Thursday, February 26, 2015

Mississippi River bridge closing at Cairo

Although it's over the Mississippi  River, the bridge that connects Cairo to Missouri is one of my favorites, mainly because it is so narrow and so long. I don't necessarily like driving over it. Even in a normal-size car, I don't want to meet a tractor-trailer coming the other way. It's a lot like the Ohio River bridge between Cairo and Kentucky in that respect.

Anyway, the bridge will close for a year while crews repair and strengthen it. The work will cost $3 million.

I've wondered how much it would cost to replace the Ohio River bridge at Cairo, considering the width of the river. Or even if it would be replaced if the old one had to close.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Catlettsburg, Ky. 2/22/15

There were a lot of ice chunks on the Ohio River here in the Huntington area yesterday. It looked like the river was flushing out a lot of ice that came from up north, as the temperature had been above freezing in daylight hours for a couple of days. But it's supposed to drop back down around zero a couple of nights this week, so we might get some more ice then.

I had to go out yesterday, so I swung by Catlettsburg harbor to see what was there. As usual for a Sunday, there was not a lot of activity, but I did get three interesting pictures.

First, a Marathon boat makes its way through the ice floes that come in waves. You have ice, then clear water. Then ice, then clear water. I'm not sure, but that might be the M/V MAP Runner.

Second, a couple of Ingram boats tied up across the river at McGinnis Inc. at South Point, Ohio. That's the Bill Berry in front. I'm pretty sure the Daniel T. Martin (formerly Jackson H. Randolph and James C. Justice) is behind it.

And third, a Crounse barge. I liked the reflection in the still water, the ice in the background and the fact we had a barge in a nice spot.

I'm looking forward to this week's temperatures about as much as I am to some overdue dental work, but that's the hand we've been dealt herein the Ohio Valley this winter. At least it's better than what we had last year.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Meanwhile on the ice front ...

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has a story about how ice is affecting river traffic on the upper part of the Ohio.

The Maysville Ledger Independent has a piece on how ice is affecting the ferry at Augusta, Ky.

And WLWT in Cincinnati tells about what's going on there with the ice.

A few more river ice pictures

When your assistant stays home and you absolutely have to get the picture, all you can do is keep your eye on the road -- or in this case, the bridge -- lower the window, hold the camera where you think you should point it and snap away. If you're lucky, you get one or two usable images. That's what I did this morning crossing the East End bridge here at Huntington, WV, to get an image of the ice on the river. I didn't get all of what I wanted, but you can see a marina on the West Virginia side of the river and you can see some of the ice on the river's surface farther out.

Last year's ice was thicker than this year's judging from what I saw along the shore. Another difference is that the river was a foot or two higher when it froze last year, so when it went down, it left big slabs of ice on the shore. This time the river was at or near normal pool, and I had to shoot these slabs from afar.

And in this view from beautiful downtown Huntington, here is the Mary Ellen Jones heading up the icy Ohio.

I don't know about you, but I'm ready for the thaw we've been promised for this weekend before the next chill sets in on Monday.

Two boats on an icy river

I saw something interesting when I went down to the river with my camera today. There was ice in the channel, and I saw the Ohio Valley and the Nashville both upbound pushing empties. First, I've never seen the two boats heading in the same direction back-to-back before, and when they have gone upstream, they've usually pushed loads. On top of that, when they went under Huntington's East End bridge, they used the channel on the Ohio side, not the main channel in the middle of the river.

Here's the Nashville, formerly the Valvoline, bringing up the rear.

And here's the Ohio Valley about to go under the bridge. The sun was in the wrong spot to get a good image of the boat without a lot of work.

The rest of these are what I got as I drove and chased the boats up the road. First, the two boats as seen fro the bridge. That's the Nashville in the center of the picture, with the Ohio Valley up ahead. It looks like the Nashville is following the path the Ohio Valley cut through the ice.

And here are three of the Ohio Valley, taken as I stopped my car on the highway to get some snaps before traffic came up behind me.

There was no place to park my car other than in someone's driveway, so these were what I could get, traffic and vegetation permitting.

Later, other river ice pictures from today.

