Monday, March 31, 2014

A few boat pictures ...

... collected over the past week.

The M/V Robinson

The M/V City of Louisville

And the M/V Nashville Hunter. The light was good, but I couldn't get to the shooting spot in time. The boat was past before I could get there.

Maybe next time.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

So much for going down to the river this week

We've had rain all day here in Huntington WV, and the forecast calls for more rain, and rain turning to snow overnight, but with no accumulation.

The rain means the river will be rising. Adam and I were down on the riverbank yesterday evening, and it was barely dry enough to walk on. What we walked on yesterday will be under water soon if it's not already.

I checked the river stage forecasts for various cities, and this is what I found, with the first number being the most recent measurement and the second number being the highest forecast for the next few days.

Pittsburgh: 16.75 rising to 17.2

Wheeling:16.32 rising to 24.8 Sunday afternoon.

Parkersburg at the Willow Island Locks and Dam: 13.9 rising to 22.5 by Monday morning.

Point Pleasant: 25.14 rising to 28.8 by Monday evening.

Huntington: 26.2 rising to 34.7 by Monday morning.

Cincinnati: 28.39 rising to 38.4 by Tuesday evening.

Louisville: 17.31 rising to 36.3 by Wednesday evening.

Evansville: 17.78 rising to 28.8 by Friday evening.

Paducah: 13.93 rising to 17.0 by Wednesday evening.

Cairo: 22.03 rising to 23.6 by Wednesday evening.

So it looks like not a lot of riverbank photography will be going on this week, at least in my stretch of the river.

Adventures in black and white

Some photos work in both color and black and white, and some should stay in color.

This morning I uploaded some black and white photos to my Flickr account. They were originally shot in color and then changed to black and white to see how they looked.

You be the judge.

The M/V Dan Elder at the mouth of the Kanawha River.

The M/V Sandy Drake as seen from the ridge at Mound Hill Cemetery in Gallipolis OH.

The M/V Roger W. Keeney entering the mouth of the Kanawha on a windy, rainy day.

The M/V Charleston moving lightboat.

Adam steering the sternwheeler Port Explorer on a hot, hot day.

The M/V Fred Way.

The Hi Carpenter Bridge as seen from St. Marys WV.

The Pleasants Power Station as seen on a foggy morning.

The M/V Michael J. Grainger.

And the bridges of Parkersburg WV.

Market Street Bridge

It opened in 1904, but it looks like the Market Street Bridge in Steubenville, Ohio, will be around at least 20 more years while West Virginia or whoever decides how to replace it. With bridges costing in the hundreds of millions now, it may be longer than that. You never know.

A group met this week to discuss the future of the bridge. Adam and I crossed it a couple of years ago when we were up that way last. A few observations"

1. West Virginians love the color combination of blue and gold, but come on.

2. The combination of a basic suspension bridge with the addition of a Warren through truss makes this one odd-looking bridge.

3. Does anyone like driving over a steel grid roadway? It's better than no bridge at all, I guess. I remember the first time I drove a car with wide tires over a grid bridge deck. The first thirty feet or so, that car drifted like it was on an ice road until I figured out what was going on.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Elk River hypervigilance

The water company in Charleston WV shut down its intakes for a couple of hours yesterday when a foam was discovered on the Elk River floating toward the only intake for about 300,000 people in parts of nine counties.

As of this morning, it appears the foam is a naturally occurring substance, according to news reports.

I wanted to write something about the foam yesterday, but with no information, all it would have been was speculative chatter, and I get enough of that as it is.

What I was wanting to say was that we see foam on the Ohio River all the time. I occasionally wonder what it is, but then I go back to my usual stuff. It's one of those things that has been around for decades, and it's pretty much in the background. You don't notice it until it's right next to you.

Considering what happened in January, it looks like the people of south central West Virginia will be paying a lot of attention to the Elk River. Anything out of the ordinary will draw a lot of scrutiny until people can agree on exactly what is ordinary.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

In the news, 3/27/14

If all goes well, I might be able to get down to Madison, Ind., the week of April 6. That's the newest target date for the big bridge slide.

This is from an e-mail I received the other evening from the Milton-Madison Bridge Project:

Preparation work continues for the slide of the Milton-Madison Bridge, which is tentatively scheduled to take place the week of April 6. Once the bridge has been moved onto its permanent piers, it will take approximately a week to complete inspections, road connections to the bridge and other work. As a result, the bridge will remain closed until mid-April.

Additional restraints are being installed and the sliding harnesses modified as part of the prep work. This additional work follows a four-step process:  The measures are designed off site, the designs are reviewed by the states, the materials are fabricated and/or delivered to the site, and finally, they are installed by bridge crews.

