River Barges

I live within walking distance of the Mississippi River. If I see a tow with barges, I always pause and watch it and often wonder what life would be like aboard one.

John McPhee must have wondered about this too as he decided to ride along with the crew of the Billy Joe Boling and write about them.

“Tight-Assed River” appeared in the Nov. 15, 2004 New Yorker. No free copies on the Web but you can buy the article here for $9.95 (price of the magazine was only $3.95 so see if you can order a back issue at the New Yorker site).

The Billy Joe Boling travels the Illinois River. Where’s that? Well, according to McPhee, there’s one in Oregon, another in Arkansas, and the third is actually in Illinois. McPhee’s river starts near Chicago and descends 273 river miles to Grafton, IL, on the Mississippi forty from St. Louis.

It’s a wonderful piece about the boats that ply our nation’s rivers and the people who tend them.

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