Saturday, December 30, 2017

Silver Bridge commemoration — photos

Here are a few photos left over from the 50th anniversary commemoration of the Silver Bridge collapse and the 46 people killed in it. The ceremonies were Dec. 15. I needed to wait until my article and photos were published in The Waterways Journal before I posted them here.

I posted several more a few days ago. You can find them here.

There was a reception at the Point Pleasant River Museum and Learning Center before the ceremony. Here Jack Fowler, right, the museum's executive director, talks to Tom Smith, West Virginia secretary of Transportation, about what caused the bridge to fall.

Several people from the West Virginia Division of Highways wore these hoodies to the ceremony. Afterward the guy who made them said I could order one for $25. If I have enough money left at the end of the month, I just  might.

Colors were posted by the West Virginia National Guard.

Attending the ceremony but not speaking was Bill  Edmondson, 88, from North Carolina. He was driving a tractor-trailer across the bridge when it fell. Edmondson went into the water and grabbed an object floating its way to the top and was rescued. His friend who was in the sleeper didn't make  it.

After the ceremony, the community was invited to a lunch and reception at a nearby church.

That evening, smaller observances were conducted in Point Pleasant and Gallipolis. Both were scheduled to begin around 5 p.m., which was the approximate time of the disaster. At Gallipolis, people could examine printed material from the collapse. They could also listen to a replay of news bulletins broadcast that night on WJEH radio in Gallipolis.

Here's a magazine article about the Silver Bridge. The full-page photo on the left is the late Dick Thomas. At the time of the collapse, he worked for The Gallipolis Daily Tribune. Later he worked for WJEH.

Tracy Brown, a district bridge engineer for the West Virginia Division of Highways, attended the evening ceremony in Point Pleasant and then ran over to Gallipolis, where was able to chat for a while with Kaitlynn Halley, executive director of the Gallia County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Brown is a Silver Bridge historian, and he was able to pick up a handout from the Gallipolis ceremony.

As a final note, let's put a couple of things in historic context. The Silver Bridge carried U.S. 35 across the Ohio River. It's said the late Bob Evans made his career from the bridge. Tractor-trailers coming from Detroit and heading south with new vehicles could pull two trailers in Ohio, but they could pull only one in West Virginia because the roads were so narrow and twisting. Evans built his Steak House near the bridge, and truck drivers could swap out trailers in his lot and get a meal in the process. The original steak house is long gone, a victim of management that had no use for or value in the company's history.

At the time the bridge fell, Ohio was working on rebuilding U.S. 35. It was replacing the part that ran through Gallipolis with a four-lane bypass that ended at the bridge. Here is how it looks today. Off to the left and out of the picture is a Speedway convenience store.

If I recall correctly, the bypass opened after the bridge fell. By the time the Silver Memorial Bridge opened on Dec. 15, 1969, entry and exit ramps were in place to allow seamless access to the bridge  from the new road.

For years, Evans would complain about how Gallia County had only three and a half miles of four-lane highway. It took until about 1992 for the rest of U.S. 35 in the county to be replaced with a four-lane road. Now it carries Evans' name.

So what does the Ohio side of the Silver Bridge site look like today? Like this.

This is how it looked on the morning of the commemoration ceremony. There is a roadside market and monument on the Ohio side, but they are up the road a mile or so at a rest stop.

And that's about it for now regarding the Silver Bridge and the year in review. Have a warm, safe and happy New Year's Eve celebration if you're into that sort of thing. Me, I'll be asleep.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Silver Bridge commemoration — thoughts and observations

Here are my thoughts and such before, during and after attending two of the three ceremonies in Point Pleasant, WVa., and Gallipolis, Ohio, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Silver Bridge collapse and the 46 people who died in it.

This is based on the article I wrote for The Waterways Journal that appeared in its Dec. 25 issue, but it is longer, as print has space constraints that pixels don’t. Footnotes are at the bottom. Please consider this part of a rough draft of something larger to come.

Photos from the day will be in the next blog post.

The Silver Bridge as seen on a postcard purchased in Gallipolis, Ohio, in the 1970s.

