Saturday, December 31, 2011

Good-bye to an old friend

There comes a time when you have to let some things go, no matter how comfortable you are with them, how much you liked them or how much you want to hold on to them forever. Such was the case this week in our family with a car we have had for six years.

Our 2005 Ford Escape – probably the best car I ever owned – was totaled in an accident. There was too much damage to the body and the suspension for it to be repaired, so State Farm bought it from us for an amount that was more than I expected.

Adam was hoping he could learn to drive in this car, and he wanted to keep it forever so he could enter it in car shows someday as an everyday car that people used to drive – like the 1965 Ford Fairlane we see from time to time.

This car was a good one. It was better in the snow than my 1996 Jeep Cherokee. It was a joy to drive, too. It handled better than the two Volkswagen W Sciroccos and the VW GTI I owned in the 1980s and 1990s.

Adam and I took the Escape on many of our river expeditions. We drove it to Rising Sun, Ind., to attend the christening of the M/V Hoosier State. About six weeks later, we used it to chase the Hoosier State up the Ohio River, from Huntington, W.Va., to the Robert C. Byrd Locks and Dam. We drove it in pre-dawn hours to get photos of bridges at sunrise. We drove it onto the ferry at Augusta, Ky. Yeah, we drove it all over the place.

Hannah’s Adam's older sister learned to drive in it. For a few months, it was the only vehicle in a family in which three people had jobs. Adam wanted to drive it, too, and he hoped it would be his when he turned 16.

But cars wear out. About a year ago, repairs started getting expensive. I wanted to keep the Escape running as long as I could, seeing as how it was paid for.  But you have to let some things go. I was debating what to do with the Escape when the accident happened. No one was hurt, by the way, so all we lost was a car.

This was the second vehicle I’ve owned that got up to 200,000 miles. But both because too expensive to maintain at about 180,000 miles. Lesson learned. I doubt that I will keep another vehicle to 200,000 miles now. The cutoff will probably be around 175,000.

We really liked that Escape.  We already a have its replacement. It’s not a Ford, and I can tell you the replacement does not handle as well as the Escape.  There was something about that car that made it the right car for our family at the right time. We already miss it.

(Photos: The Escape parked along the access road to the navigation light and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers boat ramp at Lacy Lane, Mile 287.5. And the odometer reading as Adam and I removed the license plate and personal belongings from the Escape at the body shop were the repair estimate was made.).

Friday, December 30, 2011

M/V Jackie Englert et al (updated)

This morning Adam and I did something we haven't been able to do for a while. We chased a towboat up the Ohio River. We left home looking for one boat, but we ended up chasing three.

I noticed on Vessel Locations that the Crounse boat Jackie Englert was in the area. We'd never seen it, although we had seen its twins -- the Paula Ruble, the Linda Reed and the Janis R. Brewer. We found the Englert at South Point, Ohio, but not until we noticed it was a little ahead of the Linda Reed and the Nancy Sturgis, which were traveling together while pushing a tow of 15 barges.

We got our best views from up on Huntington's 6th Street Bridge.

First the Englert, with the Sam M. Fleming downbound.

I guess someone has to souge the boat.

The Sam M. Fleming ...

And the Reed and the Sturgis together, both pushing.

There are more Crounse boats Adam and I need to see. Someday, maybe.

UPDATE: It was fun to be out there on the river again, checking times boats go through locks and calculating where they are and where the best place would be to see them. The weather was okay, but I miss doing this in 90-degree summer heat with green trees and blue water.

Top pictures of 2011, part 4

There come special occasions that you remember, like when you were 11 years old and a guy offers to let you steer his boat in a sternwheeler parade. What, that didn't happen to you when you were 11? Well it did with Adam this year. Our thanks to Steve Hutchison of the Port Explorer  who let Adam steer his boat, and to Jack Fowler of the Point Pleasant River Museum for arranging it.

I couldn't select just one photo from that day, so I chose my five best. Here they are.

Top pictures of 2011, part 3

The countdown continues ...

Number 4 is from Gallia County, Ohio, at about Mile 286.5, where you can see flood water from the Ohio River covering part of normally busy Route 7.

The next day and across the river a half mile up, the double yellow line of Route 2 disappears at Glenwood in Number 3. This is where the river normally covers a major road first in this area.

