Hello Friends! Tonight’s feature image is titled “Towboat 31219” and is available for purchase by following the instructions at the bottom of the page.
The morning sun is climbing high as I stopped by the Kanawha River for a few minutes of peaceful contemplation. Above me the large trucks are shifting gears as they slow down for the stoplight on the Chelyan bridge. I stopped here for two reasons. One, to catch a few breaths on the water’s edge and to look for a photo op. It wasn’t long before one of the Towboats came powering upstream. For me time on the river is a way of getting out of the office chair and enjoying life as God intended. But for the crew of a towboat the river is their office. It’s kinda surprising to me that I never considered a job as a deckhand since I like being on the river. I have to admit that I don’t really know much about the job. I presume there’s much more to it than waiting to reach the delivery point. As I understand it the boat is their home and that they’re on duty for long hours. I’m told that it’s as dangerous as being an underground miner. Not only is there a danger of falling into swift current but there’s stories about people slipping into a void in the payload of coal and being burried alive. However I do find the idea of traveling down the Kanawha River to the Ohio River and beyond interesting. Aside from the actual work that goes along the river jobs the views they have of spots seldom seen from the highway must be amazing if they have time to see them.
As the towboat maneuvers itself into position to accomplish the task at hand I am thankful for the work ethic of people in the coal industry. The fuel they provide not only keeps the lights on but also becomes the steel and aluminum in our infrastructure.
I’m also interested in the stories that a towboat crew might have. So if you’re reading this and happen to work on one these boats I’d love to hear about your memories in the comments section below.
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A light breaks through the morning mists as if it is plowing a pathway for travel. The long mournful sound of horn in combination with the thunder of wheels proceeds the screeching of the brakes as the train pulls into the tipple. I ease my big blue truck into the wide spot near the berm. A mountain is waiting to be loaded onto the train and moved to the power plants and steel mills. If the miners are the men who pull light out of the darkness then the railroad workers are the men who move mountains.
One of local engines CSX 7979 was recently spotted in California by my fellow blogger Russel Ray. Russel is real train buff who was able to track CSX 7979 back to Huntington West Virginia. I never really expected that any of our trains would be found that far West!
I suppose that it shouldn’t surprise me. Our coal goes into the grid as electricity and into the iron that becomes steel. It’s almost as if there is a little piece of our mountains in almost everything that is either made from steel or uses electricity. Look around. You probably have a piece of Appalachia in your home too.
Today is a busy day on the Kanawha River. The coal barges were all over the water moving massive amounts of coal up and down the river. The little tug in tonight’s feature image was pushing three barges and all three are the size of office buildings. The ones here are riding high on the water which means that they are empty but I’ve seen these little boats move full barges and more than three of them at once. I’m told that the men who work the river live on the boat for months at a time and are home for a couple of weeks before embarking on another journey. In a previous post I remarked that electricity is delivered by train but it travels by boats too! It impressive to see the little tugs at work moving huge amounts of mass with ease. And that brings me to the point of tonight’s post. Never judge anyone by their size. Especially yourself. When a person pushes their limits they might fail the first time. And the second and third and so on. But eventually something happens and the weight budges. That’s when you really dig in and push with all your might. Once the weight is moving it’s easy to keep it moving. Once it’s been done it’s easier to do it again. And it’s all in the heart. Not the muscle but the spirit. The core of our being that empowers us to never give up. What’s more is when two tugs team up and work in synchronicity. They don’t just move twice as much but three or maybe even four times the mass. Like the little tugs we are capable literally moving mountains when we’re equally yoked. Two people who are in sync compound their strengths. They can cheer each other on and keep that spirit energized. I was encouraged to watch the little tugs at work today and I hope you are too.
Early mornings are a way of life in the Appalachian mountains. Many of us chose to live well away from where we work. I remember when I was a kid lying in bed and hearing the door close and then the car start before daylight. My dad was off to work. (My dad was a telephone lineman. He didn’t work with trains or coal.) I pass by this railyard every day and every time I do it looks like the morning crew had been at work for hours. I’ve never worked for railway but I know the kind of work that’s done there. It’s hot and grimey in the summer and bitter cold in the winter. I imagine that the coal dust gets into every little crevice of your skin as the coal comes off the beltline and pours into railcars. I have been told that one of the more dangerous tasks is keeping the chute clear of “clinkers”. Clinkers are large clumps of coal that clog up the chute and have to removed by hand. The work is hard and dangerous. The train here is a short one. It’s only about three quarters of a mile long. (A little more than 1200 meters) once it’s full it’s probably heading to a power plant where it will boil the water that drives the turbine that makes electricity that powers the servers that runs the internet that makes our lives so much easier. It all happens because someone got up before daylight and did the dirty work.
The ringing bell drones out with an urgency worthy of impending doom. The red lights flash like the angry eyes. The Earth rumbles and in the distance there’s the wailing of an air horn. Stay off the tracks. A train is coming.
Tonight’s image is the railyard at Cheylan West Virginia. If you look closely at the background you can see one of our coal tipples. The coal comes down the river in huge barges and is offloaded to the tipple where it’s moved by conveyor belt into the train. It’s some of the most dangerous work in the mining industry. My whole life I’ve heard stories about workers stepping between two rail cars at the wrong moment. The large piles of coal have been known to collapse and bury men alive. I know that coal energy is controversial in the world today but it is our main energy source in a large portion of the world. Here in West Virginia coal lights our homes, cooks our meals and powers our internet connection. It even powers our electric vehicles. Through the paychecks paid to the miners coal feeds families whose members have never set foot in a mine. (Every mining job supports between 3 and 5 others. ) It all centers on hubs like you see here and the workers who risk it all to pull light out of darkness.