Winter pics

I went down to the river this morning to get some ice pictures, and I saw a couple of sights, namely sea gulls resting on ice and two Marathon boats heading up the river with empties, which I assume means they are going to a dock to pick up some crude from the Utica shale in Ohio.

Pictures later. I have to earn some money first. Funny how that always gets in the way.

Wheeling suspension bridge closed

The Wheeling suspension bridge is closed for an undetermined amount of time because a cable snapped this morning.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Hooray for the Delta Queen

It has a new owner, and it could be back on the river next year IF it can get supporting legislation from Congress.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Train derailment in West Virginia

Off topic:

Today, with what's going on in Fayette County WV, is one of the few days I wish I was still in a newsroom. Having said that, take a look at this piece I wrote for The State Journal last spring about crude oil shipments through WV.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Lock and Dam 27

Back before there was the Ohio River as we know it today, and after there was the Ohio River in its natural state, there was the Ohio River controlled by a series of small locks and dams.

About one-third of the way down the river from Pittsburgh to Cairo, or one-half if you measure travel by the time you have to stop and make a lock, there was Lock and Dam 27 near the small incorporated community of Proctorville, Ohio.

Located at Mile 301.0, Lock and Dam 27 was one of four small wicket dams, also known as low-lift dams, that were replaced by the Greenup Locks and Dam at Mile 341 in 1961.

The low-lift dams were authorized by the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1909 to provide a nine-foot navigation channel for the entire length of the Ohio River, thus making the river navigable even in times of drought. The river was once described as being a mile wide (in flood season) and a foot deep (in summer).  While the old packet boats were said to be able to float on a heavy dew, that was not enough.

So Congress authorized a series of 54 locks and dams. Not all were built, and some were replaced in the 1930s, particularly those near Pittsburgh and those in what would become the pool of the Gallipolis Locks and Dam, which was built to improve navigation on the Kanawha River.

A lot has been written about steamboats of that era. Boats can be exciting, and some are still around. But dams are dams – boring old things that just sit there and don’t do anything exciting. But dams are what made the Ohio River as we know it.

I’m most familiar with Lock and Dam 27, so let’s take it as an example.

Here, in some old navigation charts, are dimensions, elevations and other numbers associated with Lock and Dam 27.

As you can see, the drop in elevation going from the pool above Dam 27 to the pool below was 6.4 feet, or a bit less than half of how deep Crounse Corp. loads its coal barges today. The dam used huge wood-and-steel members called wickets to hold back the river. The wickets were raised to hold back water when needed and were dropped to the river bed when they weren’t. When the wickets were down, boats could pass over them in a section known as the navigable pass.

When the Hannibal Locks and Dam was built in the Pittsburgh District, a section of wickets was preserved and put in display so people could see how the old dams worked.

There was also a section called the beartrap weir, which was used to control the upstream river level when minor adjustments were needed. And there were other wickets that dropped automatically when river levels allowed for it. That was called the Bebout weir.

Remains of the old machinery, more than a half century after they were taken out of service.
I don’t have a picture of Lock and Dam 27, but it was similar to Lock and Dam 28, which you can see here.

If you want a lot of detail, I recommend the book “Men, Mountains and Rivers”  by Leland Johnson. It’s a history of the Huntington District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It was published in 1977.

From “Men, Mountains and Rivers”:

The finishing touch at each lock and dam was the operations building and the neat frame, brick, and terra cotta homes adjacent to the lock, built for the use of the lockmaster and his chief assistant and their families. The lockmaster and his assistant were on twenty-four hour call; other operating employees lived nearby and commuted. Gardening was permitted, and great care was lavished on maintaining sturdy fences, well-tended buildings, and closely clipped gr4ass at the lock reservations. The reservations were a pleasant place to spend a lazy summer afternoon, and the first funds spent for public recreation in the Huntington District were invested in picnic tables and basic facilities at the lock reservations.

Greenup raised its pool slowly. Lock and Dam 27 was the last of the four in the new Greenup pool to be removed, work that was accomplished by the Dravo Corp. Below Greenup the Meldahl pool is 485 feet above mean sea level ( MSL), and the Greenup lift is 30 feet. Lock and Dam 30 at Mile 339.4 kept its pool at 490.5 feet. Lock and Dam 29 at Mile 319.0 at 498.5, and Lock and Dam 28 at Mile 311.6 at 505.6

Can you imagine the traffic on the river today having to stop at all four locks and do double cuts?