The communities of Point Pleasant, W.Va., and Gallipolis, Ohio, gathered the morning and evening of Friday, Dec. 15, to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Silver Bridge disaster.

At 4:58 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 15, 1967, a structural member of the bridge connecting the two communities failed and the bridge fell into the Ohio River, carrying 46 people to their deaths.

At 11 a.m. on the 50th anniversary, about 400 people — many of them with a family or personal connection to someone on the bridge — gathered in Point Pleasant on Sixth Street, which led to the bridge itself. Bill Edmondson, 88, a truck driver from North Carolina, who went into the river and was rescued, was one of them. (1)

A tent covered the street and heaters were in place to keep people warm. West Virginia’s two U.S. senators were in attendance, as was Brandye Hendrickson, acting administrator of the Federal Highway Administration.

The names of each of the 46 victims of the disaster was read aloud by Mayor Brian Billings. Martha and Ruth Fout from the Point Pleasant Museum and Learning Center rang a bell after each name.

“Out of ashes comes comes beauty, it is said, and the nationwide attention that the collapse generated drastically changed the way that we approach bridge safety,” Hendrickson said in her keynote address.

“The Silver Bridge tragedy propelled the nation into a new era of bridge safety, and it was made official the following year when Congress called for a national bridge inspection program.” (2)

At the end of the ceremony, a design for a floodwall mural at the bridge site was unveiled. Painted on the side of the floodwall facing traffic, the mural will show how the approach to the bridge looked from Point Pleasant. (3)

That evening, smaller ceremonies in both Point Pleasant and Gallipolis around the time of the bridge collapse also memorialized the victims. (4)

Many people talked about the immediate reaction to the disaster.

The Racine Locks and Dam, about 28 miles up the Ohio from Point Pleasant, was under construction at the time of the collapse. Dravo Corp., the general contractor for the project, sent two 50-ton derrick boats to help with the recovery effort. The M.T. Epling Co. of Gallipolis supplied two derrick boats also. The Huntington District of the Army Corps of Engineers sent the mv. Robert G. West and floating plant from the Marietta Repair Station to assist.

A navigation channel was opened Dec. 21. By then, 39 towboats with 178 empty and 202 loaded barges were waiting to transit the area, according to “Men, Mountains and Rivers,” the official history of the Huntington District.

The bodies of two of the 46 victims were never found.

At the Gallipolis ceremony, state Rep. Ryan Smith (5) noted there were three people whose deaths were linked to the Silver Bridge. After the bridge collapse, Ohio residents who worked at the Goodyear chemical plant at Apple Grove, W.Va., about 1.5 miles below the Gallipolis Locks and Dam, used small boats to cross the river to and from work. (6) Their path took them below the plant’s barge dock. One day in March 1968, one of the boats went around the upstream end of a barge moored there, lost power and was pulled under the barge by the current. Three men died. (7)

As Hendrickson noted, the memorial service marked how the disaster changed the nation’s bridge inspection program. Before the Silver Bridge collapse, bridge inspections often were usually two men with binoculars looking for maintenance problems.

The Silver Bridge’s fatal flaw could not have been detected that way. It was one of two bridges in the United States to be built with an eyebar suspension system. Instead of cables bearing the structure’s weight, the Silver Bridge used a system resembling a bicycle chain to hold up the bridge deck. One of the eyebar joints had a defect from the time it was built. The flaw was inside the joint and could not have been detected without taking the bridge apart. When the joint broke apart, the whole chain failed and the bridge fell into the cold waters of the Ohio. (8)

Now, all bridges are inspected at least every other year, and bridges with deficiencies are inspected at least once a year.

