The boat is the MV Cahaba owned by Warrior and Gulf Navigation of Mobile, AL. The pictures were taken by an amateur photgrapher named Barger. This happened in April, 1979 at Demopolis, AL on the Warrior River. Nobody was seriously injured and the boat continued to it's destination with the barges. To my knowledge, the boat is still in service. The bridge has since been replaced.
UNBELIEVABLE! Look at each picture slowly and completely - in order to the end. If not for the photos no one would believe this.
The towboat is approaching the bridge with barges loaded with coal.
This frame gives you an idea of how fast the river is running, obviously at or near flood stage.
Oh CRAP!! The bridge didn't open and the boat can't stop. Notice the tug has released the barges.
He is backing as hard as possible to try and avoid a collision with the bridge.
Can't back down enough against the current. LOOK at the NUTTY people standing on the BRIDGE!
Uh Oh! ! The current has swung the boat around sideways.
The cook thinks maybe something isn't quite right.
The boss is going to be REAL mad!
Uh... Boss? Do we have flood insurance on this boat? The Tug is going under the bridge!!
Uh.... Boss? You ain't gonna believe what we just did! Tug came out other side!!
She's low, but the flag is still flying.
The wheelhouse door and the door in the second deck are now open.
Look at the water pouring out of the second deck doorway.
The working deck is still underwater, but rising.
This company that built the Tug should get the government contract to build our battle ships. (And cruisers like the Titanic)
Notice anything unusual? Look at the smoke coming from the exhausts. It's got power!!!
Notice the propwash at the rear of the tug. The boat is upright and back under power.
Just another day on the river.
Do you suppose the captain had to change his pants after all that?
From: Captain Michael L. Smith
And as Paul Harvey used to say..." that's the rest of the
It was either late 1978 or early 1979, I have forgotten exactly,
I am close on either... The river is the Tombigbee River
and this happened
to be the record high water ever for that area. The
towboat you see coming
down on the bridge is the Motor Vessel Cahaba owned by
Navigation out of Mobile, Alabama. Warrior Gulf is a
Pittsburg Steel. I know you are familiar with
Birmingham's coal mines and
steel mills, and this company would haul iron
pellets up to Birmingport and
off-load to make steel plate.
the return the barges were filled with coal for export at the McDuffie
Terminal at the mouth of the Mobile River and at the head of Mobile
The Bridge was the Old Rooster Bridge (since demolished and removed
- I saw
the explosion to tear it down also) located below Demopolis,
land-side highway dead ends at the bluff, and you can
still drive to this
site and imagine how high the river had to be to get to
the bottom of the
The pass or Channel Span of the bridge was
located on the far West side of
the river, or on the opposite bank from the
photographer's standpoint. In
normal river flow, we would drop down
near the rock bluff and steer through
the opening to pass southward with our
tows of coal barges. Normal loads
were six barges, each measuring 195'
X 35' and loaded to a 10' draft. This
allowed each barge to carry
approximately 2,000 tons of coal (times six =
12,000 tons X 2000 pounds = 24
Million pounds of cargo.)
The boat is 1800Horsepower twin engine
diesel built in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. It is named
after one of the
eight "friendly" Indian tribes. It is the Motor Vessel
the "sticks" or helm is Captain Jimmie Wilkerson, a long time
river pilot and
was my personal friend - since deceased. The river current
was so very
treacherous that we were forced to drop down to the bridge in
water on the left descending bank and when we got down to the
uncoupled the boat from the barges and let the barges drift down
bridge. The bottom of the bridge would "shave" the coal stacked
barges off to a level surface. The next step was to back the
upriver and then go over to the far West side and traverse the
channel span with the boat, and run down and catch the barges. It
too dangerous to try to bring the barges through the bridge span in
Anyway, Jimmie dropped down properly and with the entire
rest of the crew
standing on the barges for safety, he began to reverse his
engines to back
away. His stern would have to be kept directly pointed
into the current or
the boat would travel sideways like a kite without it's
tail. Captain Jim
was a fine pilot, but he made a small mistake and his
stern was caught in
the current, twisted sideways and the river smashed him
into the bridge
sideways. Notice that the boat re-surfaced right side
up on the down stream
side. What luck you say? Nope, WGN
ballasted all their vessels with three
to four feet of cement in the
bottom. The boat was like a little yellow
rubber duckie, and came back
up like a duckie oughta do. The boat suffered
major cosmetic damages,
but little flooding because of water tight doors,
except in the
pilothouse. Notice the picture where the boat is not quite
you can see water pouring out of the wheelhouse door. The chair
out, and Jimmie told me he was holding on to the controls with all
to keep from going out the drain and into the river. He was very
up and you can see him approach the tow of barges downriver. Well
didn't get it together quite soon enough and he smashed into the
causing further damage.
I next saw Jimmie about a month after
this and we had a cup of coffee
together and talked about the incident.
He was smoking a Camel Non-filter
but didn't even need an ashtray beacuse his
hands were still shaking too
much for the ash to build up to any
How do I know all this? I was on the boat that went through
immediately before the Cahaba. The Motor Vessel James E.
Philpott made the
bridge and was headed south at close to 15 MPH. For
all you who don't
understand, that is very fast on a commercial towboat with
Glad to pass this on to everybody...
Michael L. Smith
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