Sunday, August 29, 2010

Skipping rocks ...

... at one of my favorite spots along the Ohio River. Adam's wearing his AEP River Transportation ball cap, given to him at the Hoosier State christening, because we're waiting for the Mountain State to pass. It did, but the sun wasn't in the best spot to get a great shot. We got some okay ones, though.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

mv. SuperAmerica

Coming down the Ohio River.

Heading into the late afternoon sun, toward one or more of the Marathon Petroleum docks at the mouth of the Big Sandy River.

And as the SuperAmerica heads down the river with empties, it meets the Marathon towboat Robinson, headed up the river with loads.

A rose

I found this on the Ohio River shore a few hundred feet below the East End bridge at Huntington, W.Va.

Did it drift down the river, tossed into the water by someone in grief? Was it thrown away by someone rejecting a suitor? Or is it simply litter, carelessly cast aside the way a beer bottle is?

We'll never know.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Raven, R.I.P.

Our extended family lost an important and beloved member this week. Raven, who had been with us since around 1997, when she already was fully grown, died overnight between Sunday and Monday. She was buried Monday under a tree in a field where she loved to roam. Raven was a good watchdog, and she was one of the two smartest dogs I've ever known.
A couple of decades ago, I heard someone ask if dogs would be in heaven. My first thought was, why would they? Having known Raven and a very few other dogs, my first thought now is, why wouldn't they? I hope Raven has been reunited with one of her former owners, following along as he rides his ATV through the fields and woods of their new home. I normally don't like other people's dogs -- they're okay, but I'm not a dog person -- but some force me to make an exception. Raven was one.

Pollution from power plants' solid waste

Before I lost my job as a newspaper writer and editor, I was about to work on a series of articles about coal ash. For a while I had wondered about the landfills and other places where solid waste from burning coal was stored. A lot of talk and effort had gone into air pollution and water pollution, including thermal pollution, but I had heard very little about the ash and sludge that was stored on or near power plant sites. I live just outside Huntington, West Virginia, and there are a number of coal-burning power plants within, say, a hundred miles of here. Some are old; some are new. Some big, some small.

I looked at power plants using Google Earth to get an idea of the size of these ash disposal fields and the sludge landfills. I had also made contact with one power company to visit one or two of these places to see what was going on.

Then came the TVA spill, and the problem became visible.

But my employer was having cash flow problems, and the owner decided he needed a second person to cover college football more than he needed someone who could look into questions such as this, so my job was eliminated.

But I've still wondered about it.

Today this news release hit the Internet:

WASHINGTON, D.C.//August 26, 2010//Days before the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) kicks off a series of regional hearings across the United States on whether and how to regulate toxic coal ash waste from coal-fired pow er plants, a major new study identifies 39 additional coal-ash dump sites in 21 states that are contaminating drinking water or surface water with arsenic and other heavy metals.  The report by the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP), Earthjustice and the Sierra Club documents the fact that state governments are not adequately monitoring the coal combustion waste (CCW) disposal sites and that the USEPA needs to enact strong new regulations to protect the public.   

Among the sites on the list were the Cardinal and Gavin plants along the Ohio River in Ohio.

Now, I admit I don't know much about all the groups that released this report. And I'm nowhere near qualified to delve into the entire report and give an educated opinion today or tonight. But sooner or later, it would seem the question of what happens to these ash piles and such is addressed. Or perhaps not. They're so big, and any damage -- repeat, any damage, if any -- that has happened may be irreversible. That's a question for experts to answer, and one that will take some serious research on the part of someone like me while the experts on all sides of this issue prepare for the coming debate.

W.P. Snyder Jr. going home soon

It looks like the sternwheel towboat W.P. Snyder Jr. will leave its repair dock at South Point, Ohio, on Sept. 16 and arrive at its home dock at Marietta, Ohio, the next day, according to an article in The Marietta Times .

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

LST-325 article is up

My State Journal article on the LST-325 is up. You can see it here. 

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The chase

This is a long one.

Adam and I hit the road between 4:15 and 4:30 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 23, looking for the LST-325. That’s the troop and tank carrier that participated in the D-Day invasion in 1944. It was heading up the Ohio River through our area on its way to three cities on the upper part of the river for public tours.

We knew it had arrived at the Greenup Locks and Dam, which is about 30 miles down the river from us, but the Corps of Engineers’ vessel location Web site said only that it had arrived, not that it was locking. The ship had been sitting there a while, possibly because the Crounse Corp. towboat Linda Reed was ahead of it with 25 loaded coal barges. The main lock at Greenup can handle a boat and 15 barges at once, so we figured all the moving around involved in getting 25 barges through was delaying things.

