Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Fun with math

Yeah, that's right. Having fun by playing with numbers. It's what I do.

Remember this photo of the Sandy Drake from two days ago?

When I took it, I noticed how big the piles of coal in the barges were. The ones closest to the boat especially looked big. If you look at the depth marker on this particular barge, you'll see that the barges is loaded to almost 11 feet deep.

The Corps of Engineers is required to maintain a nine-foot-deep channel in the Ohio River, although in practice it maintains 12. So, most times you see a loaded barge in summer, when the river is at its lowest, it's loaded to nine feet.

But the river was running a few feet high last weekend, and in times like that companies try to get a little more coal -- or a lot more coal -- onto each barge.

An empty barge drafts about two feet (more or less) and a loaded barge nine feet. A rule of thumb is that a loaded coal barge hauls 1,500 tons, so each foot of coal in a barge is roughly 200+ tons. If you load it to 11 feet instead of nine, you can get an additional 400 tons of coal on there. That's about 28 percent extra cargo with one boat and one crew.

To verify that, do the math. A coal barge is about 195 feet long and 35 feet wide. That's 6,825 cubit feet per foot of draft. Double that for the two extra feet of coal and you have 13,650 cubic feet. A cubit foot of water weighs about 62.43 pounds. Multiply13,650 by 62.43 and you get about 852,169 pounds, or about 426 tons of displacement.

After I did the math, I wondered what it must be like for a pilot to steer all that coal on a boat with a boat like the Sandy Drake, which has less than 2,000 hp, I believe, as opposed to a 6,000-hp boat like some of the newer ones. But that's one of many questions I would like to ask people in the river industry, top to bottom, should I ever get the chance again.

ONE MORE THING: In winter, when Crounse and other companies load barges down like this, a lot of ice builds up on the head of the tow. A heavy barge sits lower in the water, and when there are waves driven by wind or current, water splashes up onto the front of the barge and freezes. I've seen and photographed several instances of that, and I'm always glad I'm not the guy who has to go out there and get that ice off of there, if anyone ever has to.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Ashland in Paraguay

A few days ago I mentioned a photo of the former towboat M/V Ashland now running on the Parana River in South America as the IB San Lorenzo. Here, courtesy of a pilot of that boat and a contact in Kentucky, is a photo of the old boat running strong.

Thanks to Doug Rosas and Barry Griffith for the picture.

Several boats that once ran the Ohio have found new life in South America. It sure beats the scrapyard. Adam and I have conversations sometimes about how the industry will change over the next few decades and how many of the boats we see on the river now will have new names and new rivers to run when he gets to be my age.

Adam and I are probably the only father-son duo in West Virginia who, if money were no object, would travel to South America to look for the Ashland, the Pamela Dewey, the Allied-Ashland, the Aetna-Louisville, the Robert P. Tibolt/Indiana, the Orco/Ohio and others. Okay. There may be one or two others, but there can't be very many of us.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Moving again

You might know that when I started seeing boats on the Ohio River again after several weeks of relatively little traffic, among the first I would see would be the M/V Lee Synnott and a Crounse boat.

I saw both up near the Robert C. Byrd Locks and Dam yesterday while I had my older son, Joey, in the area for a lesson in family history.

Here are a few pictures.

Towboat traffic has been down lately partly because the coal markets have been in a down cycle. Mild weather in the first half of the year kept down the need for electric power, and in that time utilities maximized the use of natural gas, which has seen prices fall thanks to drilling in the Marcellus and Utica shale regions.

There are several indications coal use at power plants is up. For one thing, gas-fired generation was running at or near capacity before the summer heat wave hit, leaving coal to pick up the slack. Here is more information, taken from the quarterly earnings report from Arch Coal:

U.S. coal consumption for power generation declined 75 million tons through the first half of 2012, and could decline by more than 100 million tons for the full year.  However, U.S. coal generator stockpiles most likely peaked in May and could decline meaningfully by the end of the year. 
Contributing to the rebalancing of the U.S. coal market are recent favorable weather trends, increased U.S. coal exports, higher natural gas prices and significant domestic coal supply reductions.  ...  
"In May, U.S. coal stockpiles reached record levels, with coal burn down significantly in the first half of the year," said (Arch Coal CEO John W.) Eaves.  "Summer has arrived, however, bringing heat, power load and increased coal burn.  With improving coal demand and ongoing supply rationalization, we could end the year with domestic stockpiles below 175 million tons, the level at which we entered 2012."
Also yesterday, I saw the Amber Brittany -- twice -- but at neither time was I in a spot to get a good photo. And Joey, who hates towboat chasing, was with me, so I let the Amber Brittany go. Too bad. The boat has nice lines and a really nice color scheme.

