A string of barges snapped its mooring on May 16 and was swept down to the Markland Dam. Eight barges were sunk; several went down against the upstream piers of the dam and obstructed some of the tainter gates. Control of the Markland pool was hampered when the river returned to its normal level. The river fell dramatically.
Area’s immediately upstream from the dam were particularly troubled. Craig’s Creek, for example, looked more like a desert than a resort. Dan Webster, of Dan’s Boat Dock in Craig’s Creek said some 33 boats were being cared for at the time it happened. Many were trailered ashore. The large boats were taken to Ayler’s Marine on the Kentucky River. Mr. Webster said he lost some permanent boat docking because of the low water, but hopes to have it back soon.
Two boat clubs and a group of campers had to cancel plans top spend Memorial Day weekend at Dan’s because of the low water. This is the ordinarily big weekend and opens the boating season there, he said.
The low water effected fishing. But things are bright again and Mr. Webster says the fish are back and plentiful.
It’s an ill wind that blows nobody some good. While the recent barge fiasco at Markland had some far-reaching effects, at least a few harbormasters were able to turn them into advantages. Typical was the New Richmond Boat Club, who used the opportunity to rebuild and lengthen its launching ramp. The original ramp, built to handle 12’ and 14’ foot pleasure boats, became obsolete as boats grew longer and pleasure boating gained in popularity.
Earl Franz, co-owner of Miami Beach in the Little Miami River said there was no damage to his boats at their harbor and that 3 ½ foot of water was maintained in their lagoon. However, lots of expense was involved in dismantling steel from floats and slips because of low water. Some members of the Beach took auto rides down to Markland to try to find out what was going on. Russell Campbell flew his plane down to take pictures of the wrecked barges and salvage operations. Mr. Franz aid that boat owners really didn’t know what to do between the high and low water that prevailed then.
Jay’s Boat Dock near Warsaw up Big Sugar Creek actually had a good outcome from the low water, according to Eileen Mikel, an employee there. As the water receded, Jay’s bulldozed the creek bottom and made a small island for the docking of cruisers. The island is doing fine and it’s hoped that boats will be using it soon.
Traffic on the upper Ohio was considerably reduced during the two-week period when the Markland Dam was out of commission. Many boats were waiting above and below Markland, and others were waiting in the Meldahl pool for some water to get down to the Markland pool.
At Markland Dam, millions of tons of river water poured against the hulls of the 125-foot long barges until they became bent into grotesque shapes against the pillars, spaced 100 feet apart. One of the barges was actually forced into a hairpin-like bend around the concrete pillar. One 500 ton barge jammed crosswise between two openings…jammed tighter with every pound of water that flowed against it.
Work barges put cables on the wrecked barges. They pulled downstream on the two caught in the gate pillars in an effort to dislodge them. For those wedged sideways and against the pillars, the work barges pulled upstream. One workboat pulled so hard the steel A-frame mounted on its bow suddenly broke loose and tumbled into the swirling muddy river.
On Sunday morning, May 28, the Ajax work boat was chopping at the worst of the wrecked barges by chopping a chisel sharpened I-beam on the barge. The beam was used as a “guillotine” trying to chop through the barge’s middle. This operation had been underway for three days. Finally the barge broke, releasing one half of the vessel to tumble down with the current, clear of gate No. 2. The Ajax let go a tremendous blast of her whistle and wild cheers went up from the interested onlookers. The salvage operation had conquered the mountainous task. The rest of the job was “down hill.”
On Monday morning, Gate #1 was freed of the other half of the barge which had blocked #1 and #2. This left gate #5 blocked by the full length of a cargo barge on its side at the bottom. Air was let out of a covered barge, sinking it over the wrecked barge. Divers worked in heavy current to strap the wrecked barge to the covered barge. Then air was pumped into the covered barge, floating it and the wrecked barge away from the gate. The gate was lowered.
The tremendous 95-mile Markland pool began to fill. Sister dams upstream – Meldahl, Greenup, and Gallipolis – started releasing the back log of water they had held back for two weeks. The towboats which had lined up for great distances along both sides of the river, upstream and down, got ready to roll [!] again. River traffic resumed before the week of June 1 was over.
But the work continues. Several barges are still foundered on the bottom, right on the upstream side of Markland, and down hard against the gate sill. The work continues to twist and tug, cut and pull until the barges are removed. Then the task will continue to salvage the several vessels which have passed through the dam and foundered below. Some are showing slight ripples above the water and others are in deeper water and out of sight on the bottom.
The beautiful pool of Markland is full again and the resort-like waterway is fun again.
This article is from 99 Miles of River, July, 1967 We’ve snipped out some parts of the article about New Richmond, Ohio, and the Little Miami River. There was no author credited.