Friday, August 31, 2012

Change of plans ... and raw jealousy

I was going to post something that I've been working on, but it's tied in with something that was supposed to be in this week's paper. Because of events, we couldn't put my story on Page One, so we're holding it a week. So my grand prose that will have all of you talking and gasping in admiration will have to wait until next week. Sorry.

Meanwhile, if I understood one of my coworkers correctly, he will spend today riding a sternwheeler down the Kanawha River from Charleston to Point Pleasant, where it will be in the Tribute to the River festival. I'm not going to say his name, but I can say that for 12 hours, I will despise him.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Week ahead

There are two or three things in the works here at the Ohio River Blog that will be running in the next few days. One is something along that river that I've been looking at all summer. The other is the return of the Tribute to the River festival at Point Pleasant, W.Va., this coming weekend, with a couple of boats Adam and I will have to board.

Some of my blogging time has been diverted to writing letters to my son at Parris Island, who enjoys hearing about stuff going on at home. Except for river stuff, which he doesn't like. But no one's perfect.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

On writing

Years ago, when I worked at the Huntington WV newspaper, we had an editor who always wanted us to write better. One day he sent out a memo saying the best first sentence he had ever read went as follows: "The first time I robbed Tiffany's, it was raining." I wasn't one of this particular editor's favorites, so I kept my head low and said not a word as I wondered how in the world any sane person would praise such a lead-in sentence.

A few minutes ago, I got to thinking about that sentence, so I got on the Internet and looked it up. You can read the entire poem that it came from here. Reading the whole piece helps me understand why this editor liked the sentence so much as a hook to keep the reader interested, but it's still not my favorite.

On the other end of the scale, another editor -- one who gave off this vibe of "I can fire you at any time for any reason I like, and I feel like getting rid of someone today" -- listened to Maya Angelou's poem as she read it at Bill Clinton's first inauguration in January 1993. He was really impressed with it. You can read it here. Me, I'm not so impressed. It's okay, and I think I see what she's saying, but it's not my style, and it's not what I like.

I admit I find a lot of poetry to be pretentious imagery understood and appreciated only by other poets. It's like when I went to the Huntington Museum of Art and saw what looked like a purse covered in bronze and nailed to a sheet of plywood. I just didn't get it. The same with a lot of modern sculpture. I just don't get it.

Anyway, here, to me, is the greatest ever lead to a book. In later versions, it was Chapter 4 of a longer work, but I like in the original, as Chapter 1 of one of the greatest books ever about life in one corner of the United States.

When I was a boy, there was but one permanent ambition among my comrades in our village on the west bank of the Mississippi River. That was, to be a steamboatman. We had transient ambitions of other sorts, but they were only transient. When a circus came and went, it left us all burning to become clowns; the first negro minstrel show that came to our section left us all suffering to try that kind of life; now and then we had a hope that if we lived and were good, God would permit us to be pirates. These ambitions faded out, each in its turn; but the ambition to be a steamboatman always remained.

The second paragraph of "Old Times on the Mississippi" by Mark Twain is as good as the first, but it's much too long to copy and paste here. If you haven't read it, read it.

I've always wanted to write something like that. I haven't yet. Someday, maybe. It's hard to top a classic. But we have to try.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Groundbreaking in the Louisville area

Normally, groundbreaking ceremonies can be pretty dull. Often the best thing about them is that you get access to people who normally wouldn't talk to you because they pay people to do that. And it's a good time for media jackals like me to get file photos for later use.

Still, I would like to be in Jeffersonville, Ind., next week when ground will be broken for the new Ohio River Bridges project. It's been nearly ten years since I was down that way, and while I remember few details of driving through there, I recall that I didn't care for the interstate highway there along the river.

It was kind of like when I was in Cincinnati that summer. I did my best to avoid the Brent Spence bridge.

M/V Escatawpa at night

Tonight I got some shots of the M/V Escatawpa, which I usually see on the Kanawha River, doing some nighttime stuff near the mouth. I put them on Flickr because I trust it to load my higher-res images better. Three of the photos are here, here and here.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

And a good time was had by all

This is a fairly common sight on the Ohio River bank in my area, although this particular spot, a popular one for fishing, tends to be worse than others.

