Countryman & McDaniel -  The Logistics - Customs Broker Attorney

"Overlooking Runway 25 - Right, at Los Angeles International Airport"  


"UNDER Achiever"

Please Raise The Bridge

or Lower The River !

On The Tombigbee River

April 28, 1979

Countryman & McDaniel

 The Air & Ocean Logistics- Customs Broker Attorneys

"Overlooking Runway 25 - Right, at Los Angeles International Airport"

On The Scene In Alabama !!

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"UNDER Achiever".

Please Raise The Bridge


Lower The River!

April 28, 1979

The Place: Tombigbee River, Alabama

- running at historic high levels

The Time: Morning of April 28, 1979

The Cargo: Barge of Coal Under Tow

These Photos Are Among The Best We Have Ever Seen,

Never before Have Over 50 of Our Readers Contributed Such Pictures (the 1st was Donald Gill) -- All At The Same Time !

THANKS TO YOU ALL For Having Suggested These Photos !

Thanks To Our Correspondent Wes Boyd For Helping Put together An Amazing Historical Text --

Historic Photos In A Trunk For 20 Years - Awaiting The Internet?

Our Wes Boyd Has Tracked Down The History


These Photos Have Been Seen At Other Websites -Which Have Disappeared.

So We Decided To Preserve Them.

The photographer of this amazing sequence of photos may have been a reporter from the Linden, Alabama DEMOCRAT Newspaper en route to Meridian, Mississippi -- at the time of the incident. Others say the pictures were not from a newspaper, but used for safety training services to the river transportation industry. Either way, these are photos from the East end of the bridge as the towboat CAHABA "blew for a draw," as it is called -- at the Rooster Bridge.
1. On April 28, 1979 tow boat M/V CAHABA, commanded by Capt. Jimmy Wilkerson, was dropping 2 barges, with coal, through the non-lifting East span of Rooster Bridge on the Tombigbee River (mile marker 200), with intent of then running the tow boat around through the West bridge span which does lift & then catching the barges downstream of the bridge.
Pilot Earl Barnhart & 2 deckhands were placed on the tow to cast off the safety wires & winch wires.

2. For some unknown reason, the hands on the barges had taken loose all rigging except the starboard tow-knee wire on this barge laded with coal.
3. Wilkerson had dropped the barges in a non-opening area of the East bridge span where the current was less, with the intent of picking them up later -- and then intending to run Cahaba through the West section of bridge span that does open, while he was "light."
Notice that tow boat CAHABA has released her barges.
ENGINES: Tow Boat is backing as hard as possible to try to avoid collision with the non-opening East span of the bridge. This photo gives you an idea of how fast the river is running -- obviously at or near flood stage. Indeed, the Tombigee River was running at an historically high level.

DO YOU KNOW THIS MAN? Our reader searches for his father. He saw this footage & reconizes the bridge. His brother was a lawyer in Selma, Alabama at the time & is very familiar with the bridge. His father went to West Alabama in '79 to look at this flooding. He might be the man in the picture in the hat (just ablove). Do you know? The photo looks just like father & he had a hat just like thIs one in the picture. Of note is that this father was the civli engineer in charge of builing the famous "Pettus Bridge"<<webfeature -- over which Martine Luther King, Jr. crossed at Selma, Alabama. The family thinks our "man in the hat" left our pictures on the bridge for fear of a structure collapse. Edmund Petts Bridge<<webfeature.

Because this father died in '83, it would be nice to let our reader know. SO -- CAN YOU IDENTIFY THIS MAN? This Father?

Let us Know -- at Cargo Law

4. Capt. Wilkerson has now underestimated the current & moved too close to the East span of the bridge. Wilkerson is caught by the current. This is a macro example of what happens when you get a canoe or kayak up against what is called a "strainer" -- a fixed obstacle where the current is roaring.
5. The Tombigbee's current has swung CAHABA around sideways. She can't back down enough against the current. The CAHABA Is In Deep trouble. Get the upstream gunwhale down, and then you're "out of business.!" This is what's happening with Wilkerson now -- he was doing OK until Cahaba began to take an angle to the current.
6. Next, the river current swung the boat around sideways. CAHABA is trapped against the Rooster Bridge span starboard side to. Towboats like CAHABA have a substantial amount of draft (8 to 12 feet) and, when this large surface was presented -- beam to the river current -- the boat started rolling to port. With the upstream gunwhale down -- is CAHABA "out of business.!"
Good-bye CAHABA?

7. The Cook At This Moment Is Making Lunch. Geeeez, How About An "Upside-down Cake."
8. Here We Say "Farewell" To The Tow Boat CAHABA.
9. But What's This? Has the CAHABA survived? Please Call Those People Who Don't Believe In Miracles -- CAHABA Rolled Completely Onto Her Side -- Has She "Under Achieved?" -- She Passed UNDER The Span -- & Partially Righted After Clearing The Rooster Bridge. CAHABA's tow knee wire (still attached to the barge) had pulled the starboard tow knee on the CAHABA under the bridge. When the wire finally broke, the vessel popped up & hung the tow knee underneath the bridge.
Do These People Live Right, Or What?

We're Attempting To Determine Which Church The Crew Attends --

CAHABA Has "Achieved" By going "UNDER."

10. To The Crew, Below In CAHABA -- There is No Way To Explain What Has Happened.
No, We Are Not Dead Yet -- But It's An Amazing Facsimile of The Usual Process!

11. She's Low, But Note That "Old Glory" Is Still Flying From Atop The Wheel House.
12. The wheelhouse door & door in the 2nd deck are now open. Look closely at bottom right-hand side of the picture & you will see that the bridge guardrail is underwater.

