Lawrence “Mac” McClellan & I.W. Cook
Christmas Dinner, December 13, 2001
Smithland Locks and Dam
March 10, 2005
A good friend, I.W. Cook, passed away last Saturday.
“Dub” and I worked together on the Ohio River, first at Lock and Dam 50 and later at Smithland Locks and Dam. The river was hard on us but so was the land. I remember our working together during the hard winter of 1977 when the river was frozen over and we pounded on ice twelve hours per day, seven days a week to keep the old, tired Lock and Dam 50 functioning. I was tired and ready to go home. He often told me at the end of our grueling, backbreaking shift that he had to go home to feed his cattle and break ice in his pond so his cattle would have something to drink and eat. He would have to repeat this process again and again. Now, that's hard work and I had a new found respect for I.W. as lock man and farmer.
As lock men, we had to work outside in all sorts of weather. We had to make quick decisions to keep the flow and depth of the water in the river correct and the flow of towboat and barge traffic moving without delay through the locks. Lockmen had no time for thought, we just pointed in the direction we wanted traffic to move and that is the way we moved traffic though the lock. The closest thought to mind is the traffic controller at an airport or a traffic cop at an intersection. All this was done while walking on a narrow 5 foot path of hard uneven ice covered concrete, the swiftly moving river on one side and the lock on the other in the bitter cold. At every pass by our small logbook shack we recorded our water flow data and gages and our river traffic times and tonnage in logbooks, with our hands, numb, shaking, cold and wet. At Smithland the computer came to the lock wall and I.W. was one of the first to grasp its meaning and understanding.
Work on the dams was difficult and always dangerous.
There were no time-outs at those locks. We had to avoid broken lines
that flew like rubber bands while we stood nearby during the locking procedure.
We had to avoid falling into the river or lock.We had to make on-the-spot
repairs to the dam. There were no appointments to be made at the old Lock
and Dam 50. It was always “do it now.”
We sometimes had to avoid wildlife and swarms of insects.
There were also easier times when the river was not so
harsh: during lunch at our table at old Lock and Dam 50, whenever
we had a few minutes rest during the high waters, we played “cut-throat
Hearts” with Sonny and Ron.
And years later at the state of the art Smithland Locks and Dam,
as we rode together to work across the ferry during “Dub’s” last days working on the Ohio River.
Thanks, “Dub,” for your quick decisions and leadership
at Lock and Dam 50,
at Lock and Dam 52,
and at Smithland Locks and Dam.
So, today I say good-bye to I.W. Cook
and his hard Ohio River work ethic.
It was good knowing you and Betty all these many years.
Words & Graphics by Tomas