Earlier in the day, I secured a telephone interview with Bob Jornlin, captain of the LST-325 for this trip. He called after the ship had arrived at the Greenup locks.

Jornlin said the ship was making 8 to 10 mph in deeper water, but it slowed to 7 to 9 mph at the upper end of the dam pools, where the river channel is shallower. He said he had seen lots of people along the river banks trying to got a good view or good photos of the historic vessel.

“Sunday, everybody was out boating. We had a real wild time – people on shore, people at the locks,” he said.

I told Jornlin my older son was thinking about joining the Marines after high school or college. Jornlin said he should consider the Navy instead.

On our own chase of the LST-325, Adam and I stopped first in Ironton, Ohio. No ship in sight. Rather than wait, I suggested we drive down U.S. 52 toward the locks. There are a couple of spots along the four-lane road where you can see the river through the trees. We did, but we saw nothing. So we went ahead on to the locks.

As we neared the bridge over the dam, we saw the LST-325 leaving the locks. That meant we would head for Greenup, Ky. Once there, we found the Greenup County Courthouse, built at a spot that has one of the best places in this part of the Ohio River for watching boat traffic. About a half dozen people, mainly older, were there waiting for the ship. The youngest was three or four multiples of Adam’s 10.7 years.

They got a good view. The sun was over our left shoulders with the ship moving from left to right. Check out the lighting on this one.

Then it was up U.S.23 in Kentucky to Russell, where we crossed the 88-year-old Ironton-Russell Bridge, much to Adam’s dismay, as he has this fear of big bridges with low ratings. We probably could have gotten a better view of the ship from Russell, but the way the river bends, we went to the Ironton side so we could see it approaching from several miles away.

The LST-325 had to overtake the Linda Reed somewhere past Greenup. Given the width of a 25-barge tow compared to the width of the river in that area, we expected the ship had to slow down a little for a short stretch. The good thing was that the little extra time gave a larger crowd – maybe 30 people or more, many of them children – to gather at the Ironton riverfront to watch the LST-325 pass.

Perhaps because it was on a Monday rather than a Sunday, and perhaps because local news media didn’t have much about the ship’s coming, few recreation craft accompanied the LST-325’s passage past Ironton. But a few did. We had to look into the sun to see it, but the ship passed close enough to shore to give people a good view. And as it passed, a loudspeaker played, I believe, “Anchors Aweigh.”

From there we went to Ashland, Ky., where we climbed up on our least favorite bridge sidewalk – the one on the Ben Williamson Bridge. That’s the one that’s attached to the outside of the bridge structure. Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad the sidewalk is there, because it’s a great place to get boat photos. But it doesn’t feel right when a heavy truck goes across the bridge.

Anyway, we got overhead photos of the LST-325 and two towboats before we went to our next stop.

We were losing light, but Adam and I headed to South Point, Ohio – the southernmost incorporated community in the state of Ohio, by the way – to get our last photos. While there, we met a man by the name of Robert McClellan, a resident of Huntington, W.Va. McClellan said he made one trip on the LST-325 – from England to Utah Beach on D-Day. We talked about it a little, but he and his wife didn’t want to dig up too many of those memories again.

I could understand that. My wife’s grandfather was in Alaska during the war. When he got back, he refused to talk about it other than to tell one story about some spoiled chicken he had to eat. He hated war movies, and he especially despised the TV comedy “MASH.”

McClellan said he and his wife planned to travel to the Robert C. Byrd Locks and Dam, about 30 miles above Huntington, to see the ship pass through after dark. He said he had made arrangements with the lockmaster to get inside the security zone to see the ship – assuming the lockmaster was on duty when the ship got there.

We saw the LST-325 approach from downriver, but Adam noticed the Ingram towboat Jackson H. Randolph approaching from upriver. The two vessels met right in front of us, with the Randolph closest and the LST-325 behind. But we got the shots we needed.

It was getting dark. Adam and I got a final few shots after the LST-325 was out of sight. It was the sun appearing on the horizon behind some dark clouds, casting an orange stripe on the river as another towboat passed.

We made one final stop – at Harris Riverfront Park in Huntington – but the ship was too far away, and the light was too dark for good photos. So we went home.

The LST-325 is heading up the Ohio River for three tour dates. First is Wheeling, where it will arrive on Aug. 26. Tours will be available Aug. 27-30. The ship leaves Wheeling the morning of Aug. 31 for Pittsburgh. There it will be open for tours Sept. 2-6. It will offer three short river cruises on Sept. 7 if the Coast Guard approves.

