The color is black, the silence is scary. The
moon sits like a pumpkin in the night sky.Two beacons of light dart about
like a wolf spider.Two eyes/two beacons of light. Below this presence,
a red light and green light dot area below the beacons. Eight amber lights
are spaced like legs of a spider. Like a craft from space this ominous
presence stands firm looking about. It is slowly moving in my direction,
taking up space as it moves forward. I hear a whine, a beating, a rhythm.
I see someone moving my way. I say hello how is your day. They say
fine thanks. How much farther they ask? Two hundred feet more. Ok.
January 2, 2001, 3:00 – 11:30 P.M. Dam # 78:
Last night when I crossed the bridge into Illinois
from Paducah I could see ice floating in the river below the bridge. It
was winding down the Illinois shore like a white snake. When I got to work
I saw the river above the lock covered with ice as far as I could see.
Apparently the Wabash River overflowed and sent its ice into the Ohio River.
The ice looked old and worn, muddy and broken. It slowed down the locking
of towboats and barges, as we had to clear the ice with air before we could
swing the gates open. If ice is allowed to be pressed to the lock walls
or gates it hardens and becomes impossible to move the gates back flush
against the recessed walls out of the way. We also have to make ice lockings.
We ask a towboat with barges to shove into the chamber as far as he can
go without smashing the ice into the lower gates. As he moves into the
lock chamber the ice compacts in front of his barges. Then we ask him to
back up above the lock chamber and tie up. We close the gates and lock
the ice that has been pushed to the far end of the lock. Last night we
lock about five hundreds feet of compacted ice before we could come back
and lock the towboat on the upper wall.
Winter 1977-1978, Dam # 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 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, 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 moves slowly
up my legs. We all wait, we are cold but we all wait for the mass to be
aliened 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. 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.
empty and void
can not be seen without an ego.
Words & Graphics by Tomas