Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Mom said the store was eerily quiet

Mom said the store was eerily quiet, so quiet that they had to turn on the radio to help drive the silence away. I assume that folks that normally shop now are holding on to their cash since August 2 is so close. The young can hunt  but the elderly will quietly fade away.
I wrote Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky and told him to protect my contract with the government (pension) and he said that we all must meet our obligations and do our part in easing the debt.
Other than that it is a beautiful day in Kentucky, birds are singing and my air pump is rattling against the fish tank cabinet as it always does.
Yesterday I asked one of our white cats to go out and catch some food (I was asking her to be a cat) and you know what she did; she caught a bird.
I went to the doctor yesterday and asked him about my leg and he said something burst inside and it is causing all the pain and it should go away in a few days and if not come back. I ask him if he was going to retire and he said probably not since things have changed for him also. We have known him for 31 years and he also worked on the river as a deck hand when he was going to school so I may have seen him then when I worked at Lock 50 in the 1970’s or Smithland in the 1980’s. He remembers Lock 50 and its wild cowboy like currants.
Locking Towboats at Lock 50
My struggle is no different than any other man. Man has labored from dusk to dawn to survive.
Some have struggled as slaves and some as wage laborers. They have all toiled in salt stinging sweat and some have toiled in cold shivering icy weather.
I have come to work and walked from one end of these lock 50 walls to the other ends of these walls for eight hours; I have walked up a cold icy wall to relieve another lockman, turned and faced and icy blizzard while holding a lock line for a towboat. The deckhand will stand on ice that has splashed over the front of the barges the towboat is pushing. The ice looks like chocolate milk that has dropped from a baby's high chair and flown back up and froze in place. The deckhand works the heavy line while standing on the cold steel deck of the coal barge. It is slow moving and cold, (see how narrow the lock wall is in the photo (there is water on both sides of the wall so I have only one way to move as the line sings) I walk and place a line on a mooring pin on the lock wall, and I walk swiftly away as the line tightens, narrows and sings. Then the line slacks and I move forward and retrieve the line and walk another fifty feet and repeat the process.
The line tightens narrows and sings again, I have moved away swiftly knowing that the line will kill if it breaks and flies threw the air like a rubber band. The icy blowing snow and air still stings my face and numbs my feet. The line is taught the cumbersome mass of cold steel and coal slowly, slowly, very slowly moves closer to the wall. I stomp my feet and the cold pain move slowly up my legs. We all wait, we are cold but we all wait for the mass to be aligned with the wall. The water current tugs toward the middle of the river pulling the heavy weight away from the wall. There is a constant battle between the line and the water current. The coal-sooted line is so hot that it smokes with friction as it moves around the timberheads. We are moving closer to the lock. Fifty feet at a time we move the line and repeat the process. We are numb, we are paid to be numb and cold and to catch and walk the lines. The lock is getting closer and as soon as the front of the barge is inside the protective walls our numbing chore ends.
Once he is inside I can walk to the center of the lock and log what time he entered the lock. (The Lock shack is visible in the photo above). My hands shake as I remove my gloves and grab a pencil. The log is supposed to be neat but shaking hands and drops of melting snow make it impossible. The small guard type shack is small; the floor is covered with wet melting snow, it is a painted gray wood. The paint is worn white by the constant movement of heavy boots. I shake my hands and try to warm them in this confined area. My nose and cheeks are red and wet. In a minute or two I'll continue on to the other end of the lock and help the deckhand secure the barges.
Sometimes the weather is balmy and nice, at other times the temperature is ninety degrees and the humidity is eighty, water and sweat run until your clothes are wet, sopping wet. The steel barges retain the heat and cook the bottom of your soles. The salt cakes around your eyes and burns you.
Just another day at Lock 50.


  1. We just came back from shopping at Walmart. I don't think too many people at our store are even aware that anything is going on with the government or its pending shut down. Everyone is planning a vacation and business is going on as usual around here. I think it's just been too hot for people to get out and shop and they're just staying in.

    One thing that people are noticing though is that everything is going up in price and people are buying less because of that and paying more attention to what they buy or don't buy.

    In our town, Walmart is about the only place to shop so it will always have customers unless you want to travel 14 miles to Richmond where there are more places to choose from to shop.

    Hope that you're having a nice day.

    ps....school is starting soon and maybe everyone in Princeton is taking a last minute vacation before the start of school,and people are just gone.

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