Captain Tom stood at the control console, deftly handling the twin throttles and the two rudder controls. His slightly graying red hair tied back in a long ponytail, Tom has been on the river for two decades. Before that he was in the Navy and the Merchant Marines. Altogether, Tom has served on boats for more than 40 years.
It’s a Family Thing
At Amherst Madison, crews work 20 days on the boat and then are off for 20 days. The crews are tightly knit and work together almost without a word from the captain. A crew generally is a combination of a core group that has been together for some time and deckhands who are new employees just starting out. Some take a class at a community college where they learn crew skills. Others come to the river after a stint in the Navy. For many, working the rivers is a family thing – with several generations on the boats.
At the risk of being trite, the river crews are a family. Spending 20 straight days at a time on a boat with five to 10 other people leaves almost no other choice. From the cooking to the upkeep of the crew quarters, from taking care of each other’s wounds to listening when someone has a problem, crewmates get to know each other intimately.
Amherst Madison is also a family thing. It was founded in 1893 in Charleston, West Virginia along the Kanawha River by Charles T. and George W. Jones. Today, the company has a second location in Henderson, West Virginia. The fourth generation family-owned company operates in the marine towing, construction and repair fields. In addition to 30 towboats of varying sizes, the company’s fleet includes 11 barge-mounted cranes and multiple 2,000-ton dry docks.
Truly impressive is that 99-year-old Charles Jones continues to work at the company’s Port Amherst facility every day.
“We’re Coal Too!”
From his perspective in the Charleston’s wheelhouse – and somewhere between reminiscing about a concert he had seen or his new hobby of beekeeping – Captain Tom said he couldn’t be happier than working for Amherst, but he’s worried about the future.
“We’re not seeing any upturn in coal yet,” Tom said. “In fact, our traffic is down, at least on the Kanawha.”