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Life on the Ohio

Life on the Ohio

James Coomer
Copyright Date: 1997
Edition: 1
Pages: 204
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  • Book Info
    Life on the Ohio
    Book Description:

    When young James Coomer was offered a job as deckhand on the tugboat Pat Murphy at a dollar an hour, he took his first smell of diesel fuel and knew he was hooked. Life on the Ohio puts the reader in the pilot's seat as Coomer wrestles with runaway barges, navigates through ice and fog, pacifies angry crew members, and contends with the loneliness of working a thirty-day stretch. A modern counterpart to Twain's account of life as a steamboat pilot,Life on the Ohiodepicts the working river as it is today with its immense towboats, gigantic locks and dams, and millions of tons of cargo. Coomer captures the movement of the boats and the colorful language of river people. Coomer admits that he stuck at his job not for money but for love of the river and his work. "Over the years I had experiences I wouldn't trade for a barge full of gold," he says, "and that's what this book is all about."

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4874-8
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Series Foreword
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Rita Kohn

    The Ohio River Valley Series, conceived and published by the University Press of Kentucky, is an ongoing series of books that examine and illuminate the Ohio River and its tributaries, the lands drained by these streams, and the peoples who made this fertile and desirable area their place of residence, of refuge, of commerce and: industry, of cultural development, and, ultimately, of engagement with American democracy. In doing this, the series builds upon an earlier project, “Always a River: The Ohio River and the American Experience,” which was sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the humanities councils...

  5. Foreword
    (pp. xiii-xv)
    Dorothy Weil

    Of course, I’m partial to river themes. I’ve traveled the length of the Ohio River quite a few times, writing articles and video documentaries about river history and culture. On some trips, I went by steamboat, but mostly I hitched rides on towboats, my favorite way to travel the waterways. And I can tell you this: Captain Coomer gets the river right. The sounds, the smells, the sights, the movement of the boats, the way the people talk. Reading these sketches, you can feel the warm steel of the towboat’s deck rumbling under your feet.

    You don’t need to have...

  6. Three Types of Barges
    (pp. xvi-xvi)
  7. Preface: The Ohio and Me
    (pp. xvii-xix)
  8. [Map]
    (pp. xx-xxii)
  9. Harbor Work, 1948-1955
    (pp. 1-46)

    When I was driving my soft-drink truck after the war, I was living with my wife and kids in a housing development. Enter one Jack Meade, who lived in an adjoining apartment. Jack was a handsome, dashing young man with a lovely wife and four beautiful children. He had flown solo at sixteen and was copilot on a souped-up DC-3 that was the executive aircraft of a large grocery chain.

    When Jack went to work, he wore Ghurkha boots, a Hotshot Charlie 50-mission cap, and a genuine leather flying jacket. By God, how I envied him. I could very easily...

  10. Towboating, 1955-1980
    (pp. 47-122)

    The first night I piloted theRavenswoodI could hardly wait to take over the levers. We would be pushing fifteen empty Ashland Oil tank barges to the company’s fleet some 158 miles upriver. We were scheduled to leave at midnight. Though I was by then an accomplished pilot and had even taken as many as nine barges to Louisville and Portsmouth with the harbor tugs, I didn’t know quite what this would be like. Despite my bravado, the small harbor boats don’t compare with the big towboats, and the more usual two-or three-barge tows never seemed to stretch to...

  11. Time Out, 1967
    (pp. 123-142)

    As I moseyed downriver, I stopped at Wheeling and some of the smaller towns for a short look around at the breeding grounds of professional rivermen: places like Crown City, Vanceburg, Rome, Ripley, and—probably the most prolific breeder of the breed—Manchester, Ohio. This nursery of inland seafarers produced Chick Lucas, the Lancasters, the Walkers, the Drydens, Little Bull, and lots of others.

    Most of these small riparian burgs were of a piece. There was a main street, a highway passing through, a picture show (usually boarded up), some small neat houses surrounded by garden patches, cars up on...

  12. New Orleans Harbor, 1973-1974
    (pp. 143-170)

    There is no explaining why a man would want to build his own boat and operate his own river business. Yet I did just that. It must have been growing pains. About two years after mytripto New Orleans in my small aluminum boat, I got the urge to buy large amounts of steel and weld them into my own harbor tug. I quit the job I had then as a towboat pilot and captain and found a weedy lot at a marina out near Coney Island to build her on. I got the space in exchange for repair...

  13. Epilogue
    (pp. 171-172)

    After theVulcansank, I was left in a kind of limbo. I had some excellent job offers in New Orleans, but my family was in Cincinnati. It was hard to have put all the time and effort I had invested in New Orleans and not have it exert a pull on me, but I wanted to go back where I belonged. I considered staying and working as a marine insurance adjuster but totally rejected the offer to do fleet repair. I had spent too many days welding in the bowels of a barge when the outside temperature was 105...

  14. Glossary
    (pp. 173-179)