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Concluding Remarks

Growth of Barges

Many of the bulk boats of the 1860’s, such as those originally made for Captain Vandergrift, proved too frail for long service in the pummeling waters of the Oil Creek freshets and the fast currents of the Allegheny. A broadside by another boat, especially one made of oak, could smash and sink it. More stalwart bulk boats were built, but the local use of them in Oil Creek began to diminish in late 1865 due to the advent of the pipeline, improved rail connections and tank cars. Some of the wooden barges completed their river trip from Oil City to Pittsburgh by being towed or pushed by steam driven stern-wheelers (Anonymous, 1959).

By the 1880’s the construction of special deep water barges in use on the Allegheny and Ohio Rivers had been strengthened to an average size of 130 feet by 22 feet by 16 feet with eight compartments, water-tight bulkheads and could hold 2200 barrels (Peckham, 1885). Of course, the draft of these deep water barges was too great for the tributaries.

By the 1880’s and 90’s in Europe barges were greatly relied on to transport refined products in the Low Countries and Germany which had networks of rivers and canals (Hidy & Hidy, 1955). Marketing subsidiaries maintained large fleets of barges which provided cheap water transportation for the distribution of their products.

Steel tank barges were introduced in 1892 by Standard Oil of New York and these were soon put into use on the Great Lakes (Hidy & Hidy, 1955). In 1895 tests were made by Standard Oil on the feasibility of transatlantic towing of steel oil barges.

By the 1960’s oil barges plying coastal and inland water routes in the United States had capacities of 20,000 to 30,000 barrels. Also, barge transportation of LP-gas was greatly on the rise in the 1950’s-60’s by special vessels carrying up to 360,000 gallons (Guthrie, 1960). Oil barges were commonly being pushed in the 1950’s, 60’s (and on) by systems of powerful diesels (Anonymous, 1959).

Oil barges are generally of two types: self-propelled and “dumb”, the latter have to be towed or pushed. Long trains of steel barges are evident on our main river routes and can carry 200,000 or more barrels of oil in the sum. (Schackne & Drake, 1960). A nine-barge train is usually configured three abreast as pictured in Oil for Victory by the editors of Look (1946). The main cargo was fuel oil, but other refined products were also hauled.

Prior to WW II the oil tank barges in the U.S. were licensed as follows (Frey & Ide, 1946): “one category consisted of ocean, coastwise and Great Lakes service, and the other of barges for inland waterways only”. During the war, barges hauled and towed a million and a quarter barrels of oil per day (mostly refined) in U.S. rivers and coastal waterways (Curtin, 1946). One-hundred years after Drake’s famous oil strike, about 11% of crude and products were being hauled by barge in the U.S. (Anonymous, 1959).

© 2004, Samuel T. Pees
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