Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Three news items

As if folks on the lower Ohio didn't have enough to deal with in March and April, it looks like the river will crest above flood stage this week. Check the last paragraph.


Here is one of the most detailed accounts of a coal barge striking a bridge pier that I've read in a daily newspaper in a long, long time.


Not that there would have been much doubt, as construction on the power plant at the Meldahl Locks and Dam has started, but the power line connecting the plant to the grid has been approved by the appropirate Ohio agency.

Two boats on a Sunday

By the time I got to the mouth of the Kanawha River on Sunday afternoon, the M/V Mary Harter had already backed out and was pushing against the current to go upriver.

The Harter had to stay over against the West Virginia bank until the Lilli Marlene of O-Kan Marine Repair had passed. The Lilli Marlene had the oddest tow I've seen in a while -- six wide and two long.

Perhaps this is the place I'm supposed to say I should bill the world's largest retailer for using a photo of one of its trucks on my blog, but I won't.

Monday, November 28, 2011


I was up in the Point Pleasant, W.Va., area Sunday afternoon. The return trip to Huntington started clear but grew foggy. I tried getting a photo of the O. Nelson Jones below Point Pleasant. When I pulled the car off the road, I wanted to get a shot of the Jones passing through low-lying fog. By the time I was in place, the fog wasn't there.

When we got to the Robert C. Byrd Locks and Dam, we drove to the end of the downstream fishing areas to see if there were any boats approaching the locks in the fog. No such luck, but the fog was hanging heavy on the river as a light rain fell. I walked 30 feet back to the car to get my camera and an umbrella to protect it. In that 60-foot round trip, the fog had covered the mooring cells below me and my view of the dam above me. I did manage to get a couple of shots of the guidewall in the fog and how the fog seemed to curve over the hill between the locks and the dam.

We made one stop on the way home, at about Mile 294. Adam said he saw the Oliver C. Shearer in the fog. We knew it was the Shearer because we could see the stern of the boat and its huge stacks. But the stacks and the stern were about all we could see. I tried getting a shot, but the Shearer was close to the West Virginia shore and trees were in the way. A few seconds later, as I was putting the camera away, Adam said, “And it’s disappeared into the fog.”

After that, it was too dark and too foggy to see if any other boats were on the river. I really wish I could have gotten that shot of the Shearer.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Gas boom

Drilling for gas in the Marcellus shale formation is a big deal in northern West Virginia. For an update on how big, check out this story about what's happening in and around the Ohio River town of New Martinsville.
Has it really been two years since the problems at the Markland Locks and Dam between Cincinnati and Louisville began? According to this story from The Associated Press, it has. But, the story says, everything should be back to normal soon.

Early last year you had big problems at both Markland and Greenup. The story notes that many of the locks on the Ohio have exceeded their design life and need work, but the money isn't there. That's the problem with infrastructure that people see as mainly benefitting bulk cargo carriers. A lot of people think they have no dog in this fight, so there's no urgency to find the money to work on these things. Until the things fail, that is.


Here's a piece that gives one or two paragraphs each on ghost towns in Indiana -- places that once existed or thrived but now are forgotten or nearly so. This particular piece talks about a town called Enterprise and the original Leavenworth. According to the article, after a flood the people of Leavenworth moved their town to higher ground and kept the name.

As I read this, it reminded me of some ghost towns in my area. Near the village of Athalia, Ohio, about 20 miles above Huntington, there was a community called Haskelville or Haskelleville or something like that. It was abandoned after a flood in the 1880s, I think. Today it's the site of a fruit orchard, I think. I have to phrase it that way because I'm not sure of the exact location.

If you've road "Afloat on the Ohio" by Reuben Gold Thwaites, you've read about how he wanted to photograph some crackers (his word) in the Gallia County, Ohio, community of Rosebud. If you know where to look, you can find some houses, singlewides and doublewides where Rosebud is/was.

