The steamer Monongahela downbound on the Ohio River in 1939. (Keith Norrington collection)
Old Boat Column

The Towboat Monongahela

In 1927, the American Bridge Company at Ambridge, Pa., constructed a steel hull measuring 169.8 feet in length by 38.9 feet in width and having a depth of 6.5 feet for the Carnegie Steel Company, which had contracted for the new towboat in 1924.

Named Monongahela, the vessel was completed at Coal Valley, Pa., and it was a sister boat to the City of Pittsburgh. The engines were rated at 1,400 hp., powered by steam from five return-flue boilers. The compound condensing engines contained cylinders of 18 and 36 inches with a stroke of 8.6 feet. The sternwheel was 26.5 feet in diameter with 16 buckets having a dip of 38 inches. The pitmans that connected the paddlewheel to the engines were named “Colonel Charles A. Lindbergh” and “Spirit of St. Louis.”

 Ownership of the boat was changed to the newly formed Ohio Barge Line in January 1941. The original officers  included Capt. John Hottell, master; Capt. William Timmons, pilot; William Herd, chief engineer; and Rolla Rodgers, mate.

In 1942, Capt. Henry Holloway, who was a frequent pilot on the boat, was stricken with a heart attack at Ohio River Lock 23 and died several days later. Coincidentally, he was the son of Capt. Peter Holloway, a well-known riverman who died of heart failure while fishing from his skiff in the Kanawha River some 18 years prior.

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The Monongahela was completely rebuilt by Dravo Corporation at their Neville Island yard during the winter of 1945-46, at which time the boat received a new hull, and the boilers were converted from coal-burning to oil. The sternwheel was replaced and was built, with the exception of the wooden buckets, entirely of steel. When the new paddlewheel was being lifted into place on August 5, 1946, the crane operator had the wheel positioned within 10 feet of its final destination when it fell. Luckily, no one was injured, and the shaft dropped, plumb, into its bearings on both sides of the fantail with no damage. What sighs of relief amongst the shipyard workers there must have been! 

In April 1954, while downbound on the Monongahela River at Pittsburgh, the barges took a nose dive, the towboat literally ran over them and sank over top of the barges. Several empty barges were immediately brought to the scene, and the vessel was lifted from its precarious position. After repairs, the towboat continued in operation, with one of its final trips being from Pittsburgh to New Orleans.

Retired in 1955, the Monongahela was sold in 1957 to the McDonough Construction Company at Parkersburg, W.Va. The large pilotwheel was removed and donated to the Sons & Daughters of Pioneer Rivermen for display in the river museum at Marietta, Ohio. One of the pilothouse nameboards for many years was owned by the late Larry Geisler, proprietor of the Valley Boat Docks, and he displayed it at his riverfront home in Duffy, Ohio. The partially dismantled towboat was eventually sold to a South American company. During the delivery trip the riverboat broke loose from the tug and was beached on the shore of Cuba.

Caption for photo: The steamer Monongahela downbound on the Ohio River in 1939. (Keith Norrington collection)

Editor’s note: For questions or suggestions regarding the Old Boat Column, Keith Norrington may be contacted by e-mail at