Saturday, March 28, 2020

The pigeon life

I thought that after years of shooting photos of kids (nephews, my own kids, my own grandkids) I would have no problem getting pictures of birds in flight. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

You can (to a degree) boss kids around. No so with birds. And wildlife photography is a whole different thing from landscape or bridge or towboat photography. At least that's how it is for me.

Yesterday afternoon after work (an essential job, we are told), I went down to the river. I got off a couple of decent photos of pigeons. Here is one.

If I could justify investing about $20K in a camera body, a couple of lenses, some equipment for steadying the camera …

I'll just have to make do with that I've got. Next time maybe I'll bring something for these rats with wings to eat so I can get them closer to the camera.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

From the archives: Repair fleet worker

Time to experiment some more with black and white.

This is from the trip up to the Willow Island Locks and Dam last summer while the main lock was dewatered for maintenance and repair work.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Motor vessels Ohio Valley and Dan Elder

As seen from South Point, Ohio, this evening, as a light rain fell and then got heavier and heavier.

I would like to have gotten these from the West Virginia side so I could have gotten closer to the Dan Elder, but Virginia Point Park has been closed for several weeks. It's supposed to open back up around the first of April.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

M/V Garyville on the Big Sandy

Warm day; light looks like spring; air feels like spring; a day I need to take break from a whole big bunch of stuff. The rivers are down, and the banks are drying out. I looked for boats, but there wasn't much to shoot that I hadn't shot before.

So here's the M/V Garyville taking a single load up the Big Sandy River.

After today it's back to working on a couple of long-range projects. One is a long shot, but you never know.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Better living through digging up old stuff

I noticed the M/V Lee Synnott was in the area this evening, right as the golden hour was ending and the blue hour was beginning. Because it had been a while seen I had seen the Synnott, which once was a frequent visitor to this area, I went looking for it. I feared it would stop at the fleet at Mile 311, where it's next to impossible to get a decent shot from land without a longer lens than I can afford. Sadly, it did, so I came home empty.

Because I've had to juggle personal demands (including health problems of a family member), I haven't been able to get to the river when interesting boats were around. Add to that the fact that February is pretty drab in my home territory, so getting new photos has been more of a chore than a pleasure.

Because of that, I've been going back through old images and taking a fresh look at them. Like this one from 2012.

Sometimes I don't appreciate a photograph I've taken until months or years have passed. It's almost as if it has to marinate for that time to bring out the flavors I don't recognize the moment the shutter opens. That's okay. I have thousands and thousands of photos I've taken over the years that need to be reviewed. It's fun, actually.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Is the river up?

I was hoping to enjoy Harris Riverfront Park for a few minutes today …

… but most of it was under water. That was a big surprise.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

A relic treasured

The old wicket dams on the Ohio River have interested me for a while, but when Locks and Dam 52 went out of service in 2018, for some reason it became more urgent for me to learn what I could about them.
For years, I’ve looked for signs of their remains as I’ve driven along the river. Some have been demolished, and no sign of their existence remains. Some remain but are in private hands. And some are parks, such as Lock and Dam 27 near Proctorville, Ohio, and Lock and Dam 22 at Ravenswood, W.Va.
When I’m in the Cincinnati area, I try to stop at the wicket dam museum at Chilo, Ohio, where the powerhouse of Lock and Dam 34 now serves as a tribute to the dams that made the Ohio River navigable yearround.
If you’re up at Hannibal, Ohio, there’s an outdoor exhibit on the grounds of the Hannibal Locks and Dam that gives you an idea of how wood timbers controlled the Ohio.

Recently I was able to acquire this beauty. It’s the program of the weeklong celebration that marked the completion of the dam system and the nine-foot navigation pool from Pittsburgh to (almost) Cairo.

Here are photos of the title page, the last page, the inside back cover and the back cover.