I've been told of others along the Ohio -- not like Rosebud, but more like old Leavenworth -- that no longer exist, but in a quick Web search this morning I can't find anything about them. That may have to wait until another day.

But there are others inland, a few rides away from the river, that may have been communities in the days of horses and buggies but now are pretty much forgotten, such as Polkadotte (pronounced Pokey Dot) in Lawrence County, Ohio. And there are some that are near ghost towns, whose locations are marked by the remains of an old country store or a post office that has long since closed.


And a couple of bridges were closed for a few hours this week after being hit by barges during high water. The bridge at Cairo was hit on Thursday, and the one at Pomeroy, Ohio, was hit on Saturday. No structural damage was done in either case, and both are open again.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

A few minutes at the mouth of the Kanawha

I saw a few boats and some barges -- maybe a hundred barges? -- in the lower three miles of the Kanawha River today.

First, there was the Dr. Edwin H. Welch sitting next to the right descending bank around Mile 1.

Right above it was the James W. Buky. I was able to get some more pictures of the Buky from the hill above the river.

And a high shot of the Welch, too.

One thing I noticed was a fleeting area for barges between miles 2 and 3. You can see two boats in this picture. The one on the right is the Nell, I believe. I don't know what the other one was, but it had to be an AmherstMadison boat.

Because of the angle and the resolution of the photo, it's kind of hard to tell how many barges are here, but I would say there are between 35 and 40.

The thing about all these barges is where the coal in them came from and where it's going. Coal is a two-way traffic on the Kanawha. A lot of coal comes from the Ohio, with much if not most of it ending up at the Amos power plant above Mile 35 at about Mile 40. Amos, by the way, is the largest coal-fired power plant in these parts. Between the mouth of the Kanawha and Amos is the Winfield Locks and Dam at Mile 31. (Remember, mile markers on the Ohio start at Pittsburgh and increase as you go down the river. On the Kanawha and most other rivers, mile markers start at the mouth and work back up). The main lock at Winfield can accommodate a boat and nine jumbo barges, so a 15-barge coal tow on the Ohio has to be broken up into two parts to be taken to Amos.

But a lot of coal comes down the Kanawha to the fleet at Point Pleasant. There it's assembled into 15-barge tows for Ohio River boats. The thing I wondered today was which fleeting area is for coal coming out of the Kanawha and which was for coal going up into the Kanawha.

Is one fleeting area dedicated to upbound coal and one to downbound? I seriously doubt that's the case week in and week out, but it was something I wondered about as I saw all that coal today and wondered which barges were going where.

M/V or mv.

To finish up something from this past spring, I've gone to the old usage of M/V for towboats, as in motor vessel.

I've seen mv. used in some places over the past three decades, such as the Waterways Journal. I prefer it, as it's shorter and less obtrusive than M/V. But I've found that people who prefer mv. don't mind M/V, but some people who prefer M/V don't like mv. and have a bad reaction to it.

It's not all that important to me, so I went with what the readers seemed to prefer. So it's M/V.

Ups and downs of a sometimes dreary week

One of the nice things about the Internet is that you get to meet people you otherwise would not come in contact with. That happened again these past two weeks when a towboat captain contacted me to ask about something. We have a mutual acquaintance, and we were able to chat about some things.

This has not been a good week for me to get on the river and get photos. Because of downpours earlier in the week, the river has been running high. The water is muddy, and it's over some of my best shooting spots. On top of that, the sky has been milky, the trees are bare and the water is muddy. I tried getting a photo of the O. Nelson Jones as it passed the Miller, Ohio, area on Thanksgiving day, but it just didn't work out.

On top of that, there's not been a lot of traffic around here. I checked the vessel locations site yesterday afternoon, and there was not one boat reported downbound in the Greenup pool. That's not right, but if it has to happen, it might as well be when I can't get to the river bank in daylight and with decent backgrounds to shoot against.

