Sunday, June 7, 2009


From the point-and-shoot archives, c. 2005:

One of the spotlights on the J.L. Lewis, an old boat that's no longer in active service (I hear) but is still used for special occasions.