The ship leaves Pittsburgh on Sept. 8 for Marietta, Ohio, which is near Parkersburg. At Marietta, it will be open for tours on Sept. 10-14. The first three days coincide with Marietta’s Sternwheel Festival.

On Sept. 15, the LST-325 leaves Marietta for its home in Evansville, Ind.

My family will do its best to be in Marietta.

I’m writing a short piece on the LST-325 for The State Journal in Charleston, W.Va. It might be on the paper’s Web site at on Thursday morning.

Power plant plan revived

It looks like American Municipal Power plans to build a new power plant along the Ohio River in Meigs County, Ohio, after all. Instead of coal, it would use natural gas. Details in The Plain Dealer of Cleveland.

More on this later, I hope.

Monday, August 23, 2010

LST-325, photographed

I got back a little while ago from chasing the LST-325 from the Greenup Locks and Dam to the West End of Huntington, WV. We got to the dam as the ship was leaving the locks. Adam and I saw it and got photos at Greenup KY and Ironton and South Point OH. The ship passed South Point as the sun was setting, and there I talked with an old veteran who said he was on the ship from England to Utah Beach on D-Day.

I'll try to have more details tomorrow, as it's getting late and I have a lot of photos to work on.

Meanwhile, here's a photo of the LST-325 taken at Ironton. It's backlit, as the Ironton riverfront faces the west.

Before I retire for the night, I put another photo on my Flickr photostream for my audience there, and I'll link to it on Facebook. More tomorrow.

LST-325 update

I just had a phone interview with Bob Jornlin, captain of the LST-325. He called a few minutes ago as the ship approached or was in the Greenup Locks and Dam. He said they're doing 8 to 10 miles per hour in deep water but only 7 to 9 as the river gets shallower closer to the dams.

I'll have more from the interview later after I chase the ship from Ironton to Huntington and beyond. I probably won't be alone.

LST-325 (Updated)

LST-325, a restored troop landing ship that was used in the D-Day invasion, is heading up the Ohio River. When I checked at 5:30 a.m., it had locked through Meldahl at 4:45 a.m. I'll post more info as the Internet cooperates. If it passes through my area (Huntington WV) in daylight, I'll try to get a picture.

Here's one link .

You can follow it by clicking on the "Live Tracking" link at the ship's home Web page .

UPDATE: The ship has passed Portsmouth, Ohio, meaning it's close enough for me to chase down. When my boys get home from school (one at 3 o'clock and the other at 4), we'll run out and find it. If I get any pictures, I'll do my best to post them this evening or tonight.

Ingram CEO talks

Craig Philip, CEO of Ingram Industries, had an interview with the Nashville Tennessean about his company, including the river transportation part. You can check it out here .

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Five images

Here are five images from recent weeks along the banks of the Ohio River.

First, a bird in a tree. I assume it's a woodpecker, but someone made off with my field guide to North American birds.

I really need to buy me a 300 mm lens one of these decades.

Second, a boat, a bridge and some fishermen. What more do you need for a river photo?

I might have cropped this one a little too tight, but I wanted to focus on the three people you can see.

Two newer boats passing at Kenova, W.Va.., with South Point, Ohio, in the background. Actually, the Buckeye State is passing the Detroit, which is dropping off barges at South Point.

And here's one of the oldest working boats I see regularly. I hope I look as good on the outside when I'm 65 that the Fred Way does now.

Back to school, away from the river

Its going to be lonesome down by the river today. My shadow -- he of the encyclopedic memory and insatiable curiosity toward things pertaining to the Ohio River -- started fifth grade today.

It's his last first day of school at his elementary. Next year he will move on to middle school. Because he's a boy, that puts him in danger of losing three-fourths of his intelligence. He can't help it. I'm convinced testosterone kills brain cells.

We were at his school on Tuesday to meet his new teacher. She's very strong on teaching math, which I appreciate. As I looked at the shelf of books for the kids to read, I saw one by Jesse Stuart called, I think, "A Ride with Huey the Engineer." I told Adam it was written by the man for whom the bridge over the Greenup Locks and Dam was named. He grew up and lived near the dam. The book is about a boy who saw a train go by his house often. The boy wondered what it would be like to ride the train. One day the engineer invited the boy to ride. I told Adam that's like what happened with him and towboats, especially when Bruce Darst of AEP invited him to ride and even steer the mv. Hoosier State.

Adam had better read that book in the first six weeks.

Here's a photo from the last of Adam's many photo shoots along the river this summer. This is the mv. Bill Carneal swinging around to tie up at the mooring cells below the Robert C. Byrd Locks and Dam.