I have to go back up the river later today. Maybe we'll see something then. If things work out, I might even see the boat of the captain of my new acquaintance. You never know.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

Of all the holidays we have -- secular and/or religious -- Thanksgiving has long been my favorite. I've never had to work on Thanksgiving. I've worked New Year's, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day and Christmas, but I've never had to work Thanksgiving.

But some people do. Someone has to run the power plants, the steel mills and the coke ovens. Someone has to take the tolls on the bridge. Someone has to patrol the highways. And someone has to drive the ambulance. One passed by my house tonight, red lights flashing.

So here's to the people out on the river, beside the river and along the river who are giving up their holiday so the rest of us can enjoy ours.

Thank you.

(Photo The M/V Charleston prepares to pass the Kyger Creek Power Plant, foreground, and the Gen. James Gavin Power Plant, background, at Cheshire, Ohio, along the Ohio River on Thanksgiving night 2009).

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Rise coming

The river forecast here at Huntington, W.Va., is for a rise of 13 feet between now and Friday night.  I know we've had a lot of rain ...

Fatality on the river

A deckhand working on the Janis R. Brewer died Monday night when the boat struck a wall at the Cannelton Locks and Dam. Details here.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Two boats at Kenova

I wanted to try some nighttime photography, so I went to Virginia Point Park at Kenova, W.Va., shortly after sundown yesterday to get some boats all lit up. But the Big Sandy harbor was pretty quiet. I did see the James R. Morehead and the Bruce D, though, so I got off a few shots while I could.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Cincinnati bridge photo

If you want to see a really cool photo of the Roebling suspension bridge in Cincinnati -- or from the bridge -- check out this one.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Trying out a camera phone

Mobile phones have cameras, you know. What you may not have heard is that some people in the communications industry expect mobile phones to replace point-and-shoot digital cameras in the next few years. To me that's not a good thing. If I lose a point-and-shoot, I don't lose all my contacts and such.

A couple of weeks ago, I took a mobile phone to the mouth of the Guyandotte River to see how it works. Here are some images I got.

And one more. This is the wall on my cubicle at work.

The poster was made from a photo Adam and I took last October of the M/V Detroit coming down the Ohio River at Addison, Ohio, with the Kyger Creek and Gavin power plants in the background. The calendar is something I made. Each month, I take one of my river photos appropriate to that month and make my own calendar page. Miss November is one I got at the mouth of a creek on Nov. 11, 2010. I haven't decided what image to use for December.

And the piece of paper with something blurred has a note to remind me of something I can't seem to remember.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Science and trash

I  had to go to the store for some vittles this evening, so I took a short side trip to one of my favorite spots along the Ohio River on the way. I was looking at various things when I noticed the waves breaking on shore near me. The wind was coming diagonally from the river, toward me with the dropoff in front of me.

As I stood there, I watched the waves pushed by the wind until they grew higher and broke. Then I remembered how a wave in water will move until it comes to a spot where the depth of the water is less than the amplitude of the wave. When that happens, the wave breaks. So even though the water was muddy, I could locate the dropoff at this spot by watching the waves.

 And while I was there, I looked at some of the litter in the water. You can tell a lot about the people who frequent a spot by the litter they leave behind. For example, on the road where I live, people drink a lot of Wendy's soft drinks, bottled water and Bud Light. At this spot on the river, they forget the Wendy's and the water and drink plenty of alcohol while they fish, although some litterbugs enjoy local soft drink refreshments.

Three things in the news

The Marietta, Ohio, area is getting a couple of new river gauges. These will measure more than river depth. They'll also measure velocity and volume of flow.


Is turbulence from the hydroelectric plant at the McAlpine Locks and Dam causing severe shoreline erosion at Clarksville, Ind.? Some locals think so. They do know they don't have the money to fix the problem.


Here's a piece on what happens to local businesses when communities have to do without bridges they've come to rely on. It's in the Courier-Journal's opinion section.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

This past week ...

... wasn't my best for being down by the river. The leaves are gone and thanks to the end of daylight savings time, by the time I get close to home after work it's pretty much dark already.

