Sunday, March 27, 2016

Gone But Not Forgotten, Part 1: Ashland Oil marine operations

This is the first of an occasional series on boats, bridges and other parts of Ohio River life that have been left behind by time.

With the news that Marathon Petroleum is transferring its marine assets to MPLX at the end of this month, I got to thinking about what someone told me a long time ago. That was if Paul Blazer cane back from the dead to see his old company, he would need dental records to identify it.

The Allied Ashland was frequently seen in the middle and upper Ohio River before Ashland sold it. It was one of two 1940s-era boats that had three engines generating a total of 4,800 horsepower. The Allied Ashland and its sister boat, the Aetna Louisville, were renamed by their new owners and later sold to South America, where they work the Parana River.

Blazer was the founder of Ashland Oil and Refining Company, which became Ashland Oil Inc. and later just Ashland Inc. The reason I was thinking of him had to do with three boats -- the Nashville, the Ohio Valley and the Paul G. Blazer.

As best I can think of, those three boats are the last of the line-haul boats that Ashland Inc. had built. The Vavoline was first, in 1987. It was followed by the Paul G. Blazer and the SuperAmerica, although I can't remember now which was second and which was third.

In the mid to late 1990s, Ashland Inc. came under pressure from some investor groups to do some heavy reorganizing. As part of that, Ashland placed its refining and marketing operations into a joint venture with Marathon Petroleum. The joint venture, known as Marathon Ashland Petroleum, began business in January 1998, and the boats carried the MAP name. Barges built after that carried the MAP designation, although the older barges still said AO or AOI or even AO & RC.

The deal forming the joint venture allowed Marathon to buy out Ashland's interest, and that happened in 2005. The three boats still had their Ashland-era names, but the name of the operators as listed on the sides of the boats changed.

In 2011, Marathon changed the names of two of the boats. The Valvoline became the Nashville and the SuperAmerica became the Ohio Valley. That made sense, as Marathon had no reason to promote brands it did not own. The name of the Paul G. Blazer was not changed.

So up to now the boats have changed ownership twice in their nearly 18 30 years of operation, and they are about to change for a fourth time. If I had the Inland River Record on a DVD or something, I might be tempted to figure out if this is normal or not when compared to how often boats of a certain size change ownership.

We used to see the three boats all the time here in the middle part of the Ohio Valley, but not so much anymore. The newer boats -- the Detroit, the Kentucky and the Marathon -- are seen fairly often, as the three Ashland-era boats spend a lot of time on the lower Ohio or the Upper Mississippi.

I did see the Paul G. Blazer last month, but it has been a while since I laid eyes on the other two.

Next: Some of the former Ashland boats.