I guess people think the wind or a rising river will carry it away. Or they just don't care. Probably the last.

Around here, litterbugs tend to prefer their drinks in green soft drink bottles, Wendy's cups and Bud Light cans. Bait containers also are popular, 

More on Asian carp

I talked this afternoon with a Kentucky official about the impact so far of Asian carp in the Ohio River and its tributaries in the lower river. I wrote it up as an update to my online story on The State Journal web site here.

Did Indiana really consider a gun season on these things? Can you imagine living along the Ohio River, sitting in your back yard sipping on some sun-brewed sweet tea and some guys come down the river in a boat, scaring silver carp and making them jump out of the water to be targets for bow and arrow or a shotgun? I can see that happening, legal or not.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


A lot of media guys like me wish we had more space or more time.

In this case, I had a half page to write about Asian carp instead of three pages. But I'm glad I gave myself -- yeah, I was the guy allocating space this week, so I only gave myself a fraction of the space I would have liked, but I do value my paycheck -- space and time to write about how some Asian carp have been found in the Ohio River along the West Virginia border.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Someone else's photos of the Hoosier State

Here are pictures of and on the M/V Hoosier State by Paul Konopaki.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Sternwheeler on the Kanawha

Today on the way in to work, I saw a small boat coming down the Kanawha River. It turned out to be a sternwheeler called the Laura J pushing a barge. When he saw the pictures later, Adam asked if I got a good look at the barge, as it has towing knees on the front. He wondered if the barge had been the hull of a towboat at one time. I said I had no idea.

Here are some of the picture I got with a phone camera.

The towboat passing the Laura J is the Escatawpa, by the way.


The Mississippi River is closed at Greenville, Miss., because of low water.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

A day by the river

Adam and I decided to spend some father-son time looking for a particular boat today. We found it, but before we did we saw other things.

Such as the M/V Earl Jones.

Something I'd not noticed before. A boat pushing loaded coal barges UP the Big Sandy River.

An open hatch -- or whatever it's called -- on a barge.

And what we were looking for: the M/V Dan Elder.

Before the Elder got there, I had a couple of seconds to get this pleasure boat going under the bridge.

And that was our excitement for the day.

Asian carp invasion

Remember the zebra mussel invasion that was supposed to be an ecological apocalypse in the Ohio River? The mussels caused problems early on, but you don't hear a whole lot about them now that some ducks and other critters find them yummy. And there are other things that keep the populations down.

On land, we've had to deal with multiflora rose and Asian lady beetles. So invasive species can either be bad, a nuisance or no big deal.

The latest invasive species drawing attention is the Asian carp.

Here is an editorial from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about the carp, and here is the news story it references. If the Asian carp has been found in the Greenup pool, that means it's moved into my neighborhood.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Two news items

We all knew that power companies are retiring their older coal-fired power plants, and in some cases they're speeding up the schedule because of environmental regulations. Most of those plants are old and small. But this is the first I've heard of one of the larger coal-fired plants being put on idle status because of market conditions.

It's the W.H. Sammis plant on the upper Ohio, by the way. It's a big baseload plant, not a small peaker.


The Wheeling newspapers are opinion opining on the slow-as-molasses progress on the demolition of an Ohio River bridge that's been closed for 20 years.

A busy half hour at Huntington

I had to stop by the Marine Corps recruiting office yesterday morning to take care of something before I went to work. With the office being only a few blocks away from Huntington's riverfront park, I couldn't turn down the opportunity to swing by to see if there was anything to see, and yes, there was.

I saw the M/V Caleb Lay going under the 6th Street Bridge while the Jincy and the Matthew T were waiting to go under it upbound. The Jincy was pushing rock, while the Matthew T was lightboat. As the Caleb Lay headed away from me, I looked up the river and saw what I'm pretty sure was the Transporter coming down. But I didn't have time time wait on it, so I got a few pictures and left.

Here are some pictures of the busyness I saw at Huntington that morning.

