River Barging on the Ohio

By Sandy Katz

 “What makes a river so restful to people is that it doesn’t have any doubt. It is sure to get where it is going, and it doesn’t want to go anywhere else.” Mark Twain

The River Barge River Explorer is a large flat-bottomed vessel built for navigation on rivers and inland waterways to carry cargo and passengers. This is the only hotel barge traveling American inland waterways. It’s made from two barges, the La Salle and the De Soto . The staterooms are situated on the La Salle, while public facilities are located on the De Soto . It is towed by a powerful 3,000 horsepower towboat, the Miss Nari, the only one of its kind in the U.S. The ride was real smooth with the sensation of gliding through water. Barging through America is a great way to travel!

The R/B offers leisurely and relaxed excursions without the formality of dressing up. Casual, comfortable, friendly and educational was the atmosphere of the trip.

My cookie monster traveling companion enjoyed the perpetual cookie jar filled with fresh barge baked cookies available 24/7. And I couldn’t keep him away from the Raid the Fridge area where he could get something to eat 24/7, especially a late night snack. There was open seating for three regionally-influenced meals, where we enjoyed the specialties of the region and company of the passengers, who flew in from all parts of North America . The R/B enthusiast and veteran barge travelers added a significant dimension to the trip and it was greatly appreciated. The staff was most helpful and friendly offering any assistance we needed to make our trip enjoyable.

Three decks high and 730 feet-long, the R/B accommodates 198 passengers and offers two levels of comfortable rooms- all with refrigerators.

Our name tags served as our room key, onboard charge card and pass to many shore activities. We wore it around our necks with chain provided. Every excursion’s pricing is fully inclusive of specialty planned shore activities, meals and tips.

The R/B included many shore activities in the towns and cities visited.  Escorts and transportation was provided to remote areas. At each landing a list was provided of nearby interesting attractions. The Daily Barge Bits gave this daily information left on our beds the night before.

For all river enthusiasts, there was a Guest Pilot House at the front end of the barge where you could follow the twists and turns of the river. Maps were available to help you check the navigation route and learn some river lore.

Our eight-day American Junction excursion on Ohio River began with an overnight stay in Louisville , Kentucky . We learned that the Ohio River is the most important river in the eastern United States . We experienced passage through Markland, Meldahl, Greenup and RC Byrd Locks. The clear water and historic locks made this a prime river vacation.

In Louisville , we had the opportunity to visit Louisville Slugger Museum to size-up the World’s Biggest bat and swing a bat just like the Babe’s. We also strolled through the factory where famous bats are made. We were given miniature bats. Learning about the fantastic history of baseball was most enlightening. www.sluggermuseum.org    502-588-7228

We departed from Louisville the next morning to begin our barging adventure on the Ohio River . Madison , Indiana was our first stop. It’s known as “the most beautiful small town in the Midwest .” Here we enjoyed its historic nineteenth century architecture, antique and specialty shops and award-winning wineries.

One of the highlights of this trip was the next stop Ripley , Ohio . This sleepy little village seemed frozen in time. Before and during the Civil War, Ripley was a hot bed of abolitionist activities. Many of the homes right along Front Street served as important stations along the Underground Railroad.

Our tour guide met us at John Parker House.  John Parker, who advanced his status from former slave to successful patented inventor and businessman in Ripley before the Civil War, is credited with assisting hundreds of slaves make their way north to freedom through this Front Street home.

As we traveled through Ripley, we were picturing the past, with abolitionists and slaves running through alleys and up the hill to the Rankin’s House, the beacon of freedom. Rankin and his family assisted fugitive slaves. The Rankin House became a National Historic Landmark and a symbol of freedom .It was an important stop on the Underground Railroad in Southern Ohio through which many slaves escaped from the South to freedom. The home was also referred to in Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher-Stowe.

Nigh-time regional entertainment was a wonderful way to conclude a day’s hectic day’s activities. To compliment my Ripley experience, there was a special dramatic presentation of Eliza, the heroine of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Eliza’s tale: In winter of 1813 a slave woman and her baby began their journey to freedom. To avoid capture in Kentucky , she crossed the ice covered Ohio River to the safety of Ripley shore. The story of Eliza in Uncle Tom’s Cabin was based on this incident.

Next day, we were shown a movie “Underground Railroad.” Before 1860 there were about 4 million slaves in America that lived and worked in the South. Most of them wanted to escape to the North, to freedom. And thousands did. From the very beginning of American history, slaves fled their owners. They traveled on the most famous “road” of the day-the “Underground Railroad.” They traveled mostly on foot in a secret way to freedom from one hiding place to another until they reached freedom.


River Barge Explorer

Sandy & Gerry Katz

Slugger Museum

Double Decker Out House

Banjo Player

Mothman Statue

Our entertainment tonight was Dan Knowles, America ’s National Olde Time Banjo Champion. His music reflected regional spirit.

Point Pleasant , West Virginia, our next stop, is known as oldest town on Ohio River and site of Battle of Point Pleasant, which took place on October 10, 1774 . This was one of the boldest battles ever fought between Indians and White settlers and is considered by many to be first battle of American Revolution.

One of the highlights of this stop was visit to West Virginia State Farm Museum dedicated to the preservation of farm life heritage. Time stands still on a patch of 120 acres in West Virginia . Most interesting was outhouses, one and two-story (if you could imagine that). Also, there were tractors, sleighs, log cabins, blacksmith shop and carpenter shop to mention a few other attractions. www.pointpleasantwv.org/farm_museum   304-675-5737

Point Pleasant is also home to the Mothman phenomenon, made famous by movie “The Mothman Prophecies.” They celebrated Mothman with a statue and festivals.

Two thousand feet of art greeted us at our next stop, Portsmouth , Ohio .  There were 40 life-like murals depicting the last several centuries of the history of Portsmouth and surrounding area. What a photo op! There was even Roy Rogers on Trigger.

Next stop was Historic Aurora, Indiana, which was named for goddess of dawn and is often referred to as the “city of Spires. ” due to the stormy German architectural influence. We spent the day exploring the antebellum homes.

Tonight’s entertainment was one of the highlights of entertainment presentations on this excursion. Multi-talented Debbie Tuggle performed traditional songs about Kentucky . Lyrics to one of her songs seemed to sum up my experience on this excursion. She has given me permission to include “Barging on the O-hi-o in my article:” which she wrote barging on River Explorer.  dtugglecs@yahoo.com   270-229-0199


For reservations call your travel agent or Contact River Barge Excursion Lines at

 1-888-GO BARGE, ext. 1 (1-888-462-2743) or visit www.riverbarge.com

There’s a soft cloudy mist

On the water in the morning

Barging on the O-hi-o

While the sunshine rises

And the day is dawning

Barging on the O-hi-o

River towns and old church steeples

Fertile soil and friendly people

“River-wave” as we pass them by

Barging on the O-hi-o


Osprey gull, hawk and heron

Barging on the O-hi-o

Calm and stillness fill the air

Barging on the O-hi-o


Spirits of old Paddle-Wheelers

Drifting by in foggy stillness

Locking through on full moon nights

Barging on the O-hi-o


Hillsides lush with miles of trees

Barging on the O-hi-o

Oak and Sycamore, Birch and Beech

Barging on the O-hi-o


Tugs and Tows and Coal and Gravel

Rock-cliffs looming as we travel

See history, Feel the beat

Barging on the O-hi-o


Old friends, new friends, family

Barging on the O-hi-o

Making river memories

Barging on the O-hi-o


River towns and old church steeples

Fertile shores and friendly people

River Wave as we pass them by

Barging on the O-hi-o