Number 2, after a day of open house and giving tours, the crew of the M/V Charleston of AmherstMadison goes back to work.

Next up, 1-1-1-1-1.

Top pictures of 2011, part 2

I didn't realize until I was reviewing my photos from 2011 that I didn't make it very far down the Ohio River this year, but I did make a couple trips to the upper Ohio.

Back to the countdown ...

Number 8, the M/V William E. Porter at about Mile 302 on a nice afternoon in late fall.

Number 7, a stern view of the M/V Kentucky as it made a 180 at the mouth of the Big Sandy  River during a July 4th excursion for VIPs.

Number 6, the M/V D.A. Grimm making tow on a January day.

Number 5.5 (because it was several miles up the Kanawha River), the John Amos power plant on an October day.

Number 5, the M/V Hoosier State leaving the Kanawha River and preparing to head down the Ohio at sunset. I also put this photo on Flicker, and AEP linked to it on its Facebook page, getting me a lot of views.

Next up, 4-3-2.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Top pictures of 2011, part 1

Like everyone who has worked in a newsroom, I feel compelled to do some sort of year-in-review roundup. Last year I chose one photo from each month. This year is different. I started with a Top 10 list that grew to Top 15 and then Top 18.

I could have gone further, but we'll call it the Top 12, to be delivered in four installments. Yeah, the numbering is off, but that will be explained later. These all appeared on this blog or on my Flickr photostream.

So here we go, starting with ...

Number 12, two towboats on the Kanawha River. It looks like one was making the turn from the Ohio River into the Kanawha when another came to its aid.

Number 11, a heron in flight at the Robert C. Byrd Locks and Dam.

Number 10, a damselfly at the wildlife preserve at Greenbottom, in Cabell County, W.Va. This area is a wetlands that was expanded to mitigate for what was lost for construction of the lock canal at R.C. Byrd.

This particular wildlife area is a great place to photograph insects, by the way.

And Number 9, people at the public fishing area at the Belleville Locks and Dam.

This fishing area was added when the hydroelectric plant, at the right in the picture, was built. The fishing area used to be a weir made of some deadmen, and it was attached to the landward pier on the West Virginia side of the river.

To be continued ...

M/V Michael J. Grainger

Adam and I saw the Michael J. Grainger at about Mile 302 today.

An hour or so earlier, we saw that the Grainger had overtaken what I think was the Jean Akin at around the East End Bridge (Mile 305). The Akin was moving pretty slow.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Hannibal Locks and Dam

I got this one on a very hazy day back in July. This is the Hannibal Locks and Dam on the Ohio River. I was crossing the bridge below the dam from Ohio (left) to West Virginia (right). Traffic was light, so I was able to stop for a few seconds and grab this shot. I believe that's the towboat D.A. Grimm of Campbell Transportation leaving the locks upbound.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

More Silver Bridge memories

As mentioned before, I found an old issue of The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington from December 1987 in which I had written several stories pertaining to the 20th anniversary of the Silver Bridge collapse. The paper is in pretty bad shape. And I don’t want to run afoul of copyright laws, even if the paper was not on line in that era.

So here are a few quotes that people gave to me as I was reporting the story.

“It passes through my mind pretty often. I had a dream last night, like I pulled up on the bridge and started across the water and there wasn’t a bridge there.” – William Edmondson, of King, N.C. Edmondson was driving a truck across the bridge when it fell. He went to the bottom of the river, got out of the truck, came to the surface and was rescued.

“I recall families coming in and we’d naturally have to tell them that person wasn’t there and we did hope they were on the other side of the river in Holzer Hospital. … I recall one lady who came in ande was looking for her husband. We had to tell her he wasn’t  there and hopefully he was on the Ohio side. Quietly, she was crying. She left the building. We tried to console her as much as possible.” – Betty Martin, a nurse at Pleasant Valley Hospital in Point Pleasant, W.Va., at the time. The woman looking for her husband later learned he died on the bridge.

“None of our local people gave us any trouble. … It was the New Yorkers and all that was a pain in the butt. I ran one New Yorker out of town, for the New York Times.’’ – Andy Wilson, at the time the Civil Defense director for Mason County, W.Va. Wilson said the Times reporter hired a small boat to take him out to a recovery barge to take pictures. Wilson said he sent someone out to arrest the reporter, whose name he could not recall. Wilson said a state trooper opened the reporter’s camera and exposed all the film canisters the reporter carried. Wilson told the reporter he could leave the area or check into the county jail.

