Friday, December 31, 2010

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Best river memories of 2010

So here it is, Dec. 30, and I give myself a few minutes to look back at 2010. There were some good moments in my time spent along the Ohio River, but one seeming throwaway moment back in April changed everything.

It was a Sunday morning, Checking boat movements via the Internet, either Adam or I noticed the relatively new AEP towboat Hoosier State was in our area heading upbound. We didn't have a lot of time to chase it, as Adam had to be somewhere that afternoon. We caught up with the Hoosier State at old Lock and Dam 27. You can read the account of that morning here.

One of those photos was of Joe Kincaid, a pilot on the Hoosier State. He wrote me afterward to tell me about the boat's christening ceremony scheduled for late May in Rising Sun, Indiana. I e-mailed the AEP folks at Lakin, W.Va., to verify dates and such. I kept Adam home from school that day so we could make the trip. We toured the boar during its open house and watched the ceremony from the shore, as we were not invited guests of AEP.

As it turns out, Adam finally got a ride on a towboat that day, and he got to steer it, too.

Details of all that are here and here.

The AEP folks gave Adam an AEP River Transportation ball cap after his adventure in steering. It's one of his most treasured possessions, and he wears it when he can as we go on towboat photography expeditions.

And it all started because of getting one or two pictures on an otherwise busy day.

There were other good moments, of course. We had some good back and forth with Barry Griffith. His gift package for Adam back in the summer was a highlight. We got to meet C.R. Neale. Touring the towboats at Point Pleasant was great. And Chuck Minsker of the Corps of Engineers in Huntington got us inside the security fence at the Greenup Locks and Dam as I worked on a news article about repairs there, and he got us inside the fence at the  Robert C. Byrd Locks and Dam to photograph the salvage fleet up close.

That one day in Indiana, though, stands out, and it made Adam's year. Meaning it helped make mine, too.

So thanks to all those mentioned above and to everyone who reads this blog for making this a great year along the Ohio River for Adam and me. This coming year will be a bit different for reasons I'll reveal later. But we still plan to make it better than 2010.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Ohio River caviar

If you're in New York City you might eat caviar from fish caught in the Ohio River. I don't know of anyone here around Mile 308 who does, though. Details in this article in The Ledger-Independent of Maysville, Ky., about commercial fishing for paddlefish.

Back in 1985, I think it was, I did a story for the Huntington newspaper about commercial fishing in the Ohio River, but that was in summer. One fisherman took me out in his boat to check his hoop nets for fish, and he enjoyed the look on my face when I smelled a rotting carp that came up in one net.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Looking back

The last Sunday of the year is the time for newspapers to look back in end-of-the-year stories.

The Wheeling Intelligencer wrote about the old Benwood Bridge was supposed to be dropped into the river with explosives or dismantled before the end of the year, but the bridge is still there.

The Beaver County Times made a brief mention of the voyage of the LST-325 up the river in late summer.

The Herald-Dispatch in Huntington noted the opening of a new riverfront restaurant and a small excursion boat that operates out of it.

Friday, December 24, 2010

mv. Linda Reed, 12/24/10

To quote a John Hartford song (at least, this is how I remember it; my copy is on vinyl, and I don't have a player):

That muddy water never quite runs clear
When I try to give a reason why I want to be here.
Ain't you got no family? No place to be
But out on the river on Christmas Eve.

About 20 years ago, when I was a newspaper reporter, I did a story on people who had to work on Christmas. Among others, there was a guy who worked at a steel mill in Ashland, Ky. I probably had a paragraph or two in there about people who work on the line haul river boats.

I thought about that today as Adam and I saw the mv. Linda Reed coming down the Ohio River today at the K.H. Butler boat ramp in the Swan Creek area of Gallia County, Ohio. It's at Mile 285 or thereabouts, about a mile above Glenwood, W.Va. We got a few shots of the Reed as she passed.

