The morning was cold and gray. A Blue Northern had blown through the night before. As I got ready for work in the shipyards, I knew what was planned for us. Since the Northern had passed us, the tide will be low and that meant the Howard would be mostly out of the water. The evening before we had tied the boat up to a post on the bank of the bayou. The Howard was a tow boat with push knees and over the years, there had been some damage on the part of the knees that were normally underwater. So instead of going through the expense of dry docking the Howard the plan was to repair the knees by taking advantage of the tides being out for most all day. I am not a fan of the cold, in fact, I hate the cold. I had rather be hot and sweaty than to be cold.
I dressed in layers upon layers of clothes starting with thermal underwear. I don’t recall how many layers of clothes I had on, but I felt like the Michelin Man as I walked into the shop that morning. We had prepared the work truck the day before with welding and metal cutting gear. We also had a trailer with sheets of half inch metal, angle iron and rubber mounted on plates of ¾ inch steel. We knew it was going to be muddy out there, so the plan was to get the truck as close to the Howard as possible and leaving the trailer near the road. There was a wench truck that we planned to use to transfer the heavy metal out to the boat.
We sat at the table in the shop drinking coffee and going over our plan. We knew there was going to be some metal we needed to cut out of the lower part of the knees, but we really did not know how much. As we left the shop, the drive to the shipyards is about 20 minutes. The heater in the truck was taking its sweet time warming up and my feet were freezing. As we arrived at our worksite, we saw that we had a field of mud to go through to get to the boat. We dropped the trailer off near the wench truck and drove the other truck with the welders out to the Howard. Fortunately, we did not get stuck, but we were throwing mud everywhere from the dually wheels of the truck. We backed the truck up to the bow of the boat; I climbed on the flatbed of the truck and raised a ladder so I could climb up onto the deck. I needed to start up the boat’s generator so we could get the heaters going on the boat, especially in the galley. But I had to be careful that the generator does not overheat since the cooling channels alongside the boat where the cooling water for the generator was located was out of the water due to the low tide. I don’t think we will have to worry much about the overheating since the day air was so cold, but I needed to make sure to keep an eye on the temp gauges.
With the truck blocking the north wind and the cutting torches lit, I was starting to warm up some. We got the bad metal cut away so the fabricating of the new parts of the push knees was started. We had brought out some of the metal materials we needed using the wench truck. Once we got the frame for the repair tacked into place, it was time to weld up all the metal to add as much strength as we could. We had to get this finished today since the tide was going to come back in tonight and where we were working on the boat will be under water tomorrow.
We were about to finish when I started to feel warm, even hot on my back. My co-worker yelled at me that I was on fire! It took me a second to comprehend what he was saying. I saw him grab a bucket of water and was heading my way and that is when it sunk in that I WAS ON FIRE! I had taken my jacket off since it was making it difficult for me to move my arms. The outer layer of shirt was on fire at my lower back. I struggled to get out of that shirt as quick as I could because I did NOT want that bucket of water thrown on me. Fortunately, only the outer layer shirt was what burned and not the other layers of shirts and thermal top.
We went back to work to finish welding. That evening we were talking about this at the shop. The fabricating the lower part of the push knees were done and tomorrow we prepare the boat to go on another job pushing barges. This was just another day to laugh about at Stapp Towing!
I circled the push knees on this picture of the Howard to illustrate what we were working on.