I did get a few pictures, though. And while they're not going into my Best of the Best folder, they're okay.

The Amber Brittany is one of the prettiest boats on the Ohio River, partly because of its design and partly because of its color scheme.

And two deckhands of the Brittany discuss something before the boat pulls out of the Campbell fleet below Point Pleasant, W.Va., and heads down the river.

My favorite bridge silhouetted by the post-sunset sky ...

And in light and shadow from the morning sun ...

The autumn colors were pretty dull around here. About the only place you'll find any decent colors on leaves are along the river, such as this sidewalk at Harris Riverfront Park in Huntington, W.Va.

And you might find some color once you leave the park if a classic VW Beetle makes a left turn a block ahead of you.

I saw a couple of boats on the Kanawha River this week. There was the Iron Duke upbound...

And the Dr. Edwin H. Welch downbound.

I didn't see the Welch until it has passed a good shooting spot, and I didn't have time to wait for it to get to the next. Oh well.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Marathon on the Kanawha again

So I had to do a couple of things at work yesterday, and as I walked back to my desk, I looked out the window and saw the new towboat Marathon coming up the Kanawha River. I grabbed my camera bag and told my supervisor I would be back in 10 minutes.

"Another boat?" she asked.

I got these shots of the Marathon as it approached and tied up to a terminal across the river from where I work.

Later I looked out a window on the other side of the building and saw the Marathon faced up on a barge and pointing downriver. And a little bit after that, I saw it heading up the Kanawha pushing one barge. I checked vessel locations later and saw it locking through Marmet. And I thought of some old Ohio River boat workers I'm acquainted with who made as few trips up the Kanawha, sometimes as far as a town called Hugheston.

For a while, I pondered chasing the Marathon up the Kanawha to get some pictures of it in the Marmet pool, but by the time I got out of work, it was dark outside, and raining. In other words, not worth the time and trouble for the images I'd probably get.

As of 8 a.m. today, the Marathon is in the Winfield pool, probably near my office, but given other things I have to do on the way in to work, I probably won't see it.

I don't know why Marathon sometimes sends a big boat up the Kanawha when it has smaller ones that can make the trip, but on this day I didn't care.

I have a couple more photos from the Kanawha this week that I might post if I can get the quality right. I did minimal editing on these photos of the Marathon, but the ones I got the other day of the Iron Duke will take more work. As a former coworkers explained to me once, the camera had photographer problems. I hate it when I'm taking pictures at night and forget to reset the thing for daylight shooting.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Wanted: A history of Dravo

Despite my attempts to find a more honest line of work, I remain employed in the news business, where I have been employed in one capacity or another for most of the past 36 1/2 years.  News people love anniversaries, and there may be one coming up that I would like to write about, but I’m having trouble finding enough good information. Thus, I’m asking for help.

Tonight on the drive home from work I got to thinking that we should be coming up on the 30th anniversary of the  closing of the Dravo shipyards near Pittsburgh. According to shipbuildinghistory.com, Dravo closed its Pittsburgh operations in 1983, although the last towboat – the William F. Plettner – may have come out in late 1982.

I’ve been looking around for a good history of Dravo, but I’ve not found one. I’ve found bits and pieces, but I need a good comprehensive history. I know I need to dig through the Waterways Journal for 1982 and 1983. And I should probably check the Pittsburgh papers for those years, too. But I need a solid history, one that tells things like how the Viking came to be, and whatever happened to Dravo, Dravo Mechling and their successor companies.

I’ll need to see what the Inland Rivers Library in Cincinnati has, and there may be one or two other sources around.

But if anyone who reads this knows of a good history of Dravo or if you know of any specific libraries that would have such material, please let me know. I’m not asking to borrow anything, and I’m not looking to spend a lot of money collecting stuff. I just need to be pointed in the right direction.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Avoiding the rush

Here's how a cardiologist in Louisville who has a practice in Indiana avoids a lot of the problems that have come with the closure of the Sherman Minton Bridge.