“I was standing out front working on a car, heard this loud noise, like a sonic boom. The bridge was just shaking like a snake. It let go. Of course, everybody was running around in a panic. Nobody could believe it fell. I couldn’t, myself.” – Bill Joe Evans, who had bought the Sohio station near the Ohio end of the bridge a few months before the collapse.

“That’s all you heard everywhere you went, for weeks and weeks. It was continual discussion through Christmas and beyond. Everybody had family on there. It touched everybody.” – Herb Bush, who managed the Bob Evans Steak House near the bridge. The Steak House was the first restaurant Evans started, and it was a popular eating spot for truckers making the trip from the car factories in Detroit to points south.

There were more quotes and more stories told, but these stood out to me as I read that yellowing, crumbling newspaper.

Along with the stories I wrote was one by Dave Peyton, a columnist at the paper. He wrote about how he wanted to to go the disaster site that night but was told by an editor the paper had enough people there already. He said he was going anyway, so the editor suggested he go up the Ohio side, as the two Huntington papers had sent all their people to the West Virginia side.

Here is one paragraph from what Peyton wrote:
"On the Ohio side, an immense section of the bridge had fallen in a cornfield and debris -- a mixture of broken concrete, twisted steel beams and wrecked vehicles, lay strewn all the way to the water's edge. It was a visible symbol of what everyone knew it looked like under the Ohio River. And it was an indication to those who would be involved  in recovery efforts that their job would be horrendously complex and time consuming."

I may have more on the Silver Bridge in coming weeks as the people writing a book about the disaster visit the Point Pleasant area to sort through printed material, keepsake items from the disaster and new interviews with people who were on the bridge or nearby that night and in following days.

But for now, this should do.

Coming: More on the Silver Bridge

The other night I found some newspaper stories that I wrote in 1987 for the 20th anniversary of the Silver Bridge collapse. When I get the time and energy tonight, I'll type up some summaries and some quotes from the stories. Among other things, they explain why that New York Times reporter got into trouble while covering the recovery efforts, and there will be some remembrances by a truck driver who went to the bottom of the river with his truck but got out and was rescued.

An old school

When I drive the roads along the Ohio River, I sometimes look for buildings that might have been old country stores or old schools. Sometimes, they're the same building.

Today as I drove Ohio Route 7 in southern Gallia County, I looked at a couple of old buildings that were schools until early 1961 -- about 51 years ago. This first one was the old Swan Creek Rural School.

As you can see, it's a barn now. A similar school, on Bladen Road about a mile off Route 7, remains closer to its original condition. It was the old Bethel Rural School.

I'm kind of fond of these buildings because I attended the first half of first grade in one of these schools. They were three-room schools with grades 1 through 8. At Bethel, 1 and 2 were in the room in the back. One of the front rooms had 3-4-5, with the other holding 6-7-8. There was one teacher per room.

The Bethel school has all three chimneys standing, although you can't tell from this angle.

The principal marked recess beginning and ending by ringing a hand bell. Water came from a well that you pumped manually. The restroom ... well, at Bethel it was the outhouse up on the hill.

I don't know much about the architecture of these buildings, although I am told there were several of this design in Ohio. And I don't know when they were built, but I assume they've been empty longer than they were occupied.

Because I had Adam kind of late in life, I'm probably the last person who attended these schools who would have a child in one if they were open today and if we lived in that area.

Nostalgic? Do I wish my kids could have spent some time attending one of these schools? Not a bit. But I am glad I have some memories of them.

Monday, December 26, 2011

M/V Onward in 1947

This was referred to me by a blog reader named Robert about two years ago, so it's time it got another mention. It's a YouTube video, and the title says it's the towboat Onward at the Hillman Brothers Barge & Construction Co. yards in 1947, when it was owned by O.F. Shearer and Sons. The Onward was built in 1947. Today it's known as the Charleston and is owned by AmherstMadison.

Two boats

There wasn't a lot of boat traffic in the Greenup or the Robert C. Byrd pools today, at least from what I saw, I did see the M/V Wally Roller ...

