A 1980s photo of Todd Clower, now CEO of Harbor Towing & Fleeting, standing in front of his namesake vessel, the Todd G, docked at Star Fleet at Mile 91 on the Mississippi River in New Orleans.

Harbor Towing & Fleeting Continues Longtime Legacy Of Star Fleet

On the right descending bank of the Mississippi River in New Orleans, about midway between Algiers Lock on the west bank and the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal (IHNC) Lock on the east bank, lies Star Fleet.

New Orleans-based Harbor Towing & Fleeting (HTF), which specializes in barge fleeting and tripping tows through Algiers, IHNC and Harvey locks, operates Star Fleet, which covers about 4,000 linear feet along the river and has a fleeting capacity of about 40 barges. While HTF is now under its third generation of family leadership, Star Fleet’s place on the New Orleans riverfront goes back even farther.

“That was before your time, before my time and before my dad’s time,” said Jerry Clower, president of HTF, whose father, Gerald, also known as “G.D.” and the Silver Fox, started the company in 1970. “Star Fleet was originally owned by Federal Barge Lines, which was formed by the government to move war material.”

In 1924, Congress established the Inland Waterways Corporation, also known as Federal Barge Lines. Federal control of inland waterway commodity movements, which dates to the post-World War I days, came about as a response to the inability to efficiently move resources by rail during the war. Cities up and down the Mississippi and Black Warrior rivers, including in New Orleans, established terminals and fleets, which were, in turn, served by Federal Barge Lines.

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Shortly after the start of World War II, G.D., a country boy from Crystal Springs, Miss., was working in sales and operations in New Orleans for Federal Barge Lines.

“My mother worked in the Federal Barge Lines office,” Jerry said. “That’s how Daddy met her. They got married in ‘41 or ‘42, and I was born in ‘43.”

G.D. would go on to serve in World War II on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific. When he returned from the war, he got back into the maritime industry, eventually serving as executive vice president of Dixie Carriers.

“It was strongly suggested that he move to Houston, but my mother would have none of it,” Jerry said.

G.D. left Dixie Carriers and went into business with Cliff Northon, a friend and former Federal Barge Lines captain who was operating Star Fleet. In 1970, Gerald bought the fleeting side of the business, became the sole operator of Star Fleet and launched Harbor Towing & Fleeting.

Around that same time, Jerry went to Louisiana State University, then spent about 15 years working in engineering and sales for Union Carbide. After the nation’s economy took a nosedive in the early 1980s, though, Jerry came back to the family business in 1983 to work alongside his father.

“We even bought a boat in 1983, the Todd G, named after my son Todd,” he said.

Jerry said the vessel purchase was a real leap of faith, especially given the economy at the time. The boat was bank-owned, and the bank was only looking for $250,000 for the boat. Jerry put a $10,000 cash deposit on it. At the time, it was all the cash he had.

“That’s close enough to broke, so I thought, ‘What the hell difference does it make?’ ” Jerry said. “We still own that boat.”

Fast forward to 2005, and Jerry faced another crisis: Hurricane Katrina, the monster storm that made landfalls in Louisiana and Mississippi on August 29, 2005.

“It wiped out the fleet,” Jerry said. “We had small barges with deadmen that people would use to tie up to. We lost it all.”

For the next four to five years, Jerry led the effort to salvage the fleet and secure permitting to rebuild Star Fleet.

“We opened the doors again in 2010 with the new and improved Star Fleet,” he said.

That’s also about the same time that Jerry asked his son, Todd, to move back to New Orleans and join the family business.

“I said, ‘This is getting to the point where I need help with this. I know you want to get involved, and this is the perfect time,’ ” Jerry said.

From right to left, Jerry, Todd and George Clower stand together at Harbor Towing & Fleeting’s Star Fleet on the Lower Mississippi River in New Orleans, La.

While Todd now serves as CEO of the company, Jerry is still very much involved.

“I’m not growing old gracefully, I’ll put it that way,” Jerry said. “I like to stay active.”

Under Todd’s leadership, Harbor Towing & Fleeting has been upgrading its horsepower for tripping barges through the locks and continuing to build out the fleet. Star Fleet now features 23 monopile mooring dolphins that are “over-engineered to provide safe mooring for loaded barges, while withstanding the force of the river whether in high- or low-water conditions,” according to the company. Today’s fleet is a significant improvement from when he was a young man in the 1960s, Jerry said.

“When I got started, I remember walking through the batture, stepping on alligator heads, to deliver groceries, so we’ve come a long way,” he said.

The company is working on the permitting to expand the barge fleet another 2,000 linear feet, Jerry said, along with continuing to boost horsepower in its towboat fleet.

“Todd is really looking at expansion,” Jerry said. “I attribute a lot of the advancement since Katrina to Todd. He’s done a really good job.”

In December 2023, Jerry was honored with Seamen’s Church Institute’s River Legend Award. Todd currently serves as the chairman of The American Waterways Operators’ southern region, and he’s a Gulf Intracoastal Canal Association board member.

Todd said he’s thankful to be working alongside his father, just like his father worked alongside his grandfather.

“It’s an honor being able to work with my dad and keep the legacy alive,” Todd said. “The last 15 years have really flown by. I don’t know what the future holds, but I’d love to see my son, George, someday become the fourth generation to work for the company.”

Star Fleet is located at Mile 91 on the right descending bank of the Lower Mississippi River.

Caption for photo: A 1980s photo of Todd Clower, now CEO of Harbor Towing & Fleeting, standing in front of his namesake vessel, the Todd G, docked at Star Fleet at Mile 91 on the Mississippi River in New Orleans.