Replacing the river crossing at Point Pleasant received the highest priority from President Lyndon Johnson and others. Two years to the day after the Silver Bridge fell, the Silver Memorial Bridge opened to traffic. Unlike the old bridge, the new one was four lanes instead of two. And instead of placing traffic into downtown Point Pleasant, the new bridge connected with West Virginia about half a mile down the Ohio and on the other side of the Kanawha River. (9)

There was one other bridge of the Silver Bridge’s design, and it, too, was on the Ohio, at St. Marys, W.Va. It was known as the Hi Carpenter Bridge. After the Silver Bridge collapse, it was closed to traffic and dismantled. Eventually it was replaced with a bridge similar to the Silver Memorial Bridge, except it has a sidewalk. (10)

Part of the old Hi Carpenter Bridge remains. It connects St. Marys with an island that is home to a park and a wildlife refuge. Long-range plans call for it to be replaced by a modern structure.

One person at the ceremony who did not speak was Tracy Brown, a district bridge engineer for the West Virginia Division of Highways and a Silver Bridge historian. (11)

“There’s not a day go by that I don’t think of the Silver Bridge,” Brown said. He said he always tells his bridge inspectors that if they ever feel like leaving early on a Friday to remember what happened at Point Pleasant.

“This is the reason we do what we do every day,” he said. “We just do whatever it takes to prevent another Silver Bridge from happening, because failure is not an option.”
Brown said he has a video of the Silver Bridge collapse and recovery operations. He said he has every new employee in his office watch it.

“I hope that will help them understand what this job is and to get it right and do it correctly,” he said. (12)

(1) I was one of them. I wasn’t notified until mid-afternoon that my coverage of the day’s events would be needed. I was there because the bridge and its history have always interested me. I was 13 years old when the bridge collapsed. My family lived about 15 miles away. I was watching a sitcom rerun on TV when the news bulletin came across that the bridge had fallen. The event tore a big hole in the two communities, the way disasters tend to do. Six and a half years later, as a sophomore at Ohio University, the professor in my history of journalism class assigned us a long paper about either the history of a publication or looking at a news event as it was covered by media at that time. I chose coverage of the Silver Bridge collapse in print media. The day after the collapse, I remember standing on a pile of corn in the family’s corn crib thinking about the event and what it must be like to be there watching the recovery efforts. Every now and then I would check the TV to see if there were any updates.

(2) Before the ceremony, I was told that speakers were asked to not mention the Mothman legend. And none did. Organizers of the ceremony didn’t want the honoring of the victims to be diminished by bringing up something that had nothing to do with the collapse.

(3) Sixth Street no longer leads to the part of the floodwall where the bridge ramp went over it. Instead it ends at a small park noting the disaster and the people who died in it.

(4) The evening ceremonies in Point Pleasant and Gallipolis were scheduled to begin around the same time. I could attend only one, so I chose the one in Gallipolis, in part because I needed to see how people on that side of the river commemorated the event.

(5) My great-nephew.

(6) This was near where my family lived. I often watched them park their cars and walk to the river bank. They crossed the river in motorboats around the time a truck came from Goodyear to its river dock where barges were delivered one at a time. I don’t remember if barges were emptied or loaded there, but I’m thinking they were emptied. The dock consisted of two large structures known as deadmen. The truck ferried the men to the plant and back.

(7) This incident still draws out emotions among people who remember it. I plan to do some research on it soon.

(8) The parts of the Silver Bridge that were removed from the water and from the river banks were placed in a field along the Ohio below the mouth of the Kanawha and examined to determine the cause of the structure’s failure.

(9) I don’t know if this was the beginning of troubles for downtown Point Pleasant, but losing all that traffic couldn’t have helped. The downtown would have had its troubles anyway, just as central business districts in other cities have, but losing that volume of vehicles had to have accelerated the decline.

(10) The sidewalk gives a wonderful view of St. Marys.

(11) I’m saying this as a compliment: Don’t ask Tracy Brown about the Silver Bridge if you have only a few minutes. I talked with him by phone before the event, and it was a long conversation as a bridge engineer and a river nerd shared information they had gathered over the years. Someone at the place where I used to work told me once that I don’t engage in schmoozing. I engage in nerd bonding.

