The Captains’ Return … Returns!


There have been 161 posts on Shoulblog so far. And the one that, by far, gets the most traffic over time is About That Statue, a series of pictures of the Lewis & Clark Statue on the St. Louis riverfront. The statue, named “The Captains’ Return,” was somewhat unique in that it was regularly inundated by Mississippi River water whenever the river rose close to flood stage. Because the river level is always changing, the sculpture seemed to be in a different setting every time you saw it, and it was therefore one of my favorite things to photograph in St. Louis during my lunchtime walks. I’m guessing that a lot of people saw the statue, Googled it to find more information about it or pictures of it, and were led to that blog post.

Unfortunately, though,  it’s apparently not a good thing for a bronze statue to regularly be underwater for long periods of time. A year or so ago, at the beginning of a long riverfront-renovation project, the city removed the statue, with the promise that it would be refurbished and relocated to a new spot at a higher elevation.

Recently, the statue returned to the riverfront, with a new finish and a new location. It’s now further south from Eads Bridge, and up on Leonor K. Sullivan Blvd., which itself was raised by two feet as part of the riverfront project. The statue is thus protected from many of the high-water events in St. Louis, but by no means all of them. Just this last December, it would have been completely underwater, for example. Still, if the goal is to prevent it from getting inundated every year, this location will work better. I’m just glad to see it back.


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.

Pictures Of 2012

Another year, another folder for my computer photo archive. Here are some of my favorite shots from the year 2012. You know the drill — you can click on any of these shots for a larger view.


Two of my favorite photographic subjects are right here in this picture: the “Captains Return” statue of Lewis & Clark on the St. Louis Riverfront, and the Gateway Arch. I’ve taken pictures of the Lewis & Clark sculpture at varying river levels over the years, and when the river dropped to 4.25 feet in late February, I took the opportunity to go get a shot when I thought it was as low as I was going to see in a while. (I was wrong; the river stayed remarkably low throughout the year, and at this writing it’s at minus 4.4 feet.)

A few weeks after I took this picture, the river had fallen some more, and I went down early one morning to try and get a picture at an even lower gauge. But when I got there, I discovered that there was a man, apparently homeless, sleeping on the river side of the statue. I’m just not enough of a photojournalist—or maybe too much of a human being—to take that picture.


Another early-morning excursion produced what was one of my favorite series of photos from the year. The surface of the Gateway Arch is smooth enough to be highly reflective, but just rough enough to scatter any sunlight that hits it. And at sunrise, on the right day, the sunlight is bright orange. The combination of those two phenomena, viewed from the right angle, makes it looks like the Arch is ablaze. I had a lot of fun walking around and under it that morning.

Near year-end, I went to East St. Louis to try to capture the flaming-Arch view from the Illinois side of the river, thinking that maybe I could capture the whole structure in reflected bright orange. Alas, the angles weren’t right—the sun was actually a little too far south. I’ll try again in the spring, but upon further consideration I think it still might not work because the angles of the Arch itself won’t reflect directly across the river. But I’ll find out.

IMG_5613In early June, we went to Michigan City, Ind., for a long weekend of multiple colorful sunsets over Lake Michigan. This is one of them. I don’t know that group of people on the beach, but they fit quite well in front of the setting sun.

So did this seagull.

IMG_5751June also brought the wedding in Cincinnati of our niece. I snapped this picture just after the priest had introduced the couple as husband and wife, and they were beginning their walk back up the aisle.

I love the expressions of pure joy and love on everybody’s faces, particularly the priest’s.

IMG_6249Late July/early August: Back to Michigan City, and another seagull (or perhaps the same one.) This is actually one of my favorite pictures of the year, just because of the colors of the lake water behind the gull, and how they blend together and complement the sand and the bird in the foreground.


Meet Chop. Chop is my brother’s dog, and he joined us at Tilles Park in Ladue, Mo., one Tuesday night in August for “Food Truck Tuesday,” a relatively new event at which we quickly became regulars. If my own dogs read this, I hope they won’t feel hurt that I’m highlighting a picture of Chop and not of them, but who could resist this look on his face? Also, Chop is a much better-behaved dog than either of ours.


