NEVILLE ISLAND (KDKA) — On Wednesday, federal, state and local officials had a big problem – how to corral come runaway barges.

They came up with a plan and a team of river men came to the rescue.

Today, Eddie Rhodes, captain of the towboat M.K. McNally was back at work on a 28-day river trip for Campbell Transportation.

“They really bring a level of skill that comes from a lifetime on our rivers,” says Commander Richard Timme of the U.S. Coast Guard.

Yesterday, Rhodes piloted his 4,000 horsepower boat with the precision of a surgeon, pushing a string of barges and angling a runaway barge filled with 9,000 tons of a Benzene compound – highly flammable and known to cause cancer – away from a railroad bridge pier.

“What we call a seaman’s eye, the captain brings to that maneuver,” observes the commander who was at the scene, “because it’s not like steering a car. You have to start it and by the time it’s moving too fast you can’t stop it.”

Many involved in the salvage operation were volunteers from throughout the river community.

This began when barges in a broke away early Wednesday after safety wires snapped. A fast current sent them down the back channel of the Ohio River near Neville Island. Two were recovered, one sank and a coal hopper barge remains stuck on the Emsworth Lock and Dam. They met this morning to sketch out a salvage plan.

“The river levels really preclude any kind of immediate salvage. What we’ll do is stabilize it, where it is now, until the levels come back down.”

But Eddie Rhodes and company will become part of local river lore for slowly and gently bringing that barge back through the bridge portals like they were threading a needle.

Even old hands were impressed.

Aside from the captain of the M.M. McNally, three other towboats were involved – the “Rocket,” the “Connie K” and the “Donna Lee.”

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