Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Wave action

... It may have seemed like overkill to have the 6,000 horses of the mv. Mountain State pushing three loaded coal barges, but it did produce a nice sight as the boat sliced through a nearly mirror-smooth Ohio River a couple of weeks ago at Huntington WV like a knife. 

Recent rains and winds have made the river's surface rough in the past few days, so I've barely gotten anything I like. For me, five days without a river photo I like is a major slump. However, I was able to get something today that I'll load later. But the river's starting to look like it's fall or winter.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Infrastructure on the Ohio

A person who commented on the previous post about the Markland Locks and Dam urges more spending on infrastructure repairs and improvements. That got me thinking some more about something that has been on my mind in recent days as I've worked on an outline for a book I'm writing, for my own sanity if nothing else.

A lot of highway bridges over the Ohio River in the areas I'm most familiar with were built by private companies in the 1920s. At the same time, the original system of locks and dams on the Ohio was finished in 1929.

The Depression came, and such construction stopped with a few exceptions. The three dams near Pittsburgh and the Gallipolis Locks and Dam, which really was for the improvement of the Kanawha River, come to mind, although I might be wrong about the dams on the upper Ohio. Then came World War II, and steel was needed elsewhere. In the late 1940s, the federal government started talking about replacing the old locks and dams. The first of the new generation of high-lift locks and dams went into service in the 1950s. The locks at the Greenup Locks and Dam were in use before construction of the dam itself was finished, as thee was no other way for boats to pass. I think the first boat to pass through Greenup was the Bob Bentner. I would get the exact date, but I no long have access to the old clip files at The Herald-Dispatch since my job was eliminated in May.

The first of the new generation of highway bridges in my section of the Ohio (Parkersburg WV to Maysville KY) was the West 17th Street Bridge at Huntington WV. It opened in 1967,  I think. It's a two-lane bridge that connects four-lane US 52 in Ohio with four-lane Interstate 64 in West Virginia.

The Silver Bridge fell on Dec. 15, 1967, and we had to face the fact that our bridges were old and obsolete. The Silver Memorial Bridghe opened in 1969 to replace the Silver Bridge. Construction on a new bridge between Belpre OH and Parkersburg WV started in the mid 1970s, I believe, and the old bridge was demolished in 1980. Construction on the new bridge at Ravenswood WV began at around that time. It replaced a ferry. I remember riding the ferry in 1975.

The old bridge at St. Marys WV was of the same design as the Silver Bridge. It was removed and replaced with a bridge almost identical to the Silver Memorial Bridge.

The year 1985 saw three new bridges open -- Ashland KY, Huntington and over the Greenup Locks and Dam.

There was also a new bridge built near Maysville in the late 1990s or early 200s, and a new bridge at Pomeroy OH opened last year. And there was the new bridge below Parkersburg at Blennerhassett Island this year or last.

In all this, the replacement of the old Ohio River locks continued, with Smithland being the last one completed around 1980. In the 1980s, the new canal was added at Gallipolis, and there was significant work at the three dams on the Kanawha. 

There has been a lot of talk about improvements at Greenup. I know there has been work at the McAlpine Locks and Dam at Louisville, and the new Olmstead Locks and Dam remains under construction.

In the context of all that, maybe it's not surprising that one of the locks has had a significant failure such as the one at Markland. 

Markland lock gate goes missing

I've never heard of something as big as a gate leaf on an Ohio River lock falling off and going missing, but apparently that is what happened at the Markland Locks and Dam below Cincinnati.

One story on this is here. Another is here.

If the Corps of Engineers wasn't so security conscious nowadays, I would go down and try to get a photo of boat using sonar trying to find something so big. But you can't get near the locks nowadays unless you're on a boat.

More later, I hope.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Sternwheeler race

A couple of weeks ago, I finally got to ride aboard a sternwheel riverboat during a sternwheeler race. It happened at Point Pleasant WV during the Tribute to the River festival I've written about a few times already.

If you've lived along the river and paid attention to it, you probably don't pay much attention to the modern commercial towboats that pass by several times a day. But you do pay attention when a sternwheeler comes through, as they're not seen all that often. And if you get an invitation to ride one, you take it.

For this race, I rode aboard the Lauren Elizabeth, the pilothouse of which is shown here. It's a pretty boat on the outside and even prettier on the inside. I got this shot because of the metal ceiling in the pilothouse.

I got to ride the boat because Fred Nyhuis, an executive with Marathon Petroleum and president of the Huntington District Waterways Association, got me an invitation from Bill Price, who (I think) owns and pilots the boat.

