Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Tug Boat Days in Grafton

OOPS! It's been a long time since taxes. Would you believe I was recouperating? How about procrastinating? I have a neighbor down the street that keeps telling me he has decided to stop procrastinating - one of these days. For me, I guess this is one of those days. I was writing to a good friend in Florida and my e-mail describing the weekend trip was taking on a life of its own so I thought, why not edit it and post it on the blog. Perhaps this will prime the pump and get me back on schedule.

It was Saturday morning and the weather map showed clear skies currently around St. Louis. The key word here is "currently" as we would find out later. But that was all we needed to make the decision. It's weekend, the sun is shining, the fledglings are long out of the nest so it is time to hit the road.

We headed south to Alton and drove in and out of threatening skies. At Alton, the sky was partly cloudy but there were building storm clouds to the north. White pellicans (black under wings) were enjoying the updrafts as they soured over the river. The darker skies served as a backdrop for their flight.

I got the bird pictures along with the cool bee shots at a wildlife refuge across the river from Alton in Missouri.

As I hiked down to the waters edge, I could hear thunder in the distance and saw a few lightning strikes. I was making the most of the sunny skies to capture the numerous white pelicans, egrets and blue heron. Below right, you can see the open wings on one of the pelicans; notice the black underside (click on the image to see it larger)

We then headed north along the great river road from Alton to Grafton. We drove into rain making a cool picture opportunity of the bluffs on the right and the river on the left but the picture through the windshield was not good enough to even keep. There was traffic on the road and the heavy rain made it impossible to stick the camera out to get the shot. If I had been able to get perpendicular to the view, I could have lowered the window and shot through the rain from inside but the only shot was through the windshield. So, this was one of those that "got away".

Along this road, is a small town called Elsah that is nestled between the bluffs. We can't drive this stretch without taking the detour through the town. Two one-way streets take you to the end and back past the small quaint residences. It is like a storybook land with the tiny cottages. It is an uplifting experience making the short drive. It was nearing lunch time and our favorite restaurant was in sight. The rain had let up and there was a parking spot near the door. Memories of past visits grabbed onto our senses and pulled us in. OK, there was not much pulling necessary. Even thinking about the home made pie makes my mouth water. WE got a nice salad to be "good" because we knew we would be getting pie, which was hardly on our diet. The salad was so filling, there was no room for pie but I had a solution for that! Make that pie to go!

Back on the road, we drove out of the rain and the pavement was dry. Wow, what luck because we were just pulling into Grafton to check out the Tug boat days. Advertisements called for tug boat tours and an antique boat show. The dirt parking lot showed no signs of rain. We got a close parking spot and I loaded up my gear into my photographers vest and we headed for the tug boat tour line. Just as we got under the canopy, the skies opened up and the rain started. Scattered thunderstorms just scattered themselves our way. I made certain my telephoto lens was securely covered in one of the big pockets and I pulled the vest up over the camera hanging from my neck. This is one of those decision times. Do we head back to the security of a dry car or take our chances at getting the camera equipment wet in the hope of getting some spectacular shots from inside the tug boat. This is one of those times a good pocket camera would come in handy!

The rain let up to a sprinkle so we stayed in line and ventured out from the protection of the canopy onto the tug boat deck. The 25 year old tug looked like it just came out of the boat yard with a new coat of paint on the slippery deck. The wet deck makes me wonder why they don't use a sand finish but there are ample railings to hold as you traverse the boat.

And traverse we did. From the galley and the lower engine room, we headed up to the Texas deck and then up a narrow inside stairway to the wheelhouse. Windows all around give the captain the full view of the tugboat and electronic monitors show weather, water depth, GPS maps and other boat traffic. It is a log way from the "mark twain" called out as the leadsman from the past measured the river depth.

This tug boat was one of the larger river tugs. It normally pushed barges up and down the lower Mississippi where there are no locks. It might have 30 barges in tow. That makes for one long boat. It takes great skill to maneuver such a large vessel between bridge supports and around bends in the river. Above St. Louis, where there are many locks on the Mississippi and Illinois rivers, a normal load might be 15 barges. This is still equivalent to 870 Semi-trucks. It is by far the more efficient transportation method. For more information on the need to modernize the river lock system visit http://www.marc2000.org/ . If you would like to work on a tug boat go to http://www.ingrambarge.com/ . I can’t say it’s not tempting but they might want me to do something besides take pictures.

As we left the wheelhouse, descending the narrow wet outside stairs, the rain started again. This time it was more insistent that it would stay around a while. We made it down the stairs, across the deck and down more stairs. I had Pat's umbrella tucked into one of my pockets but I could not get to it without exposing the camera to the elements so, we carefully made our way across the bow of the boat onto dry land that was now running with water. From tent to tent, we scampered like little mice. I should say old mice because our scamper was more of a shuffle but we made it back to the car and I quickly took out the camera and lenses and dried them off. They were relatively dry so the vest was certainly a Godsend. We didn't want to wait around for the rain to stop to take the second tug tour, so we headed out, driving past the antique boat show. It was too wet to get out and view those boats so those pictures will have to wait.

A few miles down the road, we pilled off at a picnic grounds in Pere Marquette State Park. It was still raining and even the covered shelters couldn’t provide dry tables, so we got out our pie and ate in the car. I must say it was delicious. We decided we had filled the day as full as we wanted and it was time to punch in "current GPS position to home" on the computer. We headed north along the Illinois River and across the bridge at Hardin. This way we could take the free ferry back across at Kampsville. No trip along the river is complete with out at least one ferry ride.

We made one last stop at Carrollton for pictures of the county court house, one of Pat's projects, and headed for home. So ends another day in the life of the empty nesters.