Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Wickets, iron and wood

Sometimes you don't do something right away and it seems like it doesn't get done. This is one of those things. That's why the trees in the background have no leaves.

This was taken at the Hannibal Locks and Dam back in February when Adam and I were on our way to the bridge demolition at Steubenville, Ohio. In the background is the dam, which was finished in the 1970s, I believe. In the foreground is a reconstruction of an old wicket, or low-lift, dam of the type that the modern dams replaced.

These moveable dams served the Ohio River from the 1910s up through, well, the modern day, as locks and dams 52 and 53 remain in service on the lower Ohio. These old dams were raised into position when needed to maintain the nine-foot channel in the Ohio. When the river was high enough that the dams weren't needed, they could be lowered to the river bottom, wicket by wicket.

In 1980, the lockmaster at Hannibal -- I think his name was Bob Loar or Bob Lohr -- showed me how the dams worked, and how the maneuver boats like the one below raised and lowered the wickets.

In 1986, I was allowed to visit Locks and Dam 52 at Metropolis, Illinois. I had arranged my visit with the public affairs office of the Louisville District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, with whom I had had many dealings previously. The lockmaster at 52 allowed me the run of the place unescorted -- something that probably would never happen in the post 9/11 world. The dam was up, and the maneuver boat was tied to the shore. I boarded it and felt the heat coming off the steam boilers. As I walked near the dam, I could hear the water running through the gaps between the wickets.

A lot of good photos were made that day -- photos that should have ended up in an article or book that I never wrote but will have to someday. The dam's lift is only a few feet, and the lock walls barely stick out above water, so I was able to get up close to boats locking through.

Later that day, I stopped at Locks and Dam 53. Darkness was setting in, and my cameras has 25 speed Kodachrome in them, so the pictures weren't so good. But the dam was down, and I did see an Ingram boat sail over the lowered wickets. I think the boat might have been the one now called the R. Clayton McWhorter. The date would have been July 1, 1986, if anyone wants to check the boat's logs going back that far.

Today you can see remains of some of these old dams, mainly because of the powerhouses and other buildings that remain at some sites. I've written about those before. One at Chilo, Ohio, right above the Meldahl Locks and Dam, is a museum whose interior remains similar to what it was when the old dam was in service.

The best man at my wedding was the son of the last lockmaster at Lock and Dam 21 (mile 214.6) near Long Bottom, Ohio., John said his father was the last person to leave the property and locked the gate after the last boat locked through 21 as the Racine Locks and Dam was raising its pool.  By 1980, the buildings at 21 were in pretty bad shape. A few years later, I went back to look for them and couldn't find them. I assume they had been demolished.

Perhaps if I live a good life and sufficient money shows up in my bank account, I will make it back down to Paducah and see 52 and 53 again. The two dams are scheduled to go out of service when the new Olmstead Locks and Dam, now under construction, is finished. From what I've  been reading, though, we might see the Cubs win the World Series before we see Olmstead finished. And maybe the Corps will let me get close to the dam again so Adam and I can hear the rush of the river and enjoy sights and sounds that could disappear from the river forever.

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