Each of the four steps has its own timeline, and one must be completed before the next. “We’re working diligently and carefully to move the bridge and get it reopened safely and in a timely manner,” said Kevin Hetrick, project manager for the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT).

Structural engineers will continue to monitor and inspect the bridge throughout the process to ensure it is safe through all phases of work. Meanwhile, Walsh Construction crews continue to work as they are able on other tasks that must be completed before the bridge reopens to traffic, such as installing the remaining concrete railings and deck for the Indiana and Kentucky approaches to the bridge.

Over the weekend, construction crews completed the job of jacking up the bridge and replacing a steel bearing that dislodged March 11.  The southeast corner of the bridge was raised nearly one foot in order to slide the bearing into place. The jacks were then removed, placing the bridge load back on its bearings.

On March 13, a 100-foot concrete approach bridge section was slid laterally into place over the Milton, Ky., riverbank. This was a precursor of the upcoming main truss slide because it involved the same equipment and process. Time-lapse video is available on the project website’s News Center page: click here to view time-lapse video.

The nearly half-mile steel truss will be slid laterally 55 feet onto refurbished permanent piers. While there have been reportedly more than 30 bridge slides in the U.S., the Milton-Madison Bridge will be the longest steel truss (2,428 feet) in North America to be slid laterally into place.

While U.S. 421 remains closed across the Ohio River between Madison, Ind., and Milton, Ky., detours will remain in effect. Signage is detouring traffic to the Markland Locks and Dam Bridge, connecting Kentucky Route 1039 and Indiana State Road 101, 26 miles upstream, or the I-65 Kennedy Bridge in Louisville, 46 miles downstream.

A ferry has been providing transportation across the river for emergency vehicles, such as an ambulance. Residents are asked to keep Ferry Street and the boat ramps clear on both sides of the river.

As updates become available, they will be posted on the project’s website,, and via Twitter at Regular updates will also be provided to local news media.

The Milton-Madison Bridge Project is a joint effort between the Indiana Department of Transportation and Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. The new steel truss bridge is 2,428 feet long and 40 feet wide with two 12-foot lanes and eight-foot shoulders – twice as wide as the old bridge.


This one if about three weeks old. Sorry for the lateness, but it's still good. The hydroelectric plant at the Meldahl Locks and Dam is on schedule to go into service in about 12 months.


And then there's this report of a towboat grounding in the Ohio River on Wednesday at about Mile 65. Here's a photo.


Normally, we fret here over invasive species from elsewhere that are causing problems in the Ohio River system. In North Carolina, wildlife officials are dealing with the spread of the rusty craysfish, a species of crawdad (which is what we call them where I come from) from the Ohio River watershed.

Bad-off towns

So yesterday evening I was looking at the Huntington WV paper and the story it had on how the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index had ranked Huntington WV at the bottom of national rankings of residents' well-being, followed closely by Charleston WV. I was looking at the chart of the worst-off metro areas, and I noticed these places were in the bottom ten:

Huntington-Ashland WV-KY-OH
Charleston WV
Spartanburg SC
Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton NC
Evansville IN

Huntington and Evansville are along the Ohio River, and Charleston sits along one of the Ohio's largest tributaries.

But what do Spartanburg and Hickory have to do with anything? I was in both of them 21 years ago. In response a glass bottle factory in Huntington shutting down the year before, the editor of the newspaper sent several reporters to some of the areas that were getting new manufacturing jobs at the time we were losing them. I went to the two cities mentioned above. Spartanburg had landed a BMW factory, and Hickory was in the middle of the then-prosperous furniture belt. The folks in Hickory had also lured away a manufacturing plant from Huntington. As I interviewed the economic development director of Hickory, he said something that stuck with me. He said don't think your legislature makes the rules when it comes to economic development. The legislature makes the laws you live by, but the competition makes the rules you play under.

Anyway, I guess the main point of this is that if I show up in your town with a reporter's notebook in my hand, you must be in pretty bad shape.

Now isn't that something to be known by?

P.S. When an editor gets an idea in his head, it's not easy dislodging it. I told the editor that we didn't really lose those jobs. They had moved 30 miles up the road. At Apple Grove WV is a plastics plant now owned by M&G Polymers. It makes plastic pellets that are used in forming food and beverage containers. Those are the same items formerly made of glass and formerly made in Huntington.

I, of course, knew nothing, and my observation got in the way of the point the editor was trying to make, so I was ignored.

It wasn't the last time.

1977: Jay Rockefeller walks the Silver Memorial Bridge

Jay Rockefeller is finishing up his 30th and final year as a U.S. senator representing the Great State of West Virginia, as it's known here. Before he went to Washington for good, Jay was governor of the Great State of West Virginia for eight years.