A big ribbon, and a big pair of scissors. That’s our neighbors, who got the honor of supplying the props for the grand reopening celebration of the Rock Hill Public Library in September.

I was on the library’s Board of Trustees for nine years, and now am on the library’s fledgeling “Friends” group, and for years and years we tried to find the library a new home. After the previous home—in the former City Hall building—was razed to make room for a retail development, the library was forced to pay rent in a strip mall for several years, before finally finding a building it was able to buy. A lot of sweat and tears went into finding a new home, and in 2012, they finally made it work. The new place, in the former MAB Paints building on Manchester Road, is bright, clean and relatively large inside, compared to how it looks from the outside.


In October, we went to the Montelle Winery near Augusta, Mo., with some of Jean’s friends. There’s probably no better way to spend a fall day in eastern Missouri than to visit one of the state’s wineries along the Missouri River. Montelle is high on a hill, with an overlook that lets you see miles of landscape. The wine’s not too bad, either.


Here’s a work in progress. This is the new Mississippi River Bridge, which will—when it opens in 2014—carry I-70 across the river. You can view the construction from a nice vantage point on the bike path that runs along the river. Every few months I hike up there during my lunch hour to get an update on the progress. It’s going to be pretty cool when it’s finished.


Autumn in St. Louis. I snapped this picture on another lunchtime walk, to City Garden … although it could be almost anywhere. Bokeh is the word photographers use for that blurred background, produced by using a wide-open aperture and/or a telephoto lens. It’s a beautiful effect, and one of the chief advantages of using a single-lens reflex (SLR, or, if it’s digital, DSLR) camera.


This dude is a Red Panda, one of the many, many attractions at the St. Louis Zoo. At least once or twice a year, I try to go to the zoo in the morning to get shots of the animals while few other people are around. This year, more than ever before, I saw a lot of other people with nice cameras doing the same thing, which was pretty cool. I’d never noticed the Red Panda before (and although I said “dude,” I’m actually not sure of the gender, so I apologize if I offended anybody); there’s always a surprise or some beautiful and previously unseen creature there. This crane, for instance. It’s all happening at the zoo.

IMG_7535Thanksgiving Day, and we were back in Michigan City. Fortunately for Andrew and his cousin Sydney, the temperature was in the 60s, so when they took the dare to go swimming in Lake Michigan, it wasn’t bitter, bitter cold for them. Still pretty darn cold though. The next day brought a cold front and wind chills in cryogenic territory, so it’s lucky they went when they did.

IMG_7566On one of our last evenings in Michigan City, after that cold front came through, I took a walk down toward the deserted beach for some “golden hour” photos. Personally, I prefer the hours around sunrise, but the time around sunset is great for taking pictures as well. The low angle of the sun really helps bring out the colors of the sand dunes and the November flora.

IMG_0017I have a new toy. For Christmas I received this little camera, which is going to travel with me wherever I go in 2013. It can cram 16 megapixels into each picture, twice as many as my regular camera, and yet it’s smaller than a cell phone. But most importantly, it’ll allow me to capture a lot of shots I’ve otherwise missed because I didn’t want to carry around my big and (relatively) bulky camera with me. (This picture was taken in a mirror, and yes, it was “flipped” so you could read the lettering, if you so choose.)

I’m hardly a pro photographer and I don’t aspire to be one. But I do enjoy capturing images of life as it happens, and I hope you find one or two shots you like among the pictures I post here once in a while. Cheers.


Previous years:

Pictures Of 2011

Pictures Of 2010

About That Statue…

Note: This statue has been moved. You can read a June 2016 update to this post  here.

Just downriver from Eads Bridge in St. Louis, on the St. Louis riverfront, is a statue called The Captains’ Return. It depicts the return of William Clark and Meriwether Lewis, along with their dog, Scout, from their famous trip to explore the Missouri River. It was sculpted by Harry Weber.