The good news is that a person I work with got a new computer recently, and she was trying to think what to do with her old one, which is just like the one I have that refuses to work. So she's giving it to me next week, and I'll see if I can copy the valuable stuff over from the old one. As politicians like to say, help is on the way.

Friday, August 17, 2012

M/V Timmy

A guy where I work lives near Point Pleasant and he was asking me today if I knew anything about a small towboat named the Timmy that used to work around Campbell's dock at Point Pleasant. I didn't but I looked it up on Towboat Gallery and found these two pictures.

But I haven't seen it around Point Pleasant that I know of. Does anyone know where the Timmy is hanging out nowadays?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

My Mac died

Maybe "died" is too harsh of a word. From what my wife's cousin tells me via Facebook messaging, it may have a problem with the hard drive that prevents it from booting up when I turn it on. Because that's the computer that has all my photos (except those I copied to an external hard drive) and my good decent software, my photo posting may be light for a while. You know how it is when something goes bad and you can't afford to replace it.

My cousin says I should be able to retrieve the data on the hard drive. We'll have to see.

Meanwhile, here's one to keep things going. These are two gars in the aquarium in the Point Pleasant River Museum.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

A few photos

Here are a few pictures left over from my travels Thursday and Friday. Standard disclaimer: I retain all rights to these photos. They are not to be downloaded, printed or copied without my permission.

First, two more of the tugboat Mr. Russell. The first came as it passed old Lock and Dam 27. The second was as it passed Huntington, W.Va.

Here's the M/V Lawson W. Hamilton Jr. entering the Kanawha River.

And this is probably the most photographed tree in Gallipolis, Ohio. It's at Mound Hill Cemetery, on one of the highest publicly accessible points in my part of the Ohio River.

Most people shoot this dead tree with the city in the background, but I found the sight of it against the summer sky a better view this day. The tree looks dead, especially when compared to the cloud behind it. I know a cloud is a cloud, but compared to the tree, the cloud looked alive.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Backing up into the Kanawha

Adam and I have taken a lot of pictures of the new Crounse Corp. boats -- the Linda Reed, Paula Ruble, Janis R. Brewer and Jackie Englert -- but we still need to see the Leslie M. Neal. Friday afternoon, we got to see the Paula Ruble again, and it gave Adam an idea.

The Ruble came down the Ohio with 12 coal barges loaded to 11 feet. It was moving kind of slow, so I expected it to make the tough left turn into the Kanawha. Instead, it looked like it was headed for a dock on the Ohio shore, just past the Silver Memorial Bridge. But the boat slowed down, and I realized that unlike most boats I've seen that turn into the Kanawha and let the Ohio's current help push the stern around, the guy steering the Ruble was going to back into the Kanawha.

That's what he did. Here are a series of pictures of that maneuver.

(All photos copyright Jim Ross and may not be downloaded, copied or printed without my permission).

In the third photo, you an see the prop wash along the side of the boat.

A few minutes before this, Adam and I and one of his friends had been in the Point Pleasant River Museum on the pilot simulator. Adam likes to think he has the turn into the Kanawha down pretty good, but I'm not so sure. I let him give me a lesson. It's a good thing for me my session timed out before I hit one of the piers of the Bartow Jones Bridge there on the Kanawha. After seeing what the Ruble's pilot did, Adam says the next time he's on the simulator, he will try backing into the Kanawha for himself.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Mr. Russell passes Huntington (updated)

For some reason, the smartphone I was using would let me upload a title for this entry but not any text. ...

Adam and I found the tugboat Mr. Russell today and followed it about 10 or 15 miles down the river, getting some pictures. But the computer I use for photos is acting up, so until I get it straightened out, it will be a while before I post a lot of pictures of a tugboat on the Ohio River.

Here's one with a quick edit of when the boat passed the upper end of Huntington at around noon.

Also today, we saw another oversized Ingram tow. With two in two days, it's a good probability they're going to be doing this often.