... at about Mile 294 and the Nell ...

... at about Mile 281. Usually I see the Nell close to the mouth of the Kanawha River, but every now and then I see it downriver. A couple of summers ago, Adam and I saw it help the Chuck Zebula take a 25-barge tow through the R.C. Byrd locks.

Another hydroelectric plant coming?

Could another hydroelectric power plant be coming to an Ohio River dam, this time at New Cumberland? Perhaps so, as a company known as Hydro Green Energy LLC has announced plans to file an application this coming week to build such a plant.

Saturday, December 24, 2011


Here it is Christmas Eve, or as the calendar says, Dec. 24. A lot of us will be traveling or enjoying the next two or three days with family. But some of us will be working this weekend. In my early days as a newspaper reporter, I usually worked every Christmas so folks with families could enjoy the time off.

But some people may not have a choice. Someone has to keep the steel mills working, the power plants running, the hospitals ready to serve and the riverboats moving. I've read that at one time, the Ohio River Company boats stopped for a few hours on Christmas day to give their crews a little time off, but I don't know if anyone does that anymore.

Here are four towboat photos I've taken on December 25s of years past. I'll be with the wife and kids making a grandma run on Sunday, so I might get some more then. Until then, we'll be thinking of the guys on the river this weekend, mainly those who would rather be home.

Friday, December 23, 2011

2009 archives, part 6

Wrapping up this trip down Memory Creek with a few more pictures ...

Point Pleasant, W.Va., on New Year's Day. The two power plants are five to ten miles from the shooting spot.

The M/V George King. When Adam saw this boat, something clicked in his brain and he decided he liked towboats and wanted to learn more about them, just as he did about school buses.

The Jincy pushing and the Jean Akin deadheading southbound at the Robert C. Byrd Locks and Dam.

And finally, this. I can't remember where I saw it. But it must have been attached to a few things in its lifetime.

Got boats?

One more day of work, and then I have most (but not all) of next week off. Most of that time will be spent at home, doing exciting stuff like cleaning and getting some car repairs taken care of. But with a few days free, the wife might spring me to do some towboat chasing.

If you're on a boat passing through or near the Huntington area -- one that I could use a good photo of, which is most of them -- feel free to drop me a line in the comment section of any blog entry on here. I'll be checking them several times a day.

And if you see a guy in an odd place along the river stretching or bending in unusual ways trying to get a photo, it's probably me. If there's a skinny kid with him -- one who looks like he's going through another growth spurt -- it's Adam. Someone told me that Adam and I have a reputation along this part of the river. But that's okay with us.

May the dispatchers look upon us favorably.

2009 archives, part 5

From November 2009, here's the M/V Leonard L. Whittington passing Huntington with 15 coal loads, all lit up in crimson by the setting sun.

Around noon, one more 2009 archive post coming.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Coal and mercury

I work for a weekly business newspaper that focuses on West Virginia. For a while, we've been following the EPA mercury rules that were announced Tuesday afternoon. A story by our standout energy reporter Pam Kasey is here. For an Ohio perspective, check out this one from the Akron Beacon-Journal.

The new rule will accelerate the closure schedule of some older, smaller coal-fired power plants. In the case of one along the Ohio River -- Philip Sporn, at about Mile 242, give or take a couple -- the mercury rule means the plant will close by Dec. 31, 2014, according to its owner, American Electric Power. But the plant has been operating at minimal output in recent years anyway, from what I understand.

For what it's worth, AEP announced its accelerated closure schedule back in June. Some companies, such as FirstEnergy, are not talking about their plans.

I don't know how many news stories I've read this year about smaller coal-fired plants begin shut down before the end of this decade. Given ever-stricter environmental regulations and the age of these plants, it's just not cost-effective to retrofit them with scrubbers or other systems to cut down on the nasty stuff that comes out of their stacks.

 In a Wall Street Journal article from March 7, Michael Morris, then the CEO of AEP, explained it this way:

What we've done over the last number of years at American Electric Power is we retrofitted our larger units. Our largest plants are 1,300 megawatts; we have a 250 class, a 500 class, an 800 class and a 1,300-megawatt class. We've retrofitted the 1,300s, so we have gotten better efficiencies there.
But you get to a point where you look out at the timeline left of the station and you say to yourself, "We can't put any more capital to work there." So, when you look at our fleet, if you look at the 500-megawatt class, that's on the border. Anything below that is going to go. It's just going to go in its normal course. That will be affected by legislation, regulation, whatever comes out of the requirements at a state level or a federal level.