I have interviewed and chatted with Jay many times over the years. The first time I met him was in October 1977 when he visited the Silver Memorial Bridge at Henderson following three or four months of repairs that forced the bridge's closing. The bridge was built in 1968 and 1969, and it used the T1 steel that is susceptible to butt weld cracks (Put those words in the wrong order, and you wince in pain). So less than a decade after the bridge opened to traffic, it had to be closed for repairs to those welds.

The afternoon before the bridge re-opened, Rockefeller and some officials flew to the scene by helicopter for a walking tour of the bridge. I was there to cover it.

Here is Rockefeller (the tall guy with the glasses) walking from the West Virginia side toward the Ohio side. The shorter fellow with the mustache was, I believe, state highway commission commissioner Charlie Miller. In the background you can see the old Shadle Bridge over the Kanawha River. That bridge was replaced and demolished about twenty years after this picture was taken.

Here Rockefeller and others are looking up at one of the areas where repairs were made.

And here was about the point where we turned back around. As he neared this end of the bridge, Rockefeller said something like, "So much for Ohio," turned and walked back toward West Virginia.

As his helicopter lifted off for his trip back to Charleston, it threw a mild panic into a herd of cattle grazing nearby.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Off topic: School buses

My 14-year-old son, Adam, was a school bus nerd long before he was a towboat nerd. His interest in school buses began long before kindergarten, I guess because he often went with his mother or me to take his older siblings to the bus stop or to go there to pick them up.

Through the years, we've become familiar with most of the conventional (C-type) and flatnose (D-type) bus models made by the three American school bus manufacturers: IC Corp. (International), Thomas Built (Freightliner) and Blue Bird. The second proudest moment in Adam's life was right after his kindergarten year, when the folks at Thomas Built learned of his love for the C2 model and invited him to tour their factory at High Point,. N.C., which ended with his being allowed to steer a C2 fresh off the factory floor around a parking lot. His proudest moment was steering the AEP towboat Hoosier State after its christening at Rising Sun, Indiana, in May 2010.

Yesterday, on the first day back from spring break, Adam's bus driver told him he had seen an unusual bus recently in Columbus, Ohio. The driver showed Adam a picture of it. It looked like a cross between the Thomas Built C2 model and the IC CE model.

The driver did some checking around the Internet and found it was made by a Canadian company called Lion in Montreal. Lion has some dealerships in the South and Midwest, but none close enough to our home in West Virginia that we would have known anything about it.

Will we see Lion buses around here? I don't know. Lion doesn't make flatnoses, and districts around here tend to buy both conventional and flatnoses from the same manufacturer, so maybe not. But I look forward to seeing one in person someday.

But probably not as much as Adam does.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

In the news, 3/23/14

Thanks to what happened with Duke Energy in North Carolina a few weeks ago, anything having to do with coal ash in rivers cannot be taken lightly.

The Sierra Club says Louisville Gas & Electric is discharging coal ash into the Ohio River below Louisville illegally. The company isn't commenting, and the state agency that regulates the discharge disagrees. The Sierra Club says it will take the matter to court.


Here's more from Cleveland on efforts to stop the spread of Asian carp in the Ohio River and Great Lakes regions. According to the article, Asian carp have been found in the Greenup pool of the Ohio
River. That's my territory, so I'll be listening for people complaining this summer about big fish jumping out of the river and smacking them in the head as they run their fishing boats or personal watercraft.

From the '80s archives: A favorite place

I have lots of favorite places along the Ohio River. One that's been a favorite for a long, long time is the area right below the Robert C. Byrd Locks and Dam, which people where I grew up still refer to as the Gallipolis Locks and Dam.

In the days before the new canal was built, this was a chokepoint. The main lock was only 600 feet long, meaning most tows had to doublecut to get through, which meant there were constant backups. That meant boats waited in line for a while, making it much easier to get pictures of them.

On top of that, the Ohio side is easily accessible, making it a favorite fishing spot, too.

Here is a scanned image of a slide I shot on the riverbank about thirty years ago. As with many of my slides from that era, the colors are starting to change. In this case, that means a blue tint. I've removed some of it, but not all.

This area is still a nice place to get pictures, especially if you can pick a good time of day based on where the sun will be. A few years ago, I got a nice picture of a turtleneck boat here.

Spring is here, and low-water season should follow sometime this summer, so perhaps I can get back up there and see how things look now.