The powerhouse for Dam 28 is now a senior citizens center, and people live in the houses next to it. The Dam 29 property was acquired years ago by Allied Chemical and the buildings demolished. The last I knew of the Dam 30 powerhouse was decades ago, and I think it was the Greenup County school board office, but I don’t know if that’s still the case.

If I still worked at the Huntington newspaper and had access to its old archives, I could tell you more about the four old dams and when they were taken out of service, but I no longer have access to that information.

The Greenup pool, at 515 feet above mean sea level, is three feet higher than the old Dam 27 pool. Because of that, part of the lock remains. The upper and lower guide walls are still there for people to walk on or fish from. Part of the grounds are a public park. One of the old buildings now houses the offices of the Fairland Local School District. In the 1980s, I covered several school board meetings there in my duties as Lawrence County reporter for The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington.

On Oct. 2, 2008, the upper level of old Lock and Dam 27 was where I got my last photo of the Delta Queen on its final trip down the Ohio. I was not the only one at the park. I saw two boys, probably in their early teens, hanging around on the lock wall. They didn’t act as though they knew the significance of the boat passing them. Maybe they did, but they didn’t care as much as people like me. And this heron likely wasn't impressed, either.

The park at old Lock and Dam 27 has its visitors. I’ve seen markings on the ground for a middle school cross country meet. I’ve seen a man almost my age climbing a tree to recover a remote-control airplane. And as this picture shows, I have seen the boat ramp there used for at least one baptism. What this picture doesn’t show are two or three guys sitting nearby, doing their best to ignore the ceremony going on behind them.

Going back to the Leland Johnson quote above, I sometimes wonder what it must have been like living and working at one of those old dams. I guess I could go back down to Paducah and Golconda, assuming the lockmasters still live on site and assuming the Corps would even let me in, considering the post-9/11 security measures it has taken. There are pictures of maneuver boats out on the river, but I haven’t seen many pictures of living at an Ohio River lock and Dam from the age when the wicket dams kept the pool. Maybe I’m not looking in the right places.

It’s like many other things, though. I look through my old pictures and I am reminded of what I didn’t photograph with my little Kodak Instamatic back in the 1960s – the loafers at my father’s country store, by siblings and I taking in hay, the produce market in Huntington where the Big Sandy Superstore Arena stands today, my friends in that small community where we rode bikes and played basketball – and more. The old locks were like that, I suppose. A lot of people got pictures of the steamboats, but apparently not many wanted pictures of the locks themselves.

Lock and Dam 27 was taken out of service in 1961. I doubt that many people who worked there are still alive. A few, maybe. If anyone knows of any, I would like to talk to them.

The father of my onetime best friend, who passed away recently, was the final lockmaster of one of the wicket dams upriver. I hear he was the last person to lock the gate when it went out of service. In 1980, I saw the place and got some pictures. The paint on the wooden welcome sign was peeling and vandals had had their way with the buildings. The facilities leading down to the esplanade were overgrown with the brush and tree that take over everything in southern Ohio. My friend’s father passed away in the 1990s, I think, so his stories are gone.

The two old dams on the lower part of the Ohio -- Locks and Dam 52 at Paducah, Ky., and Metropolis, Ill., and Locks and Dam 53 at Golconda -- are still in service. Back in the 1970s, I think, "temporary" 1,200-foot locks were added to accommodate modern traffic. As things tend to go, temporary became permanent, as the Olmstead Locks and Dam has taken forever to be built.

Anyway, there it is, the very rough first draft of my first chapter on the old locks and dams on the Ohio River. This year or next I want to get down to Paducah again and visit Locks and Dam 52 again, as I did in 1986. And I would like to stop by Locks and Dam 53. Three decades gives a person time to sort his thoughts on what’s important and to see what and who has changed.

And I will continue to visit Lock and Dam 27, thinking about the pictures I can get and once in a while imagining what it was like in the 1920s through the 1950s.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

A cold day in February three years ago

It's past what should be my bedtime, but I found this tonight while looking for pictures from 2012.

