Friday, September 5, 2008

The Frank Phipps, April 1974

I had to sell my soul to get on the Frank Phipps, a 165 foot-long tug boat working on the Ohio River between Pittsburg, PA, and Cairo (pronounced K-row), IL. I got on board in Louisville and went downstream as far as Green River, Indiana, near New Harmony, IN. The three day trip was uneventful but I left the Phipps in admiration for the crew and what they have to do in a normal workday. It isn't an easy life. One of the pilots said: "I spent six years in prison and I don't know which I like better, working on the Phipps or being in jail." The river tugs push their "tows" from behind and the tows are made up of hundreds of barges each carrying a cargo. The barges are delivered to their respective destintations up and down the river by undoing the thick cables that hold them in the tows. The tows including the tugs can measure more than 1200 feet long, as long as a supertanker on the high seas, and it's amazing to watch the pilots manuver the length of the tows around the bends in the river sometimes sliding them up on to the banks to help steer them. The tugs have a huge amount of horse power measured in the thousands and the boats throb constantly from the power of the engines. The food is good but the hours are long and it's hard to sleep, or even think, with the constant noise of the engines. The only quiet place is up on top of the superstructure in the pilot's cabin.


todd said...

Very nice to come across this info! That boat was named after my grandfather Capt. Frank Phipps long time capt. for ACBL CO. my father Frank Phipps 3 rd. worked the boat in summer break from school. When I Todd Phipps finished high school i as well worked the tow boat's , but not on the m/v Frank Phipps i was told it was scraped nice to no she is still shuving barges , it would be cool to see her in person one day and stand in the same wheel house my grandpa steard so many mi. ran so many crews , and retired from a great carear.

Alex MacPhail said...

Wow, Todd, sorry I didn't your post in time and I regret not seeing it a year ago. What a wonderful coincidence that you saw the photos. I have lots more. I was on the Phipps for a couple of days and got lots of great shots. It was a great adventure. Glad you left a comment, All Best, Alex MacPhail.