CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The sun was just coming up over the mountains, and a gentle fog was beginning to rise out of the valley when I arrived at the Winfield Locks and Dam on the Kanawha River about 25 miles northwest of Charleston.
The Charleston – one of 30 towboats owned by Amherst Madison that work the Kanawha and Ohio rivers – was already in the lock and raised to the pool level for the trip upstream. It is one of thousands of such boats that ply the nation’s waterways each day.
I descended the ladder and stepped onto the deck. In front of me were six loaded coal barges, each holding about 1,500 tons of coal. Each barge was about half a football field long and 35 feet wide. This coal was on its way a short distance upriver to the John Amos power plant. Together, the six barges were pushing 9,000 tons of coal. Three to nine barge tows are common on the Kanawha River.
I was met on deck by a young deckhand, Ricky Boswell. Ricky is the newest member of the Charleston’s crew, hiring on five months ago. He led me onto the boat and to my cabin.
As I was putting my things away, I noticed a slight bump and heard the twin turbines pick up a bit. I looked out my cabin window to see the river gliding silently by. We were on our way upriver.
I finished stowing my things and then went to the crew lounge in the center of the boat. Ricky was waiting for me. He took me on a tour of the boat from stem to stern, with a stop in the well-stocked galley. He mentioned it was the captain’s turn to cook the evening meal and he was making a beef roast and potatoes tonight.
We made our way up a narrow stairway to the second floor of the boat, through the workout room and recreation area and up another narrow stairway to the bridge, where I met the captain of the Charleston, Tom Christener.