Tugboats and Benzene Barges

November 26, 2016 at 10:04 am (Photography, TX, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

Benzene barge, Port Arthur, Texas

Benzene barge, Port Arthur, Texas

Well, I’m in Southeast Texas where I did some of my growing up. Visiting family for Thanksgiving. Didn’t talk politics so it went well. Yesterday we did something fun. We went first to the Spindletop museum in Beaumont, where the first oil well gusher in the area roared to life in 1902. (Stay tuned for another blog post on that one.)


Then we drove to two restaurants whose websites did NOT say they were closed the day after Thanksgiving, looking for good southern cooking/Cajun food. Both were closed. Finally went to a Mexican buffet near the mall. Sigh. Then we visited my daddy’s grave (gone 25 years now) and realized my Uncle Mike was buried a few feet away (on Nov. 23). It was a beautiful day, and the cemetery was lovely and peaceful.


Kristy Dutsch Towboat, New Orleans, La.

Finally we (my brother, nephew and I) drove through our old stomping grounds in Port Arthur. We went past the old high school (now a middle school), and the old homestead (decrepit and moldy, with a bright orange — and I do mean BRIGHT ORANGE) house across the street. I had a paper route in the neighborhood, and when I graduated from high school it was handed down to my three sisters, and finally to my lil brother.


We drove down Proctor St., past the empty lot where Janis Joplin’s childhood home was (the bricks are now for sale at the Museum of the Gulf Coast – a really cool museum). It’s a pretty, tree-lined street that parallels the Intracoastal Waterway. We turned at the Rose Hill mansion and drove along the canal. A tug boat was visible above the levee, and we drove on top of it and watched the benzene barges go by.



I never really thought about what kind of cargo the barges carried until I saw the signs on board. Benzene is a byproduct of the petrochemical industry, which is one of the major sources of jobs here in the Golden Triangle (Beaumont, Port Arthur, Orange.) Matter of fact, the refineries remind me of huge chemistry sets, with pipes and steaming vents and orange gas flares. They used to stink – a sulphur type of odor, not unpleasant, but very very noticeable – but with EPA regulations the scrubbers have really cleaned up the smell. (And I assume, some of the overall toxicity of living in an area full of chemical plants.) I did get a whiff of the old “Port Arthur smell” yesterday and it kinda made me homesick.


Kristy Dutsch

Anyway, there was a steady stream of barge traffic the hour before sunset. One tug boat (they’re also called tow boats) pushed four barges!


Eugenie J Huger, New Orleans towboat with four barges

Some info on how this river navigation system works is found in this Environmental Defense Fund publication.


Here’s the distinction they make: “The term towboat, also known as a pushboat, refers to vessels that push barges through the water. This is the most common vessel type within the Houston area. The term tugboat most commonly refers to vessels that use a cable to pull cargo through the water.”


Until I researched it, I didn’t realize Pleasure Island is completely manmade – spoils from dredging the ship canal.


Eugenie J Huger passing by Pleasure Island

Generally the birdwatching at the Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge and along the Gulf Coast near Sea Rim State Park is pretty good, but I’m here only a few days and family comes first. However, when I return back to Oklahoma I plan to visit the Great Salt Plains NWR in the northern part of the state. I’ve been seeing posts about the phenomenal birds gathering there for the winter. Woo hoo!


If you like this sort of thing, you can watch a video about cargo shipping from the Port of Port Arthur. I thought they’d handle petrochemical shipments, but it appears it’s primarily other types of cargo, including military vehicles and equipment.


Rose Hill mansion adjacent to the seawall

Watching the boats go by was like being a trainwatcher. These hobbyists love watching trains. Even more, they know a lot about the types of engines and cargo and cars that pass by. In Folkston, Georgia, where I lived a few years ago, it was a trainwatcher’s mecca since the rail lines funneled through that town. There was a gazebo set up with info about the trains, their time schedules, and cargoes. Sometimes trainwatchers from all over the country would be there with their iPads showing the dispatcher’s view of the trains coming, going, and waiting.


So I’m including links to the info about the tow boats, for anybody who likes that sort of thing.





Kristy Dutsch heading west under the bridge to Pleasure Island


Jackie Cenac from Port of Houma, La.


Photos and text copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre

Feel free to reblog or share

Website:  CindyMcIntyre.com

Online gallery:  Smugmug and Fine Art America

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Contact:  cindy at cindymcintyre.com









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