First, the Reed as it approached our position. We haven't had much precipitation in the past few days, winds have been calm and river traffic has been light, so the river surface was smooth before the first of the Reed's 15 coal barges loaded to 10 feet came past. Thus, the boat is partially reflected in the river, too.

The lead barges looked really good reflected on the water's surface. The West Virginia hills did, too.

The Reed has passed us and heads downriver.

Finally, here's how the river looked before the Reed came by. We're on the ramp looking down toward Glenwood. My great-grandfather operated a ferry somewhere around here in the late 1800s, I've been told. In the early 1900s, there was commerce between these two sides of the river. But as vehicle traffic moved to bridges and ferries went out of business, the connection between these two sides of the river faded away.

I saw the Reed a few hours later, still several miles above Huntington. At its speed, the Reed probably didn't pass Huntington until after dark. I have no idea what if anything happens on most boats when Christmas Eve falls. I just hope they had a good evening, whether they observed Christmas or not. And you folks, too.

Two river photos

Here are a couple of photos from recent days. I'm sorry if you were looking for something newsy or informative today. I just don't got it. Like most people, my mind is on cruise control this week for some reason.

First, here are some steps on the outside of the landward guide wall at the Robert C. Byrd Locks and Dam. We've had snow on the ground for a couple of weeks. You can see here that not a lot of people have used these steps in that time.

A week or so ago, I had to take Adam to Ironton, Ohio, to see the R. Clayton McWhorter. It's his favorite Dravo Viking, and he hadn't seen it in more than a year. We got to Ironton before sunset, and we saw the boat approaching from downriver, but it was moving terribly slow. While waiting for it, I got off this shot of the Ironton-Russell Bridge. I did shoot the McWhorter as it went by, but by then too much dark had set in.

Yes, this is another one of those shots I took without benefit of a tripod.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Swan geese

I went down to the boat ramp at Harris Riverfront Park in Huntington this morning and saw the four swan geese that live there. I don't get them all in the same picture very often.

Here are two of them marching in formation.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

This and that ...

This is probably a bad time of year for your boat to sink, forcing you into an unscheduled swim in the Ohio
River, as a couple of guys near Pittsburgh know.


Also from the Pittsburgh area, some fish from the Ohio River are now safe to eat, if only once a month. Sorry, but it will be a long time before I knowingly eat something from the river. Too many decades of industrial pollution scare me away. There's too much nasty stuff on the bottom of the river for my taste.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Another snow day

Three more photos from the winter that will never end.

First, one of the photos required by West Virginia state law. This is Harris Riverfront Park in Huntington. People usually shoot these trees in summer, when the leaves are green, or in fall, when they change color. Here, we have bare trees and no green grass in sight.

Turning around 180 degrees, this is the seating area along the riverfront, with the 6th Street bridge in the background. In summer, this is green grass, concrete and people hanging around. It's a teen gathering spot on warm evenings. Here, nothing but a few footsteps in the snow.

The park wasn't entirely deserted, though. This guy decided to take a walk on the upper level.

Even with a cloudy late afternoon and darkness coming on, I had to get a shot of my favorite bridge. This is a color photo, but it looks like it's in black and white. It was that kind of afternoon.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Leftovers, Part 5

Three more photos from October and November that didn't seem to fit in with another theme.

First, the Miss Mae as seen from above on a warm, bright day. I remember warm days.

Sometimes I see barges with these poles in the water. I don't know why they're done that way, but I do see them now and then.

This one has a back story. On the first day of fifth grade, Adam's teacher wanted everyone to draw something about themselves. Adam filled this paper with the AEP logo, partly because AEP has some of his favorite towboats and partly because he got to steer an AEP boat back in May.

More to come, later.

Transport pollution

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is running a multi-day series on how pollution from coal-fired power plants and other sources crosses state lines and affects mortality rates. Two stories have Ohio River connections.

One leads with a personal anecdote and photo from Racine, Ohio, with two power plants in the background. Another focuses on Steubenville, Ohio, and its role in a study several decades ago that dealt with long-distance travel of airborne pollutants.