The book has had a bit of a rough life, and I admit I’m reluctant to read it all the way through for fear of damaging the binding. I don’t want to be the person who destroys it.
The book is 104 pages of copy and ads. I assume the pages were white when they came off the press 91 years ago, but they're yellow with age now.
From pages 5-22, a writer tells of the history of European exploration in the Ohio Valley, of settlements, the first flatboats and steamboats and the system of locks and dams.
One thing I learned that I should have known was the Ohio River Memorial Monument at Eden Park in Cincinnati. It was dedicated October 22, 1929, by President Herbert Hoover to mark the nine-foot channel from Pittsburgh to Cairo, "a distance of nine hundred and eight miles."
Several pages are devoted to the Ohio Valley Improvement Association, which lobbied for the nine-foot channel.
Page 75 begins the program of the "Ohio River Dedicatory Celebration" itself, which began October 15 in Cincinnati, then proceeded to Pittsburgh and from there back down the river, with several stops on the downbound trip. As the steamboats passed Gallipolis, Ohio, on the return trip, they were to slow as they passed the homestead of the late John L. Vance, founder of the OVIA.
The celebration ended the evening of Friday, October 25, in Cairo. A boat was to leave the next morning to return people to Evansville, Louisville and Cincinnati.
I probably could have looked online for an electronic copy of the book and downloaded it, but it’s not the same. When I read a book, I want a physical copy in my hands. Computer screens are good for compiling and analyzing information, but I like the feel of a book in my hands.
I’m still researching the old dams. After all this time, most of the people who lived at them and worked at them are either old or passed away, especially in my part of the river. The father of the best man at my wedding was the final lockmaster at Lock and Dam 21. He was the person who locked the gate for the last time when the Racine Locks and Dam raised its pool. I regret that I never took the time to pick his brain. You think some people will be around forever. You know they won’t, but you overlook that basic fact.
Buried in the government archives are logbooks of the dams. It’s beyond my resources, but I would love to spend a few days studying the records of at least one or two dams in my area.
As my last surviving brother -- our family historian -- said, you don’t get interested in genealogy until you’re of the age when the people who could help you most are gone. It’s that way with a lot of history, isn’t it?
So if you see someone lurking around the remains of one of the old dams, it could be me wondering what it looked like, sounded like and smelled like in its heyday.
And for what it’s worth, the 50 cents it cost to buy the program in 1929 is worth $7.43 cents today. Even with advertising, I doubt anyone would sell such a book at such a low price here in 2020.
P.S. If you have a few minutes, get on YouTube and watch the movie of steamboats gathered at Pittsburgh in 1929 to celebrate the completion of the nine-foot channel. River fans will love it. The EPA probably winces at the sight of all that coal smoke.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

ACBL CEO takes to YouTube (UPDATED)

Mark Knoy, CEO of American Commercial Lines, the parent of ACBL, released a two-minute video on YouTube today to let employees know things are going peachy since the company announced "the important steps we've taken to position our business for long-term success". I can't say how much new information is in the video, but the images of people on the boats and of the boats themselves are done well.

As you might expect, comments are turned off.

This is the first time I remember a company I'm familiar with taking to YouTube to reassure employees that all is well despite a reorganization plan.

UPDATE: My apologies for not providing the link. Sorry.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

American Commercial Lines announces plan to reorganize debt

American Commercial Lines Inc., the parent company of ACBL, says it will file for bankruptcy protection as it seeks to remove $1 billion in debt from its books.

From the official statement posted on ACL's website:

American Commercial Lines Inc. (together with certain of its affiliates, “the Company” or “ACL”) is continuing to provide reliable, innovative and competitive barge transportation solutions as it takes action to address its financial position.
ACL has reached an agreement with its lenders on a prepackaged plan to recapitalize the business and significantly reduce the Company’s debt. Under the terms of the plan, ACL will receive $200 million in new capital to support liquidity and investments in the business. In addition, the agreement provides for a reduction of funded debt by approximately $1 billion.
To implement this plan, which has the support of a substantial majority of the Company’s lenders, ACL expects to file voluntary petitions for reorganization under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code in the coming days.
The Company expects its operations to continue as normal throughout the contemplated court-supervised process. Upon emergence, ACL will continue to provide customers with competitive and reliable barge transportation services.
This was expected.

