Life on the Ohio River is a family traditionWritten by Associated Press | | email@example.com
There have been many changes in the barge industry over the last three decades. Just ask one barge captain, Randy Earl Rogers.
Rogers has worked on barges for 31 years. He says that in years past “an old country boy could come out here and get a job. He didn’t even have to learn to read and write.”
Rogers started as a deckhand and worked his way up to captain in 1981. He currently works for Mount Vernon Barge Services, piloting the A.W. Bayer on the Ohio River near Mount Vernon, Ind. He is one of three generations of men in his family making a career on work boats on inland waterways. Both his father-in-law, John Wolfe, and his son, Joshua Rogers, are captains on tug boats.
In about four years, Rogers’ grandson, Rocky Rogers, 14, plans to start his career on the river as a deckhand. Following in his father’s, grandfather’s, and great-grandfather’s footsteps to the wheelhouse of a tug boat.
Recent changes made by the U.S. Coast Guard and the Department of Homeland Security have drastically increased the requirements that must be met to become a tug boat captain. As of 2009, workers on most boats must obtain a Transportation Worker Identification Credential from Homeland Security, as well as a Merchant Mariner Credential.
In the days before 2009, Rogers said, “You got your certified deck time, (took) your test, and you got your license. Now you get certified deck time, and take your test, but you only get a steersman’s license.”
A steersman’s license requires 11/2 years of working under the supervision of a licensed pilot to receive a promotion to captain.
A pair of tragedies — the 1989 oil spill from the wrecked Exxon Valdez and a 1993 crash near Mobile, Ala., that killed 47 people — also have changed how the profession trains and selects its workers.
“Since the Valdez went aground we’ve had to take drug tests, and then since that one boat in Alabama knocked out that bridge with that passenger train and killed all those people, (that) has prompted them to make us get radar certified,” Rogers said. “Now they’re coming up with the physical, and you got to be in pretty good shape to pass your Coast Guard physical to renew your license.”
Rogers spends his days with a single deckhand moving barges around the Port of Mount Vernon for loading, unloading, and repairs at the company’s dry dock. The company occasionally sends him on longer trips.
“I’ve been as far as from Cincinnati down to Baton Rouge (La.) for this outfit,” Rogers said. “I mostly stay around here in Evansville or Shawneetown, or go up to Louisville (Ky.) and back.”
Each barge can carry about 1,500 tons. It takes about 15 railroad cars to fill a single barge, or about 50 semi-trucks. When these work boats aren’t pushing tons of material up the river they are quite similar to a fork lift in a warehouse.
The tug boats move quickly from one task to the next, turning 180 degrees. Then, the tug boats rush up to the barges full-throttle, shifting into reverse at the last second so they lightly bump against the barges.
Then, a deckhand — on Rogers’ boat, it’s Zac Spainhoward — steps from the tug boat to the barge to secure the two vessels with steel cables.
Working as a team, Rogers and Spainhoward release the empty barges from the ties to the bank, and with two engines putting out a combined 1,200 horsepower, the tug boat pushes the heavy barges to their destination further up river with little effort.
The duo repeat this process with the skill of experienced veterans 12 hours each day to keep the river’s heavy haulers on the move.