June 28, 2008 - FMR VOM @ L&D #1

One of my sideline volunteer projects is photographing and writing the "Volunteer of the Month" profile for Friends of the Mississippi River, a local river conservation advocacy non-profit.
I got the call-up for next month and was thinking that the first Lock & Dam on the river would be a good place to do the pictures. Not only have we not used it yet, but it's right down the street. Plus, this edition will feature a volunteer couple, one of whom is an ironworker. I figured it would set the stage for some good contrasts.
For a little background, the purpose of the Lock & Dam (okay, Locks & Dam, there are two sides) is to float boats gently up or down a change in river elevation. So what they do is, if the vessel is going downstream, the change in elevation is lower so they gather the boat or boats (and it can be anything from a kayak to a grain barge) in the lock, which is sort of a big bathtub, close up the massive doors, and pump the water out until the vessel(s) are lowered down to the outlet side elevation of the river. Kind of like pulling the plug on a bathtub full of water and floating your rubber ducky from the lip down to the drain level. Except they don't pump ALL the water out, or bad things would happen. Bad things do rarely happen tho, like in the old days when a barge captain tried to leapfrog the waiting line of barges and rammed the door of the Lock, causing a huge hinge to fail and stacking up all traffic on the river for days. Rumor has it that he abandoned ship under the cover of darkness and went "inland." I've also heard tales of boats tying off the line that they are supposed to be letting out, so that as the water level recedes, the boat tips to one side and gets raked on the side of the Lock, hilarity ensuing.
It's pretty straightforward nowadays, but I have to admit it is a strange sensation to be in the big bathtub when the water is running out.
It's all about barges at the L & D. Even their Purple Martin house is a barge. Mailbox on the pilothouse, dual antennae and everything. Probably an EPIRB in case the water level gets to the top of the pole too, I suppose.
Here's the "up" side of the lock, with the bathtub ready to fill. In the background are the Ford Bridge, Ford Parkway, Ford Motor Company Plant, Ford Hydro Dam, and some bloody apartment building that snuck in under the zoning code for tall buildings on the river. Not sure what they are going to call everything after the Ford plant closes, as they say it will pretty soon.
An expert fisherman plying the big river, the Black-crowned Night Heron. Looks like he's got his eye on something.
I suppose I had better get back to scribbling out a profile, deadline's creeping up...

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