New at Nashville in 1940. (Author’s collection)
Old Boat Column

This Nashville-Built Boat Operated Nearly 80 Years

Since the Inland Marine Expo (IMX) produced by The Waterways Journal is taking place in Nashville, Tenn., this week, this column will detail a boat that was built there. This particular towboat would be in operation for nearly eight decades and throughout that time would have no appreciative changes made to the exterior appearance. A profile view of the vessel would look the same all the years it ran.

In 1940, the Nashville Bridge Company (Nabrico) delivered a third vessel built by the company to the growing Hougland Barge Line, first located in Bowling Green, Ky., but eventually headquartered at Paducah, Ky. The first boat built for Hougland by Nabrico had been a diesel sternwheeler in 1933 named Bob Gresham. The second was a large 143- by 30-foot, 1,100 hp. twin-screw diesel boat named Dorothy H (WJ November 13, 2023) that entered service in 1938.

This new boat had a similar look to the Dorothy H, but was somewhat smaller at 116.7 by 28 feet, and had less power with 800 hp. from a pair of Atlas six-cylinder direct-drive diesels turning a maximum 300 rpm. The overall appearance of the boat was somewhat more refined and stylish compared to the larger boat. There was a full lower cabin, a small upper cabin and a pilothouse above that. Two tall black smokestacks rose from a low engineroom skylight on the roof, and on the outboard sides of them was a large white “H.”

The James H was painted in what was becoming the familiar Hougland style with white cabin bulkheads and black trim. The lower portion of the main cabin bulkhead was painted gray from the handrail to the deck. The effect was a very clean and attractive look at a time that many coal-fired steam sternwheel boats were still running.

Sign up for Waterway Journal's weekly newsletter.Our weekly newsletter delivers the latest inland marine news straight to your inbox including breaking news, our exclusive columns and much more.

Hougland continued to expand, adding the 1,600 hp. Walter G. Hougland in 1941, purchasing the 1942-built 800 hp. single-screw Kenwood from Kosmos Towing and renaming it Whayne H in 1944, having the 2,200 hp. Frances M. Hougland constructed in 1947 and adding a new twin-screw 1,400 hp.

Whayne H in 1948. (The previous boat of that name was renamed Camilla H.) All of these vessels were built by Nabrico at Nashville.

In 1949, the James H was sold to Louisville Refining Company, Louisville, Ky., and renamed Vos K. In 1950, according to the Inland River Record, the boat was “sold” to Producers Towing Company, Louisville, but Producers was a subsidiary of Louisville Refining. The Vos K, with the radio call sign of WF 3929, became a familiar sight on the lower Ohio River, delivering crude oil from various small producer docks from the Mt. Vernon, Ind., area up to the Louisville Refining facility at West Louisville. The appearance of the boat was little changed other than the removal of the gray on the lower bulkhead, and on the stacks now were white letters stair-stepped down showing “L.R.Co.”

The normal tow of the Vos K in this trade consisted of four 195- by 35-foot barges. In 1959, Louisville Refining and subsidiaries were purchased by Ashland Oil & Refining Company. The operation of the Vos K was little changed, and it continued to be owned and operated by Louisville Refining. The four-barge tow was replaced with two 240- by 50-foot tank barges. In 1965, the Atlas engines were replaced with a pair of Cat D398 diesels with Cat 3.95:1 reduction gears. This combination gave the boat 1,530 hp.

In June 1975, the boat was sold to G&C Towing Inc., Point Pleasant, W,Va. In October 1979, it was sold to Mays Towing Company, Clinton, Ky., which renamed it Edward C. Mays in February 1980. At this time, the first dramatic change in color scheme appeared on the boat. The stacks were painted a bright red, and the kick plate at the base of the bulkheads was also trimmed in red, as was the trim around the decks and the top handrail. The rest of the rails were painted white like the cabins and pilothouse. The boat was always well-kept under the watchful eye of the owner of Mays Towing, Capt. Edward C. “Red” Mays. It was seen on the Upper and Lower Mississippi, Tennessee and lower Ohio rivers, usually with a cement tow.

In February 2006, the boat was sold to Cooper Marine & Timberlands, Mobile, Ala., and renamed Jackson III. Painted in their distinctive white with green trim, it was then most often running the Tenn-Tom Waterway and from Mobile to New Orleans. In October 2014 it was sold to Cycle Heritage LLC, Larose, La., and renamed Heritage. Under this ownership the entire lower cabin was painted blue, as well as the portion of the upper cabin below the handrail. The stacks were black, as well as the trim.

As the Heritage near Mobile on December 19, 2014. (Capt. Billy Smith photo)
As the Heritage near Mobile on December 19, 2014. (Capt. Billy Smith photo)

In 2018 the boat was sold to Rock Ridge Investments LLC, Murray, Ky. and operated by GraeStone Logistics, also of Murray. The venerable boat’s tenure under this ownership was very short as it was listed as having been scrapped in 2019 in the Off The Record section of the 2020 IRR.

Caption for top photo: New at Nashville in 1940. (Author’s collection)

Capt. David Smith can be contacted at