That black speck between the weeds at the foot of the path is Adam.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Three boats and a bug

Something is wrong with my computer or with Blogger. Posting will be light until I can call up this blog without having to reset my password every time.

Meanwhile, here are a couple of photos I got yesterday.

First, the Nancy Sturgis as it was moving back to its tow after assisting other boats getting through the small chamber at the Robert C. Byrd Locks and Dam while the main chamber is down for maintenance and repairs.

Second, the Chuck Zebula and the Debi Sharp tied up at the mooring cells below the dam, waiting for their turns to lock through.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Biomass at Burger

The Ohio Public Utilities Commission has approved a plan for the R.E. Burger power plant along the Ohio River to burn wood in addition to coal. The Plain Dealer in Cleveland has the story.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Two news items

First, NPR has a piece on a photographer who is documenting his hometown of Utica, Indiana, before most of it is paved over for an access road to a new Ohio River bridge.

Second, the largest casino boat on Indiana's Ohio River front saw a decrease in business in July compared with last year, but that was expected, said a spokesman for the boat's owner.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Here's a photo from my archives. It was taken in the 1988 to 1990 time frame in Gallia County, Ohio.

That's the Ashland Inc. towboat Valvoline across the river. But I'm more interested in the burley tobacco in the foreground.

Burley tobacco is one of three varieties used in making cigarettes. About two-thirds or more of burley tobacco grown in the United States is grown in Kentucky, but it has been the main cash crop of small farms along the Ohio River.

Up until a few years ago, it was common to see tobacco growing along the Ohio River from Gallipolis, Ohio, to around Huntington, W.Va. For years Huntington had a tobacco market where farmers brought their crop to auction to tobacco companies. I spent one or two days each fall unloading a pickup truck at the Huntington market. A lot of people used tobacco to get through the winter, and many used their crops to pay their bills at my father's grocery store.

I have many memories of my older sisters sitting behind a tractor on a tobacco setter. The burning of the tobacco bed was a highlight of spring, as it was done at night. There was suckering, spudding vs. splitting, taking it to the barn, hanging it, taking it down, stripping it and tying it, later replaced by baling. In 1978, I did a newspaper article on a man who had invented a machine that stripped leaves from the stalks mechanically, although people still had to sort them into bright, lugs and trash manually. 

But things change. Namely, price supports and production quotas and off-shore cigarette production and smoking regulations and such. Now you don't see as much tobacco growing in small patches along the river road.

Also, you don't see as many large-scale gardens where people raise produce to sell on the Huntington market, but that's a reminiscence for another time.

Power plant tour

To read about a tour of the Bruce Mansfield generating station along the Ohio River near Pittsburgh, click here.


Two years ago, I couldn't get Adam, then 8 years old, up on a bridge sidewalk, particularly one over the Ohio River. Now I can't keep him off them. He likes going up on sidewalks with me to take pictures or to just enjoy the view. But we've found one sidewalk that puts the fear of heights into him.

That sidewalk is on the Ben Williamson Memorial Bridge at Ashland, Kentucky. The bridge was built in the 1920s and renovated sometime in the 1990s or early 2000s. To increase the width of the traffic lanes, they put the sidewalk outside the main bridge structure. Seriously. It's bolted on to the side of the bridge.

We found ourselves in Ashland yesterday, and Adam had heard me talk about going up on the sidewalk back in the winter to get photos of the R. Clayton McWhorter and the junk fleet. So, he wanted to go up there to see if any boats were in the area. We didn't make it out over the river, as he wanted to go back down when a truck went over the bridge and got the sidewalk to shaking.

We still have the Robert C. Byrd/6th Street Bridge at Huntington and, a couple of times a year, the Bridge of Honor at Pomeroy, Ohio. But other Ohio River bridges, no. The two new bridges at Portsmouth, Ohio, are without sidewalks, as is the Silver Memorial Bridge at Point Pleasant, W.Va. The sidewalk on the bridge at Ironton, Ohio, has been closed for several years.

I just don't understand why new bridges don't have sidewalks.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Dirty power plants

A blog or Web site called The Nature Animals has ranked the 10 dirtiest coal-burning power plants in the world. It was no surprise that one along the Ohio River made the list, but the one that was chosen did surprise me. It was the Galllagher Generating Station in Floyd County, Indiana.

The entire list is here.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Touchdown? Splashdown? Whatever.

Day marks

I don't know when or why it happened, but a few years ago the Coast Guard or whoever moved most of the green (right side, descending) daymarks and lights along the Ohio River from the top of the river bank to down near the water's edge. This one, near Addison, Ohio, remains up high.