Feb. 12, 2012, was a bitterly cold Sunday, but it was a great day for an open house aboard one of the older towboats working the Ohio River. That was the day in Point Pleasant that the M/V O. Nelson Jones was on public display as the towboat simulator at the Point Pleasant River Museum was named in Jones' honor.

Despite the cold, a lot of people turned out to tour the boat. When I was young, this was one of three designs that I remembered as being Ohio River towboats. The others were the Hillman boats such as the M/V Charleston and the box-on-a-box design, the most memorable of the bunch being the C.T. Jones, which I remembered as the Kathy R.

And that's about it. A good day for touring a boat, even if the day was a cold as today.

Crowdsourcing: Lock and Dam 27

A reader asked me for information on old Lock and Dam 27 at Proctorville, Ohio. I was going to send her some, but it might make a decent Ohio River Blog entry, too.

Here's where I want to try something different: I have drawings and dimensions and photos of what's left of the place, but does anyone else have something to contribute? Lock and Dam 27 was replaced by the Greenup Locks and Dam in or around 1961. Thus, the pool of people who used it or who worked there is probably pretty thin. But does anyone have memories of the place they would like to share, or even photos? I'll give you credit if it's something I can use, of course.

As of right now, I plan to write this between now and Saturday night and post it live Sunday morning.

If anyone can help with this, I thank you.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

A new river fan (confirmed)

I had to be in town yesterday afternoon. My granddaughter, who turned 2 last week, was with me. We saw a boat heading upriver, and we went to a spot to get a picture. This is what we saw when we got there:

I placed my girl on a large rock and told her to sit still while I got her picture with the bridge in the background. Being a two-year-old, she naturally ignored what I said and did what she wanted. She found a stick and tossed it in the river. Then came another stick. And another.

After a few minutes of this, I told her it was time to leave and I would carry her to the car. She walked instead. She got almost to the top of the hill when she saw a rock. She picked it up, thought about it for a second and walked back to the river's edge.

Okay, so she doesn't have her major league pitching form yet, but she has plenty of time to develop it.

I took me a while to get her away from the river. Actually, it took me a while before I realized I would have to carry her to the car, as there was no way she was walking away from the river voluntarily.

This is the fourth or fifth time I've had my granddaughter down at the river in the past year or so. Each time she has found another way to enjoy her time there. It looks like we have another generation of people who like to be near the river's edge. And there's nothing wrong with that.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

July 2009 (Part 2)

Here's the second part of the look back at July 2009.

This is from July 16. Pardon me if I still call it the Gallipolis Locks and Dam instead of the Robert C. Byrd Locks and Dam, but it's my favorite, I grew up on the Ohio side near it and, well, Robert C. Byrd didn't have anything to do with it.

Here are two from July 19. The first is a Crounse boat heading down the Ohio at Huntington. The second shows two people on a personal water craft (JetSki is a registered trademark). I think they're enjoying the Crounse boat's wake. One thing I learned was to set my camera on shutter priority instead of aperture priority when trying to get this kind of shot.

On July 20, I was at Catlettsburg, Ky., when I saw one of my favorite boats heading down the river. The Tri-State was the first of two Ashland Oil boats I got to ride for a day.

Nine days later, in a medium rain, my older son, Joey, held the umbrella while I got pictures of the Tri-State on an upbound trip.

Marathon sold the Tri-State a few years ago, and it operates under a different name down south. I kind of miss it, although it helps when I see the nearly identical Gene Neal every now and then.

On July 30, I saw what I think was a crew change for the Mountain State.

And far from the river, I saw this critter on the road in front of my house. It's not a river picture, but it does remind me of my life in recent months.

 I don't know why.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

July 2009 (Part 1)

Looking back, the seventh month of July was a pretty good one on the river. There were new boats, this blog was new, there was a lot to explore and I had more time, less stress and fewer responsibilities than I do now.

So why not look back at that month and what made it good? That will take two posts, with the second one coming tomorrow.

