Downbound On The Upper

IMG_3683Note: When originally written, this was part of a series of posts about pictures used in the header at the top of this blog. Well, life happens and headers change, and now there are completely different pictures up there. Oh well, I’ll keep these posts, though. Previous posts  in the series are here and here and here and here.

This is a towboat pushing 12 barges on the Mississippi River. Of course, in this shot, you can only see the stern end of three of the barges, but if you scroll down and look at the first photo in the gallery below—which was taken exactly 17 seconds after this one—you’ll be able to see the full complement of 12 barges, arranged in a four-long-by-three-wide configuration.

The towboat pushing the barges is the Crimson Glory of American River Transportation Company, or ARTCO. The Crimson Glory was built in 1969, and it has two diesel engines that produce a total of 5,400 horsepower, making it a medium-sized towboat by today’s standards. It has four decks above the waterline, with room for a crew of around 10 people, who work and live on the boat for probably a month at a time before getting a month or so off.

I’ve always liked this particular picture just because you can see all of the wire ropes and winches and other deck equipment used to hold the boat and barges together. A similarly intricate pattern can be found between each of the tiers of barges.

Those barges are loaded with grain; they’ve come downriver from either the Illinois River or the Upper Mississippi River,  and they are bound for the large grain elevators near New Orleans, where they’ll be unloaded and the grain will most likely eventually be transferred to a ship for export. Because the tow is in St. Louis—this picture was taken from Eads Bridge—it will be soon be broken up and the barges put into a larger tow of 30–40 barges; the reason being that there are no more navigation locks below St. Louis, and the towing companies can make more money by putting more barges in front of bigger boats when not constricted by lock sizes.

Each barge holds about 1,500 tons of cargo. That means this 12-barge tow carries the equivalent of 180 rail cars, or nearly two 100-car unit trains—a fact the towboat companies would like you to ponder the next time you’re sitting at a crossing waiting for a train to pass.

My job has me looking at a lot of towboat photographs, and it’s pretty much an art form unto itself. The boats themselves are as varied as cars. Over the years, I’ve taken quite a few towboat pictures myself, and some of my favorites are presented below. As usual, just click on any photo for a larger view.


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