Lecture series, part 2

Adam and I went to the second installment of the "Dine and Discover" lecture series on the Ohio River last night. The speaker was Jeff Kovatch, a biology professor at Marshall University, who spoke on the scale of life in the river. We had to leave about halfway through Kovatch's talk, as Adam had a presentation to give at his Cub Scout meeting the same night.

Adam's presentation was on bridges. He made drawings of truss, suspension and cable stay bridges, explaining how each design works. He also showed a model he made of an arch bridge. He explained how some bridges have the arch under the deck and how some have it over.

He wanted me there in case he had problems, but he did a pretty good job on his own.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Man, it's cold down by the river

There are days when I wonder what it would be like to work on the river, whether it's on a towboat pushing coal or a luxury passenger boat like the Delta Queen or a smaller boat that goes from town to town offering hour-long excursions.

Today is not one of those days. I went down to the river to get a photo of the mv. Killian L. Huger as it passed Huntington. Because of the time of day and sky conditions, my choices of shooting spots were limited. Anyway, I got the photo, but it was pretty crummy, so I'm not putting it up here.

The air temperature was about 18 degrees and the wind chill was in single digits if not below zero. And I was glad I don't have to spend time on a steel barge in a stiff breeze (with nothing to block it) working with steel cables. I've seen photos of coils of that thick rope that's used on barges frozen solid under ice in below-zero weather.

Back in January, Adam and I endured similar or worse conditions chasing the Paula Ruble down the Ohio River. The coldest part may have been sitting up on a bridge waiting to get an overhead shot. Lucky for us there was a concrete sidewalk barrier to protect us from the wind.

But, yeah, it was cold cold cold down by the river today.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Mark your calendar

For those in the Huntington area: I’ve been penciled in for 6 p.m. on Tuesday, March 1, to give a talk about photographing the Ohio River as part of the Marshall University series “A River Runs Through Us” "Dine and Discover: The Ohio River Series". The talk will last about half an hour, and I’ll show some good photos that I’ve not put up on line for various reasons, along with some that readers of this blog or my Flicker site have seen. I’ll show a few of my family river photos, at least one of which was taken more than a hundred years ago.

Ice in the creek

Thursday morning while I was out and about, I saw some ice at the mouth of a small tributary of the Ohio River, and I got to thinking about a wider tributary nearby. That stream has a public park at is mouth, so I could do some checking without worrying about trespassing. I went there, climbed through some rough spots and found what I was looking for: ice from shore to shore.

The ice was thin, but it was there. It had some interesting straight-line cracks perpendicular to the current and shore but parallel to the river.  Other cracks formed an "M".

While I was looking at some trees backlit by the sun – low in the sky – I heard a bird or a small animal nearby. I scanned the shore but saw nothing. I heard it again, and again. The third time I realized it wasn’t a critter I heard but the sheets of ice snapping, cracking and popping as they ground against one another.

Then the Stephen T went by pushing one barge, and the wake came up the mouth of the creek. The cracking and grinding grew louder. It’s a sound I can’t describe. If I go ice hunting again, I’ll have to bring along an audio recorder.

And that was my excitement for the day.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Leftovers, Part 4

Here are three photos taken at about Mile 1 of the Kanawha River, around Amherst dock, sometime in November.

First is the Andi Boyd of AEP. It's turning around and heading back to the Ohio River.

And here are two of the Nell, also pointed toward the Ohio.

Friday, December 10, 2010


The Ohio River at downtown Huntington is seldom smooth enough to be a mirror. But yesterday morning was different, as these two photos of the Stephen T show.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


This week's cold weather has left a coat of ice on anything along the river that's in the way of waves that lap the shore. Here are three samples from here in Huntington.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Fastest bridge? Not so fast.

Here's an article about construction of the new Ohio River bridge at Madison, Ind., being under way now. This part caught my eye:

The new span is expected to be open to traffic by September 15, 2012, making it the "fastest modern-day bridge built across the Ohio River".