M/V Paul G. Blazer at South Point

This evening after work I went over to South Point, Ohio, where the M/V Paul G. Blazer was moving some barges around.

The Blazer was built in 1987 by Quality Shipyards in Houma, La., for Ashland Petroleum. It was one of three similar boats, the other two being the Valvoline and the SuperAmerica. When Ashland formed a joint venture with Marathon Petroleum called Marathon Ashland Petroleum, or MAP, the boats retained their names. After Marathon bought out Ashland's interest in the joint venture, the Valvoline was renamed the M/V Nashville and the SuperAmerica became the M/V Ohio Valley.

Paul G. Blazer was the founder of what became Ashland Oil, the parent company of Ashland Petroleum. The company is now known as Ashland Global and has pretty much shed its past in the petroleum refining and marketing industry.

In case you're wondering, in the background of these photos is the  Marathon tank farm at Kenova, W.Va., which receives refined products by pipeline from the refinery on the Big Sandy River at Catlettsburg, Ky., and are loaded onto barges.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Two boats, two places

Assuming the Super Bowl is over with by now ...

Today I saw the M/V Paula Ruble, always one of my favorite boats to photograph. Too bad I went up the river on the wrong side and had to shoot into the sun.

Later, at Catlettsburg, I saw the G. Allen Oldham for the first time in a long time.

When does spring training start? Not soon enough.

Catching a moving rainbow

It may not be easy to see here, but today I learned there is no pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Instead, there's a loaded coal barge.

Conditions were right as the M/V Patsy Coleman came down the Ohio River past Huntington, W.Va., today (This was taken from Huntington; that's Chesapeake, Ohio, in the background). The Ohio flows east to west here, and as the sun tracks across the southern part of the sky, it was at my back. The time was around solar noon, when the sun is at it highest point in the sky no matter what your watch or your phone says.

Being a Crounse boat, the Patsy Coleman was pushing 15 barges loaded as deep as they could get. There was a stiff wind blowing from the west as the Coleman headed in that direction. The wind was pushing some sizable swells into the Coleman head on. As you can see, there were times when the water went flying.

Because the sun was at my back and I was at about the same level as the spray (or whatever mariners call it), for a few seconds I got to see rainbows form in the spray. If I had pressed the shutter button for another second or so, I would have gotten a better picture. I guess seeing the rainbow surprised me.

If it helps, you might be able to see the rainbow (bargebow?) along the top edge of the spray.

That was my big thrill of the day.

I had planned to post a thoughtful piece about an artifact of Ohio River history that has come into my possession, but I forgot this is Super Bowl Sunday, so nobody would want to take a deep dive into something so old. Maybe soon.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Catching up: Marathon triple christening, 10-8-2019, part 2

Here is the second of three installments of photos from the christening of the motor vessels Mt. Vernon, Kenova and Patoka back in October. These focus on the people on the boats.

One-time offer: If you are in one of the photos, feel free to download it and get prints, use it for wallpaper, whatever. Enjoy.

Next up: A few leftover photos from the christening.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Catching up: Marathon triple christening, 10-8-2019, part 1

It's taken a while, but computer problems are behind me (I hope). This is the first of two installments of photos from the christening ceremony of the motor vessels Patoka, Mt. Vernon and Kenova at the Marathon dock at Catlettsburg, Kentucky, back on October 8.

This installment is of the boats and stuff. The next one will be of people I saw that day. There might be a third installment with some other pictures. I don't want to overload one post with too many pics.

Anyway, here goes:

I don't know when the next installment will be. My best guess is that it will be in a few days as I catch up with a bunch of stuff.


After years of having an Instagram account but never posting anything, last night I made the jump and put up a few photos. I'm at @jimross90 if anyone wants to take a look. There's one Ohio River photo on there now with more to come.

