Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Favorite towboats, part 10: the Omar and the Omega

For the final installment on my top 10 towboats, we turn to two boats that are memorable not for how they looked, but for how they sounded. Yes, they looked nice, but if you were in a house along the Ohio River, you knew when one of these boats was approaching. There would be a deep rumble, and loose objects would vibrate.

As the late Willie Wilson, who at the time was manager of Merdie Boggs and Sons at Catlettsburg KY said, these two boats could “talk to the wndows.”

They were the Omar and the Omega. They were built by St. Louis Ship in 1981, and they had two technological innovations, one or both of which produced the rumble and the rattles.

Here was how I explained it in a story in The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington WV on March 21, 1982:

Two new boats are turning the heads of river hands on the Ohio.

They are the M/V Omar and the M/V Omeg, two new vessels owned by Ohio River Co. as experiments in adapting seagoing technology on the inland waterways.

The boats are noted for their engines and their propellers.

The engines are capable of burning No. 6 diesel fuel, a thick liquid that must be heated to be pumped. After being blended with No. 2 diesel fuel, which the boats burn now, Ohio River Co. will spend only about three-fourths as much for fuel as it does for conventional boats. Considering the large amount of fuel a large towboat burns in one day, that amounts to substantial savings.

The other innovation on the boats are the controlled pitch propellers. In layman’s terms, the propeller blades swivel 180 degrees on their hubs. This eliminates reverse gear and also gives the pilot more control over the boats’ movements in tight spots. ...

I boarded the Omega to talk with its steersmen. They both were bothered by the vibration problem. One went about the pilothouse stuffing small pieces of paper into the ceilingtiles to eliminate the rattles. They could reduce the vibration some by keeping the stern fuel tank loaded, which kept the rear of the boat deeper in the water.

As for the propellers, the steersmen praised the boat’s handling.

That was then. The Ohio River Co. is gone, and the boats are owned by Ingram Barge. And the boats have been repowered. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the Omar up this way. The Omega has been renamed the Erna E. Honeycutt and spends most of its time on the Mississippi.

They look similar to the Jackson H. Randolph and the W.H. Dickhoner, but the dimensions are a bit different. I try to look at those two when they’re in this area. It’s the closest I get to a visual reminder of what it was like along the Ohio when the Omar or the Omega was in this area.