Sunday, October 30, 2011

Utility poles

I was standing on a guardrail post along a narrow section of West Virginia Route 2 along the Ohio River trying to get a photo of something when I saw how the utility poles looked in the setting sun. 

And I got to thinking about how there are people who are fascinated by these things. They'll look at this and tell what type or style of pole it is, what insulators are used and what voltage or wattage is carried on the wires. Some people are nuts about trains, some about river boats and some about utility poles. Half a lifetime ago I would have thought such people were nuts. Today I think it's great.

I guess they still call these things insulators -- the things at the top of the pole where the wires are.

A hundred years or so ago, when I was a small boy, we would find green glass insulators in the woods or along roadsides every now and then. Later, I heard there were collectors who paid good money for the things we chucked aside as cute but useless. Will collectors go after the things on modern utility poles? Who knows?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Five things

When I was growing up along the Ohio River  many decades ago, my parents had a dislike for two types of people. First, they would get agitated when they heard Gypsies were seen in our area. They ran a store, and they feared that a band of Gypsies would come in and steal everything they could stick in their clothes.

Second was people who lived on shantyboats. This was kind of odd, as my mother's family lived on at least two boats, and I have a photo of one of them. The thing about shantyboat people was that they helped themselves to what your grew in your garden along the river, my parents said. The rule of thumb was the first two or three rows of your garden were there for the shantyboat people to steal.

I've seen one shantyboat in my time, but it's either out of sight or gone now.

If you're in the Marietta, Ohio, area in the near future, the Ohio River Museum has taken possession of a shantyboat and is restoring it. That's another reason I need to plan a trip up that way soon.


The Corps of Engineers is repairing problems with the Ohio and Mississippi River levees at Cairo, Ill., following deficiencies that came to light during the big flood this past spring.


Rising Sun, Ind., isn't one of the larger communities along the river, but it's fighting to keep its riverfront casino business thriving. Next up: a new hotel.


Tom Cruise is shooting a movie in Sewickley, Pa. He spent part of his youth in Louisville, by the way.

Here is Huntington, we had Matthew McConaughey for a while during filming of "We Are Marshall," and Jamie Oliver took over the kitchens of an elementary school and a high school for a season of "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution." Two of my kids, who attended Huntington High while he was there, didn't like the changes to the menu.

Oh, Huntington is the hometown of actor Brad Dourif. He played Wormtongue in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. Among other roles, he saved the ship from the Kazon on "Star Trek: Voyager," and he was a deputy who got on Gene Hackman's bad side in "Mississippi Burning."

A side note to that side note: A lawyer I know in Chesapeake, Ohio, which is across the river from Huntington, was one of the FBI agents on whom the story "Mississippi Burning" was based. I interviewed him for the Huntington paper way back when about the real story of how the FBI handled t he investigation.


And I think I got some decent pictures of a towboat lit up by the setting sun this evening. And this time,I had a clean memory card and a fully charged battery.

Friday, October 28, 2011

A fine boat on a dreary day

A previous entry had me whining about what a terrible day Thursday, Oct. 27, 2011, was for getting pictures along the Ohio River. It didn't help that I forgot to erase my camera's memory card and charge the battery before leaving home. I didn't realize what mistakes those were until I was driving down Ohio Route 7 just above Addison. I looked over my shoulder, and there was the O. Nelson Jones headed my way.

I got off a couple of shots there that weren't totally blurry and mal-exposed because of a weak battery and limited card space.

One thing about these pictures, especially the first one, is worth noting. That dark cloud at the very top of the picture isn't a naturally occurring cloud. It's vapor from the cooling towers at the Gavin power plant, which is out of the picture and off to the right. Yesterday was so humid and chilly that the vapor from the cooling towers hung low in the air and drifted off to the east in thick clouds.