I'll be able to post more after I have my new computer repaired. The thing will run Lightroom but not an internet browser, so the posting I do is done on my wife's computer. That gets old really quick, even if her machine is a lot better than the one I have.

Next weekend I plan to post a longer piece about a historical artifact I've wanted to see and how have in my possession. It's not a world-changing or highly sought item, but it's important to me for reasons I hope to share next weekend.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

ACBL and its finances

The Wall Street Journal's website had an article Thursday evening about how the investment group that owns American Commercial Barge Line (ACBL) is having some problems.

The M/V D&R Boney, a boat AEP sold to ACBL in 2015.

The article itself is behind a paywall. For the time being, I have an online subscription, so I was able to read the short article. As a matter of professional principle (I'm all for people being paid for what they write), I don't copy and paste material that's behind paywalls. However, I will summarize it and add a few thoughts of my own.

According to the article, ACBL needs to restructure its debt, which amounts to more than $1 billion. ACBL has been owned by Platinum Equity LLC, which bought it in 2010 for about $770 million. In recent months or years, ACBL has had problems in its business of moving dry goods.

My own observations: Remember October 1, 2015, when AEP announced it had sold most of its marine transportation unit to ACBL for about $550 million? AEP kept 12 boats, but it sold the majority of its marine unit to ACBL. The next day, I had a list of the boats AEP was keeping, and it was the most viewed post in the history of this blog, and still is.

ACBL has sold off some of the boats it bought from AEP, but apparently not enough to help pay down the debt significantly.

ACBL might be able to restructure its loans to terms that are more favorable, or it might make a short trip to bankruptcy court to accomplish that. One thing I have no knowledge of is the extent of contracts ACBL has with whatever unions represent its workers, and I don't know if those contracts would be in danger. The same with whatever health insurance, retirement or other benefit plans ACBL has for its union and nonunion work force.

I do know that ACBL is not nearly as active on this part of the Ohio River (Huntington, West Virginia, around Mile 308) that it was a decade ago, but you can say that about other companies, too. I assume Campbell Transportation is doing some of the work for ACBL up here, based on what its executives told me a few years ago, but that information might be out of date by now.

When it sold its marine operations to ACBL, AEP was wanting to get out of the contract hauling business and concentrate on its core business of selling electricity. AEP still generates most of its own electricity, but it wants out of that business segment in deregulated states such as Ohio where it is not guaranteed a certain rate of profitability.

So that's all I know. If anyone has any more information from the inside, I'd be glad to hear it.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

M/V Tennesssee

Seen this warm but foggy morning upbound at Lock and Dam 27 on the Ohio.

This is one of my favorite places along the river, whether I'm boat hunting, shooting or relaxing.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Catching up

There's nothing like a cold that won't go away and a computer dying on you — but giving you enough advance notice to download everything of value you had on it — to mess up a lot of things in your life. The cold is still here, but the computer has been replaced, so now maybe I can start some serious overdue editing on some photos. And writing a couple of longer-form things I had planned to appear by now.

Until then ...

This was the M/V Stephen T of Superior Marine pushing a single barge down the river past Huntington WV yesterday. I went down to the park to clear my head (and my nose) of stuff that was in it that didn't need to be. After the Stephen T passed, I saw kids of various ages on skateboard and bikes at the skateboard area at the lower end of the park.

Now, it's catchup time on a lot of things.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

M/V O. Nelson Jones

I went on a photo expedition last Saturday despite the weather and impending darkness. I thought I had a good shot of the O. Nelson Jones heading upriver just below the Kyger Creek power plant, but there was no place to pull off the road safely, so I had to wait for it to reach a good shooting spot.

In this case it was the boat ramp in the village of Cheshire. It's a beautiful boat, whether in rain or shine or in color or black and white.

Meanwhile, I continue to work on a couple of projects that will take a while. Actually, more than a couple.