Thursday, February 3, 2011

29 barges

Today, I got a message that the mv. Lee Synnott had passed Huntington's West 17th Street bridge with 29 barges, upbound for Point Pleasant, W.Va. That would be the biggest barge tow I'd seen since I saw an AEP boat pushing 30 empties in 1988.

Naturally, Adam and I had to go look for the Synnott. The question was which side of the river we should look on. I chose the Ohio side because once you get past a certain point, there are more places to see the river from that side than from the West Virginia side.

We headed up the road and found the Synnott a mile or so below Athalia, Ohio. We pulled off the road and looked at the boat and its tow through the trees on the river bank. We saw a National Marine boat on the other side of the Synnott. We figured it was deadheading and would help the Synnott through the Robert C. Byrd Locks and Dam.

The locks at Ohio River dams are built to accommodate one boat and 15 barges, or one boat and 16 barges if one barge is tied to the side of the boat. That's why an oversized tow is unusual on the river, and that's why the smaller boat -- I think it was the R.H. Beymer -- was tagging along with the Synnott. When they to got R.C. Byrd, the smaller boat would take some barges and the Synnott would take the rest.

Adam and I headed to the park at Athalia (Mile 296.8 or thereabouts). The river was up, so the beach at the foot of the boat ramp was under water. As we walked back up the hill, we saw a van parked beside our car. As we walked over to the park shelter and picnic tables, the woman in the van got out. She wore an Ingram Marine jacket.

We talked, and she said she was looking for a place to see the Synnott. She had seen it down the road and wanted to get a better look. Her husband is a leadman on another Ingram boat, the William E. Porter, and he had told her about the Synnott's tow.

So we waited at Athalia. Adam and I knew getting a decent photo would be a problem because the trees on the river bank would partially block our view. But we did get a few snaps as the Synnott came by.

From there we went up Route 7 through Miller and to the old road over the hill from the new one. We found a good place to see the river and noticed that it was one of our stops on July 1 last year when we chased the Hoosier State from Huntington to R.C. Byrd.

The woman, whose name we did not get (she later wrote a message on a previous post) stayed with us and watched the Synnott pass. Then she had to get home before we went a little bit up the road, to a spot where we could see the boat enter the bend at Crown City, Ohio.

Adam and I got our shots there and went on about the other business we had to do. He needed a haircut and some new shoes before the next day, when he and three other fifth graders at his school would go to Charleston and be legislative pages for a day.

Here are a few of the photos we got.

Approaching Crown City.

Turbulence behind the twin propellers.

Above Athalia, the Synnott encountered the Paula Ruble, downbound with 16 barges. It made me wonder how much room here was on the river, or if they choose this point to meet.

This photo is not of good quality because I had to zoom in then crop it way down. It shows two deckhands on one of the empties, looking like they're about to start a pump.

Yep, they had a pump.

The Synnott and the Beymer.

Approaching the bend at Crown City. The sun was about down, and it had gone behind some clouds before setting. The ambient light really was a blue-gray.

I might post some more photos over the weekend. It depends on what I think of them after they've sat and  marinated overnight.

And still I wonder, why? Why use one line haul boat and a smaller one deadheading instead of two larger ones?

"That was a big tow"

Thus spoke Adam after we had spent some time chasing and photographing the Ingram towboat Lee Synnott as it pushed 29 barges up the Ohio River through our area. We spent part of the time with someone else who wanted to see it. She said her husband is a leadman on the William E. Porter, and he had called to tell her about this big tow coming up the river.

We got some photos, but they will take a while to go through. I should post them late tonight or sometime tomorrow.

And thanks to C.R. Neale for tipping Adam off to it.

For what it's worth, the biggest tow I ever saw on the Ohio was 30 barges back in May 1988. An AEP boat was turning from the Ohio up into the Kanawha River pushing that many. I got up on the old Shadle Bridge and snapped a few pics, naturally.

But this 29-barge tow was pretty big, too.

Winfield Locks and Dam

Last fall, on the day before Thanksgiving, I ran over to Charleston to interview two executives of Madison Coal & Supply for a freelance article I was doing. Then I had to get to Ohio to see some of my wife's family who were in from far out of town for the holiday. On the way, I stopped at the Winfield Locks and Dam on the Kanawha River to get some photos should I ever need them.

Those of you familiar with the Robert C. Byrd Locks and Dam -- formerly known as the Gallipolis Locks and Dam -- will notice how the two structures look alike. Both were built during the Depression, but that's not the only connection. Gallipolis was built as part of an improvement project on the Kanawha to replace the older dams -- low-lift or wicket or whatever you want to call them.

The locks are on the other side of the river. These were taken from the Winfield side, where the hydroelectric plant and a fishing area are. Here's one taken from the fishing area.

Here are some markings that I assume are elevations above mean sea level.

As I was about to leave -- I wanted to see some kids, the light wasn't the best and I wanted to get in out of the cold -- I saw the mv. Bill Stile leaving the main lock downbound. Yes, it exited the lock and had to make a sharp turn to the right or starboard or whatever.

As I said in an entry last night, I'm going back to the Winfield dam when the weather is warmer and the scenery is greener. I hope to do that with several dams on the Ohio, too, especially the ones that are closer to Huntington but are normally out of my normal range.

Maybe the Corps of Engineers will let me inside the security areas to get some decent photos.

As I sit here and write this, I think, man, I love doing this blog.