A Tale of a River Towboat Captain
Arriving at the Bussen Quarry with a tow of four sand-filled barges and the dredge, Tom Koenig maneuvers into the dock. The dredge is a plain suction, dredging through the oval suction intake, and discharging through a chute that contains classifying screens.
Tom Koenig has been operating a towboat and moving barges and scows on the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers for two decades.
Photos by Jason Koenig
Towing sand barges on the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers takes skill and attention, and it’s a good job for the family-oriented.
Tom Koenig has been operating a tug on the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers for the past two decades, moving barges and dredging equipment for Limited Leasing Company.
The company dredges construction sand from the rivers for its own aggregate sales and to supply other aggregate operations in the St. Louis area. They use a plain suction dredge that pumps through a chute containing classifying screens, then into barges. In a schedule of well-ordered days, Koenig assembles a tow of four empty 500-ton barges at the Bussen Quarry in the morning and pushes them to where the dredge is working, which was another six miles downriver on July 16. When the barges are filled by the end of the day, he moves them back up to the quarry, where they are unloaded by a track hoe with a three yard bucket the following day, while Koenig takes four empty barges up to the dredge.
This has been a good river job for a family man, Koenig said. When his two children were young, his schedule always allowed him to be home in the evenings. (His son is Jason Koenig, advertising manager for IDR).
Now that his children are grown, he had the latitude last fall to take a 1,500-mile round trip up the Missouri River to Blair, Nebraska to pick up a dredge and auxiliary equipment for L.W. Matteson and move it to the Kasksakia River for its next job. Since there was only navigation on the Missouri in the daylight hours, he and his fellow Captain Steven Anderson tied off on the bank during the night.
The trip took eight days each way, and involved preparing the dredge for the tow. This involved putting a small float under the cutter to raise the front of the dredge so that water would not enter the vessel when it was under tow. They then arranged the fuel barge, derrick barge, crane barge and other equipment into a safe configuration, and tied them together with 3/4-inch and 7/8-inch cable, welding on cleats to tie onto if necessary.
Once the tow was assembled, with the boat tied to it, they headed back down the Missouri to St. Louis and them 30 miles up the Kaskaskia River to drop off the dredging equipment.
The job has something different every day, said Koenig. The river is different depending on its stage, and even though there aren’t a lot of exciting moments, a towboat operator has to be aware of what the river is doing at all times. Recently he was about to transit under the Eads Bridge when a sudden storm blew in with high velocity winds. He knew there was a good chance of hitting a bridge pier if he kept going, so at the last minute he swung the tow around to
wait out the storm.
His crew consists of a deckhand on the boat, plus the dredge operator. Most people stay with the company for a long time, he said. At the moment, the person with the least time in the company has been there for 10 years, and others have 20 or 30 years.