Don't ask how many boats were in the race. All I remember is that we all left the riverfront park at the same time and went a short distance upriver to the Norfolk Southern railroad bridge. Then we all went downriver to a spot below the Silver Memorial Bridge and waited for our individual heats.

Boats raced one on one. As it turned out, the Lauren Elizabeth was in the in the final heat, against the Pickett Hastings.

"Cool" describes the sight, sound and feel of standing right in front of the paddlewheel as Captain Price opened up the throttle. There's only about a mile between the two bridges, and the race was close most of the way.

This shot taken from the Lauren Elizabeth shows the Pickett Hastings passing the mouth of the Kanawha River. Around this time, the other boat got in our wake, which may have slowed it down some.

Anyway, the Lauren Elizabeth won by about 30 feet.

These are seven  pictures out of maybe three dozen that I shot. It was a wonderful 60 minutes, and my thanks to Mr. Nyhuis and Captain Price.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


I think that's what it's called when one boat takes another downriver like this. If I'm wrong, someone tell me, please.

Adam and I saw the Linda Reed was in the area. Crounse put the boat into service earlier this year, and we have yet to get the photo of it that we want. We saw it right below Gallipolis, but it had the Nancy Sturgis on its hip (did I get the jargon right again?). This is at least the third time this year Adam and I have seen one Crounse boat with another one at its side like this.

It reminded me of how I used to see Ohio Barge Line boats do this.

As we were about to leave this spot, I noticed I could see the boats in my outside mirror, so I grabbed a shot.

R. Clayton McWhorter, again

I wanted to shoot a Dravo Viking boat from this spot from this angle, but the sun was not where I wanted. It was too early in the day. But Ingram doesn't ask me where I want their boats at a certain time of day, so I make do with what I can get.

I've always liked the Viking line of boats from the 1970s and 1980s. I don't know if they handle better or are more comfortable than other boats of that era, but I like the way they look. The Ingram paint scheme goes with them well.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Talk Like a Pirate Day

Arggh! In honor of this being National Talk Like a Pirate Day, here we be thinking about the ruffians who ambushed flatboats at Cave-In-Rock, Illinois, in the days before steamboats. Arggh!

Friday, September 18, 2009

A comfortable look for a new bridge

Sticking with what works, the new Ohio River bridge planned for Ironton OH and Russell KY will be a cable stay design similar to that used on at least two other bridges over the Ohio River. A photo can be seen on the Web site of
The Ironton Tribune.

The new bridge would be the sixth cable stay bridge across the Ohio River from Ohio to Kentucky or West Virginia. The others are at Steubenville, Pomeroy, Proctorville, Portsmouth and Ripley OH. They connect to Weirton WV, Mason WV, Huntington WV, South Shore KY and Maysville KY, respectively. There is at least one other on the lower section of the river, that being  near Rockport IN and Owensboro KY.

If I missed any, someone please let me know.

The new Ironton bridge looks like the Bridge of Honor at Pomeroy OH and the William H. Natcher Bridge at Rockport IN. It would replace a steel truss bridge that has been in service since 1922.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Odds and ends, 9/16/09

Power companies likely will face stricter limits on water pollution from their coal-fired power plants, federal officials said yesterday.

That's the lead paragraph in a story in The Columbus Dispatch. For a long time, people worried about what came out of the smokestacks of coal-fired power plants. Now, it seems, more attention is being paid to what goes onto the land and in the water after coal is burned.

The story focuses on two plants owned by American Electric Power. Both are in the part of Ohio directly across the Ohio River from West Virginia's Northern Panhandle.


This weekend it's Wheeling's turn to host a gathering of sternwheelers as the city celebrates its Heritage Port River Festival.

I still plan to write one more text-and-photo entry from the Point Pleasant festival a couple of weeks ago. It will be heavy on photos.


The new island -- a pile of sand and such dredged from the bottom of the Ohio River this past weekend, actually -- still sits alongside Huntington WV. I went to look at it this morning and noticed a number of flags surrounding it. I assume they're there to warn boaters and navigators about the big pile of dirt near the main river channel.


The Ohio River bridge at Madison IN is 80 years old and in poor shape. In fact, it's worse off now than it was when repairs were done a decade ago, and a new set of repairs could require that the bridge be shut down for 18 months. That's according to this AP story on the Chicago Tribune Web site.

Meanwhile, according to The Madison Courier, there are plans to widen the bridge piers and then remove the existing superstructure and build a new bridge on the wider piers.

The bridge at Madison connects that community with Milton KY. As with other river communities, the economies of the two cities are tied together, and no one wants to deal with not having  a bridge for an extended time. The proposed work at Madison could cost about $131 million. That's almost nothing compared to billion-dollar bridge projects being discussed in Cincinnati and Louisville.