So the trickle of articles about smaller coal plants shutting down didn't surprise me any. If there was any surprise, it was that there are so many of them still operating.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

2009 archives, part 4

Two more.

First, a city of Huntington worker used a fire hose to wash mud off the lower levels of Harris Riverfront Park.

And later in the summer, Adam and I were on our way back to Huntington from a couple of hours in Portsmouth, Ohio. We had to pull off the road near Greenup, Ky., because the rain was so heavy. We stopped at Catlettsburg to see if any boats were there. When we looked down the river, we saw the wall of rain coming at us again.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

2009 archives, part 3

One of my favorite spots along the Ohio River shore is an old coal tipple that was used for a while in the 1970s but has long been out of service. As late as spring of this year, I think, some of the metal structure was still there, but I'm pretty sure it was removed this summer. Now the main things that are left are the deadmen where barges once were tied up.

Here are some pictures of how some of those structures looked before they were removed. I went for an artsy effect rather than my normal journalistic one.

Back in the 1970s, there were several coal tipples built along the river in my area. And there were several that were proposed and even permitted but were never built. Moving coal from the mine to the river by truck was a big deal, but I don't know if any coal-to-river tipples are in operation anymore from say, Parkersburg, W.Va., to Portsmouth, Ohio. I don't know of any active mines close enough to the river to make such a business feasible anymore, actually.

Monday, December 19, 2011

2009 archives, part 2

Three  more from 2009, with the general theme of hanging out.

First, on a warm April evening, these teens congregate at the theater at Harris Riverfront Park in Huntington. The river had been up and gone down, so the lowest levels of the park were covered in mud and wouldn't be cleaned until after Memorial Day.

Here, in August, is a guy in a motorized wheelchair feeding birds at the park.

I used to take old bread down there and give to the birds myself. Then I read that for ducks and geese, that's pretty much junk food. Pigeons, I don't know.

And here's one from June of that year, taken at Virginia Point Park at Kenova, W.Va., at the mouth of the Big Sandy River. Some mayflies found their way onto a spider's web. Pardon me if my mourning is subdued. I've had a couple of summertime day trips ruined by swarming mayflies.

2009 archives, part 1

I was looking for something and got an idea. Why not go way back in the archives to say, 2009, the year this blog started, and dig out some photos to show? Some of these you may have seen before. Some have not been put on line.

So over the next few days, I'll run two or three a day, as long as there's interest from either you or me. We'll have the usual blog stuff, too, but I just felt the need to look back a couple of years.

First, some photos from the Point Pleasant river festival that year. Here are a lot of sternwheelers tied up to the city's riverfront park ...

And here is a closeup of one, the Juanita.

I liked this boat in particular because in the early to mid 1980s I did a piece for the Huntington newspaper about the three remaining working sternwheelers on the Ohio -- the Lady Lois of Merdie Boggs in Catlettsburg KY, the Donald B down at Maysville KY and the Juanita of AEP at Lakin WV. Back then, a fellow by the name of Worthy Love worked on the Juanita as a deckhand of sorts.

The Juanita has since changed hands, and on this particular day I chatted with the fellow who owned it.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Three items in the news

Evansville's bicentennial isn't until March 27, but the celebration begins today.


An endangered species of mussel has been found in the Ohio River in western Kentucky.


A day or two ago, I mentioned a natural gas processing plant being built along the river near the town of Natrium, between the West Virginia cities of Moundsville and New Martinsville. Here's more from the Wheeling newspapers.

The mouth of the Kanawha

Adam and I went up the Ohio River to his grandma's house today. We didn't see much that we could photograph on the Ohio -- the boats we saw were in bad shooting spots or were obstructed. But we did see some on the Kanawha when we got to Point Pleasant. Here are a few.

The Norman L. Snodgrass

The Martha Mac

The O. Nelson Jones. This boat originally was the L. Fiore of the Ohio River Co. and later the Pennsylvania when it was acquired by AmherstMadison.

Adam said Vessel Locations indicates this would be the William E. Porter.