Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Favorite towboats, part 1: The new AEP boats

(This is the first in a series on my favorite towboats or types of towboats on the Ohio River. They are not presented in any particular order.)

Yesterday morning, as I woke Adam for another day of fourth grade, I knew he would be disappointed with the news. The mv. Buckeye State of AEP was in the Greenup locks upbound. It could pass Huntington before he got home from school.

Adam was crushed. He has wanted to see the Buckeye State since June, when I found it in a photo I took on May 22. I was on the Ohio side of the Ohio River at the Gallipolis Locks and Dam. Darkness was setting in, and I saw a new AEP boat across the river getting ready to lock through upbound. I thought it was the AEP Mariner or the Chuck Zebula. It wasn’t until several days later, when I looked at the photo more closely, that I realized it was the Buckeye State.

The Buckeye State is one of five new towboats AEP has in service, with the others being the AEP Mariner, the Chuck Zebula, the Mountain State and the AEP Leader. Adam had seen three. He was at his grandmother’s when the newest, the AEP Leader, was in this area. He really, really wanted to see the Buckeye State.

He faked a sore neck, but I didn’t fall for it. So off to school he went. Later in the day, I noticed that the Buckeye State hadn’t finished its lockage until 9:40 a.m. or so. We live about 30 miles above the Greenup Locks and Dam, so if the Buckeye State did maybe 5 mph upstream, we could see it. I caught Adam as he got off the bus. He didn’t even want to come in the house. He threw his bookbag into the car and off we went.

We didn’s see the Buckeye State until it had already passed under Huntington’s East End bridge. There are a couple of spots up the river on the Ohio side that we use when we chase towboats, so we hit both of them. We took the Ohio side because evening was coming, and the sun would shine on the boat if we viewed it from that side of the river.

It did, and we got some good photos and good views.

Adam was pleased. Now he just has to see the AEP Leader and the Hoosier State when it hits the river, and he will be satisfied.

The new AEP boats are on our Top 10 list because they are new and because they look so different. They’re tall, but they also have those large pilothouses that make them stand out from, say, a Dravo Viking.

I got to tour the AEP Mariner with my older son, Joey, last year during an open house in Huntington. The crew told us the boat has shock absorbers or some other system that dampens vibrations so much that if you wake from sleep on the boat, you can’t tell if the boat is moving.

This year, Adam and I toured the Mountain State during its open house in Point Pleasant WV. That particular boat has moved to the top of his list of favorite boats, although he does want to see the J.S. Lewis on the river some day. (Hint: It’s possible that boat is on my personal Top 10 list).

I’m in no position to judge a boat by its handling, its fuel economy, its power, comfort for its crew or anything that might matter to a person who works on it. I can only judge them by they way they look on the river. And, in some cases, how they sound. And by what they have meant to me as I received my river education.

The new AEP boats definitely make my Top 10.


Top photo: The Buckeye State upbound passing the Lesage and/or Cox Landing area of Cabell County WV in the background. Photo taken from Rome Township in Lawrence County OH.

Here, the AEP Mariner has just passed under the West 17th Street Bridge between Huntington WV and Proctorville OH. The pilot aligns it to pass under the 6th Street Bridge.

Here, Adam puts his hands on the controls of the Mountain State. The AEP Mariner and the Chuck Zebula have a bit of a blind spot for the pilot, who has a hard time seeing the area between the tow knees. The Buckeye State, Mountain State and AEP Leader have pilothouses  where the control area has a gap so the pilot can have a better view of what's below and immediately in front of him.

And here's the Mountain State.


These boats spend much of their time on the lower Ohio, usually in the Newburgh pool and below. We try to see them when they get up this way. One hope is to see them when they stop at the AEP port in Lakin WV. We can't get in on the West Virginia side, but there's a boat ramp across the river at Cheshire OH that we can use to get some shots.


One more thing. In recent weeks, Adam has become a fan of Dick's Towboat Gallery. Sunday night, as he was going to bed, his momma came to wish him good night. As she did, Adam told her he was on that site and saw that the  Chuck Zebula is 166 feet long but the Mountain State is only 157 feet long. As she often does, she shook her head and said, What a kid.