Throughout the ordeal, Capt. Wilkerson remained at the sticks. At one point, when the boat was completely horizontal, he was straddling the port pilothouse door frame. During the time the pilothouse was immersed, the port front pilothouse window blew in, filling the space with water.

13. The working deck is still underwater, but CAHABA is rising. Look at the water pouring out of the 2nd deck doorway.
14. The Working Deck Is Still Underwater, But CAHABA Continues To Rise. According To Crew, CAHABA Had Just Topped Off With Fuel At Demopolis, 14 miles Upstream. CAHABA Has One Central Fuel Tank Forward of Her Engines.
Had That Fuel Tank Been 1/2 full, She Probably Never Would Have Come Back Up.

15. The Boat With Blue Trim That You Saw in The 1st Picture On This page Is M/V CATHY PARKER. She Was Waiting Above The Bridge For Her Turn To Pass Through (if you look closely, you can see the CAHABA immediately to the left & upstream of the CATHY PARKER). CATHY PARKER Radioed To Capt. Gary Grammer On M/V TALLAPOOSA (which was down the reach below Blacks Bluff) That Something Had Happened To The CAHABA. Capt. Grammer Tied Off TALLAPOOSA's Tow & Then "Light-Boated" To The CAHABA, Where He Pushed Her Out Into A Flooded Corn Field. TALLAPOOSA Then Rescued The 3 Crew, & Secured The 2 Loose CAHABA Barges.
16. Key To Survival: Engine Is Still Running!!! As To Another Key To Survival, It is Understood That Operator - Warrior Gulf Navigation Co., a Subsidiary of Pittsburg Steel - Ballasted All Their Vessels With 3 To 4 Feet of Cement In The Bottom. Thus, The M/V CAHABA Righted Itself After The bridge - As It Was Designed To Do
17. CAHABA's Starboard EMD16V149 Engine Remained Running The Entire Time. Notice The Prop wash At The Stern of The Tug. The Boat Is Upright & Back Under Power. M/V CAHABA Was Built At Pine Bluff, Arkansas & Is powered By1800 Horsepower Twin Diesels. She is named after one of the 8 Local Indian Tribes.
18. CAHABA Reacquires Its Tow. CAHABA Would Haul Iron Pellets Up to Birmingham & For The Making of Steel Plate. On The Return Trip, The Barges Were Loaded With Coal For Export At McDuffie Coal Terminal At The Mouth of The Mobile River -- At The Head of Mobile Bay
19. Just Another Day On The River -- With Just A Little Help From Above.
CAHABA Has "Achieved" By going "UNDER."


According to historical sources, the Tombigee River was running at an historically high level When this incident occurred. At Demopolis, Alabama the river was running at 73 feet. A typical flow is approximately 12-13 feet.

CAHABA is still running the rivers but is renamed M/V CAPTAIN ED HARRIS.

Our CAHABA INDEX For This Feature --

The Tombigbee River
River History

Tombigbee River

Tombigbee Country

Miss Tombigbee 2202

Black Warrior - Tombigbee River Basin

Tennessee Tombigbee National River System

Tennessee-Tombigbee Docks, Terminals & Vessel Locator

Navigation of Tennessee-Tombigbee River

Tombigbee Water Cargo System

Local Links For Tombigbee Lakes

Tombigbee National Forest

Coffeevile Lake -- on the Tombigbee Waterway

Towboat Models - from Towboat Joe

Joe E Brown


Letter From A Very Happy Reader of This Feature -- Mon. March 11 2002

"No, not "rarely" have I seen what is portrayed, here (and I have watched MANY tows move on the Mississippi, Ohio, Monongahela, Allegheny and Missouri rivers -- as wells as the TennTom), I simply have NEVER seen THIS! Zowie!! What this crew did was the 'marine equivalent of a "Dutch drop' in railroading.

Thanks for sharing this. It looks like it was a Countryman & McDaniel Law firm's 'Cargo Nightmare -- 1979 First Prize Winner' from "The Gallery of Transport Loss" in THE CARGO NEWS ! (Except, there doesn't appear to have been a 'loss' of anything, except maybe the skipper's pride...and his bladder control.) I'm glad everybody made it. "

Tug, tug, tug, tug, blub! blub! blub! tug, tug, tug."


Editor Note: We Do Aim To Please!


Letter From A Reader of This Feature - - June 4 2008

"The coal barge tow you showed going under the bridge.

Wish I could find the end of the story and forget how I found it but the M/V Cahaba was "on the bank" for several years and ultimately purchased and refurbished and went back into service."

Dale Diller

Letter From A Reader of This Feature - - June 9 2008

"I received the following msg about M/V Cahaba and permission to forward it to you .

The sender is Towboat Joe. He is an entertainer with towboats as his fascination and hobby."

Dale Diller
"Thanks for the CargoLaw link. You've come to the right place. M/V Cahaba was bought by Nelson Jones a friend of mine. It was bought in 1998 and re-named M/V Capt Ed Harris in 1999. It's owned by Madison Coal & Supply Co., Charleston, WV.

She was repowered in 2002 with 3512 Cats @ 2400 hp

How's that? Thanks for writing."

Towboat Joe

Editor Note: Thanks Dale & Towboat Joe!


NOTE: The Cargo Letter wants you to know that by keeping the identity of our contributors 100% confidential, you are able to view our continuing series of "Cargo Disasters.". Our friends send us materials which benefit the industry. The materials are provided to our news publication with complete and enforceable confidentiality for the sender. In turn, we provide these materials to you.  

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