I had a few minutes, so I went down to the Point Pleasant area to get a few pics of the O. Nelson Jones making a hard turn to the left to enter the Kanawha. I wasn't sure that was its destination, but I figured from the direction the boat was heading and the barges it was pushing, it was probably headed to an AmherstMadison dock on the Kanawha near the mouth. On the first part at least I was right. Here's the O. Nelson Jones turning up the Kanawha.

And here it approaching my position.

The light wasn't good. It got better after my battery died and my card was full. Figures.

I was kicking myself because there are few places along the river to get as close to this particular boat as this spot is. Next time I'll be more prepared.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Blennerhassett Island Bridge

I've mentioned the Blennerhassett Island Bridge near Parkersburg, W.Va., several times. Today I was in the area, and I found a spot where I could get shots from land.

Photographers are supposed to be a bunch that are always griping about something, so I might as well play the part:

The sky was gray because we had rain all day. At least I got there in the only 30-minute window we had without a drizzle or a downpour.

On the Ohio side, where I was, the bridge is built over a place that loads stuff like sand and gravel and similar materials onto trucks, or from offloads from trucks to barges. I don't know. I only know the ground on both sides of the bridge was filled with semis and rocks instead of flowers and unicorns.

At most spots along the state road where you could see the bridge, there were big, ugly overhead utility lines in the way.

I didn't know it at the time, but my camera battery was dying, and I didn't have a spare. When my battery gets weak, my pictures get blurry. This was the one gripe that I have where it was totally under my control.

So here goes with six pictures anyway.

If I can get back up there next spring on a day with blue skies and green leaves and the scent of freshly cut grass in the air, maybe someone who lives near the bridge will let me use their front porch as a shooting spot. That;s my fantasy, at least.

For the record, the Blennerhassett Island Bridge is what's known as a network tied arch design. If you look at the top picture, you see that the cables hanging down from the arch and supporting the bridge deck are diagonal, not vertical as in most arch bridges over the Ohio River. The diagonal cables and other design features allowed engineers to cut way back on the amount of steel used in the bridge structure.

I like it.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Leftovers, Part 3

From September.

Making tow at Kenova, W.Va.

There's only one sign at Harris Riverfront Park at Huntington, W.Va., to tell you where you are, and it's looking pretty ratty what it it being under water a coupe of times a year for about 30 years.

And it's off topic, but I liked this 1955 or '56 Cadillac I saw on a used car lot.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Mothman? Please.

I'm going to commit an act of heresy for someone who grew up in the Gallipolis, Ohio - Point Pleasant, W.Va. area. I am old enough to remember the Mothman, and I really don't care to hear or read much about it anymore.

The Mothman could have been one or more of several things. In some sightings, it could have been a prankster in a suit. I've even heard a name used.

A lot of folks note that the Mothman's last sighting was before the Silver Bridge fell into the Ohio River on Dec. 15, 1967. It could be that the person who dressed up as the Mothman was on the bridge. Or he had a family member or a friend who died when the bridge went down.

Call me a curmudgeon, but count me as one person not fascinated by or really that interested in the Mothman legend.

Leftovers, Part 2

And three from August.

A big boat, the M/V Mountain State, passing Ashland, Ky.

And a couple of smaller boats carrying fishermen. Both were at Huntington, W.Va.

Monday, October 24, 2011

A boat and a college president

The M/V Dr. Edwin H. Welch of AmherstMadison probably spends most of its time on the Kanawha River, but I have seen it on trips on the Ohio. Today's Charleston Daily Mail has an article about the boat and the man whose name it bears.

Leftovers, Part 1

Here are a few summer pictures. These are from July.

The Big Sandy harbor can be a busy place at times.

Passing Huntington, W.Va.

And some people like to fish from the gravelbar at the mouth of Hildebrand Run, at about Mile 280, right below the Robert C. Byrd Locks and Dam.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Four news items to start a Sunday morning

The Big Four pedestrian bridge project in Louisville, where they're converting an old railroad bridge to a pedestrian and bicycling bridge, has hit a bit of a snag. A small one, they say.


The Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO) has elected a new chairman -- Charles A. "Chuck" Duritsa of Hempfield, Pa.


The Courier-Journal of Louisville provides an update on the Olmstead Locks and Dam project, and it's not good.

The article itself, though, seems pretty thorough and well-written. If you have an interest in Ohio River navigation or even pleasure boating, or if you're a political animal interested in infrastructure needs vs. tax rates, check it out.


And Parkersburg, W.Va., now has its own nice park along the Ohio River front.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Milton Madison bridge pictures

Here are some photos of the Milton-Madison Bridge project, as provided by the folks at miltonmadisonbridge.com

Existing bridge is only 20 feet wide

Truss preassembly

Existing pier strengthening

Steel reinforcement of concrete piers

Looking up

Two-foot thick concrete jacket surrounds piers

Two renderings of the new bridge

The project web site is informative, a good read and well done. It's a model for other big projects like this that affect a lot of people. The site has about 10 gazillion photos of the project and the surrounding area. Many thanks to Kathy Francis and others for allowing me to share these photos.


I got this one this evening. I like the way the reflection of the setting sun bounces off the ripples running perpendicular to both the current and the reflection.

Which bridge project is/was faster: Milton Madison or Silver Memorial?

A while back, I noted on this blog that the folks in Madison, Ind., are saying that their bridge replacement project is the fastest on record on the Ohio River. I disagreed with that assertion, noting that the Silver Memorial Bridge opened two years to the day after the Silver Bridge collapsed into the Ohio River on Dec. 15, 1967. That two-year window included design, right-of-way, construction and everything else.

So I went on the project's web site the other day and asked the folks in Madison if their project really was faster than the Silver Memorial Bridge. Here is the first of two replies that I received. It arrived at 11:24 a.m. Friday, Oct. 21:

Mr. Ross,

That’s an interesting question. It’s difficult to contrast an emergency bridge replacement, like the Silver Memorial Bridge, with the Milton-Madison Bridge Project. When we say this bridge is the “fastest modern day” bridge built across the Ohio, we are referring to it as the fastest post-NEPAbridge.  NEPA dramatically changed the process for such projects, so again, it’s difficult to compare a pre-NEPA and post-NEPA project.  At least that’s my understanding of the situation. I’ve copied two engineers who can correct me if I’ve misstated any of this. But you’re certainly right in that the Silver Bridge project was fast!

Construction on the MMBP began earlier this year and is expected to open to traffic in late 2012.

Thank you for taking the time to write. You point out an interesting history behind the Silver Bridge.

Kathy Francis

Then came the second reply, at 11:36 a.m.:

Mr. Ross

Kathy is correct in that the Silver Bridge Replacement occurred prior to National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) being signed by President Nixon on January 1, 1970.  The Silver Bridge was not subject to the rigors of NEPA. NEPA added an entire new level of complexities that the Silver Bridge was not subject to as an emergency project pre-NEPA requirements.   A more recent example would be the new Portsmouth OH South Shore Bridge.  That bridge took over 8 years from NEPA to Opening to Traffic ... which is typical for Ohio River Bridges.

Hope this helps.

John Carr

John L. Carr, P.E.
Vice President/Associate
Wilbur Smith Associates

NEPA is the National Environmental Policy Act, enacted in 1968 or 1969. The wikipedia article is here.

The project at Portsmouth had its shares of delays. This article in the Columbus Dispatch from 2007 talked about how Ohio tried to build two Ohio River bridges and had problems with both, as Ohio was not as experienced as West Virginia when it came to building big bridges.

Speaking of which, my job will take me to the Parkersburg, W.Va., area next week. Again, I'll try to get a photo of the new Blennerhassett Island bridge. It's the first bridge across the Ohio using the network tied arch design. The design allowed the builders to use less steel than normal. There were also some engineering innovations in the design of the approaches. As a West Virginia Department of Highways official told me, they designed the thing to last with as little maintenance as possible. The idea was to do all the work up front so they wouldn't have to keep coming back to it. Time will tell, right?