One more thing: This past summer, some guy threw a pit bull off an Ohio River bridge in Louisville. The dog survived.

The Courier-Journal in Louisville reports an arrest has been made. The newspaper reported, "The dog survived the 80-foot fall to the river and was rescued by Louisville firefighters who were nearby on a training exercise. She was adopted by a waitress at Joe's Crab Shack who witnessed the rescue — as did numerous people on the bridge and riverfront."

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Point Pleasant railroad bridge

I have so much to write about railroad bridges on my section of the Ohio River. Tonight, I concentrate on this one. It's the Norfolk Southern bridge between Point Pleasant WV and Kanauga OH.

This photo shows the bridge with Point Pleasant in the background.

And here a train crosses from West Virginia to Ohio on a late Friday afternoon.

I hope to have more in this bridge and others like it in a few weeks.

New island at Huntington

It looks like we have a small new island in the Ohio River at Huntington WV, although I don't know how long it will last.

I noticed it today. It's just below the mouth of the Guyandotte River, where dredging was done on Saturday and Sunday.

First, we  noticed the Admiral tied up to the bank.

Then, this dredge boat was at the mouth of the Guyandotte. It worked its way up the Guyandotte to the boat ramp.

Material dredged from the river bottom was pumped out into the Ohio and discharged there.

Today, this guy was on this pile of dirt out where the dredged material was dumped. I have no idea who he was or what he was doing.

He walked in water that was mostly ankle deep to waist deep. It looked like he had a small cooler or something to scoop up sand, after which he went through it. As I said, I have no idea what he was looking for.

Will the island survive? Will it have to be dredged out of existence? Or will the first high water of autumn take care of it?

Thursday, September 10, 2009


We'll get back to Point Pleasant soon, but first a side trip to Jackson, Ohio. Jackson isn't on the Ohio River, but when I was there visiting family on Labor Day, I saw something that brought back a lot of river city memories.

On a side track of a local railroad, there sat three cabooses -- all worn out and waiting for someone to restore them. 

The one in the back was from the Baltimore & Ohio. The gold B&O emblem -- the Capitol dome -- stood out on the blue background, but its yellow paint was cracked.

In front of the B&O caboose was a red one bearing the letters NW.

And in front of that was one from the old Detroit Toledo & Ironton, also known as the DT&I.

The B&O owned and operated the line along the Ohio River in West Virginia until it became absorbed first by the Chessie System and then by CSX. The NW, now Norfolk Southern, has a busy line with double tracks along the Ohio from South Point OH to a yard in Portsmouth OH.

The DT&I had minimal if any trackage along the river. I remember when the DT&I ran trains to Ironton OH, although I have no idea how often. I remember seeing a locomotive pulling a few cars there on Railroad Street. But DT&I service to Ironton ended in the 1980s, I think. As best I recall, the tracks have been paved over. Now Railroad Street is a wide right-of-way running past the post office and the building that once housed City Hall. A generation has grown up knowing little if anything about how Railroad Street got its name.

Here's the Ohio River connection that I noticed. Take a look at the DT&I logo on the side of the caboose.

I thought it was interesting until I realized it was a compass rose -- the thing you see on a map to point north.

It reminded me of something I saw on the Ohio River in the 1980s.

This emblem of the Ohio River Co. was on the starboard stack of the mv. Omar when it was an Ohio River Co. boat. I always thought this was a cool logo, but until I saw the DT&I logo on Labor Day, I never made the connection between the Ohio River Co. logo and a compass rose.

You learn something new every holiday.

(If anyone wants me to put more pics up of these cabooses, let me know).

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Touring the mv. Muontain State

Adam and I spent so much time chasing towboats up and down the Ohio River this past summer, we had to go to Point Pleasant WV for the Tribute to the River festival on Labor Day weekend so he could get aboard the ones open for public tours.

The mv. Mountain State of AEP was the one he really wanted to see. He has taken a liking to the new AEP boats, and it impressed the crew when he started talking about the two under construction -- the AEP Leader and the Hoosier State.

I've written about the boat before, and I won't repeat the basic information here.

Anyway, here are some photos from the weekend. If I had the desire and the time, I could post three or four times this many and still have angles rarely photographed by people not in AEP's' employ.

First, the boat as it was tied  up to the Point Pleasant riverfront.

The pilothouse was a popular spot on the tour. I asked the port captain if I could get a shot of Adam at the controls, and he helped by putting one of Adam's hands on a rudder stick and another on a throttle.

