I had the opportunity to participate in a barge tour August 12 in Burlington, Iowa. The tour was one of 13 barge tours people could take either on the Illinois or Mississippi rivers. There were several Peoria County residents who participated in the Peoria/Pekin tour August 7. A variety of speakers presented information to approximately 150 passengers during the three-hour excursions.
The tours are a cooperative effort of ag organizations and businesses. The goal is to raise awareness of the need to lengthen the locks from 600 feet to 1,200 feet. A 1,200-foot lock would accommodate a complete tow, which is 15 barges (three wide and five long). Current 600-foot locks require tows to break apart and add hours to the process of passing through.
Most of the current locks and dams were built during the 1930s, although the first lock on the Mississippi was built in 1919. FDR was president during this era, and building the locks was one of the many programs that put Americans to work during the depressed economy. This was also an opportunity to build a third coast to transport commodities to and from the Midwestern United States. The locks were completed in 1937.
On the Burlington tour, we went through Lock and Dam 18. It’s one of 29 locks and has 30 million tons of product annually pass through its gates. The Rock Island District Corps of Engineers representative talked extensively of the repairs done and still needed on Lock and Dam 18. He said they were at the "baling wire" and "duct tape" phase of repairs.
Also on board was a representative of the tow company that was pushing our 52,000-bushel-capacity barge. Engines were running at 4,200 horsepower and were usually overhauled at around 30,000 hours. He indicated the tow boat has a capacity of holding 100,000 gallons of fuel. It burns 1,750 gallons a day. Although this is a large amount of fuel, it’s very quiet and efficient when you figure it’s pushing nearly 800,000 bushels of grain.
Using water makes sense in transporting goods. One tow moves the same volume of grain as 870 semi trucks. That’s more than 15,000 tires kept off the roads. Tires that use foreign-based petroleum in their production. Tires that are an environmental hazard in storage and disposal.
Boats and barges use water for their mobility and friction point. It’s a transporting surface that continuously replaces itself with a new surface from the rainfall and drainage into our rivers. A water surface doesn’t crack, develop potholes, or require petroleum-based asphalt for a surface.
River transportation is very quiet. If it wasn’t for viewing the barges on the river, you probably wouldn’t even realize 800,000 bushels of grain was departing the Midwest, destined for Japan. IBI