(12) The Silver Bridge was the beginning of a decade of disasters in West Virginia. In 1968 came the coal mine explosion at Farmington, which killed 78 people. November 1970 saw the crash of the plane carrying the Marshall University football team and boosters. All 70 people aboard were killed. Then in 1972 came the Buffalo Creek flood when a coal slurry impoundment dam burst, killing 125 people. There was the Tug Fork flood in early 1977. And in April 1978, concrete in a cooling tower under construction at the Pleasants Power Station near Willow Island failed, causing scaffolding to collapse and kill 51 construction workers.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Silver Bridge commemoration

Today's mail brought my Dec. 25 issue of The Waterways Journal. There on Page 12 is my article about the 50th anniversary commemoration of the Silver Bridge collapse on Dec. 15.

My scanner wasn't doing the page justice, and my handheld photos of the page weren't coming out so good, either. Here is a scan of the top of the page.

More on it tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Year-end wrap-up, part 3 of 3 (or 4 or more)

Here are a few photos that caught my eye as I was going through this year's collection. Versions of a few may have been posted on here before, while some weren't.

The M/V Marathon passing Huntington, W.Va., on Jan. 30.

And the M/V Hoosier State upbound past Huntington on Feb. 17.

Sunset behind Huntington's Ohio River bridge at 6th Street on Feb. 20.

Another shot of the M/V Tommy H in Pittsburgh on May 25.

We got to attend one christening this year, so it sticks with us.

And the M/V Amber Brittany on June 18.

And more to come.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Year-end wrap up, part 2 of 3 (or 4)

Back in June I saw some dredging work going on at the boat ramp at the mouth of the Guyandotte River here in Huntington. Here are some photos of that work.

The crane operator is Craig Boyd.

These two on deck are William "B.J." Smith and Dave Pauley.

The woman on the left is Rebecca Boone Rebekah Booton-Cost, site inspector for the Army Corps of Engineers.

My thanks to Brian Patterson of Amherst Madison for the photo IDs.

The dredging work was done by Amherst Madison for the Corps. Patterson tells me this is the last dredging work that will be done at this boat ramp, as another will be built at the park there next to the bridge crossing the Ohio River.

Last year, someone in the know in Huntington told me the new ramp will be of the self-cleaning variety. That's the kind with concrete walls extending out into the river. The walls have holes in them to allow the river current itself to clean out the sediment when the water is up.

That project is the responsibility of the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources. I tried contacting the DNR a couple of times last year about the status of this project, but I never heard back from them. That usually means something.

My contact in Huntington told me the old ramp will remain open for kayakers, canoeists and other people who launch smaller boats, while the new one will be the launch site for larger boats.

River news update

A quick roundup of Ohio River-related news from throughout the valley:

People in the Evansville area hope 2018 is the year that progress is made on getting a new bridge across the Ohio. Just getting a final decision on the bridge's location could take two years. But when you're spending hundreds of millions of dollars and you're dealing with several federal and state agencies, things take time.

Meanwhile, construction could begin in 2018 on a new bridge at Wellsburg, W.Va. It will be the second network tied arch design over the Ohio. The first was the Blennerhassett Bridge below Parkersburg, W.Va. The new Wellsburg bridge will be the first "basket handle" design over the Ohio. The bridge deck will be suspended from arches that incline toward each other rather than stand vertically.

Illustration courtesy WV Division of Highways.

Tolls from the new bridges in Louisville brought in more money this year than expected. I'm not a fan of tolls, but when big bridges in big cities cost big money — $1 billion or more — something has to give.

And although it's not along the river itself, some river communities in the Ashland, Ky., area should benefit with the upcoming construction of a $1.3 billion aluminum rolling mill by Braidy Industries near Ashland. An article in Kentucky Today has the details.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Year-end wrap-up, 1 of 3 (or 4)

If it’s the week between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, then it’s time for year-in-review stuff. Here at the Ohio River Blog, it’s also time to catch up on stuff that fell through the cracks in a busy 2017. Not necessarily a productive 2017, but a busy 2017.

First, let’s finish what we started back in the summer with photos from the christening of the M/V TommyH in Pittsburgh on May 25. You can find the first two installments here and here.

Here are the remainder of photos we got that day.