I'll challenge that statement. The Silver Memorial Bridge was built in less than two years. It opened on Dec. 15, 1969, two years to the day after the Silver Bridge fell into the river. The Silver Memorial Bridge was built downstream of the old bridge at a new site, with new piers and everything. Siting, design, approaches, everything was done in two years.

This argument could hinge on what exactly you mean by "modern-day," but I think the first four-lane bridge built in these parts constitutes a "modern-day" bridge. Or it could hinge on exactly when construction began on the Silver Memorial Bridge. I'll listen to fact-based arguments that seek to refudiate my challenge.

A cold day by the river

I finally got to spend a little time down by the Ohio River today, but not much, as I had to be somewhere. But I did manage to squeeze in a few quick shots.  I hope to do some more leisurely but more focused shooting tomorrow or Thursday.

First, you can tell by the drift left behind that the river got this far up the the boat launch ramp at Harris Riverfront Park in Huntington a few days ago.

About seven miles up the river, I saw the Buckeye State approaching the bend where old Lock and Dam 27 was until it was removed from the river almost half a century ago.

Heading back toward Huntington, this is the Lawson W. Hamilton Jr. approaching the East End bridge. As with the Buckeye State, flurries obstruct the view a bit.

Here is one example of the ice sculptures the river made while washing over various objects along the shore.

And this is the Lawson W. Hamilton Jr. heading down the river.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Choices, choices

The first big snow of winter arrived yesterday afternoon. The boys are outside playing in it.

Now, do I go down to the river and try to get some photos despite the fact there may be fewer than a dozen boats moving in the Greenup pool right now, or do I continue my personal project of cleaning the house while I pretty much have it to myself?

Well, the river will be there tomorrow, I guess.

Friday, December 3, 2010

2010: That was the year that was

Okay, we still have most of a month left of 2010. But being an outstanding journalist, a clever thinker and a role model for future river rats everywhere, I figured I'd better get started on my year-end review. There may be another later. We never know when or where inspiration will strike. In this case, it was while I walked around Huntington while waiting for the repairs to my car to be finished.

Here, in photos, are some of the many things I remember about the Ohio River in 2010. I chose one item per month, and a photo to go with it. These are not necessarily my best photos of the year, but they do show the range of things Adam and I noticed.

On Jan. 10, the Ohio River froze over at Huntington. It didn't last long -- only a few minutes. But at one spot, I saw a thin layer of ice from shore to shore. The current carried the ice down the river. When it collided with the buoys that mark the location of bridge piers, the buoys won. Here is a buoy at the Robert C. Byrd Bridge acting as a stationary icebreaker.

I'll admit I enjoyed listening to boats moving through the water in these few weeks. The crunching of river ice against the steel barges was ... cool. Not as cool as what I heard at Clipper Mills, Ohio, in the 1980s, when large floes of ice ground against one another along the shore in a bend, but cool enough.

During the winter that I thought would never end, I was in Gallipolis, Ohio, and got this photo at Mound Hill Cemetery. It's one of my favorite river photos ever. I call it "Copper River."

In March I tracked the "junk fleet" up the Ohio River, getting some particularly good photos at the Robert C. Byrd Locks and Dam.

All but one of these boats -- the one that was supposed to have been doing all the pushing, but didn't, from what I hear -- were bound for a scrap yard near Pittsburgh. But I've been told they were all repaired and put back into service. Cool.

In April, Adam and I visited the Point Pleasant River Museum. Here Adam looks at a model of the Silver Bridge, which collapsed on Dec. 15, 1967, killing 46 people.

This model shows the location of each car that was on the bridge and the location of the joint that failed, causing the collapse.

In May we went to Rising Sun, Ind., for the christening of the new AEP towboat Hoosier State. We got a pleasant surprise when we were asked to ride the boat, and a bigger one when Adam was asked if he would like to steer it. That was the easiest question Adam was asked all year.

That's Adam getting his steering lessons from Joe Kincaid.