P.S. Ms. Francis sent along some photos of the Milton Madison Bridge project that I'll put in another post soon.

Friday, October 21, 2011

M/V Fred Way passes Huntington at sunset

Just a couple of shots I was able to grab between having to be at two places ...

Walking on bridges ... why not?

Here's a great idea: Take a highway bridge over the Ohio River that does not normally accommodate pedestrians. Close it for a few hours one fine day and let people walk across it unhindered by car traffic.

The idea was done in Owensboro, Ky., when a rehabilitation project was finished a few days early. As the writer of this piece suggests, it would be a great idea for other bridges over the Ohio and Mississippi rivers.

I can think of a few bridges in my part of the Ohio River that would make good places for people to walk on, watch the river go by and get a few pictures. The two bridges at Ashland, Ky., for example. Or either bridge at Portsmouth, Ohio.

Closing the Silver Memorial Bridge at Point Pleasant, W.Va., for a couple of hours would be cool. Truckers would fume, but maybe two or three hours would work.

The Nick J. Rahall II Bridge at Huntington, W.Va., would be good. Bonus points if Ingram has the R. Clayton McWhorter, Marge McFarlin, Steven J. Mason or the Lee Synnott making tow at 311 fleet.

Of course, my preference would be my favorite bridge -- the Frank "Gunner" Gatski Memorial Bridge at Huntington, W.Va.

As it turns out, people did get to spend an evening walking across that bridge. It was in the summer of 1985, in the two or three days before it opened to traffic. The bridge was finished and was just waiting for the politicians to give their speeches before the barricades came down and traffic rolled.

Yeah, it would be a great idea. Probably too good for anyone to adopt, though. Few opportunities for sponsorships or beer sales.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

New bridge at Madison, Indiana

Boy, I would like to take a day trip to Madison, Ind., where a new bridge is being built in an unconventional way.

Here is a photo of the old bridge.

The bridge project has its own web site.

People in Huntington don't want another barge dock

People in Huntington, W.Va., turned out at a public hearing conducted by the Huntington District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Tuesday night to voice their opposition to a proposed barge dock over the floodwall from a residential area.

As you can tell from the link, the Huntington paper does not put all its news online for free. It tends to put teasers for some of its better stories online and tell people that if they want the whole story, they need to buy the paper. I can't fault them for that, although at times I'm puzzled by what stories they choose to restrict.

I didn't get to attend Tuesday's public hearing, but here is something I wrote about the dock back in July.

Here's the story as reported by the online HuntingtonNews.Net.

And here is something that a Huntington television station reported on the hearing.

This sentence in the WSAZ report struck me:

Coast Guard officials told that 20 barges across from Virginia Point in Kenova are the largest fleet on the Ohio River in the Huntington area.

Actually, from time to time I've seen more than 20 barges tied up at 311 fleet, which is still along the Huntington riverfront but downstream from the proposed dock. And I've seen some fleets close to that size tied up at Virginia Point itself. Those are places where barges out of the Big Sandy come to be assembled into tows for the line haul boats to carry off.

If I recall correctly, the original plans for the proposed dock included cleaning and repair services. Those could be pretty noisy, and I can understand why people in the neighborhood and across the river in Ohio might object. The last plans I saw for the proposed dock had no mention of cleaning or repair. But I grew up near a barge docking place, although nowhere near as big as this one. Eventually the noise and the light faded into the background of life there. It's like my last year at Ohio University. I lived near a Chessie System railroad track. The first night or two, the trains woke me when they went by. Eventually I barely noticed their coming and going. Whether that would be the case in Huntington, I don't know.

The kicker probably is the problem with the sewage treatment plant.

