On a recent cruise on the Ohio River, I was amazed at the amount of cargo being moved on the river. I was even more impressed by the varying types of barges. Barges carry coal, sand, chemicals, liquids, metal scraps, you name it!
The vessels pushing the barges are called tow boats and have a crew of 12 to 15 that live on the boats for weeks at a time, 24-7. Complete with a cook, the crew are like a family. There is a captain and a pilot and one of the two is always at the helm. The crew seldom goes ashore and works a 4 to 6 week rotation.
A larger tow boat will have 2 engines with 3500 HP each.
The barges are 1000 feet long and the photos show the variety of barges.
One barge can carry a load the equivalent of 58 tractor trailer loads and 13.4 railroad train hoppers! On the Ohio River, a tow boat is limited to 15 barges due to the size of the locks on the river. The one drawback to transporting goods on the river is that a tow with barges may need to wait hours before being able to enter a lock if river traffic is heavy.
The 981 mile Ohio River begins at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers at Pittsburg and ends at Cairo, Illinois, where it flows into the Mighty Mississippi. It is almost a mile wide at Louisville Ky. There are 20 locks on the Ohio.