I spent part of June and later months looking at the trash and litter along the river. I call this one "Budhenge."

On July 1, the Hoosier State was in our part of the river, and Adam and I followed it from old Lock and Dam 28 up to the Robert C. Byrd Locks and Dam.

And in August, we followed the World War II ship LST 325 up the river. Here it passes Ashland, Ky.

September reminded me why I like sunsets along the river.

And October reminded me why I like watching the sun rise.

November gave us our last grasp on autumn, seen here at the mouth of Indian Guyan Creek (Mile 306).

One more thing. Adam likes towboats, but he also likes school buses, Freightliners, Ford pickups, the Mustang, the new Camaro and the new Challenger. And he has a thing for the Dodge Viper. After years of wanting to see one up close, he finally got to touch one, sit in it and even go for a ride.

Also this year, we grieved as the towboats Ohio and Indiana made their last trips down the river on their way to South America... Adam got his own digital camera ... we met C.R. Neale, Fran Mullen and lots of other river folks we met over the Internet ... and Adam enjoyed a care package sent to him by Barry Griffith.

And that is part of what 2010 has been to Adam and me here on our part of the Ohio River.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

mv. Kentucky

Dick's Towboat Gallery has photos of the new Marathon towboat the Kentucky. Whenever it gets up on my section of the Ohio River, I'll try to get some photos, although winter is a hit-and-miss time, considering weather and river conditions.

When Adam saw the photo, he immediately noticed that its ID number started with 121, where the newest boats nowadays start with at least a 122. So he did some checking and found that the ID numbers of the Kentucky and its sister boat the Detroit are sequential. Mystery mostly solved.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Last week I put up three pictures of the new towboat AEP Legacy, but for some reason I said they were of the AEP Leader, which is about a year old and has been up this way several times.

Here's a link to that post with the name of the boat corrected .

Sorry 'bout that.

And thanks to the anonymous reader who pointed me toward the error.

Winter here; high water coming

Today, Dec. 1, is generally considered the first day of meteorological winter. I went down to the Ohio River today, and it looked like the winter river. It was up a few feet, covering the lower areas of some public access points.

According to the National Weather Service, the river should rise in the next few days and then quickly fall back to its present level. The river won't flood, but it will be several feet higher before it goes down again. The crest, if you want to call it that, will arrive in Pittsburgh today or tomorrow. Wheeling, tomorrow or Friday. Point Pleasant, late Friday. Huntington, around noon Saturday. Cincinnati, Sunday or Monday. Owensboro, Wednesday or Thursday.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

"A River Runs Through Us," Part 1

Tonight I went to Schooner’s, a restaurant in Huntington, to hear the first lecture in a series about the Ohio River presented by faculty of the Marshall University College of Science.

Chuck Somerville, dean of the College of Science, gave an overview of the importance of the Ohio River to the region and threats that it faces. The title of his talk was “The River Runs Through Us.”

Somerville said many people the Ohio River primarily as an industrial ditch, but he doesn’t.

“If you allow yourself to experience the river from top to bottom, it truly is a beautiful river, and it’s worthy of our protection,” he said.

Somerville said the Ohio River provides the daily water supply for about 3 million people, or about 1 percent of the nation’s population. Add in the people who draw water from its tributaries and groundwater that feeds into the Ohio, and the number increases, he said.

The river is also a transportation route for about $4.5 billion worth of cargo each year. It’s a waste removal system and a recreation resource, he said.

And the Ohio is a wildlife habitat. He said the river is home to 193 species of birds, 500 species of plants, 130 species of fish, 42 species of mollusks, 23 species of mammals, 15 species of herps (reptiles and amphibians) and, of course, people.

“I want all of you to think about taking care of this resource and loving the river as much as I do,” he said.

Somerville listed several threats to the river.