Saturday, March 22, 2014


Yesterday was may last day of work in, uh, beautiful downtown Charleston WV. On the drive home to Huntington, I stayed off the interstate where half the drivers want to get from here to there yesterday and instead took U.S. 60, in part because part of it follows the Kanawha River. There are only a few places to get decent views of boats on the Kanawha, and fewer still to pull over and get a photo or two of one.

That was what happened when I saw the Juanita coming toward me. Up the river a bit, I wondered where she was, as she was not docked at the place I normally see her. But as I neared the strip plaza section of St. Albans, I saw her coming. With traffic the way it was and with how the road was designed there, I couldn't pull off until we had passed one another.

I first encountered the Juanita when she was still a workboat for AEP at Lakin, WV. They still used here there to push around a barge or two and do other work suited for a dinner bucket boat, as they called here. The pilothouse was heated by a potbellied stove. The deckhand was a man by the name of Worthy Love, I think. I was there doing a story on working sternwheelers for the Huntington newspaper, and the photographer gave me a photo of Mr. Love posing on his boat. I may have that photo still in my big storage bin of river stuff, buried deep in my basement.

A few years ago I got to step aboard the Juanita again at the river festival they have each year in Point Pleasant WV on Labor Day weekend. He owner, Tom Cook, gave me a tour of the boat and talked about this and that and the other thing. And I got a few good pictures of her, too.

Here's one. Here's another.

If I'm lucky, I'll see her again this summer, when the hills are green and provide a much better background. Or before. You never know.

Monday, March 10, 2014

City of Pittsburgh ... the boat, not the city

I saw it from afar late yesterday afternoon and wondered what configuration the barges were in, as from a distance it looked unbalanced. As it got closer, I could make out how the tow looked.

I don't know what the barges were made to haul, but they looked pretty nice in the evening sunlight. The boat did, too.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

As one door closes ...

I remember well the day I took this picture.

I think the boat is the Bridgett Cauley, but that's not the important part. This was taken Sept. 15, 2010, the time of year when summer seques into fall. Kids are back in school, people are working, and I was ... unwanted. I had been out of work for more than a year, picking up a few dollars here and there selling my writing and my photos. It was a bad time to be an out-of-work journalist. It really hurt in many ways. I had been on top of the world, and then I was almost a nobody. Except, that is, to some riverboat folks who recognized the guy with the camera when they passed through Huntington or Point Pleasant WV.

So while I stood along WV Route 2 getting this beautiful picture on a beautiful day, I felt kind of melancholy, like a dog who has just been dropped along the side of the road, watching the car and his old family drive off.

But three months later, someone I had once worked with who became editor of a weekly business newspaper called up and asked if I wanted to work for her. I figured, sure. So starting Jan. 3, 2011, I was a writer and editor for The State Journal in Charleston, W.Va. I hated the commute from Huntington to Charleston -- 50 miles each way dealing with NASCAR wananbes. But I learned a lot there. Thanks to my own writing and editing the work of some pretty good reporters, I learned plenty about the energy industry -- coal, natural gas, natural gas liquids, electricity. And I made some new friends.

But all good things come to an end, they say. Last week, after several days of negotiations, the CEO and I decided to part ways, as neither of us could or would accept offers the other had made.

I have a couple of weeks left there, but this time I'm not unwanted. I have a couple of prospects in the works already, so I should be able to hit the ground running when my contract ends -- God willing, of course.

All of which means I should be able to devote a little more time to this blog, and perhaps to another river-related endeavor I have long considered but not put into action. I won't have so much about the Kanawha River, but I will be able to spend a little more time down by the Ohio, which is where I belong.

So give me a month or so and we'll see what this new challenge brings.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Container shipping

Container cargo is one bright spot for the Class I railroads in the U.S., as is shipments of crude oil by rail. It's probably a good thing, as coal revenue is on a long-term slide and not likely to pick up.

Both Norfolk Southern and CSX have invested money in making certain corridors suitable for shipping containers stacked two high, known in the trade as double stacks. NS has the Heartland Corridor that crosses the Ohio River at Kenova WV and runs along the mainline track from there across to South Point OH and on down to Portsmouth. That corridor is meant to provide access to Midwest markets for cargo that arrives by ocean shipping at Norfolk VA. NS also has the Crescent Corridor which runs from the Southeast up to the Northeast. The idea of that corridor is to take cargo that has been moving by truck.

CSX has the National Gateway corridor, which will soon include a rail-truck facility in the Pittsburgh area.

So, will cargo shipping come to the inland rivers, including the Ohio? That's for the market to decide, of course. And what would a container vessel look like?

This evening I found this video on YouTube. It might give some idea, but as with most things, you never really know.

Except potholes. You know people in the Ohio Valley will be complaining soon about potholes. But that's another post for another time.