Dick and Gayl's Cruising Adventures

Things we learned in Paducah

Our Loop Stats
About Us and Starsong
Where Are We Now?
Where Were We Recently?
Archives: Where Have We Been?
Photo Gallery
Great Loop Map
Contact Us

Ohio River Lock, as pictured on the floodwall

September 29, 2005
On our way back to Green Turtle Bay Marina, we stopped in Paducah, Kentucky, home of the River Heritage Museum.  We toured the Museum, housed in Paducah's oldest standing building, originally built as a bank in 1844.  After our museum visit, we walked along Paducah's flood wall, which is painted with historic murals stretching for about five blocks in distance.  Each mural has a plaque curating the events depicted. 
We learned lots of interesting and fascinating facts about river life from our visit.  Here are some of the highlights:
About Barges:
We learned that our previous information about barge capacity was wrong, and we had underestimated the amount of material traveling down the river on barges by a lot
One barge has the cargo capacity of fifteen railcars or sixty semi-trailers.  Each barge can hold 1,500 tons of cargo, while a rail car holds 100 tons, and a truck trailer carries 25 tons.  So, thinking back upon the loads we saw being pushed along the Mississippi, we are now even more in awe of the captains, realizing that a tow pushing a full 25 barge load was pushing 75 million pounds -- the freight carried by 1,500 trucks or three trains of 100 cars each!
About the Mississippi River:
The Mississippi is the longest river in North America.  It stretches 2300 miles from its source in Lake Itaska in Minnesota to its end in the Gulf of Mexico.  About 250 tributaries feed it, and those tributaries drain more than 40% of the United States.  The Mississippi is the second largest watershed in the world, draining more than 1.2 million square miles of  land. Each day, 18 million people depend on the Mississippi for their water.
About  the Steam Calliope:
The steam calliope was patented on July 4, 1855 by Joshua Stoddard, who invented it as a replacement for church bells.  Needless to say, the instrument was not embraced by congregations across the land.  The screeching whistles of the instrument did not exactly invoke a sense of peaceful meditation or set an appropriate tone for a call to worship.
Fortunately, Joshua's brother was a steamboat captain, and he saw the instrument's potential to announce the his boat's arrival in port.  Other steamboat captains followed Joshua's brother's lead, the calliope was rescued from failure, and Thomas Nichol and Sons Co. of Cincinnati went on to become the largest builder of steam calliopes in the world. 
About women working on the rivers:
Mary Miller was the first woman steamboat captain to receive a Steamboat Master's license in the United States.  She built the steamboat Saline with her husband in the front yard of their house.  When the boat was launched, she captained it, and he was the navigator.  She got her license in 1884. 
As far as we know, there aren't any women captains on working boats on this river anymore.  We didn't see any women captains, or crew for that matter, in the outstanding film on river history at the Museum, and we never saw a woman on a tow or heard a woman's voice on the radio from a working boat as we made our way along the rivers. 

Towboat repair facility illustrated on the wall

My favorite towboat story:
I learned this history of the steam towboat OMAR at the River Heritage Museum.  OMAR was built in 1936, and it sank in 1948 when the crew used the boat's bow wave to clean spilled coal from its foredeck.  It seems that someone failed to close the forward hatch before the boat did its fancy speeding and slowing maneuvers to get a big bow wave built to swab the decks.  The towboat promptly sank in sixteen feet of water.  Unfortunately, the incident occurred within sight of the barge's home office.  Fortunately, it happened in a part of the river with a smooth and level bottom, so the boat could be reclaimed.
OMAR was sold to the state of West Virginia in 1960.  She suffered the indignity of being renamed and converted to a showboat with what the curator of the exhibit referred to as "a horribly boxy upper deck addition and a lot of garish paint."
One more thing you'd never guess about Paducah:
The Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant is the country's only uranium enrichment facility.  It has operated as a core of our nation's atomic energy production since the 1950s. 
We learned this, and lots more, from the flood wall murals, designed by Robert Dafford, of Lafayette, Louisiana.
About Kentucky's symbols:
Kentucky has more state symbols than any other state I have researched on our travels so far.  Some of its idiosyncratic symbols include an official covered bridge, silverware pattern, pipe band, ampitheatre, fish, and tug-of-war championship.  I was surprised that it didn't have an official state grass (blue grass would be my nominee).  As you would expect, it does have an official state horse, the thoroughbred, adopted as a state symbol in 1996.
One of the state's major industries is the production of distilled spirits, but vast swaths of the state are dry.  This explains why the official state drink is milk, but there is also an official state bourbon festival -- the Bourbon Festival of Bardstown, KY.
The state Wild Animal Game Species is the Gray Squirrel, as adopted by the state legislature in 1968.  The state bird is the cardinal, and the flower is the goldenrod.  The state tree is the tulip poplar, and the state mineral is coal.
The state flag depicts the state seal ( which dates back to 1792), on a field of blue.  It was adopted in 1918, and fully approved ten years later.  The seal depicts a man in buckskin shaking hands with a man in a formal tailcoat.  They are surrounded by the state's motto "United we stand, divided we fall."  The words "Commonwealth of Kentucky" are on top of an outer ring around the seal, and goldenrod in bloom is at the bottom of the outer ring.  Over the years, the two men have changed their attire, facial hair, and degree of intimacy -- from various handshake poses to full embraces.
The state song is "My Old Kentucky Home," with words by Stephen Foster.  The song was adopted in 1928, but in 1988, the General Assembly adopted a bill to change one word in the first verse from "darkies" to "people."  The bill was proposed by the one Black member of the Kentucky House.   This is the way the song begins:
The sun shines bright on my old Kentucky home,
'Tis summer, the people are gay;
The corn-top's ripe and the meadow's in bloom,
While the birds make music all the day.