Ø    --  Agricultural runoff, which feeds algal blooms, affects oxygen demand and adds toxins.
Ø     -- Mining activity, which affects acidity, sediments and metals.
Ø     -- Natural gas drilling, partly because of increased interest in developing Marcellus shale deposits. Gas drilling leads to problems with sediments, solids, chemicals and water consumption, Somerville said. In West Virginia alone, 1,338 permits have been issued for drilling in Marcellus shale, he said. About 4 million to 8 million gallons of fresh water will be needed for gas drilling in the state, and about 75 percent of that will remain underground, he said. The water that is recovered will be contaminated. It will be 10 times saltier than sea water, and it will be treated as hazardous waste, he said. The amount of water that will be used is about the same as the amount that flows past Ashland, Ky., in 2.5 hours, he said.

Somerville said he is not advocating that drilling in the Marcellus shale shouldn’t be explored, but people need to pay attention to it.

Another threat he described was the combined storm and sanitary sewer systems of many cities along the Ohio.

So what can people do? Four things, Somerville said. They can appreciate the value of aquatic resources. They can support balanced conservation and sustainable development. They can talk to friends and representatives. And they can vote with their ballots and their money.

About 60 people attended Somerville’s lecture. The next talk in the series is on Dec. 14, also at Schooner’s. Jeff Kovatch, a biology professor at Marshall, will speak on “The Scale of Life in the Ohio River.”

For more background on the series, check out this article that ran in The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington on Sunday.

#  #  #

On a personal note, I have been asked to share some of my river photos and give a talk on them during a future session. More to come as arrangements are made.

Also, I’ve known Somerville for about six years. We met in 2004 when he was part of a team of researchers from four schools – Marshall University, the University of Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky University and Thomas More College – traveling the entire distance of the Ohio River on a sidewheeler known as the Chattanooga Star. Somerville and his students were looking for bacteria that were resistant to antibiotics. Others on the trip did their own research. One person in particular looked for zebra mussels.

At the time, Somerville was a professor of microbiology at Marshall. Since then he has become dean of the College of Science.

Before the lecture began, a person approached me and told me he knew who I was. He said he reads this blog, and he recognized some photos as having been shot from his back yard. As it turns out, he lives on the land where my mother lived for 23 years before she died in 1993.

Three news items

The TV people here in Huntington, W.Va., keep predicting a deluge for today, but I've not seen it yet. Meanwhile, folks up the river in Pittsburgh have issued a flood advisory along the Ohio River there.


It looks like the proposed buyout of American Commercial Lines is proceeding. The company operates towboats and builds barges.


I wish I could be in Madison, Ind., today for the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Ohio River bridge there. This is the one where the piers of the existing bridge will be widened while the new bridge structure is built nearby. Eventually, the old bridge will be removed and the new one placed on the piers.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Leftovers Part 3

Here are some more photos that were left over from October and November.

I tried shooting the Bridget Caulley in the rearview mirror of my car as it passed Huntington, W.Va., in the rain.

A barge tied to a mooring cell at Huntington. The evening light brought out the vertical members of the barge.

Two boats -- the Debi Sharp and the Lawrence C. Campbell -- meeting below the Robert C. Byrd Locks and Dam, as seen from the Ohio side.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Seen on the Kanawha River

The mv. Bruce Darst and the mv. James R. Morehead at the mouth of the Kanawha River on an autumn evening. Both had just come into the Kanawha from the Ohio River.

Lecture series

Biology professors and others at Marshall University are launching a public lecture series on the Ohio River here at Huntington, W.Va., according to The Herald-Dispatch .

I'll try to catch most of the first one before I have to take Adam to a Cub Scout meeting.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving, all

The Ohio River Blog is taking a couple of days off to celebrate Thanksgiving. My personal finances and my self-confidence (my arrogance?) have taken some nasty hits in the past 18 months, but my family is together and we're all healthy. So this week we can be thankful and not whiny.

The blog will be back this weekend. As we take a break, here are a few photos of the new AEP towboat AEP Leader Legacy, taken at Addison, Ohio, on the dark, cloudy and moody day that was today.