Friday, February 21, 2020

Better living through digging up old stuff

I noticed the M/V Lee Synnott was in the area this evening, right as the golden hour was ending and the blue hour was beginning. Because it had been a while seen I had seen the Synnott, which once was a frequent visitor to this area, I went looking for it. I feared it would stop at the fleet at Mile 311, where it's next to impossible to get a decent shot from land without a longer lens than I can afford. Sadly, it did, so I came home empty.

Because I've had to juggle personal demands (including health problems of a family member), I haven't been able to get to the river when interesting boats were around. Add to that the fact that February is pretty drab in my home territory, so getting new photos has been more of a chore than a pleasure.

Because of that, I've been going back through old images and taking a fresh look at them. Like this one from 2012.

Sometimes I don't appreciate a photograph I've taken until months or years have passed. It's almost as if it has to marinate for that time to bring out the flavors I don't recognize the moment the shutter opens. That's okay. I have thousands and thousands of photos I've taken over the years that need to be reviewed. It's fun, actually.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Is the river up?

I was hoping to enjoy Harris Riverfront Park for a few minutes today …

… but most of it was under water. That was a big surprise.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

A relic treasured

The old wicket dams on the Ohio River have interested me for a while, but when Locks and Dam 52 went out of service in 2018, for some reason it became more urgent for me to learn what I could about them.
For years, I’ve looked for signs of their remains as I’ve driven along the river. Some have been demolished, and no sign of their existence remains. Some remain but are in private hands. And some are parks, such as Lock and Dam 27 near Proctorville, Ohio, and Lock and Dam 22 at Ravenswood, W.Va.
When I’m in the Cincinnati area, I try to stop at the wicket dam museum at Chilo, Ohio, where the powerhouse of Lock and Dam 34 now serves as a tribute to the dams that made the Ohio River navigable yearround.
If you’re up at Hannibal, Ohio, there’s an outdoor exhibit on the grounds of the Hannibal Locks and Dam that gives you an idea of how wood timbers controlled the Ohio.

Recently I was able to acquire this beauty. It’s the program of the weeklong celebration that marked the completion of the dam system and the nine-foot navigation pool from Pittsburgh to (almost) Cairo.

Here are photos of the title page, the last page, the inside back cover and the back cover.

The book has had a bit of a rough life, and I admit I’m reluctant to read it all the way through for fear of damaging the binding. I don’t want to be the person who destroys it.
The book is 104 pages of copy and ads. I assume the pages were white when they came off the press 91 years ago, but they're yellow with age now.
From pages 5-22, a writer tells of the history of European exploration in the Ohio Valley, of settlements, the first flatboats and steamboats and the system of locks and dams.
One thing I learned that I should have known was the Ohio River Memorial Monument at Eden Park in Cincinnati. It was dedicated October 22, 1929, by President Herbert Hoover to mark the nine-foot channel from Pittsburgh to Cairo, "a distance of nine hundred and eight miles."
Several pages are devoted to the Ohio Valley Improvement Association, which lobbied for the nine-foot channel.
Page 75 begins the program of the "Ohio River Dedicatory Celebration" itself, which began October 15 in Cincinnati, then proceeded to Pittsburgh and from there back down the river, with several stops on the downbound trip. As the steamboats passed Gallipolis, Ohio, on the return trip, they were to slow as they passed the homestead of the late John L. Vance, founder of the OVIA.
The celebration ended the evening of Friday, October 25, in Cairo. A boat was to leave the next morning to return people to Evansville, Louisville and Cincinnati.
I probably could have looked online for an electronic copy of the book and downloaded it, but it’s not the same. When I read a book, I want a physical copy in my hands. Computer screens are good for compiling and analyzing information, but I like the feel of a book in my hands.
I’m still researching the old dams. After all this time, most of the people who lived at them and worked at them are either old or passed away, especially in my part of the river. The father of the best man at my wedding was the final lockmaster at Lock and Dam 21. He was the person who locked the gate for the last time when the Racine Locks and Dam raised its pool. I regret that I never took the time to pick his brain. You think some people will be around forever. You know they won’t, but you overlook that basic fact.
Buried in the government archives are logbooks of the dams. It’s beyond my resources, but I would love to spend a few days studying the records of at least one or two dams in my area.
As my last surviving brother -- our family historian -- said, you don’t get interested in genealogy until you’re of the age when the people who could help you most are gone. It’s that way with a lot of history, isn’t it?
So if you see someone lurking around the remains of one of the old dams, it could be me wondering what it looked like, sounded like and smelled like in its heyday.
And for what it’s worth, the 50 cents it cost to buy the program in 1929 is worth $7.43 cents today. Even with advertising, I doubt anyone would sell such a book at such a low price here in 2020.
P.S. If you have a few minutes, get on YouTube and watch the movie of steamboats gathered at Pittsburgh in 1929 to celebrate the completion of the nine-foot channel. River fans will love it. The EPA probably winces at the sight of all that coal smoke.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