There are two radar displays. Those are the high screens with green. On the right of the photo is an electronic navigation chart. It displays the boat's' position, and it identifies some of the other boats in the area. It calculates their positions and speeds, and it can estimate where the Mountain State will meet or overtake the other boats.

This is what the pilot sees when he looks down toward the towing knees. Because here is no control panel directly in front of him and because he has such a large window, he can look almost straight down.

And this is what the deckhand sees when he looks up at the pilothouse.

Adam is a bit less than five feet tall. This is him in the engine room looking down at one of the two engines.
Here's the view from between the smokestacks, looking toward the front of the boat.

And this is the name of the boat that you are most likely to see from shore.

Yes, it was a very good visit. Adam and I enjoyed it thoroughly. He's learned a lot about the inland waterway industry this summer, and he learned a lot more in one visit aboard a working boat.

Now he wants to see the Buckeye State. I've seen it once, and him not at all. And there are those other two boats he's waiting to see.

That's one reason his mother calls him Jim 2.0.

mv. J.S. Lewis

The J.S. Lewis is one of my favorite towboats to shoot simply because it is so old. It went into service in 1931 as the Vesta. Over the years, its name was changed and it was converted from burning coal to using diesel fuel.

You don't see the boat out very much. The time I'm mostly likely to see it is when it's needed for special events, such as the Tribute to the River last weekend at Point Pleasant WV.

First, here's my youngest, who will be 10 years old soon, sitting at the sticks in the pilothouse.

Here is one of the boat's' two engines.

An external view, taken as the sun was getting  close to setting.

And the J.S Lewis as seen from the mv. Mountain State.

Finally,  the bell at the front, which bears the boat's original name.

I told Adam that my grandmother's name was Vesta. She died when I was about the age Adam is now. We weren't close or anything like that. I can't even recall having a conversation with her. But the bell did give us a chance to talk about our family history.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Osage and its buoys

The Coast Guard boat Osage, whose crew maintains buoys on the inland waterways, was at the Tribute to the River festival at Point Pleasant WV this past weekend. Here are a few shots.

Coming soon: The J.S. Lewis, the Mountain State, the railroad bridge and the sternwheel race.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Whistles and calliopes

What drew the biggest crowd on a weekend morning at the Point Pleasant Tribute to the River festival was when they started up the steam boilers and blew the old boat whistles. Too bad I didn't think to get the names of the boats these whistles came from.

My grandfather lived along the Ohio River in the days of steamboats. I've been told in his later years he sat on his back porch and identified boats by the sounds of their whistles. He died when I was very young, so I have no memory of him. Still, I would have liked to have seen his reaction to hearing these whistles.

One other participant reacted to the whistles. At times, a brown dog howled along.

Later, this girl played a Scott Joplin tune on the calliope.

And a man who looked and sounded like an experienced callipolist played.


The Point Pleasant festival known as Tribute the River had a few sternwheelers in attendance. Here are a few of them in the early morning light.

A view of a couple of sternwheels from the side.

One that interested me was the Juanita.

Back in the early 1980s, I was aboard the Juanita when I did a newspaper article about three working sternwheelers on the Ohio River: the Juanita, the Lady Lois at Catlettsburg KY and the Donald B of Maysville KY. Tom Cook, who owns the Juanita now, gave me a tour of the pilothouse and the engine room, and he explained how the drive train turns the paddlewheel. It was a most excellent few minutes.

More pics of the sternwheelers when I do a longer piece about the race that wrapped up the day.

Tribute to the River in Point Pleasant

Point Pleasant WV put on a good show with its third annual Tribute to the River  this weekend at its riverfront park along the Ohio River. It was so good, there's no way to run photos and text about it in one entry, so I'm spreading them out over several in the next few days. First,  a few overall shots.

Two large flags flew in the morning breeze.

A kevel (I think that's what it's called) secures the Coast Guard tender Osage. The crew of the Osage maintains buoys and navigation lights.

One of the newest towboats on the river (the Mountain State of AEP) and one of the oldest (the J.S. Lewis of Madison Coal and Supply) sit side by side. They were open for public  tours.

The Laura J was one of several sternwheelers there.

A line-tossing contest tested skills in, well, tossing lines.

The Mountain State had to leave Saturday evening. Before it left, the Valvoline of Marathon Petroleum was heading upriver to take its place and to be open for tours on Sunday.

Some communities may think they are river cities because they happen to sit along the Ohio River, but Point Pleasant is a small city that embraces its river and takes advantage of it.

As I said, more later, on the boats, the whistles, a calliope and a sternwheeler race, among other topics.