It was a great day. My son Adam and I thank Campbell Transportation for allowing us to cover the ceremony and to tag along on the boat ride afterward.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Why we can't have good things in America's Best Community

This morning I was in downtown Huntington WV — winner this year of the America's Best Community competition — and I thought I would walk up on the bridge to see how the city looked  from the river on an overcast foggy morning. With my low-budget cell phone in hand, this was what I saw.

But it wasn't the only thing I saw. Up on the bridge, I also saw this.

There was more, but these shots were about all I cared to get.

We had a problem here with graffiti "artists" here a few years ago, and it looks like they are back. Vandals such as this is why Huntington would not dare spend the money on beautiful floodwall murals the way Point Pleasant, Portsmouth and Maysville have.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Sunrise to sunset, Pittsburgh to Cairo

There is a myth that the winter solstice is the shortest day of the year. I called it a myth because according to the sunrise and sunset tables posted by the U.S. Naval Observatory, the shortest day as measured by the time between sunrise and sunset actually occurs a few days before the solstice.

Having said that, I was looking at some factoids about Lake Superior recently. One factoid said in summer, the sun sets 35 minutes later on the western edge of the lake than it does on the eastern edge. So naturally the thought occurs, what about the Ohio River?  And what happens this time of year?

So, according to the Naval Observatory, today, Dec. 22, the sun will rise in Pittsburgh at 7:40 a.m. Eastern Standard Time and set at 4:57 p.m. At Cairo, the sun will rise at 7:07 Central Standard Time and set at 4:44 p.m. Add one hour for the difference between Eastern and Central time, and you see that the sun will rise 27 minutes later in Cairo than in Pittsburgh and set 47 minutes later, giving Cairo 20 more minutes of daylight today.

The Point at Pittsburgh, as seen from the M/V Tommy H. The boat is on the Monongahela River. The Allegheny River is on the other side of the fountain, and the Ohio River is on the left. That's Heinz Field in the background. PNC Park is up the Allegheny and out of the picture to the right.

The difference in daylight probably comes from the fact that Cairo is farther south than Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is about 40 degrees 26 minutes north latitude, while Cairo is about 37 degrees 1 minute. That three and a half degrees of latitude gives Cairo more daylight this time of year.

However — there's always a however — in summer things are a bit different. On June 22, 2018, Pittsburgh will have 15 hours and 4 minutes of daylight while Cairo will have only 14 hours and 42 minutes, a difference of 22 minutes. The guess here is that's because the Northern Hemisphere is tilted away from the sun this time of year and toward it in summer. Higher latitudes get more sunlight than lower latitudes in summer and less in winter.

P.S. In case you're wondering about the longitude of the two cities, the Naval Observatory calculates Pittsburgh as being at 79 degrees 55 minutes longitude. Cairo is 89 degrees 11 minutes. That's a difference of about 9 degrees and 13 minutes, or about one fortieth of the way around the world.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Brent Spence Bridge

If there's one bridge over the Ohio River that I avoid using when possible, it's the Brent Spence Bridge in Cincinnati, the one that carries Interstate 75 across the Ohio. It's congested and in the few times I've been on it in the past five years, drivers were not nearly as accommodating of people who need to change lanes as people on busy bridges in Pittsburgh are.

So now the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet repeats what everyone knows — that another bridge is needed in that area. It also says it does not know where the $2.3 billion that would be needed to build it would come from.

Christmas lights in Gallipolis

You know that neighbor or coworker or family member who always has to one-up you in everything? Around here, when it comes to communities putting up lights for Christmas, that would be Gallipolis, Ohio. The city park occupies an entire block downtown along the Ohio River, and this time of year everything is lit up in 3D.

I apologize for my lack of equipment (I left my tripod at home) and skills in showing what the lights there are like. For one shot, I had to hold my breath and hold my camera on my belly for a long exposure, so it's a little blurry.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Dan Owen

If you haven't read this article in the Waterways Journal about Dan Owen, you need to. Now. Before you get distracted and do something else.

