Doug McGinnis, Giant Of River Industry
Doug McGinnis, heir to a river-related business family, founder of a group of companies that include drydocks, shipyards and towing companies, and River Hall of Fame member, passed away at age 88 September 6. He left a legacy of achievement and community on the rivers matched by few.
McGinnis was born into the river business. His memories stretched back to the transition from steam and wooden hulls to diesel and steel. At a company celebration in Alton, Ill., in 2008, he reflected to The Waterways Journal on his family’s journey.
“My grandfather started a little sand and gravel company in Huntington, W. Va. in 1913,” he said. “That same year, a contractor asked him to help out with a three-foot-high floodwall he was building in Portsmouth, Ohio. That project went so well that he and my grandfather set up a company together, the Portsmouth Sand & Gravel Company. My grandfather had a dredge boat, a little side-wheeler. In 1922, he built a paddle-wheeler with the first Fairbanks diesel engine on the Ohio River. When he died in 1939, my dad became superintendent of the sand and gravel business.”
“In 1940, Dad bought his first drydock–a wooden drydock, built by the Cochran brothers and pumped by hand. It took 24 hours to lift a wooden barge in it. We patched them using oakum and cotton.”
“When The Ohio River Company called my dad to help them patch leaking barges, the barge repair business got started. When my dad sold the sand and gravel business in 1940, the equipment included four paddle-wheel boats, all wood and steam. Then my dad started Portsmouth Docking Company in 1952. I worked for him after I got back from Korea and Fort Benning. In 1969, my dad decided it was time to retire, so I bought him and my mom out.”
The company was Portsmouth Docking Company. McGinnis renamed it McGinnis Inc., and turned it into a major marine repair services provider. Today, under the leadership of McGinnis’ son Bruce, the McGinnis family of companies provides services that include boat and barge repairs, diesel engine repairs, harbor and line haul towing services, sand blasting and painting, marine construction, dredging and mid-stream fueling, just to name a few.
Despite his busy schedule, McGinnis found time to give back with many forms of service. He was the Port of Huntington Propeller Club President in Huntington, W. Va., from 1988 to 1992. He was instrumental in recruiting local Coast Guard, Corps of Engineers and other river industry personnel as club members to work together to keep the Port of Huntington safe and the industry flourishing at a time when the Port of Huntington was the largest tonnage port on the inland waterways and the fifth largest tonnage port in the nation.
In 2008, McGinnis was given the National Achievement Award by the National Rivers Hall of Fame. Since retirement, he had been living in Florida.