I said it was “on the riverfront,” but it is sometimes more accurately described as “in the river.” In what I consider a brilliant placement, the statue was set in the cobblestones on the St. Louis wharf. The river level is subject to notoriously large swings; in the last 20 years, it has been as low as 0 feet and as high as 50 feet on the St. Louis gauge. This picture was taken when the stage was about 29 feet, which is one foot below the flood stage. (Don’t confuse “stage” with “depth.” Even at zero feet on the St. Louis gauge, there is still more than nine feet of water in the main channel of the river. Zero on the gauge refers to the “low water reference plane,” which I wouldn’t try to explain, even if I understood it.)

That’s Clark, in the picture, who appears to be waving at us for help. Less fortunate are Lewis and Scout; they’re below the surface in this photo, although you can see them in some of the pictures below.

This statue is one of my favorite things about St. Louis. I’m sure I’ve taken hundreds of photos of it over the last six years. It’s just a few feet south of Eads Bridge, another of my favorite things about St. Louis. And about half a mile away is yet another favorite, the Gateway Arch.

The statue was dedicated in September 2006, the 200th anniversary of the end of the Voyage of Discovery. There’s a plaque on the statue that reads: “At noon on September 23, 1806, the Lewis and Clark expedition ended on the St. Louis riverfront after a journey along the Missouri River to its headwaters, a passage of the Rocky Mountains, and a descent to the Pacific Coast via the Columbia River. Returning by roughly the same route, they arrived at St. Louis after two years, four months and nine days of exploring the lands and encountering the peoples of the American West.”

Here are a few more pictures of the statue (clicking on any of the thumbnails below will bring up a gallery you can scroll through). The last one, the only one in which you can also see the Arch, was taken this morning (February 27, 2012), when the river stage was about 4.25 feet.

Return of the Air Show

After a five-year absence, Fair St. Louis brought back one of its most popular features this year: the air show over the Mississippi River. The show, which this year was held three times over the holiday weekend, features a variety of military and private aircraft, doing some pretty amazing tricks in front of the Arch grounds. For downtown workers, there’s a bonus: practice for the air show on the last work day before the fair opens. In this case it was Friday, July 2. I happened to have my camera that day, and I took a walk over to the Arch grounds during my lunch hour. Here’s a brief slideshow of some of the highlights.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

More Mud To Move

Several weeks ago, I posted this picture of workers cleaning mud off of the cobblestones on the St. Louis riverfront. The mud had been left there when the Mississippi River rose above flood stage, and then fell back out. I said then that their job was worthy of the television show “Dirty Jobs.”

But as we see in this picture from today, the workers at least have a measure of job security. Since the first picture was taken on April 23, the river fell to 17.7 feet on the St. Louis gauge, rose rapidly to 30.23 feet on April 29 (flood stage is 30 feet), fell back to 19.08 on May 8, and since May 12 has risen steadily to today’s stage of 34.14 at noon, about when this picture was taken.

The river has spread all the way across Leonor K. Sullivan Blvd to the wall on the right, which protects a train tunnel that goes under the Arch grounds. The line of dots you see in the water underneath the light posts are the tops of the posts that you see at the far right of the top picture.

While a flood is always interesting, this is nothing compared to the record flood of 1993, which rose to more than 15 feet above today’s level.

The river’s expected to be above flood stage until about May 24, after which point it will (hopefully) subside back to more normal levels. But when it does, it will again leave behind a few tons of mud for the St. Louis Street Department to clean up.

A New Way To Look At St. Louis

Malcom Martin keeps an eye on the Gateway City.

April 20 was the day I’d been waiting for for months. Warm, but not too warm. Plenty of sunshine. Not a terribly busy day at work. And the trees are greening up nicely, filling out enough so that, from a distance, they look pretty darn summery.

I took my camera to work. And at lunchtime — actually a few minutes early — I packed up and headed for … Keep reading