Dan was the fellow who compiled information for the Inland River Record for the past hundred and fifty years, give or take a couple. I never met the man,  but I did have an email correspondence with him a few years ago when he asked for some copies of some of my towboat pictures. I meant to send  him some, but I got distracted and did other things.

Without Dan, it apparently will take the efforts of other people to compile the Inland River Record each year. I know one person who helped out this year, that being C.R. Neale up at Vienna, W.Va.

I hate seeing people grow old and have to step aside from the things they love. But sooner or later time claims its ownership over all of us.

Monday, December 18, 2017

River traffic trends

Something came up tonight that caused me to look at statistical data for the Ohio River and its tributaries. What I found was what I expected. Traffic on the river and its tributaries is down from what it was a decade ago. But few of you reading this need me to tell you that.

Here are the cargo numbers in millions of short tons in 2016 compared with the peak years of the past decade:

Ohio River: 184.21 vs. 230.84 in '07.
Allegheny: 0.65 vs. 2.71 in '07.
Big Sandy: 5.35 vs. 21.9 in '07.
Cumberland: 22.45 vs. 23.33 in '08.
Kanawha: 11.69 vs. 22.5 in '10.
Monongahela: 14.48 vs. 28.0 in '08.
Tennessee: 37.73 vs. 49.67 in '08.

The dropoff on the Ohio and most of its tributaries is attributable to one thing: coal. Just look at the number of coal-fired power plants that have been retired in the past decade or that are operating at reduced levels, and there is your answer.

It's not like how it was in the early part of this decade when towing companies were bringing out one new boat after another and scrapping or selling their old ones to South America..

There was also a need to check the largest "port" on the Ohio. That word is in quote marks for a reason that will be explained shortly. People here in Huntington like to say we have the largest inland port in the nation. That was true a few years ago, but no longer.

Here are the tons, in millions, handled by the Port of Huntington-Tristate and the Port of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky the past few years:

2013: 46.83 in Huntington, 11.68 in Cincinnati.
2014: 46.41 in Huntington, 49.93 in Cincinnati.
2015: 42.74 in Huntington, 44.97 in Cincinnati.

What happened? How did Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky increase its tonnage so much? It did the same thing Huntington did a few years earlier. It expanded its "port" boundaries, from 26 miles to 226.5 miles of the Ohio and Licking rivers.

It's an old game. In the late 1970s, Huntington was the largest inland port. But Pittsburgh and St. Louis enlarged their boundaries and took that title from Huntington. So a  few years ago Huntington enlarged its boundaries, too, and reclaimed the honor. It even became a Final Jeopardy answer one night. But Cincinnati decided to play the game, too, and Huntington's rank fell.

Huntington-Tristate could still give Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky a run had the coal market not gone downhill so far and so fast.

But the numbers are what they are, and the game is what it is.

P.S. The Waterborne Commerce Statistics Center may spell it "Tristate" the way the Cincinnati Enquirer does, but here in Huntington we spell it "Tri-State".

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Silver Bridge Memorial, part 1

I have lots of stuff to go through from yesterday's memorial services for the 50th anniversary of the Silver Bridge collapse. I went to the large service that morning in Point Pleasant and to a smaller one across the river that evening in Gallipolis. That meant I had to miss the small one in Point Pleasant, as it was at about the same time as the one in Gallipolis. They both were meant to begin around the time the bridge fell, at 4:48 p.m.

Here are four photos I downloaded and did quick edits on. More to come later,  probably.

Before the main ceremony,  some people gathered at the Point Pleasant River Museum and Learning Center. Here they stand near the museum's exhibit on the Silver Bridge.

This heated tent on Main Street in in Point Pleasant had nearly 500 chairs set up for people to use, and by the time things started, most of them were occupied.

Next year, a mural will be painted on the city side of the Point Pleasant floodwall depicting what it looked  like to cross the Silver Bridge. The mural will be painted at the spot where the bridge entered the city.

At Gallipolis, a table had mementos of the Silver Bridge and its  replacement,  the Silver  Memorial Bridge. Sorry for the blur. This was handheld in low light.

Again,  more later. My right index finger is starting to come down with repetitive stress injury from using the mouse so much this week