ACBL CEO takes to YouTube (UPDATED)

Mark Knoy, CEO of American Commercial Lines, the parent of ACBL, released a two-minute video on YouTube today to let employees know things are going peachy since the company announced "the important steps we've taken to position our business for long-term success". I can't say how much new information is in the video, but the images of people on the boats and of the boats themselves are done well.

As you might expect, comments are turned off.

This is the first time I remember a company I'm familiar with taking to YouTube to reassure employees that all is well despite a reorganization plan.

UPDATE: My apologies for not providing the link. Sorry.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

American Commercial Lines announces plan to reorganize debt

American Commercial Lines Inc., the parent company of ACBL, says it will file for bankruptcy protection as it seeks to remove $1 billion in debt from its books.

From the official statement posted on ACL's website:

American Commercial Lines Inc. (together with certain of its affiliates, “the Company” or “ACL”) is continuing to provide reliable, innovative and competitive barge transportation solutions as it takes action to address its financial position.
ACL has reached an agreement with its lenders on a prepackaged plan to recapitalize the business and significantly reduce the Company’s debt. Under the terms of the plan, ACL will receive $200 million in new capital to support liquidity and investments in the business. In addition, the agreement provides for a reduction of funded debt by approximately $1 billion.
To implement this plan, which has the support of a substantial majority of the Company’s lenders, ACL expects to file voluntary petitions for reorganization under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code in the coming days.
The Company expects its operations to continue as normal throughout the contemplated court-supervised process. Upon emergence, ACL will continue to provide customers with competitive and reliable barge transportation services.
This was expected.

M/V Paul G. Blazer at South Point

This evening after work I went over to South Point, Ohio, where the M/V Paul G. Blazer was moving some barges around.

The Blazer was built in 1987 by Quality Shipyards in Houma, La., for Ashland Petroleum. It was one of three similar boats, the other two being the Valvoline and the SuperAmerica. When Ashland formed a joint venture with Marathon Petroleum called Marathon Ashland Petroleum, or MAP, the boats retained their names. After Marathon bought out Ashland's interest in the joint venture, the Valvoline was renamed the M/V Nashville and the SuperAmerica became the M/V Ohio Valley.

Paul G. Blazer was the founder of what became Ashland Oil, the parent company of Ashland Petroleum. The company is now known as Ashland Global and has pretty much shed its past in the petroleum refining and marketing industry.

In case you're wondering, in the background of these photos is the  Marathon tank farm at Kenova, W.Va., which receives refined products by pipeline from the refinery on the Big Sandy River at Catlettsburg, Ky., and are loaded onto barges.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Two boats, two places

Assuming the Super Bowl is over with by now ...

Today I saw the M/V Paula Ruble, always one of my favorite boats to photograph. Too bad I went up the river on the wrong side and had to shoot into the sun.

Later, at Catlettsburg, I saw the G. Allen Oldham for the first time in a long time.

When does spring training start? Not soon enough.

Catching a moving rainbow

It may not be easy to see here, but today I learned there is no pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Instead, there's a loaded coal barge.

Conditions were right as the M/V Patsy Coleman came down the Ohio River past Huntington, W.Va., today (This was taken from Huntington; that's Chesapeake, Ohio, in the background). The Ohio flows east to west here, and as the sun tracks across the southern part of the sky, it was at my back. The time was around solar noon, when the sun is at it highest point in the sky no matter what your watch or your phone says.

Being a Crounse boat, the Patsy Coleman was pushing 15 barges loaded as deep as they could get. There was a stiff wind blowing from the west as the Coleman headed in that direction. The wind was pushing some sizable swells into the Coleman head on. As you can see, there were times when the water went flying.

Because the sun was at my back and I was at about the same level as the spray (or whatever mariners call it), for a few seconds I got to see rainbows form in the spray. If I had pressed the shutter button for another second or so, I would have gotten a better picture. I guess seeing the rainbow surprised me.

If it helps, you might be able to see the rainbow (bargebow?) along the top edge of the spray.

That was my big thrill of the day.

I had planned to post a thoughtful piece about an artifact of Ohio River history that has come into my possession, but I forgot this is Super Bowl Sunday, so nobody would want to take a deep dive into something so old. Maybe soon.