We saw several other boats, too. Maybe the towboat drought is over.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Something to see by the river ... again

The towboat drought is over. Today I saw several boats out on the Ohio, and I even managed to get a few photos. I'm still going through them,  but here's one to whet your appetite until I can do some editing. This is the scene along the Ohio River at Catlettsburg, Ky., shortly after dark this evening.

More to come.

What a week

There hasn't been much posting this week, but it's not been from lack of trying.

Early in the week, when I went down to the river, there wasn't much going on. No traffic, few recreation craft, almost no one fishing. Just ... very little.

On Wednesday, I had this great plan to get some photos of the tugboat Mr. Russell as it passed through my area pulling one or more barges up the Ohio River toward the Mon. I figured the tug would pass Huntington around the time I got off work.

But we were late getting the paper out. On the drive home, I got caught in one of those inexplicable traffic jams that are common in Charleston WV. You're driving along at or about 10 mph above the posted speed limit (in the Charleston area, usually the second, mainly for self-preservation) and traffic slows to a crawl. You move along at 5 to 10 mph for a few miles until suddenly, for no reason, everyone returns to normal speed, and you see no reason for traffic to have slowed down at all.

When I got home, there was a family matter to take care of. By the time Adam and I got out of the house, we didn't get to the riverbank until 8 p.m. We drove up the Ohio about 15 miles and saw no sign of the Mr. Russell. It was getting dark, so we came home. Later I learned that the boat was locking through R.C. Byrd, about 30 miles up the river from us, at 8 p.m. Oh well.

Thursday evening, I was down by the river as a storm front moved through. There were great images to get, but I didn't have my good camera with me.

And Friday evening, after I made dinner, a downpour started.

I'm looking forward to getting something this weekend. There has to be one decent towboat come through while I'm down at the river. Or one person doing something interesting on a Jet Ski or a Sea Doo. Or one interesting sunset.

One can always hope.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The tugboat is back

A reader has alerted me that the tugboat Mr. Russell is back on the Ohio, currently in the Cannelton pool upbound.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

M/V Ashland --> IB San Lorenzo?

The old Ashland Oil towboat Ashland was sold to South America a while back. This looks like it may be it in its new colors and all. If you click on the link, you'll see that I asked for conformation, but when I compared this picture with one I took of the Ashland in the early to mid 1980s, they look like the same boat.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

From the lake to the river UPDATED

It's been a long, slow process, but a bike trail from Lake Erie to the Ohio River -- about a hundred miles in all - is in the works in Ohio.

UPDATE: Link was bad before. It should be fixed now. Sorry. And thanks to the reader who called it to my attention.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Little movement

Today I had to go out in the Huntington area and find some river traffic for a story I'm working on, and as usual lately I didn't see much. There was an AEP boat moving down the river pushing empties, but a boat pushing loads or loads tied up the bank are much more attractive photo-wise, especially if someone is on the barges.

There just hasn't been much traffic out there when I've been there. The slowdown in the coal industry is showing out there on the river, at least in the Huntington WV area.

Now that I've said that ...

No surprise

With the dry winter and summer here in the Ohio Valley, the Mississippi River is running low.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Fighting a barge dock

For nearly 40 years, I have written about how people in some neighborhoods or communities have resisted plans to build barge docks near their homes. In the 1970s and 1980s, it was opposition to coal loading docks. Since the mid-1990s, people in one neighborhood here in Huntington WV have been fighting a proposal to park barges along the Ohio River there. Yesterday the Huntington District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued the permit to build the dock, but the fight might not be over yet. Here is how the residents plan to continue the fight.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

American Queen, part 3

Here are a few more pictures of the American Queen from its stop at Point Pleasant, W.Va., on Sunday and shortly after it left. One is a repeat from Sunday night's posting, only it has been cropped and re-edited to restore the colors that got washed out in the original.

More to come, including photos and a chat with a riverlorian, who also happens to be a reader of this blog.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

American Queen, part 2

Here are three quickly edited photos from the American Queen today.

First, the boat docked at Point Pleasant, W.Va., as seen from Kanauga, Ohio.

Then Adam between the sticks, of course. First it was the Capt. John Reynolds, followed by the J.S. Lewis, Mountain State, Hoosier State, the Charleston and the O. Nelson Jones, along with some time behind the wheel of the Port Explorer. Now he adds the American Queen to his list.

Finally, here's the boat passing Addison, Ohio, with its stacks down and I believe its pilothouse lowered.

More to come later this week, probably.

American Queen, part 1

Adam and I went aboard the American Queen when it docked at Point Pleasant, W.Va., today. I have to write a piece for the State Journal web site and for the Channel 13 11 o'clock news. Maybe tomorrow I can have some pictures and stuff up here. Stay tuned.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

M/V Vernon C. Smith

Ingram sold the Vernon C. Smith and the William E. Porter to Amherst Madison recently. This evening the Vernon C. Smith passed Huntington and I got to see it with the new paint scheme and new stack logo. Here are a couple of pictures.

