Forthcoming Video Series Profiles River Captains

Capt. Larry Barnes and his son were watching a television show about retired professional basketball players when he had an idea. Why not make a television show where retired river captains are interviewed?

“I thought, you know, you don’t see much video pertaining to the river,” Barnes said. “You see a lot of books written or stories written, but as far as sitting down with a bunch of guys from back in the day, you don’t see that.”

Barnes, owner of Barnes Marine Service LLC of Paducah, Ky., set out to correct that. With help from his friend Jeff Pierce of Pierce Productions of Paducah, Barnes is creating a pilot video for a series he plans on calling “A River Life: The Rest of the Story.”

Recently, Barnes and four other captains sat down for a conversation at the Seamen’s Church Institute’s Center for Maritime Education in Paducah. They filmed five 10-minute segments, leaving room for commercial spots Barnes is selling to help pay for the video. If successful, he hopes videoed interviews with other captains will follow.

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At first, the segments will be posted to YouTube in mid- to late March. They will also be promoted on Barnes Marine’s social media accounts. Barnes said he hopes to contact some local network television affiliates in Paducah, St. Louis, New Orleans and Memphis to see if they might have interest in airing it, all or in part.

“Mainly what I want to get out there with this is I feel like our mariners get forgotten,” Barnes said. “I want this younger generation to understand.”

Many of the captains worked for very little and had technology, communication and comforts that were far inferior to what is available today, but they studied on their own time, made paper charts and combined that with old-fashioned elbow grease to operate safely and efficiently.

The pilot features Capts. Dave Dewey, Harley Hall, John David Arnold, Butch Harrington and Barnes as host. Between them, Barnes said, they have 230 years of experience working on the rivers.

“I think this is something that will take off,” Barnes said. “I hope it will.”

Dewey, 68, of Paducah was president of Western Kentucky Navigation for more than 20 years before his retirement. He still occasionally works as a trip pilot and spent 2015–17 as an instructor at Seamen’s Church Institute. He called the videoed conversation very relaxed.

“We just kind of reminisced,” he said.

The men talked about their mentors, their experiences working on the river and their thoughts on where the industry is headed as a whole. “Some had family members, a father and/or grandfather who had been in the industry. Some not, just ended up getting a life on the river and it ended up being their lifelong work. That was very interesting to me,” Dewey said.

They also spoke about the differences between the working conditions of the past and how they are today. “Part of it is just the generational differences and attitudes, work ethic,” Dewey said.

In the end, Dewey said, it was “kind of fun talking about what we love to do with a good bunch of guys.”

And, he said, he hopes it will also be of value to others.

“Certainly it helps preserve some of the history or the background of our industry,” Dewey said. “You would hope that some of the communities up and down the river might be interested in it.”