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Towboat Mishap

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Towboat Cahaba slides under Rooster Bridge

Towboat vs. Bridge

Charles Barger / Democrat-Reporter

Remarkable photo vignette shows a river towboat colliding sideways with a bridge, rolling underneath it, and emerging intact on the other side.

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Comments: There's no photo tomfoolery here. The foregoing pictures, taken by amateur photographer Charles Barger, document an actual incident that took place on April 19, 1979 at Rooster Bridge on the Tombigbee River in western Alabama. They were originally published 28 years ago in a two-page spread in the Linden, Alabama Democrat-Reporter. The images were scanned and uploaded onto the Internet by person(s) unknown in early 2002 and have circulated via email ever since.

According to eyewitnesses, the 80-foot towboat Cahaba, piloted by Capt. Jimmy Wilkerson, was towing coal barges down the rain-swollen river when it approached the Rooster Bridge, a drawbridge on State Route 80 near Demopolis, Alabama. Standard practice would have been to release the barges and let them pass under the bridge close to shore, after which the towboat would negotiate the drawbridge opening and catch up with the barges downriver.

In this case, however, one of the tow wires got stuck and the barges dragged the towboat sideways under the bridge. Onlookers saw the boat tip over and feared it was sunk, but it somehow scraped through and popped up intact on the other side with Wilkerson hanging onto the helm for dear life. Soaked and shaken but uninjured, Wilkerson managed to steer the Cahaba to shore while another boat rounded up the barges.

Rooster Bridge sustained only slight damages, according to the Democrat-Reporter, while the Cahaba required $75,000 of repairs. It continued to operate on the Tombigbee River for many years afterward.


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Sources and further reading:

Old Photos of Towboat Hitting Bridge Became an Internet Sensation
Professional Mariner, 1 June 2002

Tugboat vs. Bridge
Personal remembrance by Capt. Michael L. Smith, via Captain-Net.com


Last updated: 10/05/07

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