The camera battery was low, so the pictures are a bit blurry. Sorry about that.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

American Queen in Louisville

Want to see a great picture of the American Queen in Louisville? Then check out this one by Joe Schneid. I like it because it has more than just the AQ in it.

The good news is that the American Queen is on the Ohio River for the next month or so. You can find its schedule here.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A boat and a ridge

Two photos.

First, the Garry Lacey looks like it's gotten a new paint job.

And this one wasn't down by the river. It was taken up on the ridge as I drove to work on a foggy Monday morning at about 6:15 a.m. The power had been off since Friday evening. The night was hot and I couldn't sleep, so I woke early, got an ice water shower and went ahead on in to work.

I took a moment to get foggy sunrise photo. This was one of several.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Not much happening except bad news

I've been down to the river a few times lately. Not much to see, unfortunately. There doesn't seem to be much traffic, and when there is, it's when I'm not there.

On the other hand, from one end of the river to another, there seems to be a rash of drownings and such on the river lately. I don't know if there's a common denominator, but if these tend to happen in bunches, we appear to be in one of the bad times, so be careful out there.

On the other hand, I did see two kids using the rope swing that I wrote about the other day. They were with a guy who was fishing. While he watched the pole, the swung out over the creek and the backwater from the river. I don't do a lot of photography of other people's kids without the parents' permission, so I left my camera in the car. But it was nice to see.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

An overlooked bridge

It dawned on me today that there's a bridge here in the Huntington WV area that would have an anniversary this year if anyone particularly cared. That bridge is the Nick J. Rahall II Bridge, known locally by its old name, the West 17th Street Bridge.

The West 17th Street Bridge opened in 1967 -- 45 years ago. The bridge is a two-lane steel truss bridge connecting two four-lane highways. So, yeah, it can be kind of scary to get on at times.

Add to that both ends of the bridge are in areas that don't have much access for the general public on the river bank. Plus there's no sidewalk. I crossed the bridge Tuesday evening, and I saw a man walking across it. He was the first pedestrian I've ever seen on the bridge.

I have a few photos of the bridge, usually taken from far away. Here's one from July 1, 2010, when Adam and I chased the M/V Hoosier State up the river from old Lock and Dam 28 to a point about a mile and a quarter below the Robert C. Byrd Locks and Dam.

Some published sources say the bridge opened in 1968, but I want to think it was 1967. Either way, this year or next is an anniversary, but this is a bridge few people get excited about. It's not as photogenic as Huntington's East End bridge or the Roebling Bridge in Cincinnati or the new Blennerhassett Bridge near Parkersburg, W.Va. It's just a plain old bridge that does its job. It got a paint job and its new name in 1998, and that's the most exciting thing about it, I guess.

There is one good thing about the West 17th Street Bridge, though. When you're crossing from Ohio to West Virginia, you get a good look at the barges and boats at 311 Fleet. That's an area where Ingram boats drop off and pick up barges that usually haul coal that comes from docks on the Big Sandy River a few miles downstream. It's called 311 Fleet because it's at roughly Mile 311, or 311 miles below Pittsburgh. Usually I drive and Adam shoots several photos as we try to get a decent shot. And we'vce gotten some.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Low water on the lower Ohio

The Ohio River is near historic lows in the Paducah area.

Meanwhile, the lower Mississippi is in the, uh, same boat.

Crossing the bridge in a wind storm

Language alert ahead.

Here's one I found via Twitter. It's two people driving across the Ohio River bridge at Ravenswood, W.Va.,during Friday evening's storm. It looks like the bridge was in the process of being sandblasted and painted. And remember, there normally would be a couple of hours of daylight left when this was recorded.

Be warned: If the casual use of the f-word bothers you, you might not want to watch this. Or better, mute your machine.

Elvis is back in the building

Hey, folks, we have power back at the Ross house. It went off Friday evening when the derecho went through here at 70 mph or more. I knew it was coming, but the force of the wind still surprised me. At one point, I was glad I wasn't on a 3,000-hp boat pushing 15 empties downstream.

The electricity came back on at 1 p.m. yesterday while I was at work. I spent last night catching up on some cleaning and laundry, with more to do today after work. And I didn't realize until I took out the trash this morning how tired I was from all that had gone on the past few days. But I'm sure that's nothing compared to what the guys working on the power lines are going through.

Give me a day or so and I'll have the blog up and running again. Life comes first, you know.

Until then, here's a scene I saw at sunrise yesterday on my way to work. It's back away from the river, but it gave me something to look at before the day ahead.

Those two lines overhead are part of a 738-kilovolt transmission line connection two power plants or facilities near them, in case you're wondering.

So here's hoping everyone reading this got through the storm with minimal damage and problems.