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 www.statejournal.com 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.