Meanwhile, Adam and I took one of his friends up to Point Pleasant today so Adam could show him the pilot simulator. Adam tried to teach me how to make the turn into the Kanawha River while coming downbound with some loads. He needs some work on his teaching technique, as I would have hit a bridge pier had time not expired. However, after my session on the simulator, I saw the pilot of the M/V Paula Ruble make the turn in a way I didn't expect and that I will use myself on the simulator the next time I try.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Oversize tow 8/9/12 (Updated with correction)

Every now and then Adam and I see a boat pushing 25 jumbo barges on the Ohio River. We call it an oversize tow because that's too many barges to go through an Ohio River lock in one cut. We've seen Crounse do it with the Linda Reed, and we've seen AEP do it with the Chuck Zebula, but usually it's an Ingram boat or a boat pushing for Ingram that does it.

Today we happened to see the Vernon C. Smith William E. Porter (see comment below), owned by Amherst Madison but pushing for Ingram, coming upriver with 25 barges. The Matthew T was alongside it but not pushing. We figure it was along to take the 10 empties in the tow through the Robert C. Byrd locks.

Three pictures were taken from bridges. I drove and Adam shot. It's how we do things.

I don't know why companies do this unless it's to (a) test the pushing and maneuvering abilities of their boats and crews, (b) save on fuel  or (c) use only one or one and a half crews instead of two.

Meanwhile, as of this writing at about 9 p.m., the tugboat Mr. Russell is somewhere in the Belleville pool headed my way.

Oversize tow

Adam and I came across a 25-barge tow this afternoon. Photos and more later.

News update 8/9/12

It's been a while, but I'm taking a vacation day today and tomorrow so Adam and I can spend some time together before school starts on Monday.

Here are a few items I found that may prove interesting.


Several years ago, I wrote a piece that the stuff that goes out the power plant stack is not the only pollution problem from burning coal. Sludge left over from the scrubbing process is one, and piles of coal ash are another. The National Geographic has written a piece about coal ash piles, and it includes a view of the Ohio River and a nearby ash pile from space.


Here's a piece about a cap-and-trade program designed to reduce the amount of nitrogen and phosphorous getting into the Ohio River, and thus into the Mississipi River delta, which is suffering from nutrient overload.

A few years ago, I talked with Charles Somerville, now dean of the College of Science at Marshall University, about some research he was doing on the Ohio River. Among other things, we talked about how the amount of fertilizer-based nutrients in the river went up sharply below the mouth of the Scioto River at Portsmouth, Ohio, because of agricultural runoff.

For what it's worth, I remember years go that bags of fertilizer my family bought had three numbers on them, which we referred to as N-P-K, for nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium.


And I see that the tugboat Mr. Russell is headed backdown the Ohio again. The last I saw, it was in the upper part of the Willow Island pool. If anyone gets pictures of it, I would be willing to post them on here, giving proper credit, of course. There's a chance Adam and I will see it tomorrow.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

M/V Paul Tobin renamed

Sometimes the important things in life get in the way of secondary things. Yesterday the family and I were driving up Route 2 along the Ohio River so my older son, Joey, could visit his mamaw one last time before he leaves for Parris Island. In the distance we saw a new AEP boat. For some reason I felt the strong desire to take a side trip and get a photo, but our visitation time was limited, so we didn't. And we didn't see the boat on the trip back down the river, either, so I never got the shot.

While we were at my wife's mother's house, I looked on the Corps lock reports but was unable to find the name of any AEP boat that was upbound in the area at that time. Odd, I thought.

This morning I got the bright idea -- that I should have had yesterday -- to look at the registry numbers of the boats that went through R.C. Byrd yesterday afternoon and evening. There was the Dan Elder, No. 1234601. I checked a hunch, and sure enough that was the Paul Tobin's number. As I understand things, and I could be wrong, so please be gentle, Tobin was an AEP exec who left the company for ACL shortly after the M/V Paul Tobin was launched. I figured the boat would be renamed eventually, and apparently it has been.

This was the M/V Paul Tobin as seen from Burlington, Ohio, with the lower end of Huntington, W.Va., in the background, the evening of Jan. 15, 2012. The boat is probably too far away for Adam and me to get a picture of it today with its new name board, but we'll try to keep a lookout for it.