On the river: Life on towboat

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POSTED: Friday, May 13, 2011 - 12:01am

UPDATED: Friday, May 13, 2011 - 12:02am

For six months out of the year, Ted Ewing lives on the river.
“We’re away from home 28 days at a time,” he says. “You miss birthdays. You miss anniversaries. You miss a lot of holidays.”

He lives on a boat with ten other people. “We are family out here,” he explains. “I treat everyone on board like they’re my children.”

The mighty Mississippi is their livelihood. “The Mississippi River feeds a lot of people in this country.”

Ewing is the captain of the F.R. Bigelow. His job is to move cargo for the Ingram Barge Company up and down the lower Mississippi River. He gets barges to their next destination. “It’s kind of a like a floating factory,” he explains. “There are people down there moving 24/7 moving commodities,” says Arnie Rothstein with the Ingram Barge Co.

It’s a big responsibility. A 15 barge tow can carry as much cargo as 216 rail cars and six locomotives or 1,050 tractor trailers, but lately, the towboats haven’t been able to push as many barges. “Southbound, we handle up to 35, depending on the conditions of the river. This stage of the river we’re at right now, we can’t do it,” says Ewing.

Companies up river are feeling the effects. “Some chemical plants or refinery is going to run short on materials to process,” he explains.

The delay is necessary to keep everybody safe. “Just to know that those men downstairs are safe at the end of 28 days,” he says.

There have been reports that the lower Mississippi river could shut down as early as Sunday. A representative from Ingram Barge Company says if the shuts down and their fleet is not able to tow down the river, the employees will still have jobs to do. He says they’ll be placed in other positions so that they get their paychecks as usual.

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