As I understand things, pilots and others can use these signs and lights to navigate. You point your boat at the green one until you see the red one, then you turn left and point it at the red one until you see a green one, or something like that.

For the curious, those are Norfolk Southern railroad tracks in the background. They're part of the line that runs from Charleston north along the Kanawha River until they cross the Ohio River at Point Pleasant. Then the follow the Ohio River to Pomeroy before heading north to Columbus. NS acquired the tracks when it and CSX bought and divided Conrail several years ago.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Robert C. Byrd Bridge

The Robert C. Byrd Bridge, known locally and generically by the name of its predecessor, the 6th Street Bridge. Opened October 1994 with a speech by the senator himself right before one of his many successful re-election campaigns.

Normally, I'm getting pictures of the river from up on this bridge, but this time I was able to get out on a boat and get a shot of the bridge. This is now my second-favorite bridge, mainly because it has such a good sidewalk that allows you to get decent photos of river scenes and Huntington, too.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

6 pics

Here are a few pictures I got today from a trip upriver. All these were taken at the Robert C. Byrd Locks and Dam, but I did manage to get a few photos elsewhere along the river, too.

First, the Lelia C. Shearer.

Here is the Lelia C. Shearer tied up next to the Pennsylvania.

Here is the Leonard L. Whittington approaching the locks from downriver.

And here is a deckhand on the Whittington.

A little later, I try to get a shot of the lead barges of the Pennsylvania kicking up some water, and the deckhands up front give me a wave.

And here's the Pennsylvania approaching the locks.

Maybe more tomorrow, depending on how busy I get e-mailing letters looking for work.

Monday, August 2, 2010

mv. Mary Ellen Jones

Shortly after we saw the mv. West Virginia at the Robert C. Byrd Locks and Dam on Saturday, Adam and I found the mv. Mary Ellen Jones waiting downstream. Both are owned by Madison Coal & Supply, and both are from the Dravo 3200 series, but Adam noticed differences in them -- the pilothouse windows, the lower deck windows, the radar masts and the smokestacks, among others. Oh, to be young and observant again.

Here are three photos I made:

No surprise here

On Saturday or Sunday, my 10-year-old river fan son, Adam, and I were talking about boats in the Marathon Petroleum fleet. I was mentioning how Marathon had sold the Tri-State to make room for the new boats it had ordered, and I said it had advertised the Marathon and the Ashland for sale.

We agreed  that the Ashland would probably end up in South America, mainly because of its age and size. There's more of a market for older American boats on the Parana River than there is for them on American rivers.

So what greeted us last night but a message from someone saying the Ashland was seen in New Orleans being prepared for a trip to South America.

Perhaps the Ashland, Ohio, Indiana and a few other boats recently sent to the other side of the equator will show up eventually on Gustavo Di Iorio's photostream on Flickr.

Back in print

James E. Casto, my former colleague at the Huntington newspaper, wrote a book a few years ago about riding an Ashland Inc. towboat up the river and back. Now it's back in print. Here's the news release:

After a Decade, Ohio River Book Back in Print 
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- The University Press of Kentucky has republished TOWBOAT ON THE OHIO, a book by James E. Casto. Originally published in 1995, the book has been out of print and unavailable for the past 10 years. 
To get a close, personal look at what it's like to live and work on the Ohio RiverCasto arranged with Ashland Oil to travel on one of its towboats, the Paul G. Blazer, as it made its way from Huntington to Pittsburgh and back. The result was a book that recounts not just a narrative of his trip but also the colorful history of commerce on the Ohio, along with stories about the communities that grew up along the river and were nurtured by it. 
“Although parents aren’t supposed to have favorites among their offspring, often they secretly do,” says Casto. “And in that sense, TOWBOAT ON THE OHIO is my favorite among the dozen or so books I have done. Fifteen years after its publication, I still get letters and e-mails from people who have found it in their local library or at a used book store and want to tell me how much they’ve enjoyed it. That being the case, I’m delighted that the University Press of Kentucky is again making it available.” 
Casto was a reporter and editor at The Herald-Dispatch in Huntington for more than 40 years before he retired in 2004. He’s the author of a number of books on local and regional history. 
The new paperback edition of his TOWBOAT ON THE OHIO is being printed using print-on-demand technology. “Print-on-demand,” explains Casto, “is exactly what it sounds like – the ability to print as many or as few books as needed at any given time. In fact, computerized print-on-demand technology enables publishers to print one book at a time if they are so inclined. This is proving an ideal way to bring back out-of-print books such as mine.” 
TOWBOAT ON THE OHIO can be ordered from University Press of Kentucky at, from or from the author at The price is $25, plus $5 for postage and handling.