On July 1, Adam and I caught the AEP Mariner coming down the river. I think it was the first time he had seen the boat, and I'm pretty sure it was the first time he got a good look at the new boats AEP was putting into service.

On July 3, I saw a horde of ducks and ducklings, with one young one catching my eye with how she walked around like she owned the place.

On the Fourth of July, I took the boys up to Point Pleasant for a boat ride. First we stopped to see the Bill Stile at a spot where Campbell used to park a lot of barges.

The excursion boat took us up the Kanawha, where we saw these three Amherst Madison boats, formerly owned by Ohio River Co., tied up and temporarily out of service. The Ohio and the Indiana are now in South America. The Pennsylvania has been renamed the O. Nelson Jones.

A week later, on July 11, I saw this AEP boat whose name I don't remember coming down past Huntington.

The next day, I was at a boat ramp when I saw this turkey vulture in a tree. Around that time, there was concern that black vultures were moving into the area and might push the turkey vultures out. Adam and I might have seen the carcass of a juvenile black vulture along four-lane U.S. 35 near Jackson, Ohio, that summer. That was the last I recall hearing of the invasion of black vultures, as all the buzzards I've seen around here have been of the turkey vulture variety.

From what I hear, turkey vultures locate carcasses through smell, while black vultures rely on eyesight. And black vultures are not above killing live animals. But that's something we apparently don't have to worry about here in the Greenup pool.

And on July 16, I saw these two Ingram boats tied together heading down the river toward Huntington. IT looks like one was pushing and one was deadheading, at least on this part of the journey.

I could have included a picture of a catfish that was maybe four or five feet long. Actually, its carcass that was on the water's edge near this shooting spot, but some readers might not appreciate it.

Tomorrow's entry wraps up the look back at July 2009.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

AEP river ops financials UPDATED

American Electric Power is one of the few large towing companies on the Ohio River whose stock is publicly traded. Thus, it must make public disclosures of financial information that privately held companies do not.

AEP released its fourth-quarter and year-end financial results last week. Here is one paragraph from the news release:

Operating earnings from AEP River Operations for fourth-quarter 2014 and the year increased compared with the same periods in 2013 by $8 million and $37 million, respectively, primarily due to improvements in barge freight demand.

In the financial tables, we see that fourth-quarter earnings were $32 million, up from $24 million in the fourth quarter of 2013. For the full year, earnings were $49 million, up from $12 million.



Last week AEP executives had their quarterly conference call with securities analysts. AEP's river operation MEMCO came up. Here is a transcript of that conversation as provided by

Analyst: Was 2014 a good year or 2013 a poor year?

Brian Tierney, AEP chief financial officer: It's a combination of both. But 2014 was a good year primarily we're starting to see earnings capability from the tanker barges. You know we also had a good grain season that continues. But at the tanker -- our entry into the tanker barge business has been successful.

Analyst: But I think Nick's (AEP CEO Nick Akins) initial statement hit the nail on the head; '13 was not a good year and '14 was a good year.

Tierney: So, '15 may be split the difference. We like to see it continue like '14 was and as Nick said we're getting higher margins from some of the tanker barges that we have. And we anticipate that we'll continue to grow that part of the business where we get the higher margin.

Crew change for the M/V Yvonne Conway

I mentioned recently that I was down at the river to watch crew change for the Yvonne Conway. It was a freezing rain that morning. I had to be very careful where I walked and where I stood because of the ice. I overheard some Crounse employees say they had seen some accidents on the way to Huntington. I didn't ask, but I assume they came up from Maysville, as they were driving a van with the Crounse name on the door.

Here are three pictures that I shot one-handed while holding an umbrella in the other hand.

First, the boat itself. This was probably as close as I've been to this particular boat. I could be wrong, though.

Next, while Crouse was doing the crew change -- I think three got off and three got on -- a Coast Guard boat came down the river, after which it was loaded onto a trailer and trucked away.

I was on this boat or one like it many years ago. The Coast Guard took me along on a quick tour of what they look for on the Ohio between Huntington and the Big Sandy, and we went up the Big Sandy as far as the (now) Marathon refinery.

Finally, three people board the Yvonne Conway and, I assume, report to the captain, stash their stuff in their cabins and do whatever it is they do.