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Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Lure of the Locks- a Trip on the Spirit of Jefferson

In the 1970's, my grandmother worked at the McAlpine Locks and Dam.  Specifically, she handled purchasing for the Corps of Engineers.  That was quite an unusual job for a woman in those days.  But, as a young child, I was only interested in the cool aspects of her job.  For example, when a barge carrying hazardous chemicals got stuck for weeks near the locks, Grandma had to carry a gas mask to work.  The best part?  I got to try it on!

Every time we'd drive along I-64, my mom would point to the drawbridge that connected Louisville to the end of Shippingport Island where the offices were and say, "That's where Grandma works."  You can’t see much from the expressway.  So, the locks were always a mystery to me. 

When I found out that the Spirit of Jefferson offered a cruise through the locks...
...I jumped aboard the chance to see the elusive locks up close.  It was a beautiful afternoon, and my whole family went. 

My children weren't sure what to expect.  My daughter, Autumn (age 11), was surprised she could walk around on the boat.  I think she was expecting a speedboat, similar to the type she tubes behind on the lake.

My son, Ethan (age 14), liked watching the barges float by.  He was fascinated by how low in the water they sat when they were full versus how high they rode when they were empty.  There was plenty of river traffic to observe.  The McAlpine Locks are the busiest locks on the Ohio River. 

Ross (my engineer husband) was in heaven.  The tour guide gave us great commentary throughout the voyage, and Ross was loving all the details. 

When it was our turn to enter the 1200-foot chamber, I felt like we were on a tiny toy boat in a huge bath tub.  Once the gates shut, the water level lowered effortlessly about 26 feet (and raised on the return trip).  I couldn't even feel the boat move.

One of the many bonuses for the day was being able to go downriver past New Albany. This isn't a part of the river that many people get to see from water level.  We cruised all the way to the Gallagher power plant before turning around. 

It was a relaxing journey, as well as a nostalgic one for me.  After the return trip through the locks, I looked up, as we floated underneath the new suspension bridge that has replaced the drawbridge that leads to the offices on the island.  I think Grandma would have missed the old bridge.    

Although the trip through the locks was a special event, there are regular cruises on the Spirit and her big sister, the Belle of Louisville.  The Ohio River is such an important part of this area’s past (and future).  Everyone who lives here should get a river perspective at some point.  And, there’s no better way to do it than aboard the Belle.  She is a National Historic Landmark and is the oldest operating steamboat in the world. 

In fact, the Belle will be celebrating her 100th birthday next year (  I hope I’m still steaming along that well when I turn 100.

Kelly’s Comments  (If you go …)
Belle of Louisville & Spirit of Jefferson
401 W. River Road  Louisville, KY  40202
502.574.2992 or 
Ticket prices vary, depending on whether you want to enjoy a meal or simply cruise

By Kelly Watkins, Global Thought Leader on Corporate Effectiveness & Communication.  Kelly travels the world for business, but writes about her adventures for fun.

1 comment:

  1. That was a very nice write up of the Lock Cruises and happy to hear family's keep the memories of what there grandparents did when they went to work. Looking forward to going on a Locks Cruise myself with family and very much looking forward to seeing all the boats down here for the Belle of Louisville Birthday Bash.


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