As with everything else, we'll have to see what happens.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

In the news

I take one day easy and Ohio River news just happens all over the place. Here's a quick roundup:


The Sherman Minton Bridge at Louisville is scheduled to reopen March 2, and the contractor can earn a $100,000-a-day bonus if it finishes the job early.


This should be nice. Mount Vernon, Ind., will build an amphitheater and other attractions along its riverfront. In my part of the river, cities that don't have amphitheaters at their riverfront parks tend to want them. The first one in this area was in Huntington, and it's been a gathering place for nearly 30 years.


This guy -- he tried to escape from police by jumping into the Ohio River -- is lucky he's still alive. A few years ago, a few weeks apart if that long, guys in two different cities tried to evade police by going into the river, and both times someone drowned.


A couple of old, small power plants are coming down in Jeffersonville, Ind., as construction continues on a business and industrial park along the Ohio River. It will be known as River Ridge Commerce Center.

Hmm. River Ridge? Sounds as oxymoronic as the Dodge Ram. But I'm not familiar with the area, so I trust the name has a logic to it.


Coal loses one and natural gas wins one.

Baard Energy will use natural gas instead of coal at its refinery in Columbiana County, Ohio. The move probably makes sense in a number of ways. Coal is out and gas is in. In Ohio, coal is dirty, and thanks to  horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing in the Utica shale, gas is abundant.


Technically, this is not an Ohio River news item, but it has a peripheral relationship to the river. What coal has been to southern West Virginia, shale gas is becoming to northern West Virginia. An example is this article about construction of new pipeline for natural gas in that area.

If you have a road map of West Virginia, look at the area north of U.S. 50. That's shale gas country. Then look at the area south of U.S. 60. That's coal country.

Big Sandy coal

The lower nine miles of the Big Sandy River -- which forms part of the border between West Virginia and Kentucky -- are navigable. In the upper part of those nine miles are several coal docks. Both sides of the river have places where trucks or rail cars can transfer their coal to barges, and in some places coal can be loaded onto rail.

I was in that part of West Virginia tonight while working on a story for this week's State Journal about the Prichard rail-truck transfer facility.  By the time I got close to Kenova, darkness was falling, and I saw this dock. Me being me, my tripod was at home, and the guardrail wasn't a good place to set my camera, so I had to shoot this by hand.

Maybe I'll go back some night with the tripod. If I remember.

Oh, the Big Sandy is so narrow that the docks can moor only one barge wide. A lot of the pictures I've put on here at Kenova, W.Va., or Catlettsburg, Ky., have to do with traffic that has gone in or out of the Big Sandy.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Seven weekend images

A buoy bobbing in wind-driven waves, a car almost as old as I am, a guy painting a tow knee ...  here are a few Ohio River images from this weekend.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

A family's remembrance

I was in Putnam County, W.Va., today covering the 15th anniversary of the groundbreaking ceremony for the Toyota engine and transmission plant. I figured I would run into Lori, a photographer from my place of previous employment that dumped me after 30 years, nine months and one day of faithful service (but who was counting?), and I did.

Lori's father passed away in spring 2010, I believe. He was retired from either Ohio River Co. or Ingram, as he had been a captain on the Harllee Branch Jr. As we were all about to leave, I mentioned to Lori that her father's boat had been renamed, but I couldn't remember what the new name is. She got out her phone and showed me a carving that the family had been able to put on his headstone. Below his last name was a drawing of the Harllee, three-quarters view, with the name below the pilothouse.

The thing is, she didn't know if he would have appreciated what the family did. He liked being on the river, but whether he really liked his job, we may never know.

UPDATE: I should have added that the Harllee Branch Jr. is now the W. Scott Noble. Sorry.

Friday, October 14, 2011

A couple of things on a Friday morning

Federal regulators are telling state transportation agencies that the kind of steel used in the Sherman-Minton Bridge at Louisville may be prone to cracks in welds, according to the Engineering News Record. The steel is known as T1 and hasn't ben used in bridged in decades, but the feds are advising inspectors to pay particular attention to cracks in certain areas.