A tip of the hat to Louisville-area resident Joseph Schneid.

And while we're at it, if you want to see some of his pictures of riverboats in the Louisville area, check out his Flickr photostream. I'm particularly jealous of his photos of the M/V Erna E. Honeycutt.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

M/V Hoosier State

Saturday afternoon, I dropped Adam off at his grandmother's house to spend the night. They hadn't seen each other for a while, so Adam wanted to spend the weekend with her. On the way back to Huntington, I had my older son, Joey, with me. As much as Adam loves the Ohio River, Joey doesn't. He tolerates my and Adam's fascination with it. But sometimes just barely.

After we left grandma's house, I told Joey I was stopping at Point Pleasant to get pictures of the Hoosier State if it was still there. And it was. As we crossed the Bartow Jones Bridge over the Kanawha River, I saw the Hoosier State lightboat (without barges) pointed toward the Ohio. So I parked the car at the foot of the bridge and ran up the sidewalk, hoping to get a good shot of this relatively new AEP boat without barges.

I could have saved my heart the stress. The Hoosier State was moving along lazily. In face, it was about to be overtaken by AmherstMadison's boat, the Drema G. Woods. You can see them here, with the Nell in the background making tow.

I didn't know if Joe Kincaid were in the pilothouse of the Hoosier State and if he saw me, because the boat took its good sweet time moving toward the Ohio. I got some decent shots, considering the boat was either lit up by the warm tones of the setting sun or was in the shade.

I had been up on the bridge for a while when my phone rang. It was Joey, sitting in the car. "You know, you can come down," he said. I explained that I was trying to get some good shots of a slow-moving boat and I would be down when the boat was gone.

Lucky for me, Joey called when the Hoosier State was at a bad spot for shooting. Near the bridge is a utility line of some sort that crosses the river below the sidewalk level. It can get in the way of some decent shots.

As I was waiting for the Hoosier State to get closer, the Drema G. Woods exited the Kanawha to my right, so I got this shot.

The Hoosier State is 48 feet wide, and its hull goes nine to nine and a half feet deep in the water. So, it has to push some water out of the way when it moves, creating these waves.

The design of the Hoosier State's pilothouse has a big window in front of the guy doing the steering,and there's a gap in the center console, allowing him a pretty good view of the front of the boat below him.

But where is he supposed to put his feet when he wants to lean back and take it easy for a few seconds?

As the Hoosier State got closer, it came out of shadow and into the golden sunlight, as you can see in these two pictures.

I saw Joe on the boat as it neared the bridge, and as it went under he shouted up to me that the new AEP boat Mike Weisend was on its way down and should be there in 30 minutes.

We shouted some stuff back and forth before the boat went under the bridge. The last shot I got was of this deckhand.

Down at the car, I bribed Joey with the promise of his favorite sandwich from Subway if he wouldn't complain about my going up the river a few miles to look for the Weisend. He agreed. We went up as far as Cheshire, but we didn't see it. On the way up, we passed the Kyger Creek and Gavin power plants. I told him some about the pollution equipment on them and of how coal-fired plants still leave a lot of stuff behind in the form of coal ash and scrubber sludge that has to be disposed of.

Joey got his sandwich, and I got home to work on editing the pictures. During a Facebook conversation with Joe Kincaid, I was told that some guys on the boat heard sires of emergency vehicles crossing the bridge, and they thought I was as a jumper. I told them the sirens came from a police car and a firetruck escorting a pickup full of cheerleaders. And it's not like I haven't been mistaken for a jumper before.

So that was my excitement for the evening. My one regret is that after the Hoosier Stat exited the Kanawha and as I was crossing the Silver Memorial Bridge, I could have gotten a good shot of the Hoosier State lightboat with Point Pleasant in the background. But the light was fading, my camera was in its bag and I didn't want to take the time to slow down on the bridge, as the traffic that was a quarter of a mile behind me might not notice the slow speed I would have to be going.

Perhaps someday the opportunity will present itself  again.