Sunday, July 5, 2009

The old Ohio River Company boats ... with updates

One warm, sunny morning in late 2007, I found myself at Virginia Point Park at Kenova WV staring at the towboat Ohio making a tow. It appeared to be picking up loaded coal barges. Thanks to how barges are tied close to the bank there, I was able to shoot several wonderful photos of the old boat and its crew.

A few months later, on a sunny day at the mouth of the Guyandotte River, I saw the Ohio coming down the Ohio River. It slowed as a motorboat was lowered into the water and came to shore to drop off a crewman and his suitcase. I followed the boat down the river and got some good shots of it passing under the 6th Street bridge.

For a couple of weeks, I followed the Ohio as it traveled up and down the Ohio and onto the Monongahela, hoping to catch it in this area again. You see, the old Ohio River Co. boats with their curved lines and distinctive pilothouses were some of the earliest that I can recall from having grown up on the banks of the Ohio.

Earlier this year, I noticed that some of the boats were appearing less frequently in the lists of those using Ohio River locks. In April, I found them tied to the shore of the Kanawha River about a mile above its mouth, victims of the slowdown in river traffic. This photo was taken from the berm of old U.S. 35 near sunset.

I miss those old boats. The Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania and others were instantly recognizable as Ohio River Co. boats, and many times as I lay in bed at night I could recognize them by the sounds of their engines.

I don’t have the time or resources to do a definitive history on this particular class of boat, but I do remember many of them: The Orco (now the Ohio), the L. Fiore (Pennsylvania), Robert P. Tibolt (Indiana), Wm. H. Zimmer, Bob Benter, John Ladd Dean and City of Huntington among them. If I recall correctly, the Bob Benter made history by being the first to use the new locks at the Greenup Locks and Dam in the late 1950s as the dam was being built.

Yesterday, my sons and I saw the Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana tied up at the same spot on the Kanawha. The Pennsylvania and the Indiana may have been out recently, but I think the Ohio has been there for a while. It’s a shame. I prefer the Ohio over the other two because its pilothouse has not been raised and it retains its original lines.

I look forward to shooting these boats again when they’re back on the river.

Here are a couple of photos of them on the river.

First, the Indiana last December as it approached the Gallipolis Locks and Dam:

And the Pennsylvania on Memorial Day weekend as it headed upriver, approaching Gallipolis OH:

Update 1: The photo above was from Memorial Day 2008, not this year. Sorry for omitting the year.

Update 2: This from a contact who goes by the handle towboatin46:
These two boats are sisters but the Pennsylvania was repowered and the pilothouse raised along the way. The old Ohio River Company boats and their unique design by St Louis Shipbuilding are some of my favorites. Madison Coal has kept a similar paint scheme as ORC originally had.

And this from wvtowboater:
... Of all the times I've seen these boats, I never realized some of the subtle differences between the sisters, having never seen them tied up side by side like this before. You may have been able to recognize these boats before by the sound of their engines, but that probably won't be the case anymore since MCS finished repowering all of their Fairbanks Morse powered boats with EMDs near the beginning of the year. 

Comments from a photo on my Flickr site that I did not run here.


J.B. said...


Anonymous said...

What do you mean the "Dean" and Orco? Is "Dean" the actual name of the boat? Thanks Keith Dean

ohio981 said...

"Dean" is short for "John Ladd Dean," now known as the Ronald E. Wagenblast.

Unknown said...

I really enjoyed your pics.My family had a combined 150 plus years of service with this co.Would you have any pics of the old triple screws.Their was three of them the Ovec,Queen City and the Walter ?Beckjord.My granpa worked on the co.'s first boat.I liked the green and white paint much better than the red and white that was used in years prior of selling co.They were great boats.Sincerely Keith Gifford

Anonymous said...

Is the Harrlee Branch Jr still operating. How about Helen S, Elaine G. Finally the Pat Chotin.

Anonymous said...

That was the Walter C. Beckjord. My brother in law worked for Midland Enterprise on all their boats.

Anonymous said...

You forgot thr Orco.

Charles Lucas said...

my name is Charlie Lucas. My dad Coleman Lucas was Capt. on the Omar,Bob Bentor,Queen City,John Ladd Dean,Robert T.Tilbolt. He retired 1968. 30 plus yrs. My dads brother Russell "Capt" Lucas worked thete 30 plus yrs also. I worked there 1963 ot 1969. I have a lot of memorys to share.

Unknown said...

Bob Hall, here
I worked for the Ohio River Kenova Terminal for 12 years, from '59 till '71. The year I hired on, the Corps of Engineers was in the process of building the new locks, and were busy clearing the banks of most of the heavy vegetation. I had the privilege of seeing some of the old Sternwheelers work the landings before the newer screw boats took over. I have beenon the old Omar, and the Orco both. Also saw Webber J Seabald and the George M Verity from ARMCO. We had just received our new harbor boat, the Leopard, but still got to work an old sternwheeler called The Wild Goose.

Unknown said...

The Ohio River Company delivered coal to a plant I worked at. They were phasing out the triple screws like the Beckjord,Rowe,OVEC and Queen City when I was a deck hand at the plant. I liked the turtleback boats O.R. had built by St. Louis Ship and Steel. The boats built by Dravo were sharp too. All boats were white trimmed in kelly green and what music those Fairbanks-Morse diesels made.

Unknown said...

When I was a kid, we lived in Kenova, WV. We used to go down to the river to watch the boats. When the stern wheelers would go by, they would suck the water off the banks, and then after they passed, the waves would just roll up on the banks. I would love to hear those looong landing whistles once more.

Unknown said...

Hi my name is mary Kathryn bradford. Some of you proably heard me on the radio talking to dad near manchester.
He rrtired from the Ohio river co. He sure missed his girl the Helen S. He's at home in west union oh and in Hospice care. Feel free to contact me at for any of his friends who would like to wish him well. My father is capt. (Slammin) Sam Bradford . I was only a year old when he took to the river. Our family has many years of service out there, Woodrow bradford, cap Danny morton, Maurice bradford, Larry Adams and a few more. I sure miss the boats passing our windows at wrightsville.

Unknown said...

When I was a kid living in Shadyside Ohio, south of Wheeling WVa There were two small stern wheel boats. I remember seeing one, the STORMY pushing one or two barges north between Moundsville WVa and maybe Wheeling (I really don't know what her trip took her). The other boat my older brother remembers seeing although I do not was the BENWOOD also a stern wheeler. Both were pretty small boats. They may have hauled coal from a mine at Moundsville WVa or just south of Moundsville.

I noted the name OVEC in another comment and remember riding the "rollers" in her wake as she went down stream toward old Lock.Dam 13 on the Ohio.

Gary Scott, now in TN

Anonymous said...

Hi. When I was younger back in the early sixties I lived near Ohio River in Monaca, Pa. My hobby was taking pictures of river boats and some of my friends did also. It was a contest between us as who would get the rarest photos. I got a lot of photos from from southern barge lines pushing oil barges from lower Mississippi and so did friends. Well, as I got older and moved, I got rid of the photos, never thought I would be back. But, I moved back this year after retiring for 18 years, family is here. I was lucky to find a house that overlooks Ohio River on a hill and can take great pictures of the towboats going by with new camera. I am disappointed that I have not seen any of the fast old school oil pushing towboats like the Bayou Villere or Z-Twelve. I did find a number of old stern wheeler photos in an envelope after moving, Attaboy, Clair, Jenny Z, Winifred, etc.

Unknown said...

I work on the AL long and the in the a a h crane and the late 60s