Sunday, 17 May 2009

Illinois River Lock

Last weekend, Craig and I had a lovely get away at Starved Rock State Park. The park is right on the shores of the Illinois River. Craig and I brought old Leaky and ended up canoing on the mighty Illinois, barge traffic and all. But that's a different story. On one of our afternoons, we spend several hours watching all the barge traffic going through the locks.

Barges, two wide and three deep are stuffed into the lock. The tow boat has to wait until the next water flow to go through. There is no room in the 600' lock. These babies are huge!

The science behind these locks is really ancient technology. The doors actually float so they are relatively easy to open and close. They are shaped so that the water in the lock holds the door closed so very little energy is needed to run the whole operation.

Craig and I had a short chat with one of the barge workers. We asked him how the traffic moves thorough the lock if the tow boat has to wait outside. He said the whole gaggle of barges is pulled along with a chain, that sits just above the water line next to the barges. If you look up and down the river, there can be many barges waiting their turn. Sunday was a busy day for the lock tenders.

Barge traffic is a very efficient way to move goods. One full barge carries the same pay load as 58 large semis and 15 jumbo hopper train cars. This is all good news for global warming and new leaner balance sheets for businesses.

Anyone else live near locks? Please feel free to add links in the comment section so we can "visit" you local lock.


Jeanette said...

I find locks fascinating but haven't experienced many of them. Mine were usually the 'do it yourself' ones on small canals.

They are very impressive when large boats go through.

Katherine Tyrrell said...

I've got locks on the Regents Canal near where I live. However the barges are domestic only, much smaller and much more attractive! Barge art is a real craft!

Lindsay said...

Have to say I agree that barge art is a craft. These monsters are built for cheap efficiency.

Jeanette, what fun to have a do it yourself lock. Were you in a small craft? Do you operate them from the boat?

vivien said...

One of my friends had a canal boat Lindsay -they've just sold it. You have to get out at every single lock and wind the handle to open the gates, take the boat in then shut the gates and when the water levels open the other end and close it after you

quite labour intensive!

There is a flight of 10 locks near where I work - it takes hours to get up the hill!

Lindsay said...

Vivien, thanks for the link and it was very interesting. Much cheaper than a membership at a health club too! Wow, takes alot of work.

Gesa said...

Great post, Lindsay - I very much enjoy how each of us is appropriating new topics for watermark.

Locks are fascinating - the last boat trip I did with some of them was in Berlin last summer; the combination of technology and water force is very interesting.