After exploring downtown Rising Sun in the morning (4/24), we drove in the van about 25 miles west to the locks. The drive along SR156 was quite scenic – lots of farms, very small towns, views of the river, woods and deer.
As we drove along, I had noticed several dead deer on the side of the road (not a good sign) and several deer crossing signs. I was looking at the map or doing something so I wasn’t looking at the road but suddenly Rob slammed on the brakes – there were 5 deer leaping from the grass on the opposite side into the road. As he stopped, they panicked and headed back to the grassy area and proceeded to run parallel to us.
After going several hundred feet, suddenly once again they started to run into the road. Again we stopped. This time there was a van coming in the opposite direction which stopped just as we did. Four of the five deer made it across the road while the fifth one panicked, turned around and ran in the opposite direction next to the road. Whew, that was close! Thank goodness Rob saw them and had good reflexes!
We arrived at the locks which are located on the Kentucky side of the river around 12:30 p.m. Although you couldn’t get close to the locks at ground level due to the security fences, there was an observation tower so we climbed the six or so stair flights so we could see what was happening.
What a great view! It was a bright sunny day but there was a strong wind so it was a bit chilly (they did have an enclosed room so occasionally we would go in there to warm up). As mentioned in a previous post, we had watched the barges go by from our campsite but seeing the size of them up close and personal was unbelievable!
There are 21 dams and locks along the Ohio River from Pittsburgh, PA to Olmstead, IL. The Markland Dam, built by the Army Corps of Engineers, is made of concrete and steel and is 1395 feet long, connecting Gallatin County, KY with Switzerland County, IN.
Since the dam is non-navigational, there are two adjoining locks on the KY side – the main lock chamber which is 110′ x 1200′ and an auxiliary lock which is 110′ x 600′. The drop in water level is 35 feet but that is probably dependent on the water level of the river.
The main lock 1200′ chamber can usually accommodate fifteen barges that can lock through in one maneuver but that chamber was not operational for some reason that we could not ascertain.
Apparently there was a solenoid problem with the lock gates at Markland several years ago and there is a project underway to replace the gates. With the main lock chamber non-functional all of the barge traffic had to go through the smaller lock which required a time consuming separation of the barge strings causing a backup of traffic in the river. Whether the repair project was the reason, we don’t really know.
A standard barge is 195 feet, 35 feet wide and can carry 1500 tons although some of today’s newer barges are 290 feet, 50 feet wide and have double the capacity. These barges typically carry coal, petro-chemical products, grain, lumber/wood products and sand/gravel. We’ve seen a lot of coal carrying barges from our campsite. After doing some research, I found out that there are a number of power plants on the Ohio. They typically only keep a 30 day supply of coal on hand so that is why there are so many coal carrying barges back and forth on the river. Now we’re not talking about a single barge, but multiple barges tied together being pushed by a special 90+ foot long tugboat like craft. Many that we saw were 2-3 wide and 5 or more long so easily in excess of 1000′. How do they steer these things?
When we arrived, at first we didn’t realize the main lock wasn’t operational so we were a little perplexed by exactly what was happening. A large barge (see picture on the left) had just gone through the lock and was being towed by a small, locally owned tugboat. When it was a certain distance past from the lock gates, the barge stopped and was tied up to another barge (the rusty one on the left in the picture, heading in the opposite direction), next to it.
Then another barge (3 across, 3 long, picture on the right) was pushed into the lock. It just barely fit with maybe a foot to spare on one side! Once inside the lock, there were men on the front of the barge who tied up the barge to the lock cleats – these cleats float up and down with the water level inside the lock.
By now, we had figured out that the entire barge would not fit into the small lock so it had to go through it in two sections. As it left the lock, we were able to read a sign on the top of the barge indicating that the barge was filled with benzene. Once the second barge was through, it then had to be lined up and maneuvered into place to be joined with the one that was waiting. What a slow operation! While that one was going through several other long rigs were now in the queue, waiting to go through the lock.
We watched the next barge being pushed into the lock and there was no way that it was going to fit lengthwise into the lock. So once again, it had to be divided into two sections. By this time, we were a little cold so we didn’t stay to watch the entire operation.
Below are more photos. Note that some of them look like duplicates but Rob kept taking photos of the barge in the lock at different water levels. You can also see the red barge above was waiting on one side of the lock but then maneuvered over to the lock entrance.