I'm not versed on types of steel or particular types of welding, but I still found the article interesting. Check it out.

One of the bridges at Cincinnati got such an inspection this week because of the use of T1 steel.


Cincinnati is the latest city hoping improvements to the Panama Canal lead to more cargo moving by river into and out of its area.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Four news items

First, two from Louisville, where the Sherman Minton Bridge remains closed.

The shuttle service across the Ohio River will end on Thursday.

And a casino in Indiana that drew a lot of customers across that bridge is hurting.


There will a race featuring the Belle of Cincinnati and the Belle of Louisville on Saturday.


I meant to post this one yesterday, but ... uh ... my intern forgot to remind me. Remember the levee in Missouri that was breached this past spring to alleviate flooding upstream on the Ohio and the Mississippi? Well, farmers are harvesting crops this year, only they had to plant soybeans instead of corn. And they have other complaints and concerns. The whole thing is worth your time.

Monday, October 10, 2011

All lit up

Back in the late 1980s, the state of West Virginia installed lights on the East Huntington Bridge to light up the cables. It was something new for this part of the Ohio River.

I've said before -- only half in jest -- that everyone who lives within 25 miles of this particular bridge must take at least one nighttime photo every year or face criminal penalties.

Since then, other bridges have been lit up. The U.S. Grant Bridge at Portsmouth, Ohio, is a favorite of photographers at night.

The new Bridge of Honor at Pomeroy, Ohio, is illuminated with purple lights, giving it a distinctive look.

The Simon Kenton Bridge -- an old-style suspension bridge at Maysville, Ky., looks good at night. I hope to get down there this winter when night comes early so I can get a shot and get home at a decent hour.

C.R. Neale has gotten a couple of decent photos of the Hi Carpenter Memorial Bridge at St. Marys, W.Va. Alas, there are none to link to.

The Wheeling suspension bridge looks nice all lit up.

And now, according to the Wheeling newspapers, the Market Street Bridge will be lit up when it reopens to traffic before the end of November. That one should be something to see, too.

If anyone has links to good photos of other Ohio River bridges all lit up at night, please send them along.

A not-very-complimentary comment about Ohio River towns

A tweet posted by Twitter user Marcus Andrews, who goes by the name  on Oct. 7 (language alert):

Driving through all the dirty, impoverished industrial towns along the ohio river make me very glad to live in central ohio

Boat, fog

Here's a different view of a boat in fog.

Falls of the Kanawha as darkness falls

So Adam and I went up the Kanawha River because I wanted to show him (1) the London Locks and Dam and (2) the Falls of the Kanawha at Glen Ferris. Because of the security fence -- you have to keep the terrorists out by land, I guess, even if the place is wide open by river -- we didn't get a good picture of the dam.

But we got to Glen Ferris as dusk settled in. Ninety-some miles up the Kanawha, at or near the head of navigation, the river runs between some steep mountains. The sun sets early, and the valley is in shadow long before night really falls.

This old power plant is being restored, and it should be putting electricity back into the grid soon.

Now if I could only convey the sound of this place adequately...

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Up on a smaller tributary

At about Mile 313.1 or 313.2, a stream known as Twelvepole Creek flows into the Ohio River. Several miles above its mouth is a dam that provides recreation and flood control, in theory. At the farthest reaches of the pool created by the dam is Beech Fork State Park, one of my favorite places that's not along the Ohio River itself.

This morning I went up there to read a little about what some scholars call the deutero-Pauline epistles. That task done, I grabbed the camera and took advantage of a cool fall day with a still lake. Here is a sample of what I saw. As usual, some of these pictures worked and some didn't. I'll let you decide which is which.

First, why are some leaves floating almost motionless in the sky?

Surface tension.

Sun, water, grass.


Water, sun, grass, leaves and such.

This is not a snake or a worm. This is the reflection of a contrail. Or, for conspiracy theorists, a chemtrail.