Sunday, January 16, 2011

Thoughts about the old Ohio River dams

A reader comment on an earlier thread got me to thinking. He asked if any readers of this blog used to work at Lock and Dam 13 on the Ohio River.

A long time ago, I knew the man who was the last lockmaster at Lock and Dam 26, which was replaced by the Gallipolis Locks and Dam in 1937.  That dam had an interesting history, and its powerhouse remained in place until the Corps of Engineers started work on the replacement canal there in the 1980s. I have several pictures of that building, whose presence I still miss when I drive on the other side of the river.

Also, one of my best friends from my single days introduced me to his father, who I believe said he was the  last lockmaster at Lock and Dam 21. He locked the gate for the last time when the old dam was replaced by the Racine Locks and Dam.

(Trivia: I thought L&D 21 was the only one of the old wicket dams that didn't have a beartrap, but I just checked some old charts and saw that L&D 48 didn't have one either.).

And that got me to wondering how many of the people who worked at the old dams in the Huntington and Pittsburgh districts of the Corps of Engineers are still around. The last ones would have been replaced in the early 1970s, meaning the workers would have to be in their 60s now at the least. The old dams in the Louisville District were replaced later. Smithland, I believe, began raising its pool in 1980, which was only about 30 years ago. And dams 52 and 53 are still in operation.

It was a great day in 1986 when I got to walk all around Dam 52 unescorted. I had called a person at the Louisville District who I had had many phone conversations with before. I told him I was going to be in the Paducah area and asked if I could visit Dam 52. He said sure. He called ahead to let the folks there know I was coming, and I got the run of the place, taking all the pictures I wanted. Watching and photographing a tow locking through 52 was much different than doing it at Greenup, Gallipolis or Racine. Perhaps even in post-9/11 America I can do it again before the day in unknown years to come when 52 and 53 are removed following completion of the Olmstead Locks and Dam.

And on the rare occasions nowadays when I can venture far from home along the river, I'm always on the lookout for the old powerhouses and residences at the old dams. Some in this area have been preserved and put to other use, whether public or private. Some have been demolished. They were all interesting pieces of architecture, and I value the photos I have taken of them in their newer lives.

Somewhere in a box in my basement is a photo of the buildings at old Dam 21, taken in the early 1980s during my frequent trips up that way, where my friend lives. The buildings were demolished shortly after I took those photos, making them that much more valuable.

No comments: