Monday, March 29, 2021

Towboating in the Winter (Mule Training)

Jack Tanner Towing shared
RiverWorks Discovery posted
Setting a new record in 1985 on the Illinois River pulling 15 barges from Peoria to Hennepin Power Plant behind the boat.
This is what is called mule training. Barges were lined in a single file line to cross upper Peoria Lake in the ice. The wires were then loosened to allow it to flex like a train.
Today companies use teamwork and bigger horse powered boats to fight the ice in the winter and keep the river open.
Photo Courtesy of Capt Pete Windmuller.
John D. Arnold: The boat was attached to the barges by a 6” Hawser Linewith a D Ring. 2 35’ wires were shackled into the D ring. The eyes were put on the Front timberheads. The following Barges were ties together with a 70’ leaving line w/3’ eye. You got a 2 part line, 1 round turn and 2 - 1/2 hitches. You used the same length lines at ea coupling tied this way so the barges pulled straight. Standard Muletrain Tow was pushing 1 rake and pulling 14 brgs astern. Been there! In later yrs we pulled barges in 2 pc units. Wired up at the square end , lines at the rake ends. So it was like pulling 7 astern.
[Another comment that teaches me how much I don't know. :-)]
William Travis Shaw: I decked for a guy who told me about “mule training” he had some cool pics and great stories about jumping from barge to barge to replace the stern light.
Don Traut: Fascinating. Truly a "tow" boat!
Thomas Oliver: Why did they stop doing this ?
Ricky Hamlin: Thomas Oliver checking tow was not fun.
Capted Smiley: Thomas Oliver. Lots of damage to barges and very time consuming.
Mike Cotham: I had 16 strung out on the merry Morison ill river 1982.
David Potter: I did it back in 1979 for WBL. With 8 barges. It was different ill tell ya. But enjoyed it. But it was REAL rough on a boats stern.
David Gulden posted
Rob Smith: N/B at the top side of Bulls Island Cut…. It’s always tough in there come ice season….
Ronnie Lewis: Mule training!
[Some comments discuss the history of the boat, including a fire.]

Tom Drennan posted two photos with the comment: "When 6000 horsepower isn’t enough."
Jeremy Shot Tardy: One boat had more than enough HP. Lock 27 unexpectedly imposed 89’ width restrictions so the tow had to be split up in order to fit into the lock chamber. [That explains why the tow is small in the photos, but not why there are two towboats. The explanation for two towboats is that more horsepower is how they cope with ice on the river.]
Greg Genz: Canal above St. Louis?
Tom Drennan: Greg Genz yes, just above lock 27.


OurMissWinter2011, p2

The country was in a polar vortex in February until about when this photo was taken.
RiverWorks Discovery posted
Heavy ice on the Illinois River!
Marquette Transportation Company seen here at night plowing thru it in the Marseilles Lock.
Courtesy of
Edwin Allen
Grace Mott: Super thick here in Havana, on the Illinois River!
Adam DeSimone: Not the Myskowski, that's a dravo plus we haven't made it that far. 
Edwin Allen: Adam DeSimone the lock clearly messed that up that's the name they had In the order we locked ..they broke the ice for us all the way to peoria ..sorry for the mix up.
RiverWorks Discovery: Adam DeSimone we reported the info given! So this us not the Myskowski?

Jack Tanner Towing shared

Curt Smith posted two photos with the comment: "Can't remember if I posted these already or not. Tigre of Newt Marine service breaking ice at Lock 11 Dubuque late 90s photo."
Dianne Neale: Really hard on a boat! Need to have a barge on the head of boat.
Becky Redmon: Yes it is hard on the boat, but very beautiful to look at


Since there seems to be only one "lane" in the ice, I wondered what happened when two tows met.
Randy Schneider posted
9 years ago mile 45 Ohio old lock 8.
Justin Cain: Had to rub tows passing a boat about that time.
Randy Schneider: Justin Cain he had to come all stop so I could point it up on the ice sheet to get down along side him.

Blessy Marine Services posted
While the rest of us are starting to warm up, the crew on the MV Mark Burke Likes [Mary Burke Liles] still is feeling that Winter chill up in Chicago!!! 🥶🥶 stay warm and be safe friends!!

Henry Golden shared
Lloyd Scott Hardin: Looks like inbound under the eje looking at 92st.
Charlie Hellman: That ice is every bit 6 inches was up there two days ago at the Santa Fe dock.
Christopher Plunkett: The canal didn't freeze in the olden days. Of course, it stunk pretty bad and nothing could live in it. I guess some changes are for the good, even with ice.

Dennis DeBruler commented on Lloy
Scott Schulte posted
Back to bank to bank ice in St Louis
Kerry N Kim Maynard: Ice coming off Mo.R. It was predicted. Gorge broke early week.

safe_image for YouTube

Hendry Golden shared four photos of tows plowing through ice.

Five photos of breaking ice in 1977 on the Mon and Ohio Rivers  This is another post that implies you should have barges in front of the towboat when running in ice because the ice is hard on the equipment.

Around 3:53 of this video of towboats working on an icy Illinois River you can see the pilothouse go up. This video also catches two more tows going downbound on the river. Note that the size of the tows are just 2x4 or smaller when there is ice. At 7:55 you can tell from the propwash and the engine exhaust that the port side screw is pushing harder to help get the front end of the tow around the curve. The M/V Sugarland appears to be another retractable towboat. At 17:23 we see that it takes lots of horsepower to shove through ice because those are big prop washes considering it is a downbound tow. Also, I'm really impressed by the river bluffs in the background. I wonder how far up north they were on the Illinoi River. His commentary says that there had not been